Sunday, January 29, 2017

What’s Wrong With Today’s Corporate Leaders?

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 leader.
 
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 business environment.
 
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 Trump.
 
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 or later.
 
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.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Year in Review: 2016


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 perspective.
 
One thing that should be clear going into the future is that ‘opinion polls’ need to be rethought if they are going to accurately predict outcomes.
 
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 they reside.
 
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 and strategist.
 
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 Street.
 
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.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

How Often Do You Receive Performance Feedback?

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 for it.
 
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 impact;
 
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.
 
 
Reference:
 
Goler, L., Gale, J. and Grant, A. (2016). Let’s Not Kill Performance Evaluations Yet. HBR, November, p.90-94.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Who Inspires You?

Having someone in your business life who inspires you to succeed and achieve your goals seems to be the exception than the rule these days. I still remember the managers I had early in my career who were truly inspirational and in no small way helped me create the solid foundation on which I was able to build my career.
 
Talking to thousands of employees over the last 40 years there’s no doubt about how much difference an inspirational leaders makes – not just to the employees level of commitment and motivation – but the impact these leaders have on improving and optimising organisational performance, as they help create a culture that wants to ‘over achieve’ in areas that are synergistic to the employee and the organisation – creating a win-win for everyone involved.
 
So it seems sad that in the early years of the 21st century, today’s leaders seem to lack the basic skills needed to inspire employees and further seem to lack the desire to inspire them in the first place. Many leaders seem to look inwardly rather than outwardly – putting themselves and their career path and ‘status’ before anything else – possibly fearing that they might lose control of their ‘own’ future and that others may excel and be noticed more than them.
 
Yet the inspirational leaders I worked with had both – successful careers and created successful careers for those around them. Rather than being fearful of others excelling, they embraced it and were recognised throughout the organisation for their success in taking their department/organisations to new levels of excellence. These ‘new’ levels of excellence and the inspirational leadership style created yet further incremental increases in performance that could be tracked to the bottom line.
 
In 2013, after interviewing over 100 HR professionals in the US, research by Keas, a company that focuses on employee health and wellness, found on one question - “in your experience, what are the top three Human Resources mistakes that every CEO makes?” - that the top-scoring three responses were:
 
64% – leaders don’t recognize what truly motivates employees
41% – leaders fail to lead by example
32% – leaders don’t make company culture a priority
 
Where all three of these actions (or non-actions) send a loud, clear message to employees: you are not that important to me, (Anderson, 2013).
 
Just the fact that 64% of leaders don’t even recognize what truly motivates employee’s highlights today’s problems around inspirational leadership. It’s a fundamental requirement of a leader to know their people and especially what motivates them. These are basic conversations that usually take place at the ‘interview’ stage and then on a regular basis each and every year after that.
 
This is then backed up by the next two traits – ‘failing to lead by example’ and ‘not making company culture a priority’. It seems that many leaders today see themselves ‘above’ those that work for them and hence don’t see a need to lead by example. They are the boss, they have the power – “you simple exist to do my bidding”. In fact it wasn’t that long ago I heard a leader define their staff as “people whose job it is to make me look good.”
 
Leadership seems to be going backwards – partly because the inspirational role models that exist out there in the global economy don’t even see the light of day. Where the media is obsessed with reporting ‘negative’ behaviours these days and seem to fail to grasp the need to show future generations ‘positive’ behaviours in the work place so they can see the benefits early in their lives and might even be positively rather than negatively influenced.
 
Whether we want to openly admit it or not – we all want to be led by an inspirational leader – as if nothing else they make our jobs so much more enjoyable and give the opportunities for us to challenge ourselves, if we want to.
 
In 2013 IBM asked 1,700 CEOs in 64 countries, “what do top executives want from their leaders?” The three leadership traits that most mattered were; (1) the ability to focus intensely on customer needs, (3) the ability to collaborate with colleagues and (3) the ability to inspire. (Zenger and Folkman, 2013).
 
Zenger and Folkman’s research found that “some of what (inspirational) leaders did was specific and tangible. For example, they set stretch goals with their team. They spent time developing their subordinates. They engaged in highly collaborative behavior. They encouraged those about them to be more innovative.”
 
Other things Zenger and Folkman identified were somewhat less specific and less tangible, yet are probably the real traits that make them stand out of other wannabe inspiring leaders; where “these inspirational leaders were more adept at making emotional connections with their subordinates, for instance. They were better at establishing a clear vision. They were more effective in their communication and willing to spend more time communicating. They were ardent champions of change. They were perceived as effective role models within the organization.”
 
What I’ve found during the course of my career is that inspirational leaders embrace the following key behaviours and traits;
 
1) They ensure that making time for meeting with their employees, one-on-one, on a regular basis is their number one priority;
 
2) They are visionaries and have the ability to communicate these visions in a transparent and compelling narrative, that inspires their employees to want to be part of the journey;
 
3) They are ‘big picture’ focused and can look beyond their own department or organisation; and see short and long-term opportunities;
 
4) There have experienced life to the full (both business and personal); and have usually experienced both significant ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ but learnt real life lessons from both;
 
5) They are principled role models; and never ask people to do things they would never do themselves;
 
6) They are passionate – not just for the future of their organisation – but passionate about all their employees too, knowing that you can’t have one without the other; and finally
 
7) They are both patient and excellent listeners.
 
It’s up to today’s executive boards to embrace inspirational leadership at the top and then ensure these basic behaviours role down the leadership pipeline and become an integral part of the organisations culture.
 
It’s not complicated or rocket science – we just need to bring inspiration back to the work place. The benefits will gleaned by all stakeholders.
 
References
 
Anderson, E. (2013). 3 Simple, Powerful Things Leaders Can Do To Inspire People To Do Great Things. Forbes On-Line, August 29.
 
Zenger, J. and Folkman, J. (2013). What Inspiring Leaders Do. Harvard Business Review On-Line, June 20.