Are you asking the right questions?

I recently re-read Nancy Kline’s book “Time to Think”. Her principal theme is that in order to create a “thinking environment” we need ten components; attention, incisive questions, equality, appreciation, ease, encouragement, feelings, information, place and diversity. This is a tall order but the one that resonated with me most was about asking incisive questions. So what is an incisive question? It’s one that allows you to lay aside prejudices or assumptions that prevent you taking action and frees your thinking so that you know what to say or do in a particular situation.

For example, you want to discuss an idea with your bosses, but you are afraid they may laugh at you or think that you haven’t thought it through sufficiently. Your assumption might be that they don’t think you’re bright or logical enough so you put off the opportunity to speak to them. An incisive question in this case might be “If you knew that your bosses thought you were intelligent and logical how would you present your idea to them?”

These types of questions are particularly useful for the “manager as coach”. By taking away assumptions it allows the person being coached to focus more clearly on the task in hand.

In my experience the question that organisations tend to consider most frequently in their strategic planning cycle is “What is our USP (unique selling point)?” when a better question might be “If we didn’t exist who would miss us – and why?” followed by “Would anyone invent us?” and, if the answer is “yes”, “What might they do differently?”

So if I were to ask you about your organisation and what incisive question you would ask to change a limiting belief about an area you are trying to change or a problem you are trying to solve what would it be . . .?


Diversity: Putting women at the top

It seems appropriate in a month when we celebrated International Women’s Day (8 March) that Cranfield School of Management’s latest figures show that women directors in the UK FTSE 100 companies have risen from 12% to 15.6% within a year.  This is still well below the target recommended in the Davies’ report which called for at least 25% of women directors by 2015.

This month also saw McKinsey and Company release their research “Achieving the Promise for Women” which looks at women in leadership. They found that despite 90% of Europe’s leading companies having programmes in place to increase the number of women in top jobs only 8% of companies have more than 25% of women in senior management roles.

So does it matter whether or not organisations have women in top leadership positions?  Well, according to McKinsey’s research the short answer is “yes”.  Their research with over 300 companies carried out between 2006 and 2010 showed that those organisations which had women in senior management roles performed better against financial and operational criteria compared with those companies which had no women in senior management.  The research also showed that organisations which had at least three women in senior management roles scored higher against criteria relating to organisational health.

In order to promote organisational performance you need diverse leadership behaviours.  For, example research shows that men tend to take risks more readily and have an individual decision-making style whereas women tend to have better people skills and prefer a collaborative decision- making style.  McKinsey and Company argue that you need both.

Their research also showed that you need chief executive and senior management commitment, to know where the blockages are in your pipeline of women coming through the succession planning process and to tackle the resistant mind sets, which incidentally McKinsey found to be more common among middle managers.  Their beliefs included that, in their view, some roles were not suitable for women and that if a woman were to fail it would set back the agenda for promoting women into leadership in their organisation.

McKinsey and Company are optimistic that things will change but that what is required now is a step change to achieve a critical mass of women in leadership positions happens now so that subsequent generations of women are better equipped and developed to lead successfully in the future. In the words of one of McKinsey’s women directors   “It’s got to happen . . .”

So what are the blockages in your organisation to more women successfully leading as part of your senior management team . . . ?

Further Reading:

McKinsey and Company:  Achieving the Promise for Women – March 2012


The Davies’ Report:  Women on Boards – February 2011



Is our CEO a psychopath?

psychopath . . .?  Psychologists describe a psychopath as someone who is incapable of empathising with others.  That’s a short answer and, on one level it makes sense that, people who are full of sympathy and deliberate over the fairness of each course of action would not be great when called to make decisions about who to fire and to whom to give a pay increase on a regular basis.

Even David McClelland, the psychologist and management guru, in his human motivation theory divided workers’ personalities into three categories: those who need power, those who need to achieve, and those who want to be liked.  McClelland devised his own test and found that those with a high need to achieve and a high need for affiliation—in other words, really great colleagues, contribute well to the organisation but don’t necessarily get to the top.  Conversely, those who thirst for power and don’t care about what people think of them end up being in charge.

Robert Hare, the Canadian forensic psychologist, has developed a comprehensive psychopath checklist in which he outlines some typical psychopathic traits; glib and charming manner, manipulative, grandiose sense of self-worth, callous and lack of empathy and failure to accept responsibility for their own actions.

The question is whether psychopathic traits in leaders can be a positive thing. Some psychologists would say “yes”, that there are certain attributes like coolness under pressure, which are good qualities.  Robert Hare would argue “no”, that in the absence of empathy you will always get malevolence.  Basically, high-scoring psychopaths can be brilliant bosses, but only ever in the short term.

Take the characters, Vito Corleone and his son, Michael, in the Godfather, both of whom are recognised as cruel and violent.  Well, a colleague came across an article drawing out lessons in leadership from the film.  I was quite surprised by the clear leadership shown by these anti-social characters.  You might like to have a read . . .  http://www.fastcompany.com/1826672/an-offer-you-cant-refuse-leadership-lessons-from-the-godfather?partner=gnews

On a more serious note Baliak and Hare have written a book called “Snakes in Suits:  When Psychopaths Go to Work”.  They have developed a test, B-Scan, which assesses the degree to which a person responds to challenges and organisational responsibility as expressed in his or her behaviours, attitudes, and judgments.   You might like to take a look at this as well.  http://www.b-scan.com/

So back to the psychopath test – do you dare try it out on your CEO?  Here’s one based on Hare’s checklist which you can try: http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/96/open_boss-quiz.html

And if you discover your CEO is a psychopath?  Well, you know where to find me.


HR business partners – are they working?

Firstly what is HR business partnering?  The HR business partnering model was developed by David Ulrich in the late nineties.  This changed the focus of HR professionals from a broadly administrative and transactional role to one working closely with leaders and line managers to achieve shared organisational objectives.  In particular Ulrich recommends that HR functions should focus on designing and implementing HR systems and processes that support strategic business aims.

Over the past decade a number of organisations, both large and small, have introduced some form of the HR business partner model to suit their needs. While there has been much debate about the model’s effectiveness, research has found that when line managers are asked to rate the HR business partner activities that have the most impact, their top responses are:

  • developing next-generation leaders
  • understanding the talent needs of the business
  • understanding how to support the business
  • identifying talent issues before they affect the business.

However, it’s not just the activities that are important. Two things that both the research and my own experience have shown is that:

  • support for and understanding of, the HR business partner model by senior leadership and line managers is a vital pre-requisite and
  • the chemistry between the HR business partner and the business leader needs to be positive.

Sadly, the statistics show that only 34% of the relationships between HR business partners and business leaders are effective.

Another aspect of a successful HR business partnering model is the five key attributes that HR business partners need to display to make an impact:

  • Analytical ability:   the HR business partner’s ability to analyse whether it makes more sense to recruit new talented staff or to build the talent within the organisation
  • Courage:  the HR business partners need to make tough judgmentsand concrete recommendations
  • Willingness to delegate:   the ability to identify the business unit’s needs as well as drawing on other HR resources as part of the solution.
  • Ability to see the big picture;  an effective business partner should be able to see things from all sides, using sound analytical skills and good judgment to cut through any bias and determine the real issue
  • Power and influence:   the ability to tell a compelling story backed up by robust data, which in turn delivers results

So what might be the most useful metrics to measure this impact?  The Shaping the Future programme which the CIPD have developed has identified three key areas:-

HR efficiency measures such as absence/attendance measures (causes, costs),recruitment measures (number of vacancies filled, number of internal/external hires)

HR effectiveness measures such strength of the employer brand, workforce agility and readiness for change. These measures are important as they reflect the outcomes of HR activities in developing organisational capability through, for example: talent management, performance management, and work environment.

HR impact measures such as ‘what matters’ to key stakeholders ensuring they are meaningful, aligned and compatible with other organisational and external measures.

The focus should then be on the HR initiatives and processes needed to make maximum impact in these areas.

So how does your HR function measure up? Get in touch if you’d like to know more.

Source: CIPD, Shaping the Future; Using HR Metrics for Maximum Effect


Would your organisation stand up to Jimmy Savile?

Part of me feels reluctant to write about or refer to the Jimmy Savile affair because there has been so much written and said already.   However, it is a subject that we cannot ignore and while it is easy with hindsight for us to say “how did this happen?”, how can we be sure that, our organisation or social groups we are part of, are not complicit in this kind of criminal behaviour?

I learnt a very important lesson ten years’ ago working with a small international NGO.  A story broke in the Guardian about an ex-staff member who had left before I joined.  The man in question, who was British, had been arrested in Africa on charges of inappropriate behaviour with under age children while working for another NGO.  The Guardian were keen to know about his time in our organisation and whether we could give an assurance that similar inappropriate behaviour had not occurred whilst in our employment.   We were naïve.  We had thought that because we had no children-related programmes that we were off the hook.  We carried out an investigation and, once completed,  we developed a child protection policy, ran training for managers and staff and made sure our recruitment process covered child protection issues thoroughly.   It also led to the organisation signing up to achieving The People in Aid Code which is a code of good practice to improve effectiveness in the humanitarian and development sector.

More recently working for a large well-respected international NGO I was horrified to discover when I joined that the child protection process was confined to a one-sided A4 sheet of well-meaning statements.   Again, there were no checks during recruitment, no information nor briefing during induction and no written guidance for staff.   I am pleased to say that the organisation now has these processes in place.

We should never allow ourselves to be complacent.  Do staff members know exactly what to do if they have suspicions about a colleague?   Do we make sure staff, are made aware of their responsibilities for protecting children and vulnerable adults?   Does the organisation have a culture which supports the protection of children and vulnerable adults?   If you are in any doubt as to the answer to these questions please contact me for further information and advice.


Listen and Learn

In this newsletter I return to Nancy Kline’s book “Time to Think”.  She claims that “everything we do depends on the thinking we do first” and “our thinking depends on our attention to each other”.

I believe she is right and this time I want to pick up her second point that “our thinking depends on our attention to each other”.  She says that “attention – the act of listening with palatable respect and fascination is key to the Thinking Environment”.  [1]

We think we listen, but we don’t.  We finish each other’s sentences; we interrupt each other, fill in the pauses with our own opinions, give advice and come in too soon with our own ideas.  In our haste to present our views and say what’s on our minds we sometimes miss what others might have contributed had we listened and asked questions to help our understanding.  These could be questions such as “What do you really think about this new idea?” “How might we make it a better one?”

I suspect that the more senior you are in an organisation the more important it is to listen.   Peers and staff are less likely to proffer their thoughts and ideas if they think their views will be disregarded by a more senior person in the organisation.

Kline claims that the times when she has just listened with no intervention at all have resulted in the best outcomes.  She cites the example of a woman trying to decide the next step in developing her herb garden project and opening it to the public.   Kline says that she said nothing apart from a few “hmms” and at the end of the conversation the woman thanked her enthusiastically because she’d been so helpful!

So the challenge this year, certainly for myself, is to become a more attentive listener, particularly for the more strategic and difficult issues, but also to listen to those who are prepared to question you with a “but what about . . .?” rather than “oh yes, what a good idea . ..”   What will be the challenge for you in this regard?


[1] Nancy Kline advocates ten components to creating a thinking environment;  attention, incisive questions, equality, appreciation, ease, encouragement, feelings, information, place and diversity (See Leadership for the Future – February 2012)


Coaching – does it work?

There has been much said and written about the virtues of coaching and whether it adds value to an individual’s performance and, indeed, an organisation’s performance.  As part of re-launching the executive coaching offered by Hafton Consultancy I am giving three clients two sessions for the price of one (£100 including VAT).  This will be on a first come first served basis.

Research carried out by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) showed that, when asked about effectiveness, 67% regard coaching by line managers as ‘effective’ or ‘very effective’ and  91% judge coaching by external practitioners to be ‘effective’ or ‘very effective’ showing that coaching by external coaches is considered to be more effective as a means of learning.   For senior managers and Chief Executives, external coaching may be the answer, particularly where line manager coaching is not really an option.

The research carried out by CIPD went on to ask the participating organisations if they were measuring and assessing the impact of their coaching interventions. Rather than solely relying on participants’ perceptions, the feedback showed that organisations were making considerable efforts to assess the impact of coaching including :-

  • feedback from participants’ line managers,
  • assessing changes in individual performance or career progress,
  • measuring achievement of goals set at the beginning of the coaching and
  • assessing changes in the culture of the organisation.

By taking the trouble to look at these measures organisations can at least have some idea of whether coaching is making a difference to their managers’ learning, confidence and performance.

Clients I have coached say they have greatly benefitted from the space to talk and think through a range of conflicting issues, and to clarify how they can plan and make major changes.  This is particularly the case when under a burgeoning workload.  The coaching, they said, gave them the vision and clarity they needed to make the change happen.  Coaching, in my experience, whether I am being coached myself or am coaching others, needs to be outcome focussed.   To that end having some specific actions with measures of what success will look like helps the person being coached to know when they’re headed in the right direction.

So does coaching make a difference?  Why not give it a try?  As I said at the beginning I am offering three clients two sessions for the price of one (£100).  These sessions will be for up to one hour each and can be done via telephone or face-to-face at a London venue.  There is no catch but you will be asked to agree to give feedback at the end.


How engaged are your staff?

Many businesses and charities now are interested in “employee engagement” and maybe it’s simply down to the fact that employers want “engaged employees” because they deliver improved business performance. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) research has repeatedly demonstrated the strong link between the way people are managed and overall business performance.

Employers want employees who will do their best work or ‘go the extra mile’. The quid pro quo is that employees want jobs and careers that are worthwhile and that inspire them. Organisations are looking for a win-win solution that meets their needs and those of their employees.

So what is employee engagement? It can be seen as a combination of commitment to the organisation and its values and a willingness to help out colleagues, sometimes referred to as organisational citizenship. It goes beyond job satisfaction and is not simply motivation. Engagement is something the employee has to offer: it cannot be ‘required’ as part of the employment contract.

The CIPD recently launched its Engage for Success programme and have published a report called Creating an Engaged Workforce which looks at the organisation-wide issues that contribute to or detract from employee engagement in different settings. Some of the factors which employees valued as part of their engagement and commitment to the organisation included:-

having opportunities to feed their views upwards
feeling well-informed about what is happening in the organisation
believing that their manager is committed to the organisation
involvement in decision-making
freedom to voice ideas, to which managers listen
feeling enabled to perform well
having opportunities to develop the job
feeling the organisation is concerned for employees’ health and well-being.
So how can you build an engaged workforce? Well, you first need to be sure that you want “engaged employees”. It may seem a ridiculous question but if you raise expectations that you want employees ideas, their commitment and additional contributions but have no way of recognising their extra effort, any initiative is likely to backfire.

Once you are committed to improving employee engagement the first step is to measure employee attitudes. Many large employers, both private and public, now conduct regular employee attitude surveys. The results typically show what employees feel about their work on a range of dimensions including, for example, pay and benefits, communications, learning and development, line management and work-life balance. Attitude survey data can be used to identify areas for improvement. In smaller organisations it may be more obvious where there is strong employee engagement and easier to identify what may need to change, but some strong objective analysis is recommended.

The drive for an engaged workforce needs to build on good people management strategies and policies which are aligned with the wider business and with the active support of line managers. There is no short-cut to building and maintaining employee engagement but the time, effort and resource required will be amply repaid by the performance benefits.

Please contact me if you would like to know more about the report and what its implications are for your organisation.


Motivating your staff without the carrot

At a time when pay rises are lagging behind inflation how do you keep your staff motivated to give their best performance when there are no pay rises on offer?

Pay is considered a “hygiene factor” along with job security and fringe benefits. This means if you get it right there is no positive satisfaction, but if you get it wrong then it can lead to dissatisfaction and disengagement from staff.

As mentioned in my last newsletter focusing on staff engagement has come to the fore for senior managers. Many senior HR professionals have recognised that making sure staff understand the value of their “total package”, which is extrinsic to the work itself, such as pension, work conditions and work environment as well as career development and progression, has been a key focus.

This is particularly prevalent with top performers. How do you keep your top performers from straying to the competition? They are unlikely to move for a small increase in pay but they might believe that the competition has a more supportive and positive organisational culture and decide that it would be worth the risk. Some organisations have tried introducing enhanced training opportunities and benefits for their star performers in order to keep them sweet.

Recent articles have also highlighted the importance of clearly communicating the rationale for pay decisions, particularly when employees see that the organisation is making reasonable profits, but hoarding these gains rather than giving a cost of living increase which matches inflation. Compare this practice with organisations, such the John Lewis Partnership where staff received a 17% bonus this year. Sir Stuart Hampson, a former chair of the John Lewis Partnership tells the story of the rushed opening of their out-of-town store in High Wycombe earlier this year. Hearing of problems, staff from other shops travelled to the new store on the Sunday before it opened to help clean and prepare it. “They said, it’s our shop, our customers, our reputation, we’re not going to have it anything other than ready to open”.

The light at the end of the economic tunnel still seems far off and we may not be able to replicate the John Lewis Partnership model but there are still plenty of creative ways to keep staff engaged in this cold climate!

Please contact Hafton Consultancy if you want to talk through your organisation’s approach and ideas: annastobart@haftonconsultancy.com


Trust drives high performance

A recent report published by Working Families, an organisation which campaigns for better work-life balance, looked at the link between long-term sustainable performance within businesses and individual performance.  The report found a clear link between individual performance, their level of trust and the overall level of productivity.

Trust: the key to building well-being and performance in the workplace found that trust between staff and their employer is “critical” for driving high levels of performance and motivation and went on to identify eight drivers for building trust.  These included:-  

Belong and connect The feeling that the   employee feels part of and connected to their team and the business 
Voice and recognition The individual’s   ability to speak up in a way that allows them to influence decision-making 
Significance and position The employees’ sense   that they have a clear and important role in their team 
Fairness The understanding that   individuals are evenly treated within their team and the business 
Learn and challenge The opportunity to   learn and master new skills and achieve tangible results 
Choice and autonomy The sense of control   over workplace delivery and their own role 
Security and certainty The sense of   predictability and confidence in the workplace environment 
Purpose The understanding of   how an individual’s role contributes and is aligned to the team and business’   success

Employers need to consider all eight of these trust drivers to move towards optimal performance.  However, “truly understanding how individuals are motivated at work provides not just the gateway to optimal performance, something sought by every organisation, but also an environment where every person can flourish,” their lead researcher and consultant said.

How do you think your organisation compares alongside these drivers?  Does your organisation have an environment where staff thrive and flourish or is there more you need to do to cultivate a culture of trust?

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