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Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

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I am a great fan of curation and use Scoop.It on a regular basis to bring together and publish articles and blogs on key areas of interest. One of my curates is called “New Leadership” and a couple of weeks ago one of my Twitter followers asked me what I meant by that. It was a fair question and following the death of Margaret Thatcher, it was one which got me thinking about the way that our concept of leadership has changed over the last couple of decades.

Margaret Thatcher was always held up to be a great leader (at least by her supporters). “Strong” “Fights for what she believes”, “Clear Vision”, “Doesn’t have time for dissenters” were the sorts of phrases which were used to describe her. But leaving aside the politics, I never really bought into that concept of leadership. Even in the 80’s, I sensed that things were changing and that we were looking for very different characteristics in our future leaders.

I think that view has been borne out by events. Nowadays, we want leaders with high levels of emotional intelligence who are collaborative, who engage with and empower their people and who seek consensus rather than conflict. I somehow feel that Mrs Thatcher would have viewed such people as weak and “wet” but if you look at most of the most successful companies on the planet, then that style of leadership has become the norm rather than the exception.

So what has changed over the preceding years? Many things in my view. Firstly, we now operate in a genuine global market place. Our trading and political relationships have changed dramatically and we stand and fall by our ability to collaborate and work in partnership with countries and people whom we might previously thought of as being fortunate to do business with us.

Secondly, as organisations are re-structured to meet the changing needs of that global market, I would argue that there is less call for “leaders” and more need for leadership qualities to be displayed throughout an organisation. Listen to how many times, national team coaches talk about having “leaders throughout the team” to realise how far that concept has been taken. In my last role, I spent 8 years on the Executive Management Team of a global company and I cannot recall a single occasion when the CEO demanded that we follow a certain course of action. Did this mean he was weak? Far from it, he simply realised that he managed a team of highly experienced “leaders” and as such, the decisions we reached were far more effective because they had been reached following a robust and challenging debate. I somehow doubt that was a regular feature of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet meetings.

Finally, I think that people’s expectations have changed dramatically over the last 30 years. The global skills shortage, means that companies can no longer pay lip service to the hackneyed saying “Our people are our most important resource”. Talent retention and development at all levels are now a critical component of any decent strategic plan and this generation of workers will not accept the old, directional styles of leadership. They expect to be consulted and involved in decision-making and empowered to take genuine responsibility – not just simply given a job of work to do. Moreover, if they don’t get what they want, they simply leave. Loyalty is no longer a given.

It will be interesting to see how far these changes in leadership style evolve. I read a blog a couple of weeks ago entitled “Are CEO’s Defunct?” and there are certainly some companies who are experimenting with “leaderless” groups and teams. Indeed, our own business operates as a partnership with each partner “leading” where appropriate.

Whilst I don’t think that CEOs need to be quaking in their shoes yet, we have clearly come a long way in the last 30 years. One of the great quotes from the late Brian Clough was “I am a great believer in group discussions. We talk about it for 20 minutes and we then decide I was right”. Not any more Brian, not any more!

Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a new vocational training company formed by the senior managers and staff of MindLeaders Learning Services following the acquisition of the company by Skillsoft in 2012 and focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills

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In a recent blog, I commented on the rapid development of “collaboration” both as a way of working and a way of learning. In this blog, I want to focus on the mechanics of making it work

1. Leadership from the Top

Collaboration simply won’t work unless there is genuine leadership from the very top of an organisation. So getting your CEO or head teacher on board is a key first step. That task is made so much easier if they understand how this new way of working will add value. Moreover, lip service simply isn’t sufficient. When I introduced Yammer into my last organisation, our CEO made a point of contributing every day and this sent out a very powerful message to everyone in the business.

2. Ownership Throughout The Organisation

You can’t force collaboration down people’s throats. Just as it needs to be led from the top, it needs to be owned by the organisation. If people are to commit to a new way of working, they need to understand what problems it will solve, how it will help both them and their teams perform more effectively, why it will make their work life more fulfilling. My approach was to identify some genuine evangelists and empower them to take responsibility and make things happen. That strategy was hugely effective, not simply as a way of implementing change, but of making it happen quickly and embedding it throughout the organisation.

3. Part of the Culture and Values

Collaboration isn’t something which can skim along the surface of an organisation. It has to be embedded deep within the culture and supported by an appropriate set of values. If openness, honesty, integrity and innovation are not contained within that value set, a collaborative culture is unlikely to gain ground.
In my last company, I knew that a collaborative culture would work because we had a set of values which clearly supported it. Moreover, those values had been developed by the people within the organisation – not handed down from on high on tablets of stone.

4. Social Networks Are A Great Facilitator but not the Total Answer

There are now a wide range of different Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) available of which Yammer is probably the best known. Yammer was acquired by Microsoft last year so expect it to be integrated into Office at some stage. If you are unfamiliar with ESNs, think about them as a combination of Twitter, Linked-in, Google +, a smattering of Linked-In and maybe even a bit of Facebook, but ONLY available to the members of a specific organisation. They are therefore totally private (unless you choose otherwise).
If you are thinking of introducing an ESN such as Yammer, my advice would be not to ram it down people’s throats, but to adopt a “softly softly” approach. I found that within 6 weeks of implementing Yammer into a global company, we had almost 100% of our people using it – not because they had been told to do so, but because they gradually started to see the value.
It’s important to remember that ESNs are facilitators. They are a great way to stimulate collaboration but they are not the complete solution. Without the other building blocks in place, they simply won’t work.

5. Quick Wins Are Important

The best way to win hearts and minds is for people to see positive effects at an early stage. So quick wins are important. We developed an Innovation project and used Yammer not simply for people to log ideas, but for others to build on them and to evaluate them using a “like” system. Within a few weeks, we had dozens of ideas flowing around our relatively small (200 people) company and many of these were agreed and implemented almost immediately via our “just do it” policy.

6. Focus on the Skills

There has been a lot of talk in the blogosphere about “new “ skills required to successfully implement a collaborative strategy. I don’t buy that but I do believe there are a number of “existing” skills which need to become higher focus and practiced more regularly. Collaboration will take people out of their comfort zones and into working in new teams, many of which may be temporary, and working with new people, many of whom they may not know or whom in some cases, may not even work for the same organisation. I find that skills such as listening, questioning and giving feedback become particularly important in these situations.
Somebody once defined “listening” to me (and sadly they meant it) as “Waiting for the other person to finish speaking so that I can say what I want to say”. Real or “Active” listening is of course so much more than that. It’s about not simply listening to what someone has said but showing through body language and responses, that you have not only heard them but understood what they were saying and why they were saying it. In an era of conference calls, webinars and multi-tasking, it is skill which is often poorly used and one I will return to in future blogs.
Finally, I would just like to touch on the area of Emotional Intelligence EI). Again, it is a subject I will return to in the future, but I believe that the self-awareness, social awareness and relationship management, all of which form a key part of EI, are of huge significance in any organisation which values collaboration.

And Finally

So effective collaboration is never going to be easy. However, I am convinced that it is worth the effort. The potential benefits both in education and business are huge, not just for the organisations in terms of resource management and productivity gains, but for the individuals involved. Collaborative work places tend to be more fun to be in and contain people who are far more engaged with the organisation. Not a bad starting point in my view.

Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a new vocational training company formed by the senior managers and staff of MindLeaders Learning Services following the acquisition of the company by Skillsoft in 2012 and focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills

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Building a culture of learning starts with managers.Some years ago I attended a course at the London Business School and vividly remember a case study about how Komatsu, the Japanese construction equipment company, had decided to take on Caterpillar and try to achieve market domination.  Their Mission Statement was very simple – “Encircle C”. In other words, put an iron grip around Caterpillar and then squeeze the life out of them.

I remembered that story on the train, having spent the day in a very constructive and positive meeting with one of our key competitors. I hadn’t gone there secretly seeking intel on their operation or finding out whether they had any jobs available, but to discuss whether there might be ways in which we could work together. The answer was a very emphatic “Yes” and over the coming weeks I am confident that we will develop that relationship to our mutual benefit.

So does this mean that we are now longer competitors? Of course not. There will be times when we are both competing for the same business and we will fight tooth and nail to win it. But I’m sure there will be other occasions when we will consider combining our relative strengths and working together on joint bids. It’s a bit like watching Harlequins and Leicester rugby clubs bashing hell out of each other in the Premiership Final, and then joining forces a week later as brothers-in-arms to take on South Africa

My experience is a practical example of what my colleague Janet Garcia referred to as the “cooperative advantage” in a related blog post. As organisations operating in the same space, it requires us to focus on the needs of our customers rather than on each other and I can already start to see the expression “co-opetition” starting to creep into management lingo.

However, before we start donning the rose-coloured spectacles and watch Coke and Pepsi waltzing hand-in-hand into the distance, I think we need to be realistic and set out some guidelines. “Co-opetition” isn’t always an option and there are certainly a few companies operating in our sector with whom I would not wish to work under any circumstances.

The basis for “co-opetition” has to be a mutual trust and respect and shared or similar values.  However, with those foundations in place, I believe there are real opportunities to develop very different relationships with competitors rather than following the Komatsu line of trying to squeeze them to death – which obviously didn’t work!

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