Wednesday, 19 November 2008

For a change....

A book review. First in an occasional series and all that. I have to admit that I am not a great reader of non-fiction - I do like my books to have a good story - but there are a few that I have read that have hit the mark for me. The key is always whether I might read it again.

This one is of Good to Great by Jim Collins, Random House Business Books, 2001isbn 7126 76090 . You have probably all heard of this and maybe even read it, but it feels like a perfect opportunity to revisit a classic.

Collins and his team set out to identify what it takes to turn a good company into a great one - defined as significantly out performing their direct competitors for 15 years from the transition point. (OK, so one of the 'great' companies was Fannie Mae, but no one ever said they would be great forever!)

Two concepts have stayed with me since first reading this book some years ago. Firstly, Level 5 Leadership - "a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will" which is summed up by the Harry Truman quote on the opening page of the chapter "You can accomplish anything in life, provided that you do not mind who gets the credit."

Secondly, the need to 'confront the brutal facts, yet never lose faith' - that combination of discipline and discerning optimism which allow leaders to hear the truth about the situation and enables them to engender trust that they will prevail.

It's an entertaining, instructive and easy read. Best of all, everything is summarised in Chapter 1 so if you are really pushed for time you can just read that.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Fighting Talk

Other people can really hamper productivity and cohesion at work. If only everyone would come round to our point of view everything would be fine, wouldn't it? But it is inevitable the they will sometime feel that their priorities, beliefs or values are more important than ours, I suppose.

Clashes and disagreements happen. Apparently, the average UK employee spends over two hours a week dealing with conflict, (CIPD/OPP). When handled well they can clear the air, generate new ideas and check the robustness of current thinking. Top tips for handling them well include:
  • Consider the conflict from others’ perspectives - you never know, they might just have a point. How can you respond to them at the same time as disagreeing with them?
  • Identify the positive intention
  • Flex your behaviour for others -
  • Don’t assume – check for meaning and don't fill in the gaps in your understanding on your own
  • Listen to yourself - scary eh?
  • Build bridges
  • Listen for underlying feelings

The best one, I think, is to continue to bear in mind that there might be a solution to the problem that neither of you has thought of yet.

But what happens if the conflict seems to be without solution. If both parties are intent on winning rather than resolution?

One of the most challenging (and fun) approaches to this can be to try Timed Talk. All you need is a quite place, a timer and to agree that you are going to try this as an approach. Then.....

  • Set the timer for 3 minutes
  • Take turns talking for 3 minutes each for as long as necessary
  • Stop talking the instant the timer goes off, even if you are in the middle of a word. If you should happen to run out of things to say before the end of your 3 minutes then save the time left for your next go
  • Do not interrupt each other, sigh, sneer or tut whilst the other person is talking
  • Pay them respectful attention
  • If possible, have a referee
  • Breath (regularly)

No doubt, for the first few turns, it will seem as if you are speaking different languages. But anger and resentment will be dissipating and the equality of the structure prevents any irrelevant tension being created.

Eventually you will begin to hear each other, despite all efforts to the contrary. In spite of yourself you might notice that the other person has made a good point. You will both begin to think instead of react.

It might seem a strange, time consuming approach. But how long can a really good disagreement last?

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Continuing the theme of independent speaking....

Is there something happening in the political environment right now? My hopes for change are getting stronger, reinforced by a story recently told at a global summit by Gordon Brown.

Looking round the room with 15 heads of state and their tribes of staffers and security men, he recalled the occasion when Maynard Keynes, the economist, went to Washington for discussions with the US Secretary of State for the Treasury. He travelled alone and on arrival at the Treasury Building his host asked, 'So where is your entourage?' 'No entourage' said Keynes. 'But what about your lawyer?', said the Treasury Secretary. 'No', replied the economist, 'It's just me. I travelled alone.' The Treasury Secretary looked puzzled, ' But who is going to do your thinking for you?' he asked.

So, who is doing your thinking for you?

Think Again and Again

I am not sure when the American election actually starts, as millions of people seem to have voted already, but the thoughts around this began to merge with the threads of my previous post on independent thinking and that of July 29th.

I have copied that one in here so you don't have to try and find it.

I had the strange experience of being very reassured by a small piece in the Sunday Telegraph this weekend.

It was a report on a part of the conversation between David Cameron and Barack Obama in which they were discussing diary management (don't we all). We all think our diaries are out of control but imagine what it is like for these guys. Everyone wants a piece of them and their diaries are filled up in 15 minute increments. David Cameron referred to it as the 'dentist's waiting room'.

What was so refreshing was that they both agreed that the most important thing to do was 'to have big chunks of time during the day when all you're doing is thinking' in order to keep a sense of the big picture and not lose your 'feeling' or the judgement you need to use to make decisions.

It is easy to think that what we need from our leaders is the ability to make snap decisions, under pressure all the time. True, we do need some of that, but we also are in desperate need of them having time to think.

Last week's post was about the impact on short-term, conformist thinking within organisations and the knock on effect on the economy. But this cannot be untangled from the same type of thinking at a governmental level. Worldwide it would seem.

Let's have the suggestion of a change in thinking style, rather than just policy and personality, be our reason to be hopeful for today.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

What do you think?

We are in a mess, aren't we?

"The crisis is a direct result of poor, short-term, conformist, in-denial thinking, rife with untrue, limiting assumptions. For organisations and individuals to emerge from the crisis and into an era that produces unprecedented sustainable well-being, they will have to generate the best, freshest independent thinking from everyone. " Nancy Kline, October 2008.

Short-term - I am only here for a few years so got to make a big impact and lots of money before my next job.
Conformist - everyone else it doing it, they must have thought it through, surely, so I don't need to bother.
In-denial - la la la la la. Fingers in ears.
Untrue, limiting assumptions - Got to do what everything else it doing. They've thought it all out. I can't buck the system. Making money is everything.

I am sure you can think of lots more.

But why is it that the thought of fresh, independent thinking can be so terrifying? Is it because we are scared to be thinking things that no one else is - how helpful would some new ideas be right now? Is it because we are scared of what we might have to do once we have had these new thoughts - got to be better than what we are doing now, hasn't it?

How can we make new thinking the exciting, refreshing, life and world changing experience it can be? What do we need to do to create an environment where we can all do our best thinking?

Most importantly, what do you need to do to free your own thinking?

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

The average recession lasts 11 months

It is not often that I start with a fact but that one was a real eye opener.

It is so easy in times like this to cut staff and squeeze suppliers dry. But by remaining visionary, innovative and brave and by going against the conventional approaches your competitors are taking, you stand a chance of not only weathering the storm but coming out of it stronger and more capable.

The short term boost that a reduced wage bill can create hides longer term costs. Most directly the cost of rehiring and retraining employees is often greater than the saving of cutting numbers initially. What is difficult to calculate is the cost of how the job cuts are handled on those who lose their job and those who remain.

It has also been shown that even where redundancies are necessary, how they are handled makes all the difference. In organisations where leaders make the announcement and then head for the safety of their offices for the duration, there are more claims of unfair dismissal than when they make themselves available to answer questions about job losses and the reasons behind them. In addition, the staff left behind remain more positive and productive where redundancies have been managed effectively.

And a downturn can be a great time to focus on staff development - within reason of course. At times like this, re-engaging staff behind the bigger vision for the company, helping them to manage their stress levels and, at the same time, learn skills which will be vital to the continued growth of the business takes courage. Most competitors will be hunkering down, cutting spending on people development.

If you really do need to cut jobs, what do you need to do to protect the relationships with all staff for the long term?

What are your brutal facts?

OK, I can avoid it no longer. I will reference the CC but I can't bring myself to type it.

This is a moment to remind myself of one of the ideas from Good to Great (Jim Collins) that has always stuck with me. The need to confront the brutal facts (yet never lose faith).

Few people within an organisation will not have any questions about how it might be affected by global events. Sometimes it feels easier and more reassuring to respond to these questions with reasons why it won't affect this organisation directly, what makes this company different etc. No doubt generating bemused expressions and mistrust from staff who are clearly capably of reading the paper or watching the news.

Facing the reality of the implications of the situation, no matter how frightening for the leadership and the rest of the staff, is more likely to protect the business.

There is nothing as confidence inspiring as a plan that starts with the facts.