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Management Development

We need more leaders, but how do we find them?

Who's the Leader
In a world where things are moving much faster than ever we need more leadership from more places. Where things are more complex, more ambiguous, and more interdependent, we don’t have time to wait for everything to go up the chain of command and back down again. We need more people to step up and lead, more people taking leader-like actions so that organisations can better handle complexity and ambiguity and react more quickly. So how do we find them?

I start from the belief that not everyone in a formally appointed leadership role is actually a leader. Some people who have leader or manager in their title never lead. In my experience, if you meet a group of employees in any organisation and ask them, have you ever had a boss who didn’t lead? Most hands will go up. And that’s not necessarily the fault of the ‘failed’ leader. Too often people are promoted because they are good at their job, not because they display any leadership potential.

Equally, some people have the qualities of a leader but do not see themselves as such. Subordinates may have those qualities, but if they think there’s only ever one leader in a group, and they have a boss, then she’s the leader. They are not even thinking about leadership as part of their identity. Sometimes people need someone else to see leadership in them and make a point of telling them.

To identify leaders we could make a list of the qualities that make a leader, but that can be a tricky and rather fruitless exercise: creating a shopping list of characteristics that is far too idealistic to be credible or achievable. The way through this is to recognise that fundamentally leadership is something that others see in us. People grant a leader that identity by their willingness to follow them. In which case, if we can identify who people follow we will have found our leaders.

In the normal run of things we talent spot leaders by asking existing leaders and managers to identify those among their teams who lead, or have the potential to lead. The disadvantage with this approach is that you may be asking somebody with few, if any, leadership qualities to identify that which they don’t possess themselves. Alternatively, you may get clones of your existing leaders, because they recognise only the qualities that they do possess, or you get the promotion of favourites.

A more objective method, and one that accords with my belief that followers are best qualified to identify leaders, is to survey the whole team, department or organisation. I do this using Social Network Analysis (SNA) software, using it to locate the most influential individuals in an organisation, particularly those who are not represented in the formal hierarchy of leadership. The process is straightforward and asks each team member two simple questions alongside a drop down list of other team members.

1. “Who do you confide your concerns about sensitive work-related issues?”
2. “Who do you go to get knowledge, information or advice needed to perform your job?”

In my experience, these two questions, which focus respectively on trust and respect, give an excellent indication of who people follow. No matter the individual qualities of a ‘leader’, if those qualities engender trust and respect you have a real leader. And it’s not just me. There is evidence to support this belief.

Amy Cuddy, a Harvard Business School professor, has been studying first impressions (how people size you up), for more than 15 years, and has discovered certain patterns in these interactions. In her book, “Presence”, Cuddy says that people quickly answer two questions when they first meet you: Can I trust this person? Can I respect this person?

Psychologists refer to these dimensions as warmth, or trustworthiness, and competence, respectively, and as a leader you want to be perceived as having both. Interestingly, Cuddy says that most people, especially in a professional context, believe that respect, or competence, is the more important factor. But her research reveals that warmth, or trustworthiness, is actually the key to how people evaluate you. And from an evolutionary perspective this makes sense.

In our early history as a species it was more important to figure out if a stranger was going to kill you and steal all your possessions than if they were competent enough to build a good fire. While competence is highly valued, Cuddy says that it is evaluated only after trust is established. If someone you’re trying to influence doesn’t trust you, you’re not going to get very far.

Furthermore, focusing too much on displaying your competence can backfire. A warm, trustworthy person who is also competent elicits admiration, but only after they have established trust does their competence become a gift rather than a threat. But ultimately we need both trust and respect for people to follow us. It is no good being competent if people expect you to stab them in the back (if only metaphorically these days), but neither is it any good to be utterly trustworthy if you can’t manage your way out of a paper bag.

Now, with the answers to our survey in hand, we could just present the results as a list of potential leaders, but SNA software allows more dynamic and contextual 2D visualisations of the group surveyed, one for trust and one for respect. These images comprise nodes (coloured squares or circles) that represent people and ties or edges (black lines connecting them) that indicate who trusts and respects whom. The bigger the node, the more people in the team, department or organisation who see that person as a leader. Someone worthy of their trust and respect.

Some will be existing leaders, and you can congratulate yourself on good talent spotting. Others may already have been identified as having potential. But be warned, there will be surprises. Some of your leaders won’t really be leaders at all and others with genuine potential will have gone unnoticed by you and themselves. In a complex and fast-paced world that is not a mistake that organisations can afford to make.

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PSA Guide to Leading Your Network


We are delighted to announce the publication of the PSA Guide to Leading Your Network. The Guide is designed for experienced and first time, or aspiring, leader-managers and can used for individual reflection and development or in facilitated group workshops.

Its purpose is to help managers identify and make the most of the informal networks that inevitably exist within all teams and organisations. Not only will it help managers become better leaders and managers of their own team, it will also help make them better network leaders, able to work across team and departmental boundaries, bringing together constellations of talent to get things done.

Left to their own devices networks develop naturally at work through homophily and propinquity, natural human inclinations to associate with people who are like us (homophily) and/or near us (propinquity). While strengthening these bonds contributes to team efficiency it can inadvertently inhibit communication with other groups and lead to a lack of effectiveness.

In other words, closely bonded teams often do things right, but not always the right things. For best practice to be shared and innovation to flourish some of the most important ties are those that cut across groups: traversing teams, functions and departments. The key is to get a balance between both.

Effective networks facilitate the exchange of accurate information about who does what, who knows what, and who needs what, in order to enable greater productivity, but also feed innovation.

The Guide is designed to help managers understand, nurture and lead networks, which in turn will enable teams and organisations to:

· Better target scarce resources.

· Challenge the silo mentality.

· Restructure the formal organisation to complement the informal.

· ‘Rewire’ faulty networks to achieve goals.

· Deepen the quality of relationships among team members.

· Reduce transactional costs (micro-managing and second guessing) by deepening trust.

· And be more innovative.

If you would like to order copies please use the following web address

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The Renaissance of the Polymath: And You Could Be One Too


The most exciting things happening in science, technology and business are happening where fields converge – at the intersections and edges. The divisions between formerly separate industries are breaking down and the real opportunities for growth are where those industries interconnect. Self-driving cars don’t just need automotive engineers, they also need people who understand software, traffic engineering, the psychology of drivers and regulatory processes.

And if everything is connected and interdependent then we are going back to the idea of the polymath: the generalist not the specialist. The most innovative developments of the future, in business, science and the arts, will come from creative generalists who blend unique disciplines with technological skill sets. The continued success of today’s organisations, companies, and communities will depend on individuals capable of solving problems by thinking outside the proverbial box. T-shaped individuals who combine specialist knowledge (the down bar of the T) with a broad understanding of other domains (the crossbar) and how they combine for greatest effect.

George Murray’s study of the most significant scientists found that 15 of the 20 were polymaths:[1] Newton, Galileo, Aristotle, Kepler, Descartes, Huygens, Laplace, Faraday, Pasteur, Ptolemy, Hooke, Leibniz, Euler, Darwin and Maxwell were all generalists. Darwin developed his ideas about evolution by drawing on disciplines from geology to zoology. A contemporary example of a polymath is Elon Musk, who has combined an understanding of physics, engineering, programming, design, manufacturing, and business to create several multibillion-dollar companies in completely different fields.

Yet, despite the need for polymaths, such individuals are quite rare. That’s because society has traditionally promoted specialisation over generalisation. The history of human labour has been one of increasing specialisation. In the days of the hunter-gatherer every member of the tribe would have been expected to be proficient in every task. As we progressed however, from agricultural to industrial and now post-industrial economies, workers have become increasingly specialised, based on a long-standing assumption that the more deeply you specialize, the more easily you can find well-paid employment.

There was a time in the 14th to 16th centuries that polymaths found favour – Leonardo da Vinci’s Renaissance Man. However, we soon reverted again to the specialist, not just for its economic benefits but also for the specialist’s undoubted contribution to the advancement of knowledge. We need specialists but we also need polymaths, generalists who offer three distinct advantages.

The Polymath Advantage

  1. The avoidance of bias. Specialisation has undoubtedly been important for the advancement of knowledge. But one of the dangers of such specialisation is that it often coincides with cognitive bias. The process of overlooking potential solutions because of erroneous assumptions and established patterns of thought. Groupthink is a common phenomenon in political, business and scientific spheres. We need people who can see beyond the bias of their cherished idea, single discipline or department.
  1. Innovation comes from the edge. The most creative breakthroughs come from atypical combinations of skills and knowledge. Brian Uzzi, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management, analysed more than 26 million scientific papers going back hundreds of years and found that the papers with the most impact often had teams with atypical combinations of backgrounds. In a second study he found that the top performing studies also cited atypical combinations of other studies: 90% conventional citations from their own field and 10% from other fields. We need people who can bridge the gaps between disciplines and departments, and act as idea translators. 
  1. Complex ‘wicked’ problems require multi-disciplinary approaches. Many of the greatest challenges currently facing individuals and society benefit from solutions that integrate multiple disciplines. Climate change, for example, will require us to transform the way we generate, store and use energy, and the ways in which we manage more extremes of weather and climate. For that we will need to integrate our meteorological understanding with our understanding of ecological systems, human psychology, the built environment, as well as financial and socio-economic factors. We need people who can identify and champion the synergies between disciplines and departments.

In short, polymaths bring the best of what has been discovered across various fields to help them be more effective in their core specialisation. They build atypical combinations of skills and knowledge across domains and then integrate them to create breakthrough ideas and even brand new disciplines and industries. And this isn’t just an aspiration for those wishing to be pre-eminent scientists or multi-billionaire business leaders. We can all benefit from becoming polymaths, from becoming more T-shaped, and it is easier than it might sound.

Becoming a Polymath

There is too much knowledge in the world today for one person to know everything that is known, like Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘Renaissance Man’. But it is possible to create a network of ties that allow you to learn from people in other disciplines and become sufficiently knowledgeable in more than one discipline. To become, in other words, a competent generalist or polymath. In short, anyone who loves learning across fields can use it to be more successful in their life, career and discipline.

And the good news is that it’s easier and less time consuming to become very good at a few things than superlative at one. Few people will create paradigm shifting scientific theories, write a culture defining novel, or become a multi-billionaire businessman. But everyone has at least a few areas in which they could, with some effort, be in the top quartile. And it’s the combination of two or more skills at which you are competent, but not exceptional, that can lead to a powerful skill set.

 The reason why it is easier to learn broadly than deeply lies in the Pareto Principle (the 80/20 rule) and the work of Jake Chapman[2]. Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist and his principle is that 80 percent of effects come from 20 percent of causes. In other words, a small portion of work produces the majority of the results.

Researchers have found the Pareto Principle operating in many areas, including wealth distribution, employee productivity, customer revenue and agricultural yields. However, as humans, we are predisposed to linear thinking, which makes the implications of his power law distribution hard to get our heads around, but the implications are clear. An organisation could focus on satisfying the needs of only 20 percent of their customers and still maintain 80 percent of their revenue. Imagine what it could do with the resources it saved?

What is less well known and even more mind-bending is that the 80/20 rule is also divisible, meaning that where the 80/20 rule applies, it is also true that 20% of 20% percent of the inputs (4%) generate 80% of 80% of the outputs (64%), and so on. In other words, the 80/20 dynamic gets more lopsided and more powerful as it progresses. For example, with only three further steps you arrive at 0.16% of inputs being responsible for 41% of output. That is astonishing force multiplication!

The principle has several applications, but it’s particularly useful when seeking mastery in something new, which is where Jake Chapman comes in. He believes that the Pareto Principle is at its most interesting when thinking about our growth potential as human beings.

Imagine, he writes, if you had 100 units of learning to assign to various skills throughout your life. How would you spend those points? Do you spend all of them in one subject and try hard to become a true subject-matter expert? Or do you diversify your skill set, trying to make yourself into a well-rounded person? The Pareto Principle says that you will overwhelmingly get more added value if you spread those points around.

In an article published in TechCrunch, Chapman broke the process into five stages (see the diagram below):

Pareto's Law

Assuming that achieving mastery of a subject takes 20 years of dedicated training, he then works backward applying the 80/20 rule. In applying the 80/20 rule to developing ourselves, we see that 80% mastery could be achieved in 20% of the time. And if someone were to spend 0.16% of 20 years (12 days) in focused study of a subject, they should be able to achieve cocktail-party mastery (if you remember them, think ‘Bluffer’s Guide’ competence). Similarly, someone who spends 0.80% of 20 years, about two months, while still being deemed a novice could be ready to begin a career in the field. For example, a layman entering the Google coding boot camp can graduate a couple of months later prepared to enter the job market as a software developer.

While the numbers aren’t a precise representation of learning, my own experience (cramming for exams, moving jobs and roles, and writing my PhD) suggests that they are about right. The point is, if learning follows a broadly Pareto distribution, then there is value in diversifying your skill set. Chapman is not suggesting it will be easy, but it is easier than at any other time in the history of mankind. Anyone with internet access and a sincere desire to learn can access abundant information with the click of a button: LinkedIn, Babbel, Khan Academy, edX, iTunes U and so the list goes on.

The Practical Benefits

Chapman concludes with the practical benefits of applying the Pareto Principle to your life and learning, to which I have added my own thoughts to come up with the following four benefits:

  1. Enhance your contribution. The diversity of a polymath brings the benefits discussed in my previous article: reducing cognitive bias, increasing innovation and coping with wicked problems. All of which are valuable in our personal and professional lives.
  1. It’s never too late.One particularly empowering implication of the Pareto Principle is that it is never too late to get a new start in life. As an example, someone could pick up cybersecurity as a specialty, spend 4 years on the subject and have 80 percent the proficiency of a lifelong expert. This is particularly relevant in technological fields because old learning is quickly being rendered obsolete.
  1. Level the playing field.For people who learn more slowly than others, they can apply the Pareto Principle to level the playing field. While the gifted graft for the last bits (20%) of insight in a single field, learners who play the game can quickly accumulate a broad set of skills and insights to help them succeed.
  1. Learn with intention.Finally, it is important to learn with intention. Many people stumble from place to place in life, simply letting their lives and careers develop organically. With the deep specialist knowledge of artificial intelligence gobbling up many jobs lifelong learning becomes a necessity not a choice.

One Final Thought

The examples I gave of polymaths were all men, where are the women? A quick Google search for examples of polymaths brings up men, you have to search specifically for female polymaths to get any suggestions. It’s not hard to guess the reasons why, but who would you propose, past, present and future (having read this article you may wish to include yourself)?

[1] Charles Murray, Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950


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Forget Leadership, Try Management.


Leadership is sexy, management is boring. Yet how many of us have followed plausible and inspiring leaders who it turns out couldn’t manage their way out of a paper bag and in the end, if we follow them at all, it is only out of sheer curiosity. Paradoxically, it is management, often regarded as a science, which is more trainable than the elusive art of leadership.

Put simply, management is the science of getting the right people, in the right place, at the right time, with the right kit, in order to deliver the right outcome. This means that delegation is at the heart of good management and perhaps that is why management is often so poor, because we all know that we should delegate but often don’t.

We all know why we should delegate. From a manager’s perspective it can reduce pressure and stress; it increases a manager’s capacity, because it provides more pairs of hands and minds to work on a problem; and fundamentally it provides managers with the time to do the work that only they can do. From the subordinates perspective it is a powerful source of motivation and an essential part of training and developing your team. So why wouldn’t you?

Well let’s be honest, how many of us have not delegated a task because we feel we can do the job better ourselves; because it is easier to do it ourselves; because it is quicker to do it ourselves; because if things go wrong it’s our head on the block; because we’re too busy to delegate; or because we enjoy doing the job ourselves. So how do we get over ourselves? These four simple steps may help.

Ask yourself a simple question
To know if you’re guilty of holding on to too much, answer this simple question: “If you had to take an unexpected week off work, would your initiatives and priorities advance in your absence?” If the answer is no then either you have no staff or you aren’t delegating enough. At the very least you need a deputy, who can step into your shoes. Now and when you move on.

If you’re still struggling to delegate, try this: over the next month make a list of tasks that you might delegate: write them down as you think of them. Then ask yourself: “What can I, and only I, do?” If a certain task could be done by someone else, maybe it should be. The only things you shouldn’t delegate are things concerned with the strategy, planning, policy, standards and objectives. Anything concerned with discipline. Anything you know your boss would not want you to delegate, or you are not authorised to delegate. And anything you genuinely believe only you can perform in the time available, don’t cheat!

Be clear about what you’re delegating and to whom
Once you’ve decided to delegate, you need to be clear in your own mind what you are asking the team or individual to do. When describing the task begin with the objective: what you are trying to achieve, but also why. This provides the overarching purpose, which not only tends to improves motivation, but also sets the task in context, enabling subordinates to adapt should the situation change. Then provide a start and completion date, with an agreed monitoring timeline. Describe what the outcome should look like in terms of quality and in what quantity, how much/how many. Finally, detail the resources available: money, people and tools etc.

When selecting a person(s) for the task, consider their competence for the job and use the traffic light system to gauge the graduated level of support you may need to provide. Red: I’ll do it you watch and learn. Amber: We’ll do it together, or you do it and I’ll watch. Green: you do it.

Always ensure understanding
Remember, if a task goes awry the person usually at fault is the one who issued the instructions, because what you say is not necessarily what is heard, and any teacher will tell you that “Are there any questions?” is itself a poor question. The likely result is silence, because of the social pressure not to look stupid and/or delay the escape to break or lunch! The same pressures often apply at work.

The answer is to ask “Are there any questions, because if not I have some questions for you?” Make it clear from the start that you will be asking confirmatory questions to ensure understanding. This will get people to listen carefully and encourage them to ask questions if they don’t understand. You are now working with, rather than against social pressure: no one will want to look stupid when you ask your confirmatory questions.

Provide feedback
Asking people to complete anything but the simplest task without any feedback is like playing darts in the dark. Without feedback, during a task, or at the very least at the end of it, your direct reports have no way of knowing how they are doing and therefore adjusting their aim or approach.

It is also important to engage them in a dialogue, not a diatribe. Help them learn, by exploring what has gone well, what was done poorly and how it could be changed. Ask them what they have tried and explore alternatives, and allow them the opportunity for response and clarification. And finally, thank and congratulate them when the job is done.

Hopefully, by following these four simple steps, you will ensure that people follow you out of something more than morbid curiosity and amusement.

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The 3 Secrets of Happiness, Productivity and Innovation


No doubt you’ve heard it all before: the on-demand economy will exacerbate the trend toward enforced self-reliance that has been gathering pace since the 1970s. Each of us will have to master multiple skills and keep those skills up to date. We will need to take more responsibility for educating themselves, selling ourselves, through personal networking and social media, effectively turning ourselves into personal brands. In a more fluid world everyone will have to learn how to manage ‘corporate individualism’ and ‘You Inc.’
But hold on a minute; surely there’s more to us than a piece of self-imagined corporate merchandise? How do we balance the demands of 21st century work with our personality, preferences and passion? Equally, what about the people we lead and manage? What about their aspirations and passions? So the question becomes, how can we make the most of our own and other people’s intrinsic strengths and motivations for the benefit of ourselves, our friends and colleagues, and the organisations to which we may belong (if only fleetingly)?
In a seminal article in the Harvard Business Review, Why Should Anyone Be Led by You? (Later developed into a book of the same name), Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, suggested that to be a true leader you should “Be yourself, more, with skill.” I think this advice goes well beyond leaders, I think it applies to us all. So where should we begin? Well I do like a good proverb, so let’s start with an ancient Chinese one, which describes happiness as something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for. In other words, meaningful work, close ties to family and friends, and a reasonable hope of a positive future? Let’s take them in turn.
Meaningful Work
In ‘Finding your Element’, Ken Robinson describes how making the most of ourselves is about using our particular kind of intelligence in an optimal way. In his view, the only way to prepare for an uncertain future is to make the most of ourselves, on the assumption that this will make us more flexible and adaptable. He believes that each of us should identify and nurture four things:

  • Our Aptitude – our natural facility for doing something
  • Our Passion – what gives us deep delight and pleasure
  • Our Attitude – the drive and grit to succeed
  • Our Opportunity – creating and taking opportunities to find them
    Identifying them will put us in the ‘zone’, which like the state of ‘flow’ described by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (Mee-Hi Cheech-Me-Sent-Hi if you were wondering), is where we lose track of time, we feel we are doing what we are meant to be doing and being who we are meant to be: time feels different, ideas come more quickly, and it fills us with energy.
    Close Ties to Family and Friends
    Research conducted by Robert Levering, aimed at discovering the essence of a great place to work, concluded that such a place is one in which you trust the people you work for, have pride in what you do, and enjoy the people you are working with. Ken Robinson describes it as ‘finding your tribe’, which can have a transformative effect on both your sense of identity and purpose.
    People who are like you offer validation and interaction, they affirm that you are not alone and enable collaborative ventures. They provide inspiration and provocation, allowing you to stand on the shoulders of others and raise the bar on your own level of achievement. Finally, they provide the ‘alchemy of synergy’ by modelling the three features of human intelligence, which are diversity, dynamism and distinction.
    Diversity describes the breadth of human intelligence from analytic to creative, from practical to emotional, just like the different members of a team. Dynamism is displayed by its interactivity, neurons in the brain fire and connect just like people, and finding new connections is how breakthroughs occur. And finally each of us, and the teams we form, are distinct, every person’s intelligence is unique, like a fingerprint, the key is to identify where our strengths lie and seek out the strengths of others to plug the gaps?
    Reasonable Hope of a Positive Future
    In ‘Drive’, Daniel H. Pink describes how there is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. Fundamentally, the use of rewards and punishments to control employees is an antiquated way of managing people. To maximise our enjoyment and productivity in 21st century work, he argues that we need to upgrade our thinking on motivation to include autonomy, the desire to direct our own lives; mastery, the urge to get better and better at something that matters; and purpose, the yearning to what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. And it is purpose that provides the essential context for both autonomy and mastery.
    According to the research cited by Pink, the most deeply motivated people align their desires to a cause greater and more enduring than themselves. As an emotional catalyst, wealth maximisation lacks the power to fully mobilise human energies, because it still begs the question: to what end. Satisfaction depends upon not merely having goals, but on having the right goals: goals that are greater than one’s own self-interest. The alternative is worker disengagement and the poor productivity, which may be one of the reasons why we currently have such poor productivity in the UK.
    Furthermore, neuroscience is now discovering that when people have a sense of purpose, especially a sense of common purpose, their brain chemistry changes. From our perception of pain, to our ability to handle difficult and challenging environments, and even our health and well-being.
    For all these reasons, each of us needs to think about how we can create a purpose and an environment that stimulates us and the people we work with. How can we all be ourselves, more, with skill?

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    How to increase the flow of new ideas – and eat a lot of hotdogs!

    Hot DogInnovation is critical in a knowledge economy, leading to new products, new methods and hopefully happy customers and organisational growth. According to PwC’s 2015 study on Global Innovation, U.S. companies spend $145 billion dollars on R&D each year. Yet, despite its importance, innovation is a difficult quality to cultivate both in individuals and in organizations. Here are three ideas to get you on the right track: curiosity, connection and the hot dog thing.


    We share a number of basic drives and attributes with our primate cousins, but only humans (as far as we are aware) have looked up at the stars, wondered what they are and tried to find out. Curiosity sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom and, with recent concern about robots taking our jobs, it should console us to learn that curiosity also sets us apart from computers. Computers are smart, but none can yet be said to be curious. In addition, recent research suggests that curiosity is also good for your health. People who make a lifelong habit of reading and writing a lot slowed their rate of mental decline by a third compared to those who only do an average amount.

    So how do we encourage curiosity in organisations?

    In the first place give people permission to be curious. The most important thing to do when you want more creativity is to let people know they can. You have to expect some failures and you need to embrace these, so build a culture with no fear of failure. Second, implement a formal structure that allows ‘intrapreneurship’ to take place: 3M allow employees 15% of their working week to devote to personal projects. Finally, provide incentives. Design a career path for your ‘intrapreneurs’ and show how their ideas can boost their responsibilities and rewards within the company.


    Future Work Skills 2020, a report compiled by the University of Phoenix Research Institute, argues that in the face of more complex, multifaceted problems ever-greater specialisation will be replaced by the need for individuals with blended skills. The ideal worker of the future will be ‘T-shaped’, with a deep understanding of one field, but able to converse in the language of a broader range of disciplines. This will require a sense of curiosity, a willingness to go on learning, and exposure to varied experiences and people.

    In Frugal Innovation, Navi Radjou & Jaideep Prabhu propose that organisations should make external connections to generate new ideas and ways of doing things. In the first place they should engage more with their customers to identify innovative opportunities and encourage co-creation in the design, building and sale of products. They should also make innovative friends, an eclectic group of partners to challenge senior management thinking and encourage a continuous process of unlearning and relearning.

    Internally, organisations could ask employees for their ideas and encourage them to contribute to the innovation dialogue with customers. A key activity will be to assemble a diverse workforce. Plenty of research shows that diverse teams devise the most innovative ideas. But above all, they must keep boundaries flexible and fluid, people need to be mixed together: rotate staff, create places and programmes where people from different teams collide and collude, use collaborative pay and incentives, and ensure that information flows and is interpreted correctly. This can be helped by those ‘T’ shaped workers, who are able to move between functions and explain what is happening in different departments.


    Finally, the hotdogs. Every 4th of July 40,000 people go to Coney Island in the United States, and more than 1m tune in on ESPN, the sports cable channel, to watch men and women defy human digestive limits in a hot dog eating competition. Prior to 2001 the record was 25 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes, but in that year Takeru Kobayashi, a young man from Japan, smashed the record consuming a staggering 53 dogs and buns. Mr Kobayashi’s winning insight was not to eat the hot dog and bun as you or I would, but to break the hot dogs in two and stuff them in his mouth with one hand, while his other hand dunked the bun in water to make it easier to swallow. This, coupled with shaking and gyrating, helped a 112lb man consume nearly 8lb of bread and sausage. The record, by the way, now stands at 70 dogs and buns.

    Apart from making us feel slightly squeamish, it should also remind us to critically examine our assumptions and challenge our fundamental beliefs about a situation. The key here is to ask “Why?” not “What?” And with that in mind, I will leave you with the words of General Stanley McChrystal, who summarized the difficult process of adaptation and innovation the US military went through in the years following the 2003 invasion of Iraq:

    When we first started, the question was, ‘Where is the enemy?’ That was the intelligence question. As we got smarter, we started to ask, ‘Who is the enemy?’ And we thought we were pretty clever. And then we realized that wasn’t the right question, and we asked, ‘What’s the enemy doing or trying to do?’ And it wasn’t until we got further along that we said, ‘Why are they the enemy?’

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    MBTA ‘Management by Talking About…’

    Graphic_02For the first blog of the New Year I’d like to reinvigorate an old idea. MBWA (Management by Walking Around) is rather taken for granted these days, as is often the case when a good idea becomes cliché. So to reinvigorate the importance of talking with your staff, I’d like to introduce MBTA, ‘Management by Talking About…’. Given that time is precious the emphasis here is on purposeful conversation and I want to offer four valuable conversations to have with your staff, rather than just chatting about the weekend football scores or last night’s TV.
    When it comes to the importance of purposeful conversation I think Colonel Zinoviev Konstantin Provalov summed it very well. While commanding the Soviet Union’s 383rd ‘Miners’ Rifle Division at the beginning of the Second World War, he believed that:
    ‘Authority is gained through the sum of daily conversations. One has to speak to soldiers. A soldier must know his task and understand it. Authority isn’t cheap; it is hard won. Everyone wants to live – including heroes. But knowing that soldiers trust me, I know they will fulfil all my orders and risk their lives.’
    Not a household name in Europe and America I admit, but he was awarded “Hero of the Soviet Union” in the early battles of 1941 and the quote has remained with me ever since I first read it, and was brought to mind recently while reading Richard Sennett’s’ excellent book ‘Together’. Sennett writes about ‘earned authority’ as one side of a ‘social triangle’ (the other sides being trust and cooperation), which he identifies as the key ingredient in successful organisations and communities.
    Sennett takes authority to be power endowed with legitimacy, with legitimacy defined as voluntary obedience. In war this means that soldiers will follow orders to fight knowing that it may lead to their death. This is an extreme example, and in civil society legitimacy is better framed in terms of laws people obey just because they seem right. In organisations, therefore, the leadership test for legitimacy, and thereby authority, is: will your subordinates obey you even though they might get away with disobeying?
    Like Provalov, Sennett argues that how a leader earns that legitimacy usually has more to do with small behaviours and exchanges than with any formal right or entitlement to rule. Earned authority concerns more than formal position or technical competence, it involves open dialogue with subordinates rather than rigid dictation to them. In other words, for authority to be legitimate, people who are asked to obey have to feel like they have a voice, that if they speak up, they will be heard. So how should you encourage them to speak up, what should you talk about? Here are a four suggestions for purposeful conversations.

    1. Ask employees for their feedback. Most companies ask customers for feedback about their products and services, but only a handful ask their employees the same questions. This is a missed opportunity. So in addition to asking your customers questions like “Was your problem solved?” and “Are we easy to work with?” ask your employees “Did you solve the problem?” and “Was it easy to access the tools and resources you needed to do it?”


    1. Make delegation easier – use conversations to establish trust. Delegating tasks to employees and then trusting them to make decisions for themselves can be difficult. It is easier to delegate to those you trust. You can build that trust by having conversations with your employees, observing them doing their daily jobs, and providing feedback. That way, when it comes time to delegate a task, you’ll better understand your employees’ strengths and weaknesses and know who is ready to take on more responsibility and who needs more experience or coaching.


    1. Make People on Your Team Feel Like They Belong. It is well known that fostering a sense of belonging helps reduce stress levels, and consequently improves physical health, emotional well-being, and performance. So build that sense of belonging by soliciting people’s input. Ask their opinion, and follow up with questions so they truly felt heard. Tell stories to show your own vulnerability and share your mistakes and successes. This will also help you connect emotionally.


    1. Determine whether a direct report is ready to be a manager? Measure their potential by gauging their interest in managing. Ask them what they believe management entails and what their approach would be in situations you are facing or have faced. Inquire about any experience they’ve had outside of work that could provide useful preparation. Have they been in charge of an athletic team or a group of volunteers? Seek out the opinions of their co-workers, who will have a unique perspective on whether the person is up to the task.

    It may also be worth considering how widespread such conversations are in your organisation. How might other leaders do a better job of managing by having purposeful conversations? Why not have a wander around and find out.

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    Effective Meetings

    3I am an introvert. That doesn’t mean I’m shy or afraid of what people might think of me: I’ve spent my career standing up in front of people. It just means that I tend to get my energy from quiet time, when I recharge my batteries, and I like time to think and reflect. You will not necessarily get the best out me by asking for my opinion at the drop of a whiteboard marker. I’m the sort of person who can leave a meeting thinking ‘I wish I’d said that.’

    Meetings are most effective when they harness the unique insights of every member. So, when thinking about how to get the most out of meetings it’s worth considering if you have any introverts in your team. Conversely, it’s good to identify the extraverts too. Those who use talking as a way of focusing their thinking, and may leave a meeting thinking ‘I wish I hadn’t said that.’

    The key is to give everyone the opportunity to speak their mind. In the first place make it clear that you want everyone’s opinion to be heard and they have permission to venture an ill-formed thought, without fear of being marked down or laughed out of the room. But setting clear ground rules is only the first step. You must follow through intentions with action and role model the behaviours you seek.

    To allow introverts to contribute, send out the agenda and key documents a few days in advance. Also consider asking for everyone’s initial thoughts on the issue or issues before the meeting, then circulate them to all attendees. This helps to avoid anchoring and first speaker advantage, the tendency for social conformity to silence our individual beliefs and convictions.

    Choose the running order deliberately. Either pick at random who will speak first or start with junior members first, this will help stop senior people dominating and again prevent anchoring. In the British Army’s Courts Martial System junior ranks always speak first during deliberations on the case in hand.

    This can of course be rather daunting for some junior members of staff and for those of a more introverted nature, but to offset the personal cost of discord or looking foolish, encourage and reward their contributions. Welcome disagreement and good ideas, and make sure they get the credit for them. Chat to those who you think are too shy and explain the value of their input. At the end of the meeting, canvass the views of those who have not spoken. Ask them specifically how they feel about the issues discussed and have they anything they would like to add? After the meeting thank them and encourage them to speak more often.

    Finally, and if you’re really feeling daring, try this for cutting short the digressions and long-winded rambling of the more effusive and extravert. Make clear in the ground rules that anyone is entitled to tap the table with their pen when they feel a colleague is going on a bit, and to keep tapping until they stop!

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    Dealing with Difficult Stakeholders

    imageStakeholder engagement is one of the key aspects of management and inevitably leads to some difficult conversations. The reality of human behaviour means that stakeholders will not always appear to be fully rational and amenable. When this happens it is important to understand why they behave the way they do and, if necessary, persuade them to change their behaviour.

    In the first place, is the root cause of their behaviour because you are at bottom of their priority list or is it deeper-rooted? If it’s the former you need to increase their interest in the project, by explaining what’s in it for them. If time is an issue then you need to make it easier for them to participate in the time available? If it’s something more deep rooted, you need to take a closer look at the emotions and the reasons that drive their behaviour. If it’s self-interest, you need to negotiate a win-win; if they don’t understand or have misunderstood you need to inform and educate; and if they have a low tolerance for change you need to provide support and help them discover that it is better than they feared.

    Relationships are, of course, a two-way thing and in order to change someone else’s behaviour you may need to consider changing your own. In the first place, think like a salesman. Use positive reviews and feedback from other stakeholders, data and knowledge, listening skills and empathy, to gain stakeholder’s confidence. Boost their ego if necessary; asking for advice is very beguiling since it builds trust and opens up a relationship, because you show that you care and that you are humble enough to ask for their opinion.

    Being liked is, perhaps unsurprisingly, key to influence. If someone likes you, you always have that extra edge. So be nice, diplomatic, patient and easy to work with: managing stakeholders effectively is not for those with a short fuse and little patience. Be prepared to listen to their reservations and fix them wherever possible. Always politely acknowledge criticisms and ask for their suggestions for improvement. Leave your negative emotions by the door, put your tongue in neutral and just listen.

    Try not to take things personally. People act difficult for different reasons and this is not necessarily a reflection of your shortcomings. One way to detach yourself is through the use of humour. Learn to use humour wisely to defuse tension. However, if you are upset, or feel like you are losing control, reschedule the meeting for another time. This will give you enough time to calm down, reassess the situation and identify the best way forward. This may also be the time to reflect on your feelings toward them. Do you look up to them, down on them, do you fear them or do you think they are laughable? The attitudes you hold about them will affect your interactions with people, even if you would like them not to.

    Of course, you should not roll over every time a stakeholder takes exception to what you do or say, but if you decide to confront a difficult stakeholder; separate the person from the issue and choose your battles wisely. In some cases, confrontation with a difficult stakeholder can be beneficial and help to iron out issues. In other cases, it’s just not necessary. Instead, save the debate for someone who can actually make a difference to the situation. On balance, when you deal with a stakeholder softly, he or she will eventually become more willing to listen to you. And if all else fails escalate to a higher authority.

    Finally, remain accessible and engage in open and frequent communication with stakeholders. Ensuring ongoing dialogue generates trust and allows for faster identification and resolution of issues as they arise.

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    Social Network Analysis (SNA)

    Why is it that two football teams whose players have similar abilities can perform very differently? Because performance depends not only on the quality of the single players, but on the relationships and interactions between them. In an organisational setting, poor informal relaSocial Network Diagramtionships can make or break change, strangle innovation, and cripple day to day operations.

    The problem is that informal relationships and interactions are often poorly understood and masked by the fiction of a formal structure, which is often represented by a neat, hierarchical wire diagram. The purpose of SNA is to understand how this informal structure operates in conjunction with the formal structure and workflow. This can be done very powerfully using visualisation software to create a 2D picture, but for small teams, with 8-12 members, insights can also be gained using a pen and paper.

    The basic assumptions of SNA are threefold: first, that personal relationships have a big impact on productivity; second, that human network maps (sociograms) help us visualize and understand where an organization is resilient and strong, and where it is vulnerable and weak; and third, that we can analyse these maps to identify flows of information, knowledge and trust, which will help plan organizational improvement. In short, by visualizing and analyzing informal social networks managers can bring out the strengths in their networks, restructure their formal organizations to complement the informal and ‘rewire’ faulty networks to achieve company goals.

    To get a good overall picture of the informal networks in your organization you typically need to visualize three types of relationship networks:

    • Communication networks reveal who talks to whom about work related matters on a regular basis. Mapping communication networks can help identify gaps in information flow, inefficient use of resources and the failure to generate new ideas.
    • Advice networks show the prominent members in an organization on whom others depend to solve problems and provide technical information. These networks show influential players in the day-to-day operations of a company and are useful to examine when a company is considering routine changes.
    • Trust networks show who employees share delicate political information with and who they back in a crisis. Mapping trust networks will uncover the source of political conflicts and failure to achieve strategic objectives. You should examine trust networks when implementing a major change or experiencing a crisis.

    Now, try it with your pen and paper. For each of the three types start with the person you think is most connected, put them in the centre of the page and the other team members around them, then connect the dots. Try to be honest, you may not be at the centre of every universe. If you’re stuck try talking to your subordinates and colleagues and see what they think. After all, those conversations may turn out to be valuable in their own right.

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