Sunday, May 27, 2012

Whose Reality is Reality TV? And Can it Negatively Impact Performance in the Work Place?

Most reality television shows these days seem to have ‘small print’ somewhere actually letting people know that the programme is far from reality and events have been staged to make the ‘show’ more interesting. Where their definition of interesting encompass words like confrontational, sensationalist, hurtful, rude, inflammatory etc. 

But since as a ‘species’ we’re pretty bad at reading the small print – I often pause to wonder if the youth of today actually believe that because it’s called ‘reality’ that this must actually be how life is in the world in general and hence they adapt their behaviours to ‘fit in’ with this reality.  

In an article for ABC Nightline, Andrea Canning and Elizabeth Stuart highlight how “a slap here, a table flip there, and if we're lucky, an all-out brawl -- violence was once just a scene-stealer on today's reality shows, but it now has become a part of some stars' real lives. Stars from the hit MTV reality show "Teen Mom 2" are the latest to fall into controversy for fighting.  

Janelle Evans, 19, was arrested Sunday after video surfaced of her punching another woman at her Oak Branch, N.C. hometown. She was charged with simple assault and simple affray, ABC affiliate WWAY reported. In the video, Evans can be seen attacking her former friend, Brittany Truett, as others can be heard urging them on in the background.” 

The problem isn’t just the basic violence and abuse but that believe it or not more people tune in to see it.  “Last year, ‘Jersey Shore’ aired a video of Nicole ‘Snooki’ Polizzi being punched in the face by a man at a bar to promote its upcoming season. Not only did the video go viral online, it helped double the show's ratings from the previous season.” 

Now what has this got to do with business one might ask. Well, I’d say everything – what are we teaching the next generation about ‘real’ reality in the work place – what are we teaching them in respect of how to develop interpersonal relationships, how to deal with conflict, how to communicate with your peers, customers etc. 

Stacey Kaiser a psychologist who has appeared on reality TV shows is worried that people's perception of reality are altered when they watch these shows. "Things that we used to look away from are things that we now watch on television on a daily basis," she said. "It sends a message to viewers that it’s something that's socially acceptable to our society these days." 

Known for sparking up vicious fights on "The Hills," Jayde Nicole said looking back, she was embarrassed by her behaviour, but that some of the blame had to lie with the show's producers. "The producers have a big role in what's happening on the show," she said. "They create a lot of drama and they start a lot of the fights...they will say so and so said this about you behind your back, and she said she slept with your boyfriend. It's like high school." 

Psychologist Stacy Kaiser said that the unusual situations that reality shows force their participants into can sometimes be detrimental to them. "I like to parallel some of these reality shows to a caged tiger that is used to being in the wild," she said. "They're being watched all the time, they start to feel anxious, they start to feel aggressive and they begin to behave in ways that are way more extreme." 

Of course reality-based television is not new, of course. Alan Funt, with his 1948 TV series Candid Camera is often credited as reality TV's first practitioner. In fact, he started a year earlier with Candid Microphone on radio. Truth or Consequences started in 1950 and frequently used secret cameras. Both of these two pioneering series created artificial realties to see how ordinary people would respond; the reality series of today borrow a lot from these precedents and differ mostly in scope and locale. A number of "who am I?" game shows accommodated the clunky nature of early TV technology by bringing real people into the studio. What's My Line premiered in 1950; I've Got a Secret in 1952; To Tell the Truth in 1956. These shows seem tame by today's standards, but were certainly cutting a new edge in the 1950s. The judge who married Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller appeared live on What's My Line within a week of performing the wedding. Even in the earliest days, the camera roamed out of the studio occasionally with film technology. You Asked For It took the viewer to amazing sights and spectacular phenomena as early as 1950. 

So is TV negatively influencing behaviours, especially in the young, which could be detrimental to their own careers going forward – as they misunderstand the basics in interpersonal skills? And if it is, is it something we as, business people, entrepreneurs, managers, leaders should concern ourselves with? Or are we happy to make it someone else’s problem – simply telling ourselves that we wouldn’t recruit these degenerates in the first place.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

How Do You Create an Effective Corporate Board?

An effective board, consisting of executive and non-executive directors, should be viewed as a key requirement for organisations of all sizes competing in today’s global economy, allowing organisations to be lead from the top and to be able to create focus and confidence in uncertain times and uncertain markets. The board should be a source of competitive advantage that can be used to enhance an organisations short and long-term performance, thus giving confidence to its shareholders, employees, suppliers and customers.

In fact a superior board should lead to superior financial results, compared to those of their competitors; and these strategic leaders will develop organisations that have highly developed people who are flexible and focused on their own needs, the needs of their departments and the needs of their organisation, leading to the organisations greatest asset being its intellectual capital.

History tells us that most board members, especially non-executives, are either selected by the initial stakeholders, the financial backers or the CEO based on personal relationships, affiliations or friendships and are expected to vote with those who ‘brought them in’; and hence Epstein and Roy (2004) believed this was the reason why “many directors have not been the active counsellors, vigilant monitors or sceptical judges that are necessary for high performance boards and high performance organisations” (p.5).

In fact Westphal and Khanna found that directors who challenged management decision making on strategic issues tended to be informally sanctioned by other directors. Although institutional investors have pressured outside directors to adopt a more controlling posture, Westphal and Khanna found that such pressure has not weakened normative sanctions against challenging the CEO on strategic issues and may even have strengthened them as corporate leaders ‘close ranks’ to protect their decision making autonomy (2003, cited in Westphal and Stern, 2006:174).

Ruigrok, Peck and Keller (2006) commented that “outside directors are a potentially rich pool of expertise; as the involvement of outside directors in strategic decision making has the potential to enhance the quality of strategic decisions and thereby to improve the company’s competitive position” (p.1221). Where “inside directors on the other hand depend directly on the CEO for their career advancements, and may thus hesitate to oppose and challenge strategic proposals of the CEO” (p.1206).

Although there are different thoughts as to what an organisational board’s key responsibilities are, most agree that the board has a fiduciary duty to represent the corporation’s interests in protecting and creating shareholder value and must determine whether the company is managed well to achieve long term success. As such high performing boards must achieve three core objectives (Epstein and Roy, 2004);

1) Provide superior strategic guidance to ensure the organisations sustainable growth and prosperity;

2) To ensure accountability of the organisation to its stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers, regulators and the community; and

3) To ensure that a highly qualified and effective executive team is managing the company.

Creating a board with the correct knowledge and skill set will have a direct impact on the strategic leadership and corporate governance equation. There has been considerable research into the key knowledge areas that should be understood (and practically applied) by board members, and these include; corporate strategy formulation; competition; global markets; leadership; strategy implementation; change management; group effectiveness; organisational design; government, investor and community relationships; functional knowledge and ethics.

So just how effective is your board? Do you have a board with the right mix of executive and non-executive directors – do you have a group of people who;

1)     Challenge the organisation to be the best it can be;

2)     Bring a set of special skills and business networks;

3)     Have a passion for the organisation and its future;

4)     Aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo;

5)     Willingly commit the time and effort required to perform their role – they go the extra mile, for the organisation. 

Finding the right non-executive directors, should be a priority and key responsibility for all CEO’s and Chairmen/women – as it’s this special group that can turn good organisations into great organisations.


Brownbill, N. (2008). Exploring the relationship between Strategic Leadership and Corporate Governance. Paper presented at the 8th International Conference on Studying Leadership.

Epstein, M.J., and Roy, M-J. (2004). Improving the performance of corporate boards: Identifying and measuring the key drivers of success. Journal of General Management. Vol.29, No.3: 1-23.

Ruigrok, W., Peck, S.I., and Keller, H. (2006). Board characteristics and involvement in strategic decision making: Evidence from Swiss companies. Journal of Management Studies, 43:5, July: 1201-1226.

Westphal, J.D., and Stern, I. (2006). The other pathway to the boardroom: Interpersonal influence behaviour as a substitute for elite credentials and majority status in obtaining board appointments. Administration Science Quarterly, 51: 169-204. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

How Do You Set Expectations at the Right Level?

We all have different expectations for everything we do – some are very consciously calculated and others more subconscious, but our ‘expectations’ affect our lives on a daily basis. So how we create and respond to our expectations will have an impact on our lives in general. Expectations impact everything, from our personal relationships and our day-to-day interactions with others (in and outside work) to how much we enjoy eating out or enjoy a holiday and yet we rarely seem to review and assess how realistic our expectations are.

We all know how different people have completely different expectations for exactly the same activity – in fact there isn’t one ‘activity’ that everyone has the same expectation for. So how do we deal with this in business and how do we minimise discrepancies in expectations.

Getting expectations ‘right’ has an impact on how we optimise the efficiency of effort and ‘enjoy’ what we are doing. But this doesn’t mean that we can simply lower our expectations on everything, so that we’re always ‘happy’ – because expectations are linked with standards and ethics.

Lower expectations too far and standards start to drop, which can start a total decline in standards and/or values. But, similarly at the opposite end, if your expectations are too high then you’re likely to be constantly disappointed, which from a leaders perspective means that you’ll be constantly unhappy and your staff are likely to be constantly demotivated – which leads to a decline in performance and a loss of respect for the leader.

Expectations are ‘created’ through personal knowledge, experience, as well as feedback from others (that we may or may not trust, i.e. sometimes we can be misled leading to incorrect expectations – like when you watch a movie trailer, which leads you to have high expectations for a movie that you then end up being disappointed with).

So in business the word ‘expectations’ gets mentioned quite a lot; in describing meeting customer expectations, or staff expectations, for example, or how a vision creates an expectation of a future state – but how well to we manage the ‘creation’ of expectations in the first place and are leaders and organisations as a whole doing enough to align ‘expectations’ throughout the organisation – both from an internal and external perspective.

If not, then an organisation mustn’t be surprised when either customers become confused with the level of service they receive or different departments and/or individuals have different perceptions about how well they are meeting the organisations expectations of them, leading to different levels of perceived operational efficiency (which can cause chaos when it comes to appraisal time and an employee thinks they’ve met expectations and their boss has a different perspective).

So executives and managers need to spend more time clearly defining and aligning expectations in their organisations – where expectations are a two way street. This has a significant impact on a multitude of activities and factors within a business; which strangely are rarely discussed, except in the very best organisations – for example, discussing what is expected to be required from an organisation (at the individual level) to reach the ‘vision’ and, just as importantly, what the expectations are once the vision has been reached.

If these simple expectations aren’t discussed organisations mustn’t be surprised when in reaching a specific objective, the leadership is ecstatic, but their staff are demotivated and disappointed; as this will simply be because expectations have not been aligned and discussed. 

The reader will probably think that the points raised are simply common sense – yet in our day to day lives much of our disappointment, demotivation and even conflict is caused by non-alignment of expectations. How many ‘arguments’ do you have in your personal life that can, in the end, be simply put down to a difference in expectations? And how once expectations are discussed and aligned life becomes much smoother; whether it’s agreeing about household chores, to who’s going to get the take away on the way home, to what shade of white the wall is going to be painted.

As individuals we, too often, project our expectations on others, assuming that since these are our expectations, they must align with the other parties – and are often shocked to horrified when these expectations aren’t met and even more shocked when we find the other parties expectations were nowhere close to ours - where this leads to disappointment, mistrust and even anger.

So to make your life easier, whether a leader or a staff member, always take the time upfront to discuss expectations with the other individual or group for any task you are involved with – this will ensure expectations are aligned, (which through the process  may even lead to a restructuring of the task, for the better). And as a leader, when you’re selling your vision of the future, take the time to discuss expectations with everyone involved, to ensure that everyone has the same expectations from the outcome and the process.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

What are the Do’s and Don’ts of Strategic Planning?

Strategic planning works (when done properly) because it disciplines the organisation to harness the intellectual energy of all employees and guides the organisation in a clear direction and where implementation is recognised as the driver of strategy, rather than the planning process which is simply the means to an end.

These days it often seems that everybody considers themselves a strategic expert – when in fact the ‘pool’ of great strategists is small and intimate. Unfortunately the fact that everyone considers themselves an ‘expert’ in this specialised field is one of the major problems facing organisations today.

Until you’ve actually been at the ‘helm’ driving a strategic process from design, development, through implementation to a successful conclusion, you are only fooling yourself and your organisation if you overestimate your skills and knowledge. It’s not just the theory that is important but understanding the practical implications of each step of the process – so some of the thing you should do are;

1)     To involve the whole organisation in the strategic planning process;
2)     To effectively identify the ‘real’ strategic options;
3)     To accurately assess your organisations strengths and weaknesses;
4)     To be flexible to changes in the whole ‘environment’ during the process;
5)     To give the right support through the process;
6)     To make decisions based on facts;
7)     To make sure you can ‘measure’ the success of the implementation process;
8)     To ensure you have the right skills to take you to where you want to go….

And the don’ts would include;

1)     Don’t follow someone who can’t prove they have developed successful strategies;
2)     Don’t set too many goals;
3)     Don’t rush the process for the sake of an outcome;
4)     Don’t presume the final outcome until all the facts are on the table (otherwise it can be too easy to find the facts to fit a flawed strategy);
5)     Don’t avoid measurement just because someone says it’s hard to do;
6)     Don’t give people ‘tasks’ who don’t have the skills to perform them (give them the skills and the task together);
7)    Don’t bully your way to a strategic outcome – through intimidation or placing blame on people;
8)     Don’t see a strategic plan as being ‘cast in stone’;
9)     Don’t give up……

Successful strategic implementation is driven through the ownership and the commitment of an entire workforce. You achieve this by involving everyone in the process – not just as a nice thing to do – but because everyone has something to contribute.

There are many lists of the real advantages of ‘proper’ strategic planning and they all include the following key points;

1)     Supports the sustainable growth and development of the organisation;
2)     Improves the organisations competitive position;
3)     Contributes to improved decision making;
4)     Helps an organisation entering new markets or developing new products and/or services;
5)     Improves performance at the organisational, departmental and individual level;
6)     Improves internal and external confidence in the organisation;
7)     Focuses the organisation on a future state;
8)     Helps employees become aware of how they contribute to their organisations success and future growth;
9)     Helps identify external opportunities (that can be missed in an informal structure);
10) Improves organisational commitment and supports a positive culture;
11) Helps to attract the right quality of human resource and retain that resource.

Although strategic planning and implementation has been around for years and the basic tools are well known, many leadership teams still stumble in the planning and execution stages. So when it comes to strategy development be honest about what you know and what you don’t know, be honest about the real practical experience you have in formulating and implementing successful strategies – honesty upfront can allow a top team to approach strategy from a point of learning, refection, development and implementation and give them a chance of success. Anything less will just lead to suboptimal strategies and defensive leadership – which isn’t of any good to an organisation and its stakeholders.


Al-Shammari, H.A. and Hussein, R.T. (2008). Strategic planning in emergent market organisations: empirical investigation. International Journal of Commerce and Management, Vol. 18, No.1, p.47-59.