Sunday, May 26, 2013

What ‘Political’ Games Are Played In Your Organisation?

Are you concerned by the thought that the success you achieve in your career might not only be dependent on how good you are; how well you perform; and the results you generate but also by how well you are able to ‘play the corporate game’?

Dorie Clark in an article in the HBR, November 2012, suggests that as part of your career plan you should draw a power map, using circles that show who has the most influence over your career and, in turn, the people who have the most influence over them. Then figure out what you can offer the influential people - expertise, assistance on a project, help with networking; and ways to cultivate unique knowledge or skills they’d find valuable.

Places where your career progression is as much to do with who you know; as it is to do with what you know, include the consulting industry, the accounting and legal profession and sadly the armed forces.

To give an example one global consulting firm, considered one of the ‘top players’ in the industry, recently had a change of leadership at the very top and what followed was like a ‘coup’ in some despot country. All those people left in senior positions who had been part of the ‘old regime’, presumably allies of the outgoing CEO, were replaced by cronies of the incoming CEO – and a new ‘power’ base was formed. Where those that had sided with and placed their ‘bets’ on the right ‘horse’ were rubbing their hands with glee – while the vanquished started to look elsewhere for their future careers – and of course it’s in this ‘misty fog’ of the new order – that ‘the old guard’ run off and start break-away organisations, intent on competing with and ‘destroying’ the new usurper to ‘their throne’.

Now I won’t discuss here how these types of organisations are meant to set the example for other mere mortal organisations to follow and hence should have a ‘mature’ view of organisational development and talent management. But what is scary is that these organisations are rife with internal political squabbling, to the extent that internal ‘tribes’ are formed within these organisations, where employees place their future development, advancement and financial reward behind those they perceive as the ‘potential’ future leaders. And if you spend long enough in these organisations you can see the tribes – where they look like a troop of monkeys, where the leader strides ahead with his ‘family’ following closely behind.

Of course as with all tribes you will encounter, over time, traitors and defectors; and even within the ‘tribes’ you can have ‘challenges’ for positional power.

For those joining these politically driven organisations – the new incumbent isn’t aware of the ‘political’ machinations taking place at first – often because they are simply caught up in the day-to-day hustle and bustle of the business, and find themselves learning so fast that they often only realised they have been groomed and taken under the wing of a ‘pretender’ to the ultimate throne one or two years after joining – when the pace of their development starts to slow down and they have a chance to look around them at what is happening. Up to then it’s just been an exhilarating, if somewhat tiring, journey of self-discovery and access to material wealth that they only dreamed of – where they are often exposed to managers who live in a ‘colonial type’ bubble and who, for example, ask to have their hire cars replaced when the ashtrays become full.

Not all organisations are political and tribal; and few are as bad as the industries and professions mentioned above, but ‘company politics’ exists to some extent in most organisations.

Clark mentions that “it’s still a slam to be labelled ‘political’ in the business world. But it shouldn’t be. Thinking like a campaign strategist will help you set clear goals, develop new skills, and build relationships with the people who matter to your professional life. Creating a career campaign plan ensures that, every day, you’re taking small but important steps to better position yourself for a winning future.”

I think the thing that Clark misses is that ‘political’ has a wide range of meaning from the manipulative narcissistic games of a dictatorial leader, like Mark Taylor, the Dean at Warwick Business School, who leaves a path of unhappy personnel and operational destruction in their wake; to the planned ‘management’ coups that takeover and place their ‘people’ in positions of power; to the genuine organisations that are focused on sustainable growth and continuous improvement and are very dynamic when it comes to organisational development and talent management, having a culture that never loses sight of putting the company and its people first.


Clark, D. (2012). A Campaign Strategy for Your Career. Harvard Business Review.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Are Organisations Looking After Elderly Consumers?

Back in 1984, Charles Schewe mentioned in an  article that “the usefulness of ‘minorities’ as a means of segmenting markets has been a fertile area for market researchers for many years, but that they have largely neglected the elderly, those consumers over the age of 65. Marketers have failed to fully explore or understand the dimensions, character, and potential of this market. Furthermore, marketing activities directed specifically at this ‘older’ market seem to be a missed opportunity of sizeable importance. From a sales and profit potential, the elderly market is well worth the research effort necessary to secure accurate information about how to satisfy them. The elderly constitute a significant and growing market, where women outnumber men 3 to 2 and only 5 per cent of these seniors live inside institutions. Only 10 per cent of them live with children. Household size logically is reduced as is full-time employment. While health is generally poorer, only about 15 per cent require special health or social services. The elderly are not poor. Per capita income in households headed by 65+ persons is but 7 per cent lower than the general population average; and it has been estimated that the elderly need only about 60 to 80 per cent of former income to maintain their standard of living, and are given to ‘dis-save’ rather than to hold on to their assets.”
Nearly twenty years later in 2003 research by Yany Gregoire highlights that little has been done to address the ‘elderly consumer’ both from a strategic, service and product focused perspective. In fact if you read academic articles on this subject most still site references going back to the 80’ and early 90’s because so little seems to have been done since then.
Part of the problem is that you have to be ‘elderly’ to understand this segments needs and concerns; and if not elderly you have to have been performing the role of a carer to even start to understand all the dynamics that are going on. The problem is that you have young minds trying to imagine their older counterpart and in my experience, as a carer, missing their needs, expectations and hence the opportunities by a mile.
It’s worth remembering that the over 65 age group is a significant market size now, and is just going to grow in size in the future becoming a ‘powerful’ market force to those that can learn to understand their needs and communicate with them effectively. The steps behind the theory are no different to any other target-market segment, you must understand their expectations and create the products and/or services meet them.
Another part of the problem I’ve noticed is that many ‘front-office’ staff simply don’t have the patience to deal with this ‘target-market’ – so as they show their frustration, their customer either walks away or hangs-up the phone and the potential sale is lost. Worse still this customer segment will not forget and will not engage with that firm again – contrary to what many seem to think, this age group are very ruthless when they receive poor service (whether real or perceived) and yet can be extremely loyal to the company or individual that gives them the service they need.
Two key facts are that, firstly this is already a huge lucrative market segment that is only going to get bigger – so it’s worth making some effort to listen to their needs and attract their custom; and the second fact is that, if you’re lucky, you’ll be that age one-day so treating people like you’d like to be treated is an old axiom worth remembering.
Organisations are missing out on real opportunities within this ever growing target-market and hence are leaving the door open for sme’s and entrepreneurs with the right vision and patience, to carve out a nice little niche for themselves – which if developed correctly will give them a loyal and growing customer base, and a sustainable business going forward.  
Charles D. Schewe. (1984). Buying and Consuming Behavior of the Elderly. Findings From Behavioral Research. Advances in Consumer Research. Vol. 11, p.558-562.
Yany Gregoire (2003). The Impact of Aging on Consumer Responses: What Do We Know? Advances in Consumer Research. Vol. 30, p.19-26.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

How Do You Manage ‘Summit Syndrome’?

The summit syndrome afflicts extreme overachievers who thrive on challenge. They can be found in abundance in tightly wired organizations—in the premier investment banks and consulting firms; in start-ups; in semiconductor, computer, and software development companies; and in the elite units of multiproduct corporations. These supercharged individuals exult in winning, mastering new skills, acquiring knowledge, and surpassing previous benchmarks of excellence. They are addicted to their own adrenaline. But the rush from pushing beyond their limits tends to dissipate once the new territory has been mastered; an identity built around the galvanizing effects of meeting and conquering daunting challenges loses its purchase as such people near the summit of a job’s learning curve. They can’t or find it extremely difficult to motor along on flat terrain. An S-curve aptly describes the rapid ascent to proficiency and the gradual loss of career momentum that occurs when such individuals master a job. It’s near the top where the troubles begin. (George D. Parsons and Richard T. Pascale, HBR, 2007).

The problem with this syndrome is that is hard enough to identify and manage in a ‘normal’ business environment – so when you add a global financial crisis to the mix, you are creating a potential environment for many high achievers to succumb to summit syndrome and for the organisation and the individual to completely miss the signs.

George Parsons and Richard Pascale highlight in their brilliant 2007 article that “paradoxically, disorientation at the summit is more profound for the more proficient. Those with the smoothest glide to success in a challenging job tend to experience the greatest degree of confusion. Costs to the individual can go way beyond dropped balls at work or other slips in performance. Inner turmoil can build to the point where it hurts health and family. The search for stimulation may lead to extramarital misadventures or other self-destructive behaviour. Distraction and confusion can result in bad career decisions, causing people to leave the fast track and end up drifting from one job to another. They can join the ranks of those highly promising men and women who somehow never managed to achieve the positions or goals that colleagues and friends always assumed they would one day claim.”

Within the syndrome successful overachievers can start to blame themselves for a perceived crisis their organisations are in, when no crisis actually exists. The personal internal struggle with their genuine perception of their business ability, proved through past performance, starts to conflict with the reality facing them and they can find the turmoil too much to take.

Parsons and Pascale highlight how in a ‘normal’ business environment, “the summit syndrome unfolds in three phases, each with its own distinct indicators. The first is approaching the crest of a job, when a person, having mastered most of the challenges of the role, is nearing peak proficiency. This is a time when some may push harder to recapture the adrenaline rush of the climb. The second phase is plateauing, when the summit has been reached and virtually all of the challenges have been conquered. While the less ambitious person is apt to coast at this point, the overachiever bears down even harder to produce ever more stellar results. The third phase is descending. It is the terminal stage of the syndrome, when a leader’s job performance begins to slip noticeably, triggering an accelerating slide. As the person’s superstar status fades, he jumps ship, accepts a demotion, or takes a lateral transfer.”

This process for recognizing and treating the summit syndrome can dissipate the disorientation that often strikes overachievers as they approach or reach the crest of a job. It can dispel the confusion and create a new context for a balanced, challenging, and fulfilling working life. Once they can see and accept that their condition is not unique, that a periodic reorientation is a natural and regenerative part of the inner work of leadership, overachievers can look ahead with far greater discernment. Generally speaking, better mental maps foster wiser choices. Ultimately, some may decide to seek a different context in which to grow and excel in their current organizations. Others may reflect, and then seek greener pastures. Summit work separates signals from noise.

Organisations need to look after their talent and not simple take historical performance as a guarantee of future success. Also individuals need to become aware of the signs of ‘success syndrome’ and not be too proud and stubborn not to act on them. The natural instincts of the over-achiever are paradoxically to assume that this couldn’t possibly happen to them – until of course it does – and even then they might fight the concept. It then needs a ‘good friend’ to bring them down to earth, help them analyse their own ‘personal’ strategy, looking at where they are now; how they got their; and where they are going in the future; then re-defining your personal career strategy with your eyes wide open and any pride and ego safely stored away.

As Parsons and Pascale conclude, “all parties—senior managers, human resource departments, and high performers themselves—must remember that a successful career is not a straight line to the top; it is a series of S-curves, each of which begins with a major promotion or job redefinition. Confusion and loss of bearings come with the territory, but they do not have to derail promising careers. Anticipating the summit syndrome, recognizing its onset, and dealing with it in its earliest stages can revitalize careers and propel talented leaders to greater heights.”


Parsons, G.D. and Pascale, R.T. (2007). Crisis at the Summit. Harvard Business Review. March.