1,2,3 Transform

No one delights in things done ‘to them’ or thrown ‘at them’.

While at uni, I remember being horrified at an experiment where pigeons randomly received food pellets or electric shocks when pressing a lever. They ended up displaying behaviours that in human terms we call schizophrenia. (Many employees have a vaguely similar experience in the workplace.)

Change……….transformation…..evolution is in our bones – literally. Why the aversion and resistance to change in our organisations? There is none. The real and profound aversion is to discomfort, threat and being treated dismissively – not to change. (If people were averse to change, no one would buy a lotto ticket!)

It was proven decades ago (Eds Deming’s Total Quality approach) that people thrive when they set iterative change goals – they consistently outperform targets imposed on them.

In my experience, people are naturally enthusiastic about:

  • Contributing their best to make an enterprise succeed
  • Focusing on efficiencies and zero waste
  • Achieving extraordinary results
  • Identifying/implementing iterative improvements (that add up to significant gains)
  • Working up to expectations
  • Learning how things fit together in all aspects of the business/market so they can contribute more meaningfully – “freedom within framework”

All these are deeply embedded in the healthy human being – your insurance for turbulent times.

Embed transformation into your organisation in these ways:

  • Adopt continuous improvement as a modus operandi driven by external indicators and internal self-scrutiny
  • Anticipate (as a collective) what/how you need to change to keep future-fit
  • Run your unit/department/organisation WITH your people – co-lead. They see way more than you do about what could work better, faster, more efficiently, more cheaply with better quality
  • Educate, inform and excite people about your challenges, your constraints and who needs to be impressed to keep them investing or buying
  • Embed rituals of Plan/Act/Review in cycles* that make sense for your operation. At least monthly, take stock of what’s gone well, what hasn’t and why, and what we’ll change from what we’ve learnt (who/how/when) and repeat
    * See article link below – “Secrets behind Graeme Hart’s Success”
  • Pair people up so they’re always cross-referencing how they’re working and what they could be doing from another’s perspective. After an agreed period, swap for cross- fertilisation. (As coach, review with each their notes from their chats – not to ‘check’ but to learn and understand what is actually happening – a reality check.)
  • If people have allocated seats, do what one client does: everyone moves seat six monthly (no “squatters”)

A true story: a coach met with a building company that took 120 days on average to build a house. He asked how they could do it in 10 days. After a few hours (during which they suspended the obvious: ‘It can’t be done’) they had dozens of ideas. He said: ‘Go and do those things.’ They ended up with a 42-day average build. Imagine the impact. (From Rob Nixon’s “Accounting Practices Don’t Add Up”)

Anything’s possible WITH people.

* http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11402478

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100% in 2016

During 2015, ‘not a hundy’ was the phrase used for the below-par condition of an All Black (i.e. a Steve Hansen-ism along with the phrase: ‘inconvenient fact’.) ‘Not a hundy’ invariably referred to a physical injury. (It is unlikely an All Black would not be a hundred percent for any other reason.)

While rugby union may be far from the average mind in the blistering heat of February, peak performance is not, as we saw with the New Zealand Sevens’ win at the weekend and with the 2016 work year in full swing.

If you are one of the 97% of NZ businesses that employs fewer than 20 people (with nearly 70% having no employees – MBIE Small Business Sector Report 2014) then chances are you can tell when your business is ‘not a hundy’. In the large majority of businesses employing up to 5 people, there is nowhere to hide. For those with 30, 50 or over a 100 people, below-par performance is not as immediately visible.

World class coaches select players either at their performance peak or who demonstrate peak potential. They are astutely aware when someone is not at their peak or not what the team needs. When it comes to sport, seniority, authority or organisational ‘level’ (title) comes second to performance level. In that setting, what you contribute is permanently on show if not to the public, then to your own team and the high performance coaches and management. Action is usually taken BEFORE under-performance shows up on the scoreboard whether it is by selection, substitution or a change in game strategy.

In larger organisations, where performance level or type does not serve the team well, the drag effect can be masked and/or delayed. Sooner or later, it shows up as one or more of:

  • disruption to performance
  • inefficiency
  • conflict and/or disharmony
  • increased cost
  • delays
  • wastage
  • health & safety (and other) risks
  • lost opportunities
  • results less than potential
  • tied up funds that could be more profitably invested elsewhere

Each time there is a pay run, an organisation purchases a capability – the critical question is: how much of this purchased capability converts to organisational results and the opposite of everything on the above list?

There are three main reasons organisations do not perform to their current potential.

  1. Wrong strategy – both externally and internally, the chosen strategy must match what both environments require for success at this moment in time, and given the particular sector or industry
  2. Wrong people – you have to have the right people thinking and acting in the right way, in the right place at the right time, for success
  3. Wrong approach – the way strategy is implemented and the way people are interacted with has to get the best possible outcome from strategies, people and situations or opportunities.

Personally, I have found that more heads are better than one, so favour a collective approach to strategy and decision making, but whatever approach you use, any one of these areas can be an organisation’s undoing. These three areas are the main culprits of human and financial capital waste. Get them right, and it is hard to fail.

Given that New Zealand is about the size of Sydney – just one city in Australia (yet with the obligations of a sovereign nation) – we cannot afford waste. When you have the right strategy, right people and the right approach in each situation, you have an organisation that hums to potential – a hundy.

We have the scale and track record as a nation to box way above our weight and given the scale of Business New Zealand, anything less than 100% should be quickly visible. As Steve Hansen says,  success is only possible when you pay attention to the ‘inconvenient facts’. Taking the right approach in these areas can rewrite what’s possible.


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A numbers game

If the All Blacks were a regular business that you and I directed, we’d surely prefer the All Blacks’ performance record over any other rugby team. Yet, going into last weekend’s semi-final against South Africa, the stats were 2/3 in their favour – exactly the same odds apply for the Aussies this weekend.

Yet, if this were any other kind of business, we’d far rather have a business with the All Blacks’ performance record than the other two teams.

But it is not a regular business; rather it is sport. What do they say……? “Not a matter of life and death – more important than that.”

Talk about PTSD…

  • “Four more years, boys” deeply etched into our national psyche – forever neural- networked with the name George Gregan
  • Still smarting from losing the ‘best of 9 races’ America’s Cup regatta, from an 8-1 leading position last year
  • Memories of hopes dashed at the Cricket World Cup this year
  • Thinking ‘not again!’ when the Silver Ferns fell to the Aussies at the Netball World Cup

All four of the above heart breaks were at the hands of Australians (Sydney-born Jimmy Spithall skippered Oracle to victory.)

We surely can’t expect to be calm, controlled and measured going in to this weekend when considering this is:

  • Richie’s last game captaining the All Blacks
  • Daniel Carter’s first and last World Cup final after three former World Cup disappointments
  • The last All Blacks game for legendary ABs Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu and Keven Mealamu.

But fear and trepidation are not healthy emotions. Research has proven that positive emotions are better for health and longevity! And hope is one such emotion.

This team has come a long way since 2007. It was clear they were underdone in pressure-cooker World Cup knock-out footie. Now, they are not only physically fine-tuned, they have the well-carved character that comes from many a battle, wisely contemplated and reflected upon.

Not only do they have a winning formula in their high-performance culture and proven ‘sweet spot’ leadership approach (See http://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/rugby/all-blacks/73310064/ab-coach-steve-hansen-reveals-sweet-spot-management-structure-key-to-success), they have been drilled in mental strength. This is evident from their calm assertion that they welcome pressure. Pressure is the enemy of peak performance – unless you have turned the enemy into a friend. (Well-proven NLP high-performance technology.)

In a classic act of brilliant leadership, this All Black team has been bred for pressure and prepared for when the going gets tough. Theirs is a leadership team that cares about employees’ futures. This leadership wants them to have a strong, positive future, whether in this ‘company’ or any other. It has done its most important task: make these people valuable, in every sense of the word. Equipping them to excel when the coast is clear and the opposition is weak is no service to them at all – sheltered employment is hard to find but all too common.

On the contrary, this team has been painstakingly prepared to carry the hopes and dreams of an entire nation on its back. They have been drilled to relish public scrutiny and intrusion. They have been led to believe that the expectations of the New Zealand public is to their advantage as it keeps them forever striving to improve, which in turn equips them for the next big hit.

Knowing this gives me hope and one more emotion that I know is a plus during a crazy rollercoaster week of different emotions: Pride. Pride in being represented by a team that is full of character and humility, yet fierce determination and professionalism in how they go about their work. Imagine if every one of our businesses, and every person in that business, went about their work with that much dedication and precision.

A win or no win this weekend………….no number will change that pride. But a win would be good for our economy, quite apart from the sheer joy it would bring to so many! Simply imaging that win is healthy – go ahead and bask in anticipated glory!

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Never mind leadership

Did you see the New Zealand Weekend Herald article: Never mind leadership, get on with your job? “Bosses should stop encouraging employees to become leaders – and teach them how to be followers instead” says Professor Birgit Schyns.

I couldn’t disagree more. Yet,  it does depend on how you define leadership. If you see it as a title or role, there is a lot relying on a few to have great character or to have had great mentoring or training (or a combination of all three). Failure to get this right exposes organisations to under-performance at best (which in a competitive world can be economically fatal) and power abuse at worst. (Ask the average employee about the costs and lost productivity from a bad boss. Most people have had one or know someone who has.)

Signs that organisations commonly fail the leadership test:

  • A bad boss (according to Gallup research of a million employees worldwide) is the #1 reason for wasteful attrition
  • Personal grievances compound workplace stress and stress (that escalates and spreads through the workplace like influenza) is associated with costly errors, reworks and productivity issues
  • Perceived lack of communication: “being kept in the dark and fed on $%#^”
  • The observation that “New Zealand is over-managed and under-led”

One thing Prof Birgit Schyns (of Durham University Business School) says that I agree with is that employees “….should be alerting the leader to flaws in the decision making, pointing out that this is not going to work for their customers. They have a lot of important information that the leader needs to know.” (The prof doesn’t say if she has had a go at telling the boss they’ve got it wrong.)

In the 90’s, legendary rugby union captain, Zinzan Brooke, made a statement that profoundly influenced my own approach to business: “I want 15 captains on the field.” Was this a recipe for disaster? Quite the opposite.

Having studied both first hand and at a distance the key criteria for organisation success, it is pretty well clear that a leading TEAM will always outperform a leader outnumbered by followers i.e. vertical control with little room for critical mass real contribution and collective responsibility.

Ralph Stayer knew this when he pointed out that hunters know how to overcome a herd of buffalo: you take out the head buffalo. He knew his very successful business was at risk by virtue of his leadership (centralised control?). The real and imminent risk of this scared him into action. His business transformation is now folklore but simply put he said: “I had to learn how to become a coach.” An early action was to put workers in charge of what had previously been done by the bosses.

The leadership our organisations need is that which is inside every person, every situation. Leadership is ACTION the current situation needs. People only show leadership if they understand the business model, the context and the role they and their team plays in the entire value chain. And people only show leadership if it is not only expected, but required.

The real question is: Are those in charge ready to put the best interests of shareholders, clients and other strategic stakeholders ahead of their own?

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Natural Selection – All Blacks team is announced

Few were surprised with the naming of the All Blacks World Cup squad – sure there were a couple of surprise inclusions and omissions but considering the planned style of play and competition rules around replacements, the squad makes sense.

Is the selection of the World Cup squad a key determinant in success or failure? Sure, it has a role to play but perhaps there are even more important success factors (in both sport and business.) Any business owner and sports coach will tell you there is a world of difference between potential and actual performance of any person.

Firstly, the Expectation environment: what people believe is expected of them and the non-negotiables.

The coaching team (it seems) has been extremely careful with setting up the thinking (‘mindset’) of the team – semantics matter. How often over the last few days have we heard that the Cup is not ours to defend. We don’t hold it any more. We have to win it all over again. (Strongly aware of the importance of thinking as the driver of behaviours.)

Secondly, the Team ethos. This is the (both) overt and covert AGREEMENT (a form of contracting) to do whatever it takes to be successful. (Thinking back to the pressures of 2011, I recall a cartoon of a seagull covered with oil after the Rena oil spill with the caption “Don’t worry about me. How’s Richie McCaw’s foot?”)

Agreement goes hand in hand with expectations. As social creatures, we understand agreements (e.g. all driving on the same side of the road when heading in a certain direction.)

Last week, Sir Graham Henry told the story about the 2008 Tri-nations – the year after the abysmal 2007 World Cup. Unbeknown to the coaching team, Richie McCaw called a meeting of the team at 4am before the 19-hour flight to SA. (The team had to win in Cape Town and a week later in Brisbane to win the trophy.) Who knows what was said in those wee hours but the team won 19-0 in Cape Town (first time they had kept the Springboks scoreless) and went on, a week later, to win in Brisbane.

Jerome Kaino when interviewed recently, recalled a period of time when he was not selected for the All Blacks and how he ‘went off the rails’ for a while. What brought him back was what he felt he owed to the players – past and present. The legacy of the jersey and the responsibility that goes with this created a strong expectation. This is a unique form of pressure – an invitation to respond. When people respond to this call, it is a fundamental, bone-deep commitment to go as far as they can with all that they have – to leave nothing in the tank.

As we remember how we felt four years ago, it is useful to remind ourselves that the same principles of success are as true then as they are now.

  1. Expectations: Setting up the right environment of expectations and aspiration. The All Blacks said in 2011: “We welcome the pressure – we walk towards the pressure.”
  2. Team ethos: Agreeing to do whatever it takes for success. Not only are the players respectful of the enormity of the challenge, but committed to improvement with each game (a commitment that Richie McCaw specifically refers to, that surely has much to do with his longevity at a world class level.)
  3. Scrupulous planning, taking into account the current rules and competitor strategies to decide on your game plan for success today (while anticipating the future).
  4. Monitoring and reviewing progress and extracting the lessons for adjustments and next-stage planning and improvements.

Every organisation has its own success formula but most of the elements are common across all type of enterprise. And as Air New Zealand has shown, getting the formula right is well worth the hard work and effort.

Posted in Organisation success | 2 Comments

Accelerated CHANGE

It’s not true that people hate change. (Ask any lotto winner!) What human beings hate is punishment – it is especially tortuous when seen as undeserved, unwarranted and unnecessary. Most managers of change are not ready to concede that they could be instruments of torture but it’s all in the eye of the beholder and perception is reality.

For many (even most), the reality is that change is unrelenting, exhausting, awful and inflicted on them by others. For organisations, change invariably fails. (“The brutal fact is that about 70% of all change initiatives fail.” Harvard Business Review https://hbr.org/2000/05/cracking-the-code-of-change/ar/1)

‘Management of change’ is of course an oxymoron. All change is social – change must be led and leadership is often missing from change projects.
Acknowledging the start point means you can improve the odds:

  • Most organisations are set up along party lines – divide and rule rather than mobilize and unite. The result is them/us, powerful/powerless, persecutor/victim
  • Few people believe they are the masters of their own destiny – no one has seriously challenged the view that they are victims of others’ decisions
  • The normal human brain reacts to this vulnerability in a primal fight-or-flight, attack-before- you’re-attacked response. Mistrust, suspicion, deception and embedded resistance builds. A fog of emotional and social turmoil makes steering a successful course difficult if not impossible, no matter how slick the roadshow. All too often, the change vehicle shudders to a grinding halt, even rolling backwards.

A positive start point is where people feel involved, consulted (as subject experts not patronized) and treated like what they actually are – partners in success (or otherwise). With this as your start point, people are agile, creative beings who dig deep and go to extraordinary lengths to make every endeavour work, no matter what the challenges.

If you have never seen people at their best, it’s time to cut through to the REAL power in the organisation to fuel your change initiative. A Change project of any kind is a great opportunity to unite the will and mobilize capability…….full throttle ahead.

When reputations are on the line and promises must be kept to project funders:

  • Accept that all change is social – successful change is led (not task-managed)
  • Get ahead of the need for change – transition to a change-ready state and stay there (Ready for tomorrow, today)
  • Charge everyone with responsibility for continuous change – doing more with less, with fresh thinking
  • Manage in real time with each person and unit kept in touch with how they are performing and what to change with what effect
  • Get ahead of the social collaboration curve. Check out the Spotify culture video(s) https://labs.spotify.com/2014/03/27/spotify-engineering-culture-part-1/

For an afternoon of inspiration and ideas, join like-minded project sponsors at a ‘masterclass’ to explore, debate and develop proven strategies to get cut-through with your change initiative. Wellington 19 August and Auckland 3 September – 2pm-6pm (More information at +64 21 923 318)

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Workplace from hell?

Gene Palmer, worker suspected of helping two convicts escape Dannemora prison in New York State, was quoted:
“With the money they pay you’ll go bald, you’ll have high blood pressure, you’ll become an alcoholic, you’ll divorce and then you’ll kill yourself,” he said, calling the workplace a “negative” environment.

Is there a case to be made that a disenchanted and alienated employee can be driven to the dark side? Is this merely at the extreme end of the ‘presenteeism’ scale that keeps organisations challenged as to how to keep people away from facebook and gainfully ‘employed’ for the requisite hours they are ‘clocked in’?

As with most things there are two sides. Having seen the conditions under which prison staff, supervisors and managers work, I have some sympathy. These are people working under the most extreme pressure. Can you imagine the quality of leadership required to keep people, every minute of every hour, on the right side of the ledger? This challenge is huge and unrelenting. Lives depend on it. Is it likely that such leadership exists in every corner of every prison?

Great leadership is hardly in abundance. It is all too rare. From retail stores to mines, leadership and ‘the human factor’ are, in some form or another, under constant pressure. There is a potential Gene Palmer in all too many workplaces; where people, year after year, feel insignificant, objectified, bypassed or patronised by an uncaring or possibly misguided, misinformed or even well-meaning employer. (That famous line about Mushroom Management where people are “kept in the dark and fed with s&^%.”)

In the 80s, Tom Peters and Robert Waterman published a book called “In Search of Excellence” which revealed the connection between real employee involvement in an enterprise and success across a range of metrics. A key factor was where employees felt (emphasis on emotion) significant and critical to business success……where they were trusted, informed and required to be the best of themselves.

At that time, it was not so much surprising as it was a relief that indeed it is profitable when a workplace aligns with the full actualization of human potential. “Not a normal person with something added but a normal person with nothing taken away.” (Charles Garfield)

Thirty years on, those organisations that get this right are still too few and finding them is still the search it ever was. There are all manner of theories as to why this is. The real question is: when will organisations call time on outmoded ways of thinking and managing and enjoy the type of success where everyone wins?

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