Archive for the ‘Topic – Leadership and Management’ Category

Management Gone Missing?

Monday, September 10th, 2012

I saw this comment on a learning and development forum recently – “I recently ran a management course for new and existing managers at similar levels, it is a course which all managers new to the organisation are told about and attend with agreement from their line manager. I had a number of managers who were negative and felt they shouldn’t have attended as they had a number of years’ experience as managers already. The other delegates were newer and did want to be there. I found I really struggled to turnaround / manage the really negative individual and the other few who weren’t happy to be there. Due to this I really feel I didn’t deliver the best course I could have done as, whilst I have experienced the odd 1 or 2 negative delegates in the past on various courses, I’ve never experienced such constant negativity which I didn’t seem to be able to have any influence over.”

Following the post were a number of suggestions from respondents, including:

  • Having individual discussions with delegates prior to their arrival
  • Encourage delegates to explain their concerns
  • If people don’t want to stay, don’t make them
  • Tailor the course more to their particular needs
  • Ask them what they want to get out of the course
  • Meet with their managers post-course

What surprised me, though, were that all the responses focused on what to do in the classroom environment, or post-course. In order to implement a long term solution, there needs to be wider and more systematic activity.

What can be done to ensure that such instances are minimised in the first place? What appear to be missing are effective learning and development management interventions.

For learning in the workplace to be effective, there needs to be a tripartite approach comprising the delegate, the delegate’s line management and the learning provider. And in terms of the learning provider, this means both the trainer and – importantly – their management.

Within the post there is no mention of 3 key activities or processes that I would expect to see.

1. Why is each delegate attending the course? They have been nominated by their manager – what are the reasons for the manager requiring them to attend? Managers having pre and post-course meetings with their attending delegates is one of the areas often examined during an Investor in People (IiP) assessment – because it makes a difference.

If this process doesn’t happen, it should. If it does happen, it should be recorded – and most     importantly be available to the trainer. This not only helps in terms of dealing with the issues    in the person’s post – by being able to explain to or remind them of why they are there – but it helps in terms of planning a more meaningful event for the delegates – and will generally mean an increased return on investment (ROI).

2. How might the use of a Student Charter or Learning Agreement help this situation? If such a process is in place, it means that the internal customer (the delegate and their line management) knows what to expect from the internal provider (the learning and development function). It should also include what the internal provider requires from its delegates – in terms of participation, input and behaviours – together with the consequences for a delegate who chooses not to meet this level of expectation.

Such an agreement should have been agreed across the business at senior management level – and so it is then easy for a trainer to use and implement without fear of having overstepped the mark. Transparency for all concerned.

And as a consequence, those who want to be there and want to learn can do so.

3. Finally, the person’s post on the forum indicates that this course has been delivered previously. What evaluation data has been generated?  And I don’t mean end of course or Level 1 data – I mean Level 3 or above, good quality data.  How is it improving the performance of those who are attending? How have previous delegates been able to use what they have learned? How is the course improving organisational performance?  What is the organisation’s return on its investment?

This information should be gathered from the delegates between 2 and 4 months after the completion of the programme. Both the quantitative and qualitative information can then be used by the trainer to illustrate what delegates can gain from attending – thus also demonstrating the overall value of the internal learning and development function to the business.

I have to say, I really feel for the trainer. I’ve been in that position and it’s not a lot of fun. Here is a trainer wanting to deliver a quality product, but some of the delegates are apparently thwarting his or her efforts.

And I get the impression that perhaps in this situation they are not been sufficiently supported by their learning and development management. The activities I have outlined above would both assist the trainer and probably make their role more enjoyable – and, above all, benefit the business.



London and Learning Legacies

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

Almost 25 years ago I stood in torrential rain and watched one of the most evocative concerts I have witnessed. It was Jean Michel Jarre’s spectacular ‘Destination Docklands’. Originally planned as one concert, it eventually became two concerts (due to Council objections) and they took place on a Saturday and Sunday in October 1988.

The audience stood and sat on what was derelict land – land that is now one of the Olympic venues, the ExCeL  Arena, which hosted the boxing.

Fast forward to the present day. Last month, the new Olympic Stadium – also in East London – held  the most spectacular event since Jarre’s oncert; the Olympic Opening Ceremony.

There were significant similarities between the two. The Opening Ceremony told the story of a rural Britain instigating the Industrial Revolution on behalf of the world, followed by post-war immigration and then celebrating social welfare, British music and its current multi-cultural make up.

Jarre’s concert was divided into four sections, the first of which was devoted to the Industrial Revolution. Part Two was London in the Swinging Sixties (when Jarre was joined on stage by Hank Marvin), the third section was the forthcoming digital Nineties, and the final section was ‘The Emigrant’.

Having said that, the differences in the environments were striking. The Olympic Stadium is set in beautifully landscaped gardens, with fantastic public transport and a huge, bright shopping centre close to its entrance.

On my way to and from the Jarre concert, I can remember being uncomfortable for the majority of the time, and very uncomfortable on a couple of occasions. East London was not a welcoming place in the late Eighties.

It was still the London described by The Clash in “London Calling” and The Jam’s “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight”“ …Whispers in the shadows – gruff blazing voices, hating, waiting …”.

Nothing changed in London as a result of the Jarre concert. Lots has changed, and lots more will change, as a result of the Olympics. Only time will tell what the legacy will be, but there are firm plans and noble intentions.

The reasons for the difference? In the case of the Olympic Opening Ceremony, the aforementioned plan, infrastructure, investment and community involvement. Reasonably obvious, I guess.

Move the context to organisational development. I was recently asked to submit a proposal for a number of sessions to help an organisation’s managers navigate it successfully through a period of significant change – spookily enough, in south east London. My tender included a number of additional offerings at no additional charge – for managers requiring them, a number of Action Learning Sets, email and phone consultation on real situations faced by the managers, and a number of one to one coaching sessions if desired. I offered these because I know that for development to work, people need the opportunity to build on their learning, discuss real problems and opportunities, and seek assistance with specific scenarios.

A couple of weeks after submitting my submission, they rang me. The discussion was mainly around whether there would be any cost difference if they didn’t use the additional free offerings. I said there wouldn’t be. The person’s final comment was, “You see, we only want some training sessions”. My alarm bells rang. Perhaps they were just wanting to tick a box? Our relationship didn’t develop any further. And I was reminded once again of those two spectacular concerts.

For effective development to take place, it needs to be supported by the organisation, there needs to be a plan as to how it will be implemented and then how it will be supported post-implementation. It doesn’t matter how good the intervention is if this support isn’t here. Lasting change – that’s what development should be all about.


Time to take the road least travelled?

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

In my previous two posts, I have discussed the importance of a Vision. The Vision helps a company or team gain a shared view and understanding of what they want to achieve and how they want to be viewed.

If you are looking to create a Learning and Development (or Training) Strategy, you may have created your own Departmental Vision if your unit is large enough, or it may be that you have a company Vision which you use. This is a helpful starting point for your Strategy.

Here in England, just north of where I live and about 100 miles from Scotland, there is a road junction called “Scotch Corner”. Most people hardly notice it now, but in years gone by it was a hugely significant junction. Before getting to this point, the traveller needed to have planned their journey and decided whether they would be going up the east coast or west coast of Scotland. The decision had to be made a long time before reaching Scotland. Once they had decided which way to turn at Scotch Corner, it was expensive, time consuming and complicated to change course. The same is true of a strategy.

So before you go any further, why are you creating a strategy? The dictionary definition of a strategy is, “a long-term plan for success; a plan to achieve an advantage”. Nowhere does it suggest its definition is, “a paper exercise; the ticking of a box”. Sadly though, too many strategies are created for this second purpose – and such an approach can also become a millstone, or worse – a stick with which others can metaphorically beat you.

For a strategy to give you this long term plan and a competitive or organisational advantage, you need to put time, thought and energy into its formulation. It should enable you to clearly express where your function is heading and most importantly how it will support organisational performance, improvement and success. Once you have achieved this, you should be able to gain support and acceptance for your approach from your organisation’s senior management. This ‘sign off’ gives you further clarity, and can be very useful if you need to ‘challenge’ other parts of the organisation if for any reason they do not support your activities or seek to alter your direction.

So far I have referred to the document as a ‘Learning and Development’ or ‘Training’ Strategy, however, I would suggest that you really think hard about what you call it. Its title will set the tone for what you do and how you are seen. I have previously set down my thoughts on what can happen when a person is called a Trainer (“Sell your crunch, not your apples“), and how this can be unhelpful. As an aside, since writing that post, I have been on a course where the attendees were people who coach, train and develop others. The job title of one delegate was “Performance Improvement Consultant” Music to my ears! Having said that, the person worked at a group of hospitals in Orlando, Florida and so my concerns as to whether the title would be understood in the UK still exist.

Put yourself in the shoes of your senior operations manager – or similar – for a moment. Do they want a function that provides ‘Training’, ‘Learning’, ‘Development’, ‘Performance Improvement’, or something else? I see this as a continuum to which you could potentially add other words or phrases.

I’m pretty sure that the majority of senior operations managers would put themselves towards the right hand end of this continuum – they want performance improvement. That’s how they are measured, that’s how they demonstrate success, that’s what keeps the business competitive or the organisation successful.

Why then do so many people have ‘Training’ Strategies? Possibly because that’s the way they have always been done, or possible because of where the function sits within the organisation. Often this function is part of HR. Within the HR profession, ‘Training’ is still an all too popular generic title. If this function was moved to be part of the Performance Management arm of the business, would its primary purpose still be seen as Training? I think not.

Consequently, this Strategy is far more than a piece of paper. It will say what you are about, and how you are positioned within the organisation. It should make you think long and hard about what impact you intend to make. So before you even start to write it, think about these crucial questions.

Will you be having a ‘Training Strategy’ or a ‘Performance Improvement Strategy’? This is your ‘Scotch Corner’ moment.


Building the Perfect Vision

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

In my previous post, I outlined the components of a good quality Vision, together with examples of good and not so good offerings. In this post I will explain how to create a meaningful Vision.

For a Vision to be effective, not only does it need to meet the suggested criteria listed in the previous post, it also needs to be owned by the company or departmental staff, and both understood and valued by the customer base. The following process will enable you to achieve all this.

  1. Brainstorm or board-blast words and short phrases that describe what your organisation or department is to be about. This activity can be undertaken both internally and with customers, although the sessions should be run separately.
  2. Having undertaken this with one or more groups, look at all the words and phrases you have generated. You will see some themes and overlaps. Some words will have similar meanings. Group the words and phrases together where possible – using one colour for customer comments and another colour for staff comments.  This will give you an indication of which themes are numerically most important to the people you have consulted with, together with a check of the weighting from each of the two groups.
  3. Now prioritise your themes. Which are shared by both staff and customers? As the leader of the company or Department, which ones meet with your long term view? Which are most important to the success of your venture?
  4. Within each theme, is there a word that encapsulates, as far as possible, what the theme is about? If so, make a note of it. If not, is there a two-word phrase that sums it up? This step of the process is all about simplifying the theme and looking to take it forward as succinctly yet as accurately as possible.  You will never fit all the comments people have made into a sentence of a few words – so you will have to be prepared to accept inclusion by implication – and this is what you should be seeking to achieve with this step.
  5. Put your prioritised words together in a phrase. As I have mentioned previously, the phrase needs to be memorable, and as many people as possible need to be able to understand how their contribution has helped form and been included within the sentence.

If you get to this point, well done! It isn’t easy to get to this position, and it is time consuming – but it is well worthwhile.

The last time that I undertook this process was when I was leading a large Learning and Development function within an organisation. The Vision that I settled on was “Partners in Developing Performance”. This reflected the requirement to work with other parts of the organisation in an Adult and objective manner, together with the recognition that we existed to develop people, and that our Department needed to make a positive impact on organisational performance.

I found it very helpful in articulating what we were all about, and ensuring that all our activities fitted with this Vision or value. The most pleasing impact was when one of the trainers – on his own initiative – had delegate desk name plates (i.e. a folded card where the delegate wrote their name as a part of their introduction) printed with the Vision on. Proof that it was owned and valued by staff!

Furthermore, due to its positive impact, the HR Department adopted an amended version of it – “Partners in Managing our People”– for their own use.

So if it can be so effective, why don’t more organisations and departments do it? There are many potential reasons – here are some of them:

  • Looking for instant results – if that’s what you want, you probably will not invest the time in a Vision
  • Bureaucratic – it can be viewed as such where people don’t understand its value
  • Fear or embarrassment – it can be seen as a bit different if people haven’t been involved in such a process before
  • Inadequacy – some people tell themselves that they couldn’t lead such a process. Remember, there are facilitators who would be able to assist you with the process
  • Fatigue – there will be many other things on your plate, and it can be an easy one to push off the side.

But try it – clear these potential blockages and set out your Vision.  Be clear on where you and your team are going.

Once you have your Vision, you can develop your Mission – which will be your over-arching objective or overall aim. This could be your objective for where you will be in 5 years’ time. You can then work backwards setting objectives as to what needs to be in place or happen to get you to that point. Your path will have clarity for your staff and stakeholders.

Which takes me back to where this all started – the writing of a Strategy. The Vision can make this easier, and in my next post I will outline a template for creating a meaningful Learning and Development Strategy.


I have a Vision – do you?

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

Recently I have received a surge in emails requesting assistance on writing Learning and Development Strategies. It seems like everyone is at it. It encourages me that so many people are keen to define their strategic goals, however, it does also concern me that often people may be doing it to tick a box – and the document is created, and then forgotten about.  For a strategy to work, it needs to become a living document, to move from the 2-dimensional to the 3-dimensional.

I believe that there is a key step that should take place before writing the strategy – a step that can make the difference between the resulting product being a living document and a paper exercise. But very few people or organisations undertake it.

It’s the creation of a Vision. The creation of a Vision can conjure up ideas, enable ownership of a shared dream of the future, motivate people and focus everyone’s thinking.  It can be undertaken by whole organisations, or key departments within organisations.

What is your company or Department’s Vision? If it has one, can you remember it? Do you have ownership of it? Does it motivate you?

Think of some of the Visions that other organisations have.  Two of the best ones that I am aware of are John Lewis’ “Never Knowingly Undersold” and Ikea’s “Affordable solutions for better living”. So what makes these so good?

Well, a Vision needs to be:

  • Achievable
  • Communicable
  • Memorable
  • Sustainable
  • Probably not longer than 7 words
  • Use terms that everyone can recognise, relate to
    and remember
  • Describe what you see
  • Inspirational

And it should avoid being:

  • An intention
  • Like an objective
  • Bureaucratic
  • Committee-speak
  • Measurable

Both my previous examples fit with these requirements, as does my personal favourite – FedEx’s “The world on time”.  Those four words give such clarity as to what FedEx wants to be, yet so simply and memorably.

But not all are this good. Nike’s, “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world”, and Amazon’s, “To be earth’s most customer centric company”, are reasonable, but the use of the word ‘To’ at the start making them sound too much like objectives.

Moving down my leader board, we arrive at Virgin Atlantic’s, “The success of our three year strategy requires us to build on these foundations by focusing on the business and leisure markets and driving efficiency and effectiveness”. Memorable? Inspirational? I don’t think so.

And, in my opinion, the worst of all belongs to Heinz. Their 73-word offering is, “Our Vision, quite simply, is to be ‘The world’s premier food company, offering nutritious, superior tasting foods to people everywhere.’ Being the premier food company does not mean being the biggest but it does mean being the best in terms of consumer value, customer service, employee talent, and consistent and predictable growth. We are well on our way to realizing this Vision but there is more we must do to fully achieve it.”

If they had left it as the ‘quite simply’ part, then it would be good – but someone felt the need to, “Yes, but …” it, and the moment was lost. And with it went any inspirational, communicable or motivational qualities it may have had. But perhaps it’s more difficult when you need to include 57 varieties!

If your company or Department has a Vision, how good do you think it is? If it doesn’t have a Vision, would you benefit from having one? In my next post I will give suggestions as to how to create a FedEx quality Vision.


Foundations of team success – whatever the scale

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

I saw last week that Croatia is now going to be able to join the EU, probably in July 2013. Assuming it goes ahead, they will be the twenty-eighth state to join. It is of particular interest to me as I spent eight years working with their Interior Ministry and Ministry of Justice assisting with their preparations for this eventuality. Croatia is an incredibly beautiful country which I have visited many times. When I visited during the late 1990’s, however, I saw a more serious side.

I visited Vukovar – a Croat city on the border with Serbia – where there were mass murders based on ethnicity, together with a huge amount of physical damage. At the same time I also visited Bosnia. Sarajevo and Srebrenica, both of which I found terribly depressing, were awful places which appeared to have no hope at that time.

Balkan history is complicated, however, what happened in Yugoslavia in the last quarter of the last century is reasonably straightforward. The Yugoslav President, Josip Broz Tito died in 1980. He had ruled post-WW2 Yugoslavia in a hard line manner. In doing so, he managed to retain a bond between the very different parts that made up Yugoslavia. Once he was gone, no one could carry on his style of leadership. As the economic decline took a stronger hold during the 1980’s, the disparate states within Yugoslavia increasingly focused on their differences. The areas that are now Slovenia and Croatia knew that they generated the majority of the country’s income, much of which subsidised the other areas – and so they decided that they wanted out. Slovenia decided it had had enough in 1991 and declared itself an independent country – and got away with it. Croatia, which is closer to Serbia, decided to follow suit, but by this time Belgrade – the current capitol of Serbia and the former capitol of Yugoslavia – was wise to it and decided to halt it. Their devastating war began.

Fast forward to Europe in June 2011, and we find a similar situation – substitute the EU for Yugoslavia. There is a harsh economic climate, a number of states are close to financial melt-down and there are mutterings that the richer states don’t want to support them any longer. There is no prospect of war, but there is the prospect of the downfall of the Euro. The question is being asked as to whether it is possible for a currency to function effectively across a number of countries without one ‘corporate’ shared financial strategy.

These moments in history are played out every day all over the world. What happens on these world stages occurs in far smaller teams in organisations. What they illustrate so well are the foundations that must be in place for any team, country or continent to function effectively:

  • Effective senior leadership – a leader who is prepared to listen, and who has true followers.
  • Strong and valued relationships – ones that have been built over time where there is strong rapport, not ones that will splinter when under pressure.
  • A shared vision and strategy – which is bought into by all parties through open dialogue.
  • An ability to handle conflict – a willingness to talk, negotiate and accept responsibility.
  • People or states have problems – they are not problem people or problem states, and they need to be viewed in that way.
  • Valuing diversity – an acceptance that we all bring different abilities to the table which will be recognised in different situations.

Effective leadership means thinking forward to these difficult times during the relatively easy times – and everyone needs to demonstrate this as we all have that responsibility.

As a team member, team manager or team leader, what are you contributing to ensure your team is truly effective in challenging times?


Make the complicated simple

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

Many years ago I went to the Emmanuel College, Cambridge University May Ball. I had been invited by a friend from school who took a degree course there. I hasten to add it was only the May Ball I went to – that’s as close as I got to Cambridge University!

I hadn’t done particularly well at the Grammar School we were both at, and so I went with the view that I would meet with lots of people who I would struggle to engage with, and that I would know far less than them in all meaningful areas.

Nevertheless, I had agreed to meet my friend Steve a couple of days before the May Ball in order to spend some time with him, see a little of Cambridge and meet his friends – including my partner for the event as I not met her previously. When I arrived, he duly took me to meet one of his friends. I can’t remember the friend’s name, or much else about the meeting, other than when we went into his room he was there with his bicycle. The bicycle was upside down and the friend was scratching his head. He greeted us and then outlined his problem by saying, “I’ve got a slow puncture and need to mend it, but I can’t find out how to get the rest of the air out of the inner-tube.” I was amazed. One of the greatest young brains in the UK and he didn’t know how to get the air out.

I often think back to that experience. I think it was the point when I realised that there was a difference between knowledge and skills, and it was a reminder of how dangerous and unproductive it is to assume what people might know.

I was reminded of it again last week. I was working with some senior leaders and we were discussing leadership theories, models and practices. I decided to use John Adair’s Action Centred Leadership Model and asked who had heard of it and could explain it to me and the others present. None of the three people present had heard of it. I was astonished.  I (wrongly) thought that it was the sort of ‘foundation’ leadership theory that every leader knows about. And the reason why I haven’t blogged about it previously is because I assumed that it was too well known to be worth it. Perhaps I was wrong?

Some people also refer to it as the “I, We, It” theory, and others as the “Team, Task, Individual” theory. This is because of the naming of the three overlapping or interlocking circles (see the diagram above):

  • It / Task – the completion of the task, achieving the task
  • We / Team – the creation, sustaining and motivating of the team to ensure it works effectively
  • I / Individual – the individual development of members of the team

Adair’s view was that all three of these aspects are required to successfully lead (and manage) given situations. They are overlapping circles as each supports the others.

I personally see it as a foundation theory as it’s one of those that can be used in any situation – and if something isn’t going quite right, or things aren’t running as smoothly as perhaps the leader thinks they should be, it’s a great one to check against as to how they are leading. When doing this, it’s often possible to recognise that a leader is directing, conducting or encouraging more activity in one or two of the circles, to the exclusion of the other(s) – and there can lie the reason for things not being on track. In visual terms, one or two of the circles become disproportionately large in comparison to the other(s).

Whilst the theory is relatively new – having been developed and publicised in the 1960s – some people now see it as being too simplistic. This is not a view that I share – I think that there lies its strength and power. Leadership shouldn’t be seen as complicated as it really isn’t – if leaders make it overcomplicated, people will not follow. Simplicity is the beauty of this model, which then makes me wonder why it took until the 1960s for someone to come up with it!  Perhaps Charles Mingus had the answer when he said, “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creative”.

If you want more detail on the theory, there’s some useful guidance and assistance at Businessballs.

What the best Leadership Theory or Model that you have been introduced to, and what makes it so effective?


Leading through change

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Handling change effectively can be really satisfying. We are generally not the instigators of change, almost always the recipients of some change or other and are sometimes required to implement it.  This makes it important – but it isn’t always managed as if it’s important. It needs the human touch.

If we reflect on some of those times when we have been recipients, we may well be able to come up with examples of how the change was managed well. We can almost certainly come up with examples of occasions when it was not dealt with as well as it could have been.

Because of the emotions that experiencing change can generate, it is an area of management where the manager can have a particularly positive or negative impact. And whilst the manager may also be affected by the change process, he or she will do well to invest some time into managing it well – if they want as motivated and effective staff as possible post-change. It is a short-term investment of time that reaps long-term gains.

In my previous blog post, I described four 4 types of people we encounter during change – The Entrenched, The Overwhelmed, The Whirling Dervish and The Learner. And where they sit depends largely on their ability and willingness to deal with change.

Having previously described their probably reactions, I said that in this post I would give you some hints on how to manage the different individuals. This will help you to assist them as effectively as possible – or understand how you need to be managed in order to deal with the change as well as possible.

The Entrenched – You need to attend to The Entrenched person’s emotions or stress. A phased introduction of the changes will help them, as will clearly linking them to their past successes.  Don’t expect too much too soon from them, or you may have another Overwhelmed person. Find safe places and situations for them to test their learning, and use Learners as role models.

The Overwhelmed – The Overwhelmed person needs to be shown understanding in dealing with their stress and fear.  They need lots of support and encouragement for the future, and they require protecting from rapid empowerment or responsibility. Ensure that they can achieve some quick or easy wins. Finally, use effective colleagues to promote their confidence – you cannot do it all yourself!

The Whirling Dervish – Whatever you do, don’t empower The Whirling Dervish or let them loose with a wide remit! You need to limit their influence over others, hold them accountable for anything you ask them to implement and give them plenty of feedback. Ask them to address core issues and solutions, not symptoms and quick fixes. Help them recognise and address the true extent of their abilities.

The Learner – You need to help fill any gaps in The Learner’s personal knowledge. Focus them on processes rather than the task. Give them the freedom to model learning for others, and consider offering them new and demanding roles with high impact opportunities.  Learners can sometimes take on too much and become all things to all people – support them and ensure that this doesn’t happen as you don’t want to lose your Learners.

If you have been able to identify your own ‘preferred’ position, do some of these tips on how you should be managed make sense? Or as a manager, can you see how they would work with your staff?

Remember, attitudes are caught, not taught. If you as a leader or manager are negative about change, your staff are likely to follow the example you set. And effectively managing the human dimensions of change can have a really significant impact on the performance of a team or business.