Showing all pages regarding one one.
Two male public figures have recently got themselves into trouble for their comments on sensitive issues. First George Galloway, not known for his tact, waded into the Assange affair by introducing the bizarre notion of “sexual etiquette” in the context of rape. At the same time, in the US, Missouri congressman Todd Aiken suggests that there is a special case to be made for ‘legitimate rape’. Both parties (Galloway and Aiken) clearly regret their choice of words and have since been engaged in damage limitation exercises. But the damage is done. In fact the damage gets worse for George Galloway who has just sparked another storm by using a derogatory term for disabled people on Twitter.
I have no intention of getting into the rape debate – that’s not the purpose of this piece. But I think these recent episodes demonstrate the importance of taking some time to think before you speak. Politicians are often caught out when faced with difficult questions without notice. But we are all at risk of humiliation and embarrassment (or worse) now that Twitter, Facebook and social media in general encourages spontaneous communication.
I worked with two senior managers recently who were aiming to improve their ability to present themselves with confidence. They wanted to be able to communicate clearly and fluently, so that they could influence others and gain credibility with peers and clients. Both were enthusiastic, intelligent people with a lot to say. When we first met I asked them to deliver a presentation to me. Both presentations were full of information and moved along at a fast pace. The managers spoke very quickly , sometimes deviating from the topic, sometimes stumbling over words and ultimately failing to get their message across.
When we reviewed their presentations they both admitted to being nervous. “The more nervous I get, the more quickly I speak” said one. “Then as I start to panic, I use all the wrong words and lose my thread entirely – I completely lose my confidence.”
I asked them both to rethink their presentation, paring it down to the most essential points and the key message they want to deliver. Then I asked them to deliver the first five minutes of the presentation to me at a snail’s pace. They had to speak as clearly and as slowly as possible, pausing properly for each comma and full stop. The result was remarkable. Both found that the slower pace gave them time to articulate clearly and to think while they spoke, so that they could anticipate the next sentence and the words they wanted to use. By giving themselves extra time they lost their nerves – and gained control.
Both managers have been practising the ‘slow’ technique regularly and use it when preparing for presentations. Obviously in real situations they speak at a normal pace (which is always going to be a bit faster than it feels) but neither of them rush or gabble as they used to. Neither do they end up getting the words wrong or losing the thread – they now have time to think before they speak.
My first piece of advice to Galloway and Aiken would be to stay away from the topic of rape in the future. But whatever the subject they might also benefit from slowing down a little rather than rushing to an answer. In fact perhaps we could all try a little less spontaneity and a little more reflection before opening our mouths.
I enjoy a bit of sedentary cycling and have been known to jump on a Boris Bike. But I have never really taken much interest in cycling as a sport. Until now. It has been difficult to escape the excitement surrounding Bradley Wiggins and his Tour de France victory. When I began to understand more about how the race was one I realised that the real story was not so much about Bradley Wiggins but more about Team Sky. We can learn a lot from this extraordinary team and its achievement. And the lessons are just as important to business as they are to sport.
What I hadn’t realised (apologies to cycling enthusiasts who know all this) is that Bradley’s win did not come out of nowhere. It was part of a masterful and finely executed plan in which each member of Team Sky played a crucial part. What is most striking about the story is that any member of the team could (in theory) have been the winner. But the plan was to achieve a win for the team by supporting Bradley’s progress through the course, employing tactics to boost his performance at every stage, thereby ensuring his success overall. In other words the team were united behind a common cause which took precedence over any individual egos and aspirations.
Read any account of Team Sky’s performance and you begin to understand the very specific role that each member played throughout the race. Bradley was the team leader who put in years of relentless hard work and stuck rigidly to his belief in winning. Bradley had to acknowledge his weaknesses (he is apparently not the strongest climber) in order to get support from others in the team where he needed it. Chris Froome, coming second overall, was prepared to stand in if Bradley faltered. He is a better climber than Bradley and could have sought more glory in the race. But that was not part of the plan and so he held back when necessary. Christian Knees, a former champion, stayed at the front during the early stages to control any possible contenders to Bradley. He helped Bradley by keeping him out of the wind for long stretches, allowing him to save his energy for the later crucial stages in the race.
This is impressive team work. The vision to win was truly shared by all; the plan for achieving the goal was meticulously crafted and carefully executed; and everyone involved understood their role in the process. Wouldn’t it be great if more senior management teams followed this example? In business, teams so often fail because individual members struggle to unite behind the common goal. And yet executive teams in particular have a crucial responsibility to the organisation to deliver results collectively. There is no room for personal glory or for defending your own territory regardless of the common cause. Organisations which fail to address the ‘silo’ mentality are highly unlikely to succeed in the long run.
We should of course congratulate Bradley Wiggins for his win. But we should also acknowledge the part each team member played in achieving this victory. Their performance required a level of discipline and self sacrifice that few teams can muster.
I was talking to a group of business people recently on the subject of winning and keeping clients. We all agreed that face to face conversations with clients are the best opportunity you have to win them over. Yet it strikes me that this critical stage in the process is often poorly managed. When we’ve done all our marketing and networking and have actually got a prospect who is willing to sit down and have a discussion with us, we go and mess it up. Why is this? In my view it’s because we are so intent on selling our product or idea that we forget to listen. The aim is not to dump information on the client. Rather, the aim is to identify what their problem or challenge is, show how your product or service can help them and then to get a positive response.
So a large part of the conversation will involve listening to the client, asking them questions and being interested in what they are saying. Sounds easy, but it isn’t. Listening patiently is hard – we are all too eager to jump in with our solutions. If you can spend time allowing your client to talk, and being genuinely interested, they will be delighted and impressed. And that’s how you begin to establish a sustainable trusting relationship. These are the relationships that are more likely to bring you business. Because we tend to do business with people we like and trust.
A colleague of mine, Jamie Hancox of ‘buyingtime’ (http://www.buyingtime.co.uk/), gave me the idea of using a pie chart to represent the client conversation. So I came up with my own pie to show the key stages of the discussion (see above). This format is not intended to be prescriptive. But it does help to emphasise just how much time is spent on understanding the client and diagnosing their needs. Of course, you still have to describe the benefits of what you do and you have to close the sale (some seem to shy away from this crucial bit!) but those parts take up relatively less time.
Remember, companies do not make the decision to hire or buy. People do. The relationship you build with people in your client organisations is crucial to your business. Try listening, it’s very effective.
With the departure of Bob Diamond as Barclays’ Chief Executive, there is much speculation about the bank’s future strategy and discussion about the strategic options available to Barclays following this week’s dramatic events. This got me thinking about the role of strategic planning in organisations and what makes for a good strategy.
I am continually surprised at the number of organisations I talk to who don’t have a clear strategic plan which informs everything they do. Some will claim to have a plan but, when I question further, it isn’t really being implemented, not everyone knows about it and it doesn’t get reviewed on a regular basis. A well executed strategic plan helps an organisation to know what they are trying to achieve and how they will get there. More than that, it helps everyone in your business to be focused, motivated and efficient.
As a non-Executive Director for a number of charities I am often concerned about the lengthy progress reports received by the Board. These reports provide an update on progress against a long and varied list of activities to develop new ideas or explore opportunities. These charities are not well resourced; staff are stressed and work very hard. The problem is that, in some cases, there is no clear understanding of the overall goal for the organisation, nor is there a well communicated, carefully monitored plan to achieve the goal. No one is really sure about the priorities or the actions that are critical to the organisation’s success.
The liberating part of a good strategic plan is that it helps you to define not only what your organisation must or will do, but also what it will not do. Each potential opportunity or initiative must be evaluated to determine how it will contribute to the overall goal. If it doesn’t clearly contribute to achieving the goal it doesn’t get done. The result is a more effective, motivated organisation that has clarity about what it is trying to do.
I am sure Bob Diamond had a strategic plan for Barclays, whether it was a good plan is another matter. Strategic planning is essential to good business. MBAs are told this and Chief Executives know it. Most of us understand how to formulate a strategy. What doesn’t get talked about so much is the execution of the strategy. How many excellent strategic plans must there be out there which, once written, sit on a shelf gathering dust while life goes on as before? Although the task of developing a good plan is not always easy, the really hard part is engaging staff in its implementation and constantly reinforcing the plan by good communication throughout the organisation. A plan that isn’t understood, supported, rigorously monitored and reviewed simply won’t get done – what a waste of effort!
When did you last win a major piece of work without having to put in a bid? Doesn’t happen very often does it? At the very least you or your company will probably be used to writing proposals on a regular basis, or submitting statements about why you should be given the job.
Not many years ago tendering was largely associated with large supplier contracts or with public sector procurement. Now, bidding for work is common practice for most organisations. In a heavily regulated environment, companies are under pressure to manage risk, act with integrity and to demonstrate transparency in all their dealings – especially with their suppliers. Jobs for the boys are a thing of the past. It takes more than a quick chat and a handshake to win work these days.
Often the task of preparing a proposal or bid falls to staff who lack the required training and skills. They may be senior managers, they may be experts in their own field, but have they had any experience in bidding? Do they really know what makes a winning bid? For such a crucial task it is surprising that companies don’t spend more time developing staff in this area. Putting together a tender is not difficult, but knowing more about the process, the pitfalls and what makes a winning bid can make all the difference.
There is always the context to take into account when helping businesses to create winning bids. What is the company trying to achieve? How is the company positioned? What are its strengths and how are they communicated? When I am working with teams or individuals on the subject of bidding, the answers to these questions inform the design, content and presentation of the bid document. There are also some general tips and techniques which help to create the perfect bid. My top ten tips are at the end of this article. If I had to highlight one tip it is the importance of asking questions. In my experience people are reluctant to enter into a dialogue with a buyer or prospective client during the bidding process. They are even more anxious about asking questions, fearing this will be taken as a sign or ignorance or weakness. On the contrary, asking intelligent, questions demonstrates that you are interested and want to ensure that your bid is relevant, useful and informative. It also helps you to build a relationship with the buyer. And evidence shows that buyers tend to give the job to people they know they can work with.
The old boy network may be gone, but relationships still matter! Download JPA’s Top Tips for creating a winning bid
Readers of this blog will know about my interest in observing business leaders and drawing lessons from their behaviour. In particular I have been captivated by the Leveson enquiry and what it reveals about the Murdoch way of doing business (see ”Lessons in responsible leadership” 12 July 2011).
Yesterday, during the questioning of James Murdoch, the enquiry demonstrated how carelessly worded private emails can come back to haunt you. Quite apart from what the evidence shows about the unethical (if not illegal) practices taking place, the emails reveal a complete lack of judgement and arrogance amongst News Corp senior executives. They are clearly incapable of behaving ethically, but you might expect senior people to understand the golden rule: Do not commit anything to email that you would not want everyone in the world to read.
And today I have been watching Rupert Murdoch. It is intriguing – he bumbles and pauses and professes to remember very little of past events. One wonders how someone with such a bad memory can have built such a powerful empire. Nevertheless he is bullish and stubborn when he needs to be and has made some astounding statements, for example: ‘I try very hard to set an example of ethical behaviour’. If this is true (OK, just try to imagine for a moment), his influence as a leader clearly counts for nothing within News Corp.
We don’t need the Leveson enquiry to tell us that News Corp is corrupt, that phone hacking took place and that senior people at News Corp are guilty of unethical behaviour. And no one can be surprised to learn that governments are not always impartial in their dealings with big business. What we are learning is that huge corporations are not invincible. Even those at the head of the most powerful organisations are capable of foolish errors, crass behaviour, gross lack of judgement and monumental arrogance.
The leadership lesson? Business leaders who lack authenticity, moral judgement and a genuine sense of responsibility will ultimately fail.
Like many others I have yet to hear any reasonable justification for the extortionate salaries being paid to corporate executives and cannot comprehend the level of pay increases being awarded to some company bosses. The rewards paid, in most cases, appear to bear little relationship to performance or to risk. And even the top earners admit that they are not incentivised by money. Jeroen van der Veer, formerly chief executive of Shell said “if I had been paid 50% more, I would not have done it better. If I had been paid 50% less, then I would not have done it worse”.
But, the UK government’s plans to curb executive pay, announced by Vince Cable today, fail to address the problem and could even make matters worse. Like the measures recently introduced to increase the number of women on Boards, these proposals will change little, they represent unnecessary interference and yet more pointless bureaucracy. The government’s plans include requirements for more pay transparency, diversity on boards, remuneration reports and shareholder voting on pay deals. These policies tinker at the edges of a much deeper issue concerning the nature of organisations and corporate culture. I am sure that most businesses will find ways to get round the new requirements without making any fundamental changes to remuneration systems, management style, values or culture – and that is where change needs to take place. Sadly, organisations that do not truly value integrity, transparency and fairness will not suddenly change their ways as a result of new legislation.
A recent article by Robert Terry in the Financial Times (FT) complains that, despite the significant sums spent annually on training and development by companies, very little of what is learnt translates into improved performance in the workplace. Studies shows that only 5-20% of the learning from training has any impact on the business. Given the current obsession with measuring everything against business targets, this is puzzling if not shocking. “Surely” Terry suggests “a training industry that delivers less than 20 per cent cannot be fit for purpose.”
He is right. Much of the training delivered globally, within companies or by universities, is probably ineffectual. Yet still many organisations fail to measure the impact of training on the business and individual performance. Terry suggests that one reason for this is the lack of any participation or involvement of line managers in individual staff development. He argues that managers fail to take responsibility for the learning and development of their staff and should be held to account for the transfer of training to the workplace. Trainers should also be more concerned with the application of training and how it will benefit the business.
As a leadership development specialist I take this issue very seriously and have long been promoting various approaches which help to ensure that companies and individuals get a return on their investment in training and development. First let’s look at business schools and the MBA – generally considered to be the leading international business qualification. I am a strong advocate of the MBA, but, despite the considerable cost of tuition, there is surprisingly little evaluation of how the qualification benefits business or its impact on individual performance. Many employers express the concern that MBA training is too divorced from the reality of business. Some are also reluctant to sponsor employees to take an MBA because of the risk that, once qualified, their employee will be off to find a higher paid job with better prospects. Many companies attempt to manage this risk by ‘tying in’ the employee with a contract requiring them to stay with the company for a certain period after qualifying. Well, it may stop them leaving but does this restraining order really help employers to get the most out of their highly qualified senior staff?
To be sure of a better payback, employers need to take a more considered approach to MBA sponsorship. I have always encouraged employers to address the following questions. Which employees would you select to support through their MBA training and why? How can the business get the best return from investing in MBA training? What are your long term plans for the development and progression of your most talented employees? While these employees are training, or when they are qualified, what new opportunities and challenges are you able to offer them? How will their new learning be applied in order to benefit the business? Dealing with these questions will not only keep senior staff motivated and engaged but will also help to ensure that employers realise the full value of MBA training.
Then there is workplace or corporate training. How do we improve the transfer of learning in this context? It’s true that some managers are too ready to shirk their responsibility for staff development, turning to HR to solve their performance problems with the wave of a wand or the provision of a 2 day training course. When I am asked to provide management and leadership training I spend some time during the planning stage with the CEO, line managers or ideally the management team. The aim is to get an understanding of the business, the people, the challenges they face and any specific performance problems so that I can make what I deliver as relevant and meaningful as possible. I want them to see my participation as an intervention in their company’s business process, picking up on what is already going on and developing ideas and actions for implementation in the future. It is essential to get the manager’s or CEO’s commitment to deal with any follow up and to support further development after my input. That way the training and development doesn’t end when I walk away.
Measuring the impact of training on business performance isn’t easy. But with a considered approach to staff development, the involvement of managers and input from trainers who are concerned with the application of learning, the returns can be considerable.
I heard the term ‘imposter syndrome’ for the first time today. It described a situation I recognised immediately and have often talked and written about – and I was fascinated to hear that the situation has a formal definition. The term popped up during an interview with one of the world’s leading astronomers – Dame Jocelyn Bell-Burnell – on Radio 4 this morning. She described how she pursued a career in astrophysics in the 1960s, struggling to achieve recognition in an entirely male dominated field. She applied for a PhD post at Cambridge University not expecting to get in and, when her application was accepted, she was very surprised. Jocelyn Bell-Burnell remembers her first year at Cambridge as a very daunting experience. She felt she didn’t deserve to be there and, in her interview, talks about ‘imposter syndrome’ as a way of describing her feelings. To paraphrase Jocelyn’s explanation of the syndrome : it is experienced by people, mostly women, who lack confidence and who believe that the success they have achieved is the result of some terrible mistake. The feeling involves a nagging fear that at some point the mistake will be uncovered, revealing the person as an undeserving imposter.
This feeling will resonate with many women and, perhaps, some men. To some extent I experienced it myself when I was first promoted to a senior management position. Despite the rigorous selection process, I couldn’t help wondering whether I got there by luck or by somehow pretending to my seniors that I had got what it takes. My older sister, a successful occupational therapist and academic, has told me that she occasionally felt like a fraud in her job. She half expected someone to tap her on the back one day and say “sorry, we’ve just realised you’re not up to this job and you’ve been getting away with it for too long”. When I am coaching women in senior roles it is not unusual for them to express feelings of doubt about their ability to do their job. They are also quick to tell me why they are probably not capable of progressing any further. I rarely encounter a man expressing the same reservations.
Women who suffer from this lack of confidence are often their own worst enemies. They fail to aim high, underrate their own capabilities and do themselves down in front of others. I am not suggesting that women should learn how to be more arrogant – it is often the sincerity and honesty of women leaders that earns them respect, trust and success at the top. Rather I wish that women would believe more in themselves, acknowledge their strengths and realise the positive impact they have in business. I can well understand Jocelyn Bell-Burnell suffering from ‘imposter syndrome’ in the scientific field in the 1960s. It shouldn’t still be happening today.
“Training intervention that works” – view or download an overview of the workshop below.
Jeanette has over 20 years experience in management and was Chief Executive of AMBA for 7 years. She has worked in both the commercial and public sectors. Having completed her MBA (with distinction) at the Cass Business School, Jeanette was asked to join the school's academic team as a Visiting Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour... [read more]
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