Who are our ethical leaders of today?

I attended an International NGO Learning Forum recently on Leadership & Ethics hosted by Islamic Relief which, although it was planned a while ago, seemed apt as it followed the media coverage over the leadership crisis at Cooperative Bank. A bank, indeed, which prided itself on its integrity and its ethical stance.

Transparency International whose aim is to promote transparency, accountability and integrity at all levels and across all sectors of society published their 2013 results of their Corruption Perception Index. It is interesting to note that countries like the UK rank only 14 (up three places from last year) and the USA are ranked in 19th place. The top ranking countries are Denmark, New Zealand, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Singapore, and countries like Afghanistan, North Korea, and Somalia ranked lowest at 175. We, in the UK, may think we are nearer the top of this list but we should not be complacent.

Turning to eminent people in recent times, who we might describe as “ethical”, then leaders like Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Desmond Tutu and, of course, Nelson Mandela would probably come to mind. The definition given of ethical leader given at the Forum was “one who leads with the highest levels of honesty and integrity, builds trust, and is immensely cognisant of his/her need to role model, and act based on worthy values and ethics”. I think it would be fair to say they fulfil these criteria, but it begs the question “who are the emerging ethical leaders”? Pope Francis? Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury?


Inspiring the next generation of women?

Recently I came across a TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) talk about a young engineer.  TED, since their inception in 1984, have produced hundreds of events and short videos under the strap line “ideas worth spreading”.

I was particularly intrigued by the young woman’s tenacity and patience in following through her idea to inspire the next generation of young girls to become engineers – a professional that has traditionally been male-dominated.

Despite setbacks and being told there was no market for a toy targeted at girls to teach spatial awareness and engineering skills, she has achieved it and has set up a company called GoldieBlox.  Just a pity the toys are mostly in pink!

Take a look at her story here.



Why excellent implementation of change is so important

One of the problems with change is that so often it doesn’t last.  It may be that the concept and the ideas behind the change and innovation were good and well planned, but the implementation itself and the skills and capacity of the line managers implementing the change diluted, or worse still, scuppered the intended outcome of the change.   McKinsey in a recent survey competed on-line earlier this year asked about seven core competencies associated with managers who are strong implementers of change.

In their research McKinsey found that companies that had good implementers sustained twice the value from the changes made two years after the implementation efforts had ended, compared with those companies where the implementation was poorly introduced.  After all, every company “leaks” value at various stages of the implementation process. Some opportunities that are prioritised will not be implemented, others will be implemented but will not achieve full impact, and a final set may achieve full impact, but it will not be sustained. Yet good implementers retain more value at every stage of the process than poor implementers do, and the impact is significant.

So what are these seven core competencies they surveyed?  They are:-

  • Clear ownership and commitment to the change across all levels of the organization
  • Ability to focus organization on a prioritised set of changes
  • Clear accountability for specific actions during implementation
  • Effective programme/project management and use of standard change processes
  • Continuous improvements during implementation and rapid action to adapt to an alternative plan, if needed
  • Planning from the start for the long-term sustainable change
  • Sufficient resources and capabilities to make the change happen

As an example here are some of the behaviours demonstrated by good implementer according to McKinsey

Ownership and commitment:   Leaders who are good implementers devote appropriate time and energy to support major change, often clearing their diaries to drive efforts in a hands-on manner and inspire their colleagues. They also role model the right behaviours to support the change, commonly by demonstrating the difficult act of making personal behavioural changes.

Prioritisation and planning:  Good implementers ensure their team members spend the majority of their time on the organization’s priorities. They communicate at all levels about which actions and outcomes are most important to the organisation’s stakeholders, and they have set intervals to review individual efforts toward the organisation’s priorities.

Accountability:  Good implementers eliminate performance variability through tight monitoring and quick responses. This includes effectively using key performance indicators that the organization tracks at the right frequency, conducting regular performance discussions with teams, and regularly assessing staff members against individual goals and targets.

Has your organisation identified those senior and team leaders who have these traits so you can be confident in that the vision for the change is being well implemented?


What’s ahead for 2015 in our labour market?

There has been much talk this last week of improved unemployment figures, some small rises in salaries and continued low inflation.  So what’s ahead in 2015 and should employers be upbeat about the economy this year?  Well, there seem to be hopeful signs – but there are also some “known unknowns” according to a recent CIPD report on the labour market.

We have a general election looming which brings its own uncertainty.  The Office of Budget Responsibility forecasts that growth in salaries is set to stay around 1% to 2% and even with our current low inflation it means that wages in real terms will only increase slightly.

Interest rates which have been low since 2008 are likely to rise in 2015.  Some mortgage or other borrowers who have taken loans on the assumption that interest rates will remain low may find it hard if interest rates start to rise. Yet any rise in interest rates is unlikely to be enough to please those with savings!

The economic situation across Europe, despite the European Union’s optimistic outlook, looks uncertain.  High unemployment rates in Italy, Spain and Greece, particularly amongst the youth (under 25 year olds) which are running at between 44% and 54%.are holding their economies back.  Here in the UK, while overall unemployment is running at 6%, our youth unemployment is 17% compared with other European countries like Germany, Netherlands and some Scandinavian countries where youth unemployment is between 4% and 8%.

And then there are the currency uncertainties; the Norwegian Kroner has taken a 30% tumble because of falling oil prices and conversely the Swiss Franc has risen sharply now that it has delinked from the euro.

Yet chief executives in the UK are more upbeat than they were three years’ ago about expanding their business than their counterparts in other European countries according to a Price Waterhouse Coopers report.  They are, however,  more concerned than before about the skills gap with 84% of them reporting concerns about finding the right skills and talent for their business.    Chief Executives reported that they wanted the government to prioritise its commitment to developing a “skilled and adaptable” workforce.

So what does this mean for you as a leader, manager or employer in 2015?  How will you ensure you retain your key talented staff and ensure that any expansion with new positions are filled by people who have the right values, attitudes and skills to contribute effectively to your business?


As a leader are you creating a sense of purpose?

Making sure your staff understand the purpose of your organisation is crucial to getting them to stay, according to a Gallup poll at the end of last year.

So, how do you create a sense of purpose in your organisation? Here are five things you can do to create that sense of purpose in your organisations and teams.

  1. Keep it simple

Having a straight-forward goal and purpose is important.   Jim Collin’s idea of a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) is well-known and helps focus on what is important.  Just to give you an idea of a BHAG here are two practical examples.   Here is Amazon’s BHAG “Our vision is to be earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online”.  Everything they do from making the on-line experience one simple “click” through to their policy on returns keeps you coming back as a customer.   Google also has a straight-forward mission statement too – “To organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’.   Both mission statements and goals s are succinct.

  1. Create a great working environment

It sounds obvious,  but if your staff are in a suffocating workplace environment, rather than a comfortable work place with ambient temperatures and good desk space, then it can leave them feeling lethargic and not giving their best.   Their focus, and their conversations with colleagues, is likely to be about their uncomfortable conditions rather than what they want to and can achieve for the organisation.

  1. Engage and be accountable

Getting your staff excited about purpose is one thing but delivering it is quite another.  Organisations with good opportunities for staff to contribute their ideas and share their views constructively are more accountable and means that any radical change you need to adopt to achieve your mission is more likely to be accepted. It is also important that the leaders are visible and communicating regularly with their staff.

  1. Be confident . . . but humble

According to the London Business School, the best performing companies all have an air of confidence, but this is something easier said than done.  Staff will follow leaders who are confident, or even have an air of confidence, but not those who are arrogant.

Jim Collins who wrote “Good to Great” tells the story of Darwin F Smith who took over Kimberly Clark, which back in the 1970’s was a “stodgy old paper company”.  Smith was a mild-mannered in-house lawyer and was made Chief Executive which some thought was an odd choice.  He remained Chief Executive for 20 years and in that period he transformed the company into a leading paper-based products company beating rivals such as Procter and Gamble.  Smith was described as a man who carried no airs of self-importance.

  1. Be prepared for an endurance test

There has been much written about “resilience” whether on an individual or organisational level.

When things are going well and your mission and strategy is working then all is well with the world.   Yes, it important to take advice where the strategy and plans need to change, but also be prepared to be purposeful about pushing through things that are key to the success of the organisation.


Are you giving feedback clearly to staff from different cultures?

As anyone who has worked abroad or in an international setting will tell you, ways of communicating in one country may not necessarily work in another.  There are some surprising and fundamental differences even within Western and Asian cultures that need to be taken into account.

For instance, while the direct negative feedback given by a German boss might seem unnecessarily harsh in America, while an American worker’s enthusiasm might come off as excessive and insincere in Germany.

In Erin Meyer’s recent book “The Culture Map” she looks at eight dimensions which highlight the main differences between cultures.  They are

Communicating – low context vs high context

Evaluating – direct negative feedback vs indirect negative feedback

Persuading – principles vs applications

Leading – egalitarian vs hierarchical

Deciding – consensual vs top-down

Trusting – task-based vs relationship-based

Disagreeing – confrontational vs avoids confrontation

Scheduling – linear-time vs flexible-time

The two dimensions which impact particularly on feedback, namely evaluation and communicating, can leave both managers and individuals bemused as to “what is really being said”.

She quotes the story of a French Finance Director going to work in the USA for an American boss.  Her team, mainly Americans complained to her boss that in the first rounds of interviews she was unduly harsh focussing on the negative rather than any of the positives.   She was taken aback.   Her style of evaluating her team had worked perfectly with her French team.  In her mind she knew the Americans to be “to the point” and direct, but what she didn’t know was that Americans, when it comes to feedback, tend to be over the top with their praise using words like “great”, “fantastic” and, of course,  “awesome”.  On the other hand, when it comes to negative feedback they will dress it up with some positives and even then might put it in writing rather than in a face-to-face meeting.

The same Finance Director had a similar experience when it came to her own performance review.   Her American boss lavished her with praise about the aspects that were going well, but she missed the more nuanced issues about her performance that her boss was trying to tell her.   Fortunately the author, who was the Finance Director’s coach was able to step in and help them work through the communication blocks.

Have you had or are you currently experiencing some communication or performance review challenges?  Perhaps understanding the prevailing culture of the individuals or group you are working with would help you understand their context better.  Please get in touch if you want to talk confidentially about any situation you face.


Under Pressure?

It is estimated that right now, one in six workers is dealing with a mental health problem.   The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) report, in their latest absence management survey, that two out of five employers say they’d seen an increase in reported mental health problems in the past year.  So how comfortable is your organisation speaking about these issues when you see that colleagues and staff members are struggling?

Ideally employers need to take a proactive approach to stress management which focuses on prevention and early intervention, not just responding when a problem becomes significant or when someone goes on sick leave.

A number of organisations are looking at the main causes of stress in their organisation so they can try to reduce those stressors and also increase staff members’ resilience to deal with pressures they may face.

What can you do to reduce workplace stress?

  • Do a stress audit and subsequently direct resources to reduce or eliminate the sources of stress.
  • Ensure people feel adequately trained and supported to do their jobs well.
  • Increase support for staff during periods of change and uncertainty.

Which interventions should you introduce to help build staff resilience?

  • stress management and relaxation techniques training
  • training aimed at building personal resilience (such as coping techniques, cognitive behaviour therapy, positive psychology courses)
  • promoting healthy behaviour and exercise
  • flexible working options and improved work-life balance
  • personal counselling schemes.

 Making an early invention by spotting and addressing early signs of a stress-related issue is important to prevent it from escalating.  Staff members need to feel able to flag a problem with their line managers and feel confident they are capable of taking action.   So it is important that your organisation invests in:

  • developing the people management skills and confidence of managers at all levels so they feel able to have the appropriate conversations with staff
  • line managers knowing the teams and people’s usual working styles to be able to spot behaviour which is out of sorts and may be an early warning sign of a potential issue
  • developing a supportive work culture to encourage staff to discuss and seek support when experiencing stress
  • provision of, and signposting to, support mechanisms, for example a counselling service

The CIPD has come up with a clear set of management competencies for preventing and reducing stress at work.  This is a useful framework and checklist for ensuring your line managers are equipped to deal with stress at work.   If you’d like a copy please get in touch.


Making the case for organisational culture

What makes an organisation a great place to work? Culture is one of 
the hardest attributes of an organisation to articulate and measure, but also one of the
most important and valuable.  Positive and aligned organisational cultures can

  • motivate staff to perform and engage with
their work
  • align behaviours to common values and purpose
  • share knowledge and insights
  • be more productive and responsive
  • build trust.

On the reverse side, when toxic, culture can cause significant issues for the business and its staff, leading to

  • low performance and morale
  • high levels of staff turnover
  • significant harm to the organisation and
to the well-being of employees.

In times of challenge and opportunity, a healthy organisational culture can make or break the success of a business and of the people working for it. It follows then that leaders should be leading the way on the people aspects of corporate culture. Yet in the many organisations I am acquainted with, I hear staff saying that the senior team or, indeed the board of trustees, are not modeling the behaviours that should underpin the organisation’s values. So why this dissonance?

The Financial Reporting
Council (FRC) has come up with a UK Corporate Governance Code aimed at positioning the board as a central element for establishing the culture of the organisation and maintaining the ethics and values thus setting
the ‘tone from the top’.

The FRC also identified that in order to be effective any board required dialogue that is both constructive and challenging. The problems arising from “groupthink” have been exposed in particular as a result of the financial crisis. One of the ways in which constructive debate can be encouraged is through having sufficient diversity on the board. This includes, but is not limited to, gender and race. Diverse board composition in these respects is not on its own a guarantee. Diversity is as much about differences of approach and experience, and it is very important in ensuring effective engagement with key stakeholders and in order to deliver the business strategy.

A joint culture project between the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has been leading on
the people issues theme of work, exploring exactly how boards should consider the culture of
their organisations, and crucially the steps which they can take to understand and develop positive working environments. Through their research they have gathered insights into four key themes which are set out in the action points below.

So what are the key action points for your board?

As well as ensuring that the composition of the board is diverse, it should :-

  1. Champion change from the top: Lead cultural change from the top, and evidence its impact on the business. Ensure that the board is diverse and representative of the organisation and community in which the business operates, while ensuring that all appointments are based on merit.
  1. Address the reward question: Align measures of performance, reward and culture to address issues of pay and ensure that reward decisions take cultural alignment into account.
  1. Empower the board’s committees: Empower the remuneration committee to challenge, and act with integrity and independence. Ensure that the board responds to the remuneration committee transparently and with full commitment. Maintain a focus on corporate culture to challenge the board to remain accountable for cultural issues, and highlight potential issues before they arise. Establish a culture committee to oversee cultural risks and opportunities, and hold the board to account on issues regarding culture.
  1. Protect whistleblowers and those speaking up: Create employee voice and whistleblowing processes that protect employees who speak out about cultural and behavioural issues, and ensure that the board takes effective action to rectify concerns.

How positive should I be in the workplace?

So how can you get the best out of your team?   Should you offer positive feedback to let people know when they’re doing well, or should you offer constructive comments to help them when they’re off track?

Research from Harvard suggests that this is a trick question. The answer, as one might intuitively expect, is that both are important. But the real question is — in what proportion?

The researchers examined the effectiveness of 60 strategic-business-unit leadership teams at a large information-processing company. “Effectiveness” was measured according to financial performance, customer satisfaction ratings, and 360-degree feedback ratings of the team members.

The factor that made the greatest difference between the most and least successful teams, was the ratio of positive comments (“I agree with that,” for instance, or “That’s a terrific idea”) to negative comments (“I don’t agree with you” “We shouldn’t even consider doing that”) that the participants made to one another. (Negative comments could go as far as sarcastic or disparaging remarks.)

The average ratio for the highest-performing teams was 5.6 (that is, nearly six positive comments for every negative one). The medium-performance teams averaged 1.9 (almost twice as many positive comments than negative ones.) But the average for the low-performing teams, at 0.36 to 1, was almost three negative comments for every positive one.

Negative feedback is important when we’re heading over a cliff to warn us that we’d really better stop doing something horrible or start doing something we’re not doing right away. But even the most well-intentioned criticism can rupture relationships and undermine self-confidence and initiative. It can change behaviour, certainly, but it doesn’t cause people to put in their best efforts.  Only positive feedback can motivate people to continue doing what they’re doing well, and do it with more vigour, determination, and creativity.

This research is echoed in an uncanny way by John Gottman’s analysis of marriage and couples.  The single biggest determinant is the ratio of positive to negative comments the partners make to one another. And the optimal ratio is amazingly similar — five positive comments for every negative one. (For those who ended up divorced, the ratio was 0.77 to 1 — or something like three positive comments for every four negative ones.)

Clearly in work and life, both negative and positive feedback have their place and their time. If some inappropriate behaviour needs to be stopped, or if someone is failing to do something they should be doing, that’s a good time for negative feedback. And certainly opposite views are useful in leadership and team discussions, especially when it seems only one side of the argument has been heard. But the key even here is to keep the opposing viewpoint rational, objective, and calm — and above all not to engage in any personal attack – under the disingenuous guise of being “constructive”.

So how can you (and I!) be more aware of the ratio of positive and negative comments we make in the workplace – and how can we keep it as close as possible to the ideal of 5.6 to 1?


Do leaders lack crucial people management skills?

Around 50% of UK HR professionals believe that senior business leaders don’t have the behaviours and skills needed to get the best from their people.  This was one of the findings of a recent CIPD/Workday survey conducted last October. The survey found that technical, financial and operational competence among leaders is high, but many of them are ineffective at people management, particularly performance management.

The report goes on to reveal that, in a significant number of organisations, training and support for line managers when they take on new people management responsibilities just isn’t there. In fact, only 44% of employers provide formal training, and 60% provide tailored support for managers.

The survey also shows that in many organisations, business leaders and managers aren’t being given access to HR data to inform business decisions. HR needs to share its workforce insight to enable managers to make evidence-based people decisions.

The findings from the survey suggest that the capability within the HR function in relation to HR analytics and metrics has scope for significant strengthening.   The two main barriers to adopting HR analytics are technology capability
(36%) and business culture (29%).  Meanwhile, many of those organisations who have adopted HR analytics, have yet to fully engage other business stakeholders, with a third (37%) of finance managers and half (51%) of risk and compliance professionals having no access to HR dashboards and reports to support their decision making.

In summary the CIPD report recommends six key actions for HR Teams:-

  • Demonstrate the value of the HR agenda.
  • Use HR data to strengthen evidence-based decision-making.
  • Harness the benefits of technology.
  • Prepare for economic uncertainty (for example globalisation and Brexit).
  • Adapt to the changing needs of the workforce.
  • Strengthen the capability of people managers.

Why not talk to us about your organisation and how it can improve its people management practice.  We’d love to hear from you.