Organizations have cultures that define them. In years
past organizations would actually spend time trying to create a positive
organizational culture that helped ensure employee satisfaction which then, in
turn, positively supported optimal organizational performance.
It was recognised as a simple mathematical equation – a
positive culture = a positive employee experience = optimal performance in the
short and long term for the company.
The positive employee experience meant so many things to
organizations. (1) That they could attract and retain the best talent; (2) that
their culture encouraged, not least, inspiration and innovation amongst its
employees; (3) they would have ‘natural’ leaders who would support their teams
success (i.e. the employees are self-motivated to continuously improve
individual and organizational performance); and (4) the culture would create
positive energy that would be felt inside and outside of the organization, as
the organizational culture supported not just their employees but their family
lives as well.
Now in 2017 this concept of a positive organizational
culture seems more of a legendary myth than reality on the ground – where for
some reason the concept of organizational culture seems to be viewed dimly as
if being concerned about it is a sign of a weak leader. Where in fact not being
concerned about your culture is not only the sign of a weak leader, but a naive
one as well.
Whether you believe in organizational culture and/or
believe you can change it for the good – the fact is every organization has
one. Sadly, in many cases today it seems that there are different views on
culture within the same organisation – where leaders are often in blind denial
about the culture they have created.
This type of ‘blind’ leadership will believe that they
run a tight ship – directing their employees to achieve the goals they want to
achieve. Innovation is considered ‘mutiny’ if it isn’t innovation from the top.
Innovation from anywhere else is viewed as dissent and disrespectful behaviour
towards the leadership elite – which over a short period of time drowns out all
forms of innovative thinking from the mass of employees at the coal face, who
actually are the only people who really know what the real problems are – and
could offer solutions if only someone within the leadership would be prepared
to get over their own ego and listen.
This leadership is command and control based – employees
are simply there to serve their purpose, retention is ‘nice’ but not essential,
employees can easily be replaced by other warm bodies desperate for employment,
who will do as they are told to ensure they can put food on the table back home.
In fact these kind of employees are perfect as they will
do as they are told and won’t make intelligent suggestions that may show up the
incumbent leadership – who usually have been over-promoted for their ‘yes sir’
mentality, rather than their leadership experience and knowledge. Within these
misdirected organizations there is usually a sad, negative culture of double
standards – one set of rules for the leadership and another for the slaves, sorry
that should be employees. Isn’t this the kind of culture that exists in
Organizational culture is important and should be
something organizations focus on in the 21st Century – the benefits are
actually huge for everyone involved. It takes a great leader with great insight
and vision to see the benefits; and to be honest an idiot not to see it.
Although shareholders are often only short term focused
these days – even for them, picking an organization with a genuine positive culture
will pay-off more than an organization that has a negative culture; and for
those looking for those long term sustainable returns, organizational culture
is everything – or should be.
Sadly, as with ‘customer service’, experiencing positive
organizational cultures are so rare in today’s world many employees have given
up on the belief that they can or do exist anymore – but they do and they can;
and it doesn’t take fairy dust to create them.
Leaders have become so myopic that too many focus
inwardly on themselves and ‘how they look’ rather than embracing true
leadership and creating structures that are self-driven, transparent and areas
of true excellence.
We need academics and most importantly owners of
businesses to draw a line in the sand now and invest the time and energy into
their respective corporate cultures – it will be one of the best investments
that they have ever made.
If you Google ‘leadership development’ you’ll get 28
million results; the top of the page starts with ads from Accenture asking
‘what are the leadership traits you need right now’, Henley Exec Education offering
leadership programs with the slogan ‘inspire and lead others’, and then
Imperial College London and Harvard Business School offering leadership
development courses; followed next by Wikipedia offering one of many
definitions, stating that “leadership development expands the capacity of
individuals to perform in leadership roles within organizations. Leadership
roles are those that facilitate execution of a company's strategy through
building alignment, winning mindshare and growing the capabilities of others.”
But for all the hype and great ‘talk’ about leadership
development being about ‘inspiring and leading others’ and ‘winning mindshare’
– I would suggest that leadership in practice is going backwards in the early
21st Century and is not evolving like those making significant
amounts of money from leadership development would like you to believe.
So unless ‘we’ genuinely recognize this trend and make a significant
shift from ‘hype’ to ‘action’ then I predict that by 2030 most organizations around
the world will be run by command and control type leaders, who will have little
thought or care about ‘inspiring and motivating their staff’ – and even if they
did care, they won’t have the skills or basic knowledge to be an inspirational
What’s causing this leadership development dilemma?
There are, in my humble opinion, many factors helping
subdue effective leadership development within organizations and allow bad,
ineffective leadership to be the rule rather than the exception in today’s
First and foremost we have too many poor leaders
developing the next generation of ‘poor’ leaders – and hence rather than great
leaders developing great leaders, we have the exact opposite. These poor
leaders know they’re not setting the example, but they honestly don’t care.
Most are in very senior positions or are sitting on boards – and simply aren’t
going to put their hands up and say ‘hey, I shouldn’t be in this position’,
mostly because they already have the power and don’t see that they need much of
anything else; and with the power comes the pay check – so life is easy and
good. If things go wrong they’ve always got someone to blame – and God forbid
they do inspire their workforce – as then a ‘worker-bee’ might disrupt that
simple cushy life they have.
What about the leader’s goal of optimising
‘organizational performance’ you might ask, surely their lack of leadership
skills will be spotted sooner or later. Sadly they have a booklet of ‘get out
of jail free’ quotes to use when things don’t go right and have plenty of
excuses for why ‘things’ aren’t improving. The classic these days is to still blame
‘the global economy’ or ‘the global financial crisis’ – in the very near future
the Brits and Europeans will blame ‘Brexit’ and imagine others around the world
will find some reason to blame their failure to optimize performance on Donald
Since corporate boards are no longer strong enough or
vigilant enough to spot the ‘rot’ of their leadership development in their own
organisations – it needs other stakeholders, be these shareholders or
customers, to start using the power they genuinely have to make a positive
change to leadership development in the workplace. It will have a positive
difference on all stakeholders, if they do.
Second, the institutions offering leadership development
aren’t following through on their ‘promises’ and again organizations aren’t
ensuring that they follow through either. Meaning that there are some great
leadership development programs out there – but it’s one thing to learn the
theory, but it’s all meaningless if the participants can’t implement the theory
back in their workplace. It should be common sense that simply having attended
a course doesn’t make you a better leader – it’s what you do with the knowledge
you’ve learnt that defines you (and the program). But for many leadership
development companies it’s all about ‘profit’ rather than genuine results.
Leadership has to change from the top – if the executives
are all command and control leaders, then you aren’t going to change anything
until they change – or at least recognize the need to change. This doesn’t mean
if you’re working under these conditions that you’re necessarily a bad leader –
in fact you may inspire and motivate your own team, within the overriding
command and control culture – but you will be a very frustrated leader sooner
What needs to change for organisations that want the genuine
reality of great leaders – rather than just the hype – is for them to see
leadership development through to its conclusion. This means first developing a
transparent leadership model that will define your corporate leaders (and hence
your culture). This won’t be made up of fuzzy buzz words that sound good – but
will be the genuine skills and competencies that you expect from your leaders.
Then you’ll implement ways for your staff to appraise their leaders without
fear of retribution.
Once you’ve developed your model you’ll need to re-develop
all those currently in leadership roles, in some cases finding the right
mentors to help them develop on the job – and then, most importantly, the
organization must have the strength and conviction to remove those leaders from
their positions that don’t transform within an agreed period of time.
You’ll also need to have a focused development program
for all your emerging leaders and your leadership pipeline, from bottom to top.
This developmental pipeline needs to be transparent and reviewed on an annual
basis – and ideally it will be run in-house.
Finally leaders should seek out feedback from their staff
– asking ‘how can I improve as a leader’. This should be done on at least an
annual basis and leaders should be reviewing their development against these
goals. In fact in my experience – the really genuine great leaders are
constantly seeking ways to be better leaders – whereas the poor leaders are
confident they are already there and shun feedback, believing that being made a
leader is recognition enough that they are brilliant at their job – showing a
genuine lack of appreciation for (1) what leadership is all about and (2) that
you can always improve as a leader.
What the world needs now are motivational and
inspirational leaders to take organizations forward into the future – leaders
that don’t look for excuses why things can’t be done, but who are always
looking for opportunities to improve themselves, their departments and their
organisations. Leaders who inspire loyalty from their staff, a rare trait in the
current business climate; and leaders who constantly want to better themselves
and aren’t afraid of feedback from their staff, in fact they crave it.
There’s no doubt that 2016 will be a year that will be more remembered through history than most other years in recent times – yet we have to
wait to see whether it will be remembered from a positive or negative
One thing that should be clear going into the future is
that ‘opinion polls’ need to be rethought if they are going to accurately
First the British public, according to the polls, were
overwhelmingly going to vote to stay in Europe – and yet when the time came the
British public voted to leave Europe – BREXIT, as it is now known. This
referendum was meant to show the true power of democracy. A vote had taken
place in the House of Commons agreeing to the referendum on Britain’s future in
Europe – and yet, ever since the vote went to the leave camp, seemingly the
wealthier members of the British population have been taking the Government to
the English courts, challenging the process - at most trying to reverse the
vote and at the very minimum trying to disrupt the process. I guess this is
rich person’s view of democracy.
How this all ends, has still to be written. The media, in
their infinite wisdom, have taken sides on the debate and are plying their own
‘fear and panic’ amongst the population, depending which side of the divide
The craziest protestations come from those that are
demanding the British government make their strategy and negotiation stance
public – before the negotiations with Europe take place. Yet anyone who’s negotiated
in a business context knows that the last thing you do is show your hand prior
to negotiations – unless you’re playing games and misdirecting your opponents
with ‘false’ information – otherwise you are obviously going to be negotiating
from a weakened position; it would be like playing poker where your opponents
can see your hand.
Europe must be smiling to themselves – hoping the
do-gooders get their way and the Prime Minster has to reveal the government’s strategy
before the negotiations start. You don’t need to be a mind reader to guess how
negotiations will go for Britain if this scenario plays out.
The second time the polls were continually wrong was with
Donald Trump. He wasn’t even expected to become the Republican nominee – let
alone the next President of the United States. How the polls got this one so
wrong should be weighing on people’s minds – if they actually cared. The media
love a drama – so news, isn’t news anymore – and news channels are more focused
on entertainment than factual global information and insights.
Whether you like Trump or not – he’s clearly a brilliant marketer
Talking with Americans – it seems a sad reflection on the
country that no one particularly liked either candidate – and Trump was
considered the better of the two evils. What that says for the US going forward
– only time will tell. Though if you like to take the odd bet – it might be
worth looking at the odds on Ivanka Trump becoming the first women President of
the United States in the near future. Where the Trumps will take over the
dynasties of the Bush’s and the Clinton’s.
Lots of other events happened in 2016, but it will be
remembered most going forward for these two above.
What does this mean for business? It simply means that
businesses should be doing what we’ve been taught of years. Organisations need
to be flexible and resilient, constantly looking at opportunities and being
aware of the threats to their business. Hence they need excellent leadership
that focuses on opportunities and who create a motivated and innovative
workforce that thrives on positive ‘change’. What is definite is that, even
though there will be some global chaos in 2017, this definitely means that
there will be real business opportunities for those that are willing to look
forward – and not get stuck in the present, sulking that ‘things are changing
and aren’t going their way’.
We live in an ever changing world, where most governments
and the main stream media seem to be so out of touch with citizens in their own
countries, let alone on the international stage.
So my message for 2017 is to be brave, be true to
yourself, stick to the basics, constantly look for opportunities and don’t
listen to the ‘naysayers’ – where there are threats, there are always
opportunities – so see you cup half full (not half empty); focus on the
positive and enjoy the journey.
Finally, as in past years, let’s pause for a moment and
remember those who have left us during 2016;
In January we lost David Bowie, just after releasing his
25th album; Alan Rickman, of Harry Potter fame and the first Die
Hard movie; the Eagles frontman Glenn Frey; and Sir Terry Wogan, a broadcaster
know by many in the UK.
In February we lost Harper Lee the author of To Kill a
Mocking bird, which became standard reading for millions of young people.
In March we lost Beatles producer George Martin;
Emmerson, Lake and Palmer founder and keyboard player Keith Emerson; and
British comedian Ronnie Corbett.
In April we lost Prince due to an accidental overdose; UK
comedian Victoria Wood and agony Aunt Denise Robertson.
In May we lost Burt Kwouk best known for playing
alongside Peter Sellers as Clouseau’s manservant.
In June we lost Muhammad Ali, who was more than just a
boxing legend, he was an inspirational man to many.
In July we lost Roscoe Brown who’d been one of the
Tuskegee Airmen in WWII and Jack Davis co funder of Mad magazine;
In August we lost comedy legend Gene Wilder and Kenny
Baker who played R2-D2 in the Star Wars franchise.
In September we lost golfing legend Arnold Palmer.
In October we lost Pete Burns, the Dead or Alive singer
and Jean Alexander, better known as Hilda Ogden in the UK soap, Coronation
In November we lost singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen;
Andrew Sachs, better known as playing Manuel in Fawlty Towers with John Cleese;
actor Robert Vaughn and Sir Jimmy Young.
And finally in December we lost singer-songwriter George
Michael; actress Zsa Zsa Gabor; rock superstar Greg Lake; Status Quo guitarist
Rick Parfitt; actress Carrie Fisher and then the day after her death, her
mother Debbie Reynolds.
Life is short so focus on the things that matter to you!
Wishing all readers a healthy, happy and prosperous 2017.
In an article in this month’s Harvard Business Review
Lori Goler, Janelle Gale and Adam Grant mention how “performance reviews are
awkward. They’re biased. They stick us in boxes and leave us waiting far too
long for feedback. It’s no surprise that by the end of 2015, at least 30 of the
Fortune 500 companies had ditched performance evaluations altogether,” (p.92).
I don’t fully agree with their comment about the link
between feedback and performance reviews – as I think they are mutually
exclusive and that whatever your approach to performance reviews, feedback
shouldn’t be something you have to wait ‘far too long for’ and should be a
regular event occurring on a weekly/monthly basis where the employee sits with
their immediate boss on an one-on-one basis for a honest and forthright
discussion about what’s going well; what isn’t (if anything); areas where
improvement could be made (which might lead to development needs) and what’s
going to happen in the next ‘period’ of time.
Feedback is different to ‘acknowledgement’ where
acknowledgement is or should be immediate following a ‘job well done’ and where
feedback is a more formal regular event. Feedback isn’t just the responsibility
of leaders, it’s also the responsibility of employees to seek feedback – so if
you aren’t getting feedback on a regular basis it’s your responsibility to ask
What’s true is where Goler, Gale and Grant highlight how
“as researchers pointed out in a recent debate in Industrial and Organizational
Psychology, ‘Performance is always rated in some manner.’ If you don’t have
formal evaluations, ratings will be hidden in a black box.” In today’s world we
are rating ‘things’ all the time, virtually instantly, and ‘performance’ isn’t
any different. But how we ‘rate’ and what we do with this ‘rating’ defines good
leaders, from poor leaders (and good organisations from bad ones). If you don’t
have formal evaluations then you shouldn’t be hiding your ‘tendency’ to rate in
a black box – you should be totally transparent with your ‘black box’ and this
is done through regular transparent feedback. ‘Black box’ mentalities lead to
distrust and demotivation within the team, where there is no chance of honest
feedback taking place and employees find themselves in a ‘toxic’ environment.
Goler, Gale and Grant mention how “we all want
performance evaluations to be fair. That isn’t always the outcome, but as more
than 9,000 managers and employees reported in a global survey by CEB, not
having evaluations is worse. Every organization has people who are unhappy with
their bonuses or disappointed that they weren’t promoted. But research has long
shown that when the process is fair, employees are more willing to accept
undesirable outcomes. A fair process exists when evaluators are credible and motivated
to get it right, and employees have a voice. Without evaluations, people are
left in the dark about who is gauging their contributions and how.”
The reality is that performance evaluations simply aren’t
‘genuine’ performance evaluations if they aren’t honest and transparent. All
the talk about ‘black boxes’ etc doesn’t belong in the same sentence as
performance evaluations; and it’s because they now seem to appear in the same
sentence that performance reviews have become misunderstood and gained a bad
reputation – but it isn’t the concept of performance reviews that is bad, it’s
the people that have misused them for decades that have made them bad.
Goler, Gale and Grant highlight how “at Facebook, to
mitigate bias and to do things systematically, we start by having peers write
evaluations. They share them not just with managers but also, in most cases,
with one another – which reflects the company’s core values of openness and
transparency. Then decisions are made about performance: Managers sit together
and discuss their reports face-to-face, defending and championing, debating and
deliberating, and incorporating peer feedback. Here the goal is to minimize the
‘idiosyncratic rater effect’ – also known as personal opinion. People aren’t
unduly punished when individual managers are hard graders or unfairly rewarded
when they’re easy graders.”
Two of the authors of the article are from Facebook, Lori
Goler and Janelle Gale and though it’s good that they are trying to use
performance reviews effectively, it’s sad that they think they need their own
‘theory’ to mitigate ‘bias’ – as there have been tips and tricks on how to
mitigate performance review bias for decades. One of the simplest, wasn’t to
rate performance on an annual basis in the first place it was to give regular
reviews based on a ‘management by objectives’ approach. This professional
approach meant that ‘performance reviews’ linked with regular ‘feedback
sessions’ to form a constant review of performance that didn’t leave employees
in any doubt about how they were doing; and became a seamless ‘performance
review’ that left employees motivated, engaged and inspired to over-achieve
against their objectives on a continuous basis.
Goler, Gale and Grant state that “many companies that are
abandoning performance evaluations are moving to real-time feedback systems.
That is an excellent way to help people repeat their successes and learn from
their failures. But it doesn’t help them – or the organization – gauge how
they’re doing overall.” Again I have to totally disagree with their statement
that ‘it doesn’t help them gauge how they’re doing overall’ and to me the
statement sadly shows a misunderstanding about managing performance, reviewing
performance and the art of ‘feedback’. Done correctly there is no doubt in the
employees mind about ‘how they’re doing overall’ – and it’s scary that a
company like Facebook could be so confused and misinformed about what regular
performance feedback is all about.
The most important aspects of ‘great’ performance
feedback is that;
It should be a regular, formal process.
Leaders and employees should be ‘trained’ in how to give
and receive feedback – a skill that is rarely taught and hence where many of
the problems start;
Feedback is specific, constructive and makes a real
Feedback is genuine and honest, discussed in a ‘safe’
environment - which only exists in great organisations, with great leadership
and a strong culture of transparency;
Feedback is based on specific objectives that leads to
performance improvement and development needs as and when necessary;
The employee learns how to receive feedback in a
constructive and not a defensive way; and to seek clarification from the
feedback in a positive way, that makes a difference to their performance.
If you give regular feedback in the right way, you won’t
need to only ‘rate’ your employees once a year; as through regular, honest feedback
all your employees will be performing at their optimal level of performance
balanced between the organisations ‘present and future needs’ – it’s a genuine
win-win for everyone. So let’s take this opportunity to go back to basics;
teach our leaders and employee’s how to give and receive feedback; and get back
to giving regular, honest feedback to our employees – it will make a huge
difference to the employees and the organisation.
Goler, L., Gale, J. and Grant, A. (2016). Let’s Not Kill
Performance Evaluations Yet. HBR, November, p.90-94.
About the book "Be the Best in Business" by Nigel Brownbill
"The author not only challenges you to be 'the Best' but shows you the way in a very concise, thoughtful and practical way. He skillfully blends his vast business experience with sharp academic insight to create a compelling guide for long-term sustainable business success."
Professor Brad Jackson Fletcher Building Education Trust Chair in Leadership The University of Auckland Business School
2nd Edition of 'Be the Best in Business' for Kindle Published 10th August 2012
"This book is an invigorating treatment of principles fundamental to the success of any business enterprise. It is also a powerful 'call to arms' in that it challenges us to move on, from institutionalised practices that masquerade as 'modern', to embrace standards that will 'raise the bar' and differentiate the best from the mediocre!"
Managing Director, Camford International Limited and former Vice Chairman, IIC Partners Executive Search Worldwide