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Monday, 29 September 2014

The Ryder Cup, a Great Metaphor for Business Leadership

Like many of us I found the Ryder Cup golf absolutely compulsive viewing to the extent that I am encouraged to write a supplementary blog on the subject of leadership and team building.

All the questions today are based around the fact that the US team (and I use the description reluctantly) was composed of highly successful players mainly on the US PGA circuit and they manifestly were beaten by a better team.

What, then, went wrong?

There were several straws in the wind.  As an overall comment it seems that Team Europe was exactly that, a group of individuals brought together by a great leader with a purpose, that of not just retaining the Cup but winning it again outright.

On the other hand the Americans, with one or two exceptions didn’t seem able to release themselves from the individuality of the game of golf in order to work together as a team

It was fascinating to hear the interviews after the match.  Without exception the members of Team Europe praised Pail McGinley, the non-playing captain as an inspiring leader who melded these strong-minded individuals into a team, all working for and encouraging each other.

The interviews with the US players on the other hand never mentioned the captaincy of one of the greatest exponents of the game.  Indeed at the post match press conference he was compared unfavourably with the Paul Azinger who captained the winning US team in 2004.

On the contrary, the Team Europe players mentioned the attention to detail shown by McGinley, the team meetings in the team room that was referred to as the crèche and the constant help and encouragement given to all of them.

For example, he had ensured that even the team room had been decorated with photographs of past great players as another piece of inspiration.

Greta captaincy or leadership over the years has ensured that the European team has won eight of the last ten meetings and this against great players of the game and in their own backyard on several occasions.

It emphasises to me the power of great leadership, the inspiration that a leader can bring to the team, total attention to relevant detail and the constant emphasis on the purpose to which they all subscribed.

What a great metaphor for business leadership

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Sunday, 28 September 2014

Strategic Planning Time? Make Sure that You Have an Action Plan for Success!

During my long years in management consultancy I have had the pleasant experience of working with leaders on strategies for their business, not to do the work but to assist in setting up the necessary processes and procedures.

It constantly amazes me to discover that while many companies take the planning process seriously the leadership fails to devise a scheme whereby the project is translated into the actions that will take the business forward.

I have had several experiences of helping the leadership produce a well written and considered strategic plan only to find that the beautifully produced document and its contents have not been communicated to everyone in the business and have probably been filed under B or P or even BS.

The fact is that strategic planning is a waste of time and energy unless properly considered and planned actions are included. 

  • Planning without action is nothing more than a statement of hope.
 So what should a flow chart for a properly planned strategy look like?

There are many alternatives but I like this one:

The vision – the values – mission statement – SWOT analysis – setting objectives – the timeline – who is responsible for what by when – accountabilities – monthly monitor with changes as appropriate and as agreed.

All of that will take some time and it would be time well spent.  When the major objectives have been decided (and no more than four is plenty), the next step is to divide each one into sub-objectives that enable the major objective to be achieved.

Each stated objective needs to be analysed against the question:

“If that is our objective, what will we need to do, specifically, to ensure that it will be achieved?”

A brainstorming process using the Ishikawa method is very good.  This uses a fish bone template with the head being the objective and the ribs being the functions that will get you there.

That will enable stated individuals to plan their workload knowing what is required and by when because they have been involved in the preparatory work.  In this way, plans for all the objectives can be devised.

However, what if someone doesn’t achieve in the agreed time?  To mitigate that possibility it is worthwhile agreeing an accountability trail whereby everyone knows to whom they are accountable for successful implementation of the objectives.

Again it is useful to build a simple system starting at the top with the champion of the process (usually the leader), and then the accountability trail.

Timing is all-important if the objectives are to be achieved satisfactorily.  The accountability trail needs to be activated either weekly or monthly so that a quick call a week or so prior to the due date will help to ensure that the plan is being implemented.

All of this may sound complicated and hence onerous.  It is neither, in fact, and proper action planning will help to take the business forward far more effectively.  Crucially everyone in the business needs to be involved so that their personal achievement leads to success in the business.

I recall a very eminent CEO saying, when asked why he was ahead of all his competitors:

“It’s simple, we plan and they don’t.  We know where we are going and when we will arrive and most importantly, we know what success will look like”.

People need to know the answer to two questions:

“How am I doing and where are we going?”

Good action planning will tell them the answers.


PS.  If you would like a typical pro-forma template for accountability planning let me have your email address and I will send it on to you.

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Sunday, 21 September 2014

Overworked, Overstressed? Stand Back and Give Your People a Chance to Shine!

I had occasion to pay a visit to a (medical) consultant recently and he quizzed me for some time about what I do. He happens to be a charming person and I was happy to have a chat with him.

After some discussion and an attempt to explain precisely what it is that a Vistage chairman does, he said:

“Right; I have a patient, male, 45, a Managing Director of a successful business, his health is poor, his family relationships are crumbling and he is generally unhappy.  What advice would you give him?”

I decided not to point out that as Vistage chairmen are encouraged not to act as a consultant and give advice but rather to explore with our members the possible options available and so did a “think on the feet” exercise.

He did eventually put a lot of effort and experience into my issue, by the way, in a satisfactory, reassuring and totally professional manner.

My very much off the cuff solution was as follows:

  • Work to build a better and more balanced lifestyle
  • Appoint excellent people and then get out of their way to let them flourish
  • Join a peer group

I could have done better, I am sure, but that seemed to cover most of the bases.

Building a balanced lifestyle should be a major consideration for anyone in a leading position in business or indeed any organisation.

The demands on the leadership are such as to put, in some cases, an intolerable burden on the individual who considers that, as a leader, they have to be as perfect as possible.

Modern technology with its demands for instantaneous response results in a lengthening of the working day whether in the business or at home.

It is easy to say that the mobile phone, the tablet and indeed the laptop need to be in purdah at weekend so that proper consideration can be given to family and friends.

I saw a note on LinkedIn recently about a leader who deliberately buries his mobile in a drawer over the weekend.  It is quite a thought to help to make the weekend sacrosanct.

Another danger for leader is to consider themselves as the fount of all knowledge and the sole source of certainty in the business.

It is sad fact that the “leave it to me, I’ll sort it out” syndrome is not only alive and well but is flourishing.

The quick and possibly glib answer is to give it up, accept that some people are actually better at doing things than you are, appoint them and then get the hell out of their way so that they can flourish in a no-blame environment.

That is an essential part of the equation because even the brilliant can make mistakes and that must be considered a learning experience, not a case for reprimand.

All of this can be encapsulated by joining a peer group where really important things can be discussed in an absolutely safe environment with other people who probably have exactly the same issues in their lives.

The key is, of course, to bring to the table issues that the leader genuinely cannot discuss with anyone else especially in the business and even at home.

It is astonishing how easily my Vistage members can discuss really deep secrets about them selves simply because they are with friends, with people they trust implicitly and who just want to offer support rather than criticism.

Remember: 
  • “No-one is a smart as all of us”


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Sunday, 14 September 2014

Why Have They Stopped Work? Because Heath and Safety Told Them To!

Of all the public sector organisations it is probably the Health and Safety Executive that takes the most flak.  The media leaps on to any judgement that, in their view, demonstrates a complete lack of understanding about what happens in the real world.

Typical recently have been the edict from a local authority that children playing conkers must wear safety spectacles and there are many similar examples.

I recall another situation where a restorer of paintings in an art gallery asked to take down a painting to examine it more closely.  She was told that as the picture was on the wall and over sic feet above ground, she would need to:

  • Use scaffolding and definitely not a ladder
  • Take a two-day course to familiarise herself with scaffolding
  • Wear a hard hat at all times

She resigned the job.

Of course, it is relatively simple to poke fun at the bureaucrats and the media are not behind the door when something occurs that is off the wall.

There is a mass of statistics available on Health and Safety which I haven not surveyed in detail but I am willing to bet that over the past decade there will have been and marked reduction in the rate of accidents in the workplace.

There is little doubt that the whole subject if Health and Safety can be contentious but in the end it is the company taking the matter really seriously that demonstrates to its workforce that their safety is of primary concern.

I have several companies in my Vistage groups that employ people in the workforce who run the risk of injury during the normal run of events and it is those companies that take the subject most seriously.

Perhaps primarily those companies with a large workforce away from base and on site that need to ensure that the rules are followed without exception.

The consequences can be drastic especially if there is a fatality where now the management of the business can be charged with a string of offences right up t manslaughter, never mind the possibility of the business being closed down.

In the end there are two major criteria that persuade leaders to ensure that Health and Safety is taken really seriously at all levels in the business.

Firstly and obviously strict compliance with the rules vastly reduces the risk to the business of fines and more levied on the company and its management quite apart from a negative effect on profitability.

Secondly, because the company visibly takes the whole subject seriously, the workforce is likely to realise that the subject is constantly under scrutiny and that the management takes their well being seriously as well.

Indeed Vistage UK speaker, Jo Haigh, strongly recommends that Health and Safety must be on the agenda of every Board meeting. Moreover one member of the Board must have final responsibility for ensuring that it is taken seriously at all levels of the business.

At least three of my Vistage members have appointed a Director of Heath and Safety to demonstrate the importance of the function.

It is the good employer that shows the level of commitment of the business to the well being of its employees is a paramount consideration.  That would be expected to result at least in a lifting of morale.


Poke fun at the anomalies, yes, because it’s easy and amusing; on the other hand if it can prevent an accident or even save a life during the working day how can it be discounted as unnecessary and intrusive?

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Sunday, 7 September 2014

Does The Leader Wield Power or Influence? Whichever, it Must Not Be Abused!

Over the years I have noticed that when a senior executive is finally appointed to the top position in the business there is often a palpable sense of surprise that people treat him/her quite differently.

As an example I was talking to a Chief Executive who had recently been promoted in a subsidiary of a major multi-national company from his previous position of Chief Operating Officer.

He was in a very pleasant office with a very personable Personal Assistant in the outer office.  We were immediately served with coffee and biscuits and all seemed to be most acceptable.

I remarked on the environment and he shook his head and said:

“I don’t know what I have done but nobody wants to speak to me”

We drilled down a little and it transpired that the operating board of the company was a very effective team with everyone putting in, as the football pundits say, a good shift.

He didn’t know whether the post of CEO that had come vacant had been a competitive matter but he did know that he was told of his promotion without having been through any apparent assessment.

He immediately noticed a distinct cooling of the atmosphere with his erstwhile colleagues.  He said that he had told them that he didn’t want his new position to change the good relationships that they had experienced as a team and that “his door was always open to them”.

I asked him what had happened and he told me that nobody ever ventured in to see him unless he had specifically asked them to discuss something or other.

He was genuinely surprised at this change.  He had honestly expected that everything would be as before even though he was now, in essence, their leader.

The fact is, of course, that people normally defer to the position if not the individual and the change can be disturbing for the new leader.

As people develop and move upwards through a business, the fact is that the higher they go, the fewer people there are to tell them that they are doing a great job and that demands emotional stamina.

Some people grown into the new position quite seamlessly but there are a few who find the sense of isolation quite daunting.  Indeed I know of one or two who genuinely realised that they were not really suitable for the top post and relinquished it for a more comfortable life.

Whether we like it or not, the very position of Chief Executive carries with it a measure of power and the gloom mongers will always expect that this power is likely to be wielded malignly.

True or not, the CEO needs to understand the new relationships and how to make sure that they will be even more productive than before.

Essentially the new leader must understand the difference between power and influence.  It is perfectly feasible to carry both in the leadership toolkit but ideally the people need to feel that the leader influences the business rather than rules over it.

Whichever role the leader prefers it must be visibly carried out in a way that demonstrates an inclusive approach so that people feel that they are involved and engaged.

In the end it is the difference between the visible exercising of power and the apparently more relaxed influential approach.

There is no doubt which is the more effective

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