Why clarity of purpose is so important for both effective leadership and effective management


By Elisabeth Goodman, 9th October 2019

According to W. Bennis, “Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing.”

Clarity of purpose is one topic where these differences in remit can be vividly illustrated, as Thomas W. Malnight, Ivy Buche and Charles Dhanaraj remind us in “Put purpose at the core of your strategy” in the September-October 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review (pp. 70-79).

 

Illustration from Sept-Oct 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review

Clarity of purpose underpins organisational strategy and change

This is the main message in the HBR article.

Responsiveness to external drivers: A leadership team that is clear about the purpose of its organisation – the main reason why it exists – can respond to economic, competitive and other external drivers of change in a well thought out way. Or, as per the opening quote for this blog: they can “do the right thing”.

A planned approach to change:

With clarity of purpose, leaders can take a considered approach to how they want to work with the market, their customers, make changes to their products and services or their internal processes.

Without clarity of purpose any change is simply haphazard, unlikely to get the backing of stakeholders, and unlikely to succeed.

When leaders are clear about their purpose and can communicate this as the context for organisational change, they will be more effective at bringing the rest of the organisation on board with the change.

Evolving the purpose: Should it be appropriate, leaders can also evolve the purpose to respond to opportunities and challenges, as long as they make the basis for the evolution, and its outcome, clear to all stakeholders.

Successful high-growth companies:

According to Malnight et al, it is such a purpose-led approach that makes for successful high growth companies. One of their illustrative examples is Neste, a Finnish oil-refining firm, that made a switch in 2009 to developing sustainable sources of energy. This was a response to dropping oil prices, new EU legislation on carbon emissions, and a 50% reduction in their market value over the course of two years. They summarised their new purpose as: “Creating responsible choices every day”.

Neste’s CEO and his leadership team had to persuade employees, customers and investors; make major investments in infrastructure and innovations in technology; and create a fundamental change in the company’s culture. By 2015 the company was the world’s largest producer of renewable fuels from waste and residues.

Clarity of purpose provides the ‘why’ for motivating people to work for an organisation

Dan Pink and Simon Sinek are two exponents of using the purpose or the ‘why’ of an organisation as a strong motivator for people who work there (or indeed for those who buy from the organisation).

Malnight et al. remind us of this too: “The two best tactics for doing that [making purpose central to an organisation’s strategy] are to transform the leadership agenda and to disseminate purpose throughout the organisation.”

A manager who communicates the purpose of the organisation, provides people with the context for how they and what they do fit into the bigger picture. The manager is “doing things right” by giving people the information that will help them to focus and be at their best in support of the organisation’s purpose.

According to Malnight et al., the softer benefits of having a clear purpose include:

  • Unifying the organisation – as employees understand why changes are happening and are more likely to support them
  • Motivating stakeholders – the authors suggest that there is an increasing trend for employees, and maybe especially Millennials, to want to work for an organisation that is contributing to some ‘higher cause’
  • Broadening impact – as explained by the authors, is about providing the context for how teams in the organisation fit in and the value that they can bring to the organisation and perhaps, ultimately, to society.

Conclusion

With clarity of purpose being so central to both leadership and management, organisations should ensure that this is a regular agenda item on leadership and management team meetings.

An organisation’s purpose should also be regularly cascaded in communications through the organisation, and especially at times of change, and when setting team and individual objectives for the year ahead.

Notes

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.) Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus.

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

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The manager as coach: creating an environment that is conducive to thinking


By Elisabeth Goodman, 6th October 2019

According to Nancy Kline, author of “Time to Think”, thinking for ourselves and thinking well, is what enables us to be effective in anything that we do. And yet many things mitigate against us being able to think as frequently or as well as we could.

Barriers to thinking include:

  • The hectic pace of life and work
  • The frequent, often unspoken, expectation for people to fit in and conform
  • The belief that those more senior or more expert than us know best

Nancy Kline has researched and tested barriers to and approaches for effective thinking over many years and consolidated her findings in this and later books.

Here are just a few ideas, inspired by my reading of “Time to Think” that a manager could begin to implement in a coaching capacity with their direct reports.

1. Create an expectation that people will think for themselves, rather than defer to their manager and others more senior or experienced than themselves when dealing with problems, or otherwise coming up with ideas.

2. Make time to listen to direct reports, encouraging them to talk by asking open questions and not interrupting them until they have completely finished what they have to say. This may include allowing silence as direct reports continue to think something through.

3. Extend this practice of uninterrupted listening to wider team interactions, for instance in meetings. Encourage everyone to have their turn at speaking and being listened to.

4. Make sure there are quiet or communal areas (depending on people’s needs) in the workplace where people can go to help with their thinking, and support them with finding gaps in their schedules to be able to do so.

A place to think. View from one of the 4 castles at Lastours, Languedoc, France

5. Allow people to express their feelings, including anger or sorrow, as a healthy way to release emotions that can otherwise get in the way of thinking. (If the anger is violent then get out of their way and agree a time and place when the conversation can be resumed safely.)

6. Encourage a culture of mutual respect, where people value diversity and express appreciation for what each of their colleagues contributes to the team through their thinking.

Conclusion

Nancy Kline’s book has a lot more to offer for those interested in helping individuals and teams think more effectively.

As she says:

“Team effectiveness depends on the calibre of thinking the team can do.”

and

“Managers of high-performing teams have to be masters of the oxymoron: securing change, committing to uncertainty and requiring autonomy. Formulae and habit won’t do: only thinking will.”

Hopefully you will find the ideas in this blog a useful start. I would certainly recommend you read the whole book to find out more.

Notes

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.) Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus.

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Are your performance measures driving the right behaviours?


By Elisabeth Goodman, 25th September 2019

We are entering that time of year when many companies carry out their performance reviews and appraisals. It can be quite a stressful exercise for individual team members, and for line managers.

This article from the latest issue of Harvard Business Review provides some interesting insights that could be relevant at the level of individual objectives, as well as at the level of team and organisational objectives.


Michael Harris and Bill Tayler. Don’t let metrics undermine your business. Harvard Business Review, September- October 2019, pp. 62-69

Performance measures operate on at least three levels in any organisation

We encourage delegates on RiverRhee’s management and Performance Review and Development courses to consider this three-tier cascade when setting their own and their direct reports’ objectives.

Illustration from RiverRhee’s training on performance management / reviews

Ideally, the cascade works both downwards and upwards.

The process begins with clarity on the organisation’s current goals or objectives, and also with the individual’s ideas for work-related and personal- or career- development objectives.

The team or middle management objectives sit in the middle: they translate the organisation’s objectives into what the team and its members will do to make these happen. They also act as a reality check on if and how individual team members’ objectives will help to deliver the company goals.

All three levels of objectives should ideally have performance measures to match. And the purpose of such measures should be at least three-fold:

  • To monitor and encourage any adjustments to behaviours and activities throughout the year
  • To provide feedback on performance to internal and external stakeholders at agreed times
  • To enable reflection, capture and sharing of learnings and inform forward plans for the next year.

“Surrogation” can drive the wrong behaviours

Surrogation, as defined by Harris and Tayler, is “the tendency to confuse what’s being measured with the metric being used”.

To give an example: a service company has an objective to improve customer satisfaction by 20%. They use a customer satisfaction survey in which they ask customers to score how satisfied they are with the service provided on a scale where 1 is low and 10 is high. Last year their average result was 8 out of 10, so they are looking for straight 10 ratings this year!

In a surrogation scenario, the staff responsible for the collecting the feedback can be so focused on only receiving scores of 10 that they will ask customers to provide this rating, and even email or call them to ask them to reassess if they have not done so. I know this is true as I have experienced this after putting my car in for a service!

Surrogation can drive the wrong behaviours, and also cause unnecessary stress for the individuals involved.

So how can performance measures be used to drive the right behaviours?

The correct behaviour in the example above would be for the service staff to get feedback on the quality of the customer’s experience: what they were happy with, what could have been done even better, and to reflect that back into a continuous improvement scenario. This way, the quantitative metrics are really just a snapshot to summarise the feedback.

Harris and Tayler suggest three ways in which surrogation could be avoided at the organisational levels. This also translates at the team and individual level:

  1. Involve managers (or team members) in shaping the goals or objectives. This way they understand and are engaged with what the goals are seeking to achieve, rather than just being focused on the metrics.
  2. Keep a clear separation between metrics and financial rewards. Tying the two together makes the metric more visible than the underlying objective, thereby risking the kind of behaviour described in the example. People get frightened or anxious, rather than being open to learning and exploring positive alternatives to their actions and behaviours. We know that many companies have decided against using individual performance ratings for this reason.
  3. Use multiple metrics for measuring performance. The authors suggest that if people have to bear multiple metrics in mind, they are less likely to surrogate on each one.

How could you translate this approach into the approach for objectives and performance metrics in your organisation?

Here are a couple of suggestions based on what we see happening in Life Science organisations.

If the company objectives are very broad or vague e.g. make X amount of sales this year, think about what individual teams might do to deliver that outcome. It might involve innovation or continuous improvement around products, services, processes, customer relations, employee development.

If individuals or their managers are overly focused on whether or not people have met or exceeded the numeric targets in their objectives, reflect instead on what new knowledge has been gained, what tangible outcomes have been achieved, and the resultant impact on the business.

NOTES

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

The manager as coach: helping employees reach their potential


By Elisabeth Goodman, 5th September 2019

Illustration from Boyatzis et al, “Coaching for Change – how to help employees reach their potential”, HBR Sept-Oct 2019, pp. 151-155

Why this blog?

The ability to coach is an invaluable, if sometimes daunting, management skill, as well as something that I and my colleagues at RiverRhee offer to support our clients.  So I am starting a new series of blogs, under the main heading of “The manager as coach”, the first of which appeared recently as a LinkedIn post …”when a direct report is grieving”.

The article by Richard Boyatzis, Melvin Smith and Ellen Van Oosten in the latest issue of Harvard Business Review (Sept-Oct 2019) caught my eye.  This was partly because of the topic, partly because Boyatzis is also a co-author of the Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence that I so enjoyed reading in 2018-19. (See my blogs on this theme culminating in Inspirational leadership through the lens of emotional intelligence.)

As the authors of this article point out, we often get caught up in the minute details of problems or situations that people are dealing with.  It may be however that these issues are symptomatic of some bigger personal change that the individual wants to address.

This article provides guidance on how to spot the opportunity for coaching in this context, and how to go about supporting what Boyatzis defines as “intentional change” (see definition in the notes to this blog).

spot the opportunity

As with all activities involving change, it’s a question of finding the opening for making it happen: when an individual will be at their most receptive and energised for this.

The authors of the HBR article reinforce something that I wrote about in Defining a positive vision for change: people change either because they are moving away from something that is painful or uncomfortable, or because there is something positive, attractive or desirable that they want to move towards.

As the HBR authors say, it’s about spotting when people are ready “to grow” – in terms of what they are saying, or not saying, and their body language when you are observing or interacting with them.

I continue to really like the clean language question: “What would you like to have happen” as a prompt for discovering, and helping the individual to discover, what that opportunity for change might be.  It seems to be a great way to provide clarity when people are otherwise getting bogged down and maybe even overwhelmed by the problems they are dealing with.

Help to put the groundwork in place

There are lots of great tips in the HBR article for ways to help an individual articulate what they want to achieve, how the current situation relates to that, and what their next steps might be to bridge the gap.  This process is a variation on the GROW model, and on Appreciative Inquiry, that I’ve written about elsewhere.

Boyatzis et al emphasise the importance of creating a positive environment for this discussion: people will be much more open, receptive and ready to reflect and learn in such a situation.

Picture Coaching Cards – from Barefoot Coaching

I’ve been experimenting with Barefoot Coaching‘s beautiful picture cards as one way to do this.  I’ve found that the colourful nature of the picture cards and the way that they help people to step a little outside the intensity of personal reflection are really conducive to this.  Some of the pictures even result in expressions of joy or laughter!

(By the way, a visit to a museum shop is also a great source of colourful and diverse cards for this kind of activity.  I have a collection from the Fitzwilliam Museum including drawings by Quentin Blake that people also enjoy.)

The authors also talk about the importance of compassion.  It is about communicating your sincere interest in the individual, your empathy for their situation, your desire to help. This involves really good listening skills on the part of the manager or coach: total focus on the individual, and un-biased / non-suggestive open questions. The authors suggest that you let the individual do “at least 805 of the talking”!

Another key component of setting the groundwork is helping the individual create a compelling vision of what they want to achieve: how they see themselves ‘at their best’.

Finally, I like the authors’ point that “the learning agenda is not a performance improvement plan designed to address shortcomings”.  It is all about leaving people “energised and empowered to improve”.

provide follow-through support

To close, we know that any form of change requires time, effort and practice – it can be really challenging.  So the manager or coach needs to be there, to check-in periodically, to encourage and provide support as needed.  What form this will take is something to agree with the individual, and to keep under review as appropriate.

I like the HBR article authors’ idea of the individual creating a peer support network, or “compassionate catalysts”.  As one of their case study leaders  (Karen Milley – R&D Head at a large consumer goods company) says: “I’m seeing that compassion with each other leads to compassion with customers, constituents, and all others, which creates performance.”

This is something that we try to create through “Action Learning Groups” in RiverRhee’s training for managers – where the delegates form groups to support each others with their learning and forward plans, both during and potential following the course.

The authors’ final point: “If you’re a manager, your most important job is to help those around you reach their greatest potential.”  I agree.

Notes

To quote the article, “intentional change involves envisioning ..who you wish to be and what you want to do..; exploring [the current gaps and strengths that might help you to get there]; developing a learning agenda (a road map for turning aspirations into reality); and then experimenting and practicing (with new behaviors and roles).”

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Personality, personal projects, place and well-being


By Elisabeth Goodman, 28th August 2019

Brian R. Little – Me Myself and Us. The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being

I have been enjoying Brian Little’s “Me , Myself and Us – The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being” over the summer.  It was recommended to me by one of my delegates (unfortunately I can’t remember who), and has proved very insightful.

Here are just some of the themes that particularly stood out for me.

Our personalities are shaped by three influences

Professor Brian Little is a psychologist, scholar, speaker, lecturer, fellow, researcher and more, operating between Cambridge, UK, the US and Canada – so I was particularly interested in his view that our personality is shaped by our:

  • Biogenics – our biological / genetic make-up
  • Sociogenics – the cultural codes, norms and expectations that shape us from childhood and through to adulthood
  • Idiogenics – the personal projects, plans, aspirations, commitments that are imposed upon us and that we choose to pursue (I’ll talk more about the personal projects in the next section)

Little explores a couple of personality tools in his book – primarily MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and OCEAN or The Big Five [see notes] and uses these as the context to discuss our ‘fixed traits’ and our ‘free traits’.

Fixed traits are determined by our biogenics.  They are what come to us most naturally: our preferred way of behaving. Free traits are the ones that we might choose to use and might be described as ‘acting out of character’ in doing so.  They will typically take more effort and active learning and development to perform.

Sociogenics determine the extent to which we are expected to use, or feel comfortable in using our fixed or free traits.

Brian Little references the work of Susan Cain for example, in society’s often frequent expectation for people to conform to extraverted behaviour at school and in the workplace, whereas academic behaviour lends itself more to introverted behaviour.

Patterns of behaviour in our homes might also influence the extent to which we use our fixed or free traits to fit in, or to rebel!

And in ‘idiogenics’ we might choose to pursue personal projects that comfortably sit with our fixed traits, or challenge us in the use of our free traits.

personal projects range from routine tasks to life changing pursuits

Apparently we are typically engaged in up to fifteen personal projects at any point in time.  Some will be fairly small, others will be a major or core part of our lives.

What personal projects have in common is that they are something significant (salient), are more than momentary (are a set of actions), require some level of skill and perseverance (have some context).

They may include some aspect of personal development (intellectual or emotional skills), be health related (exercise or diet), recreational / hobbies, work or academically related.  The web site http://www.stickk.com (a modern version of 43things.com) has some good examples of personal projects and how people motivate themselves or have the support of others to achieve them.

What is interesting about personal projects, from a personality and well-being perspective, is that they may require us to use our free traits more (those that are different from our more natural, fixed or preferred traits) to achieve them.

The right personal projects are therefore potentially a route for learning and development, a source of enjoyment, and a means to achieving well-being.  Typically the ‘right’ projects are those that are self-initiated and are under our control, are meaningful (supporting a cause or values that are important to us), and have some chance of success!

Where the projects require us to use our free traits, act out of character, for some period of time, they could exhort a toll on us physically and / or mentally, so that we will need to make sure that we have the space, time, opportunity to recuperate.

So for example an introvert engaged in a work activity that involves a high level of interaction with others, will need some quiet personal time (or a private niche) to recoup.  Someone with an ‘intuition’ (big picture) preference on the MBTI tool engaged in a hobby requiring close attention to detail, will need opportunities to gaze out into space.  Or somebody with a ‘disagreeable’ preference on The Big Five tool who is required to be sympathetic during a funeral, will need a physical or verbal outlet where they can be combative!

Place also has a high relevance for personality and well-being

Recuperative ‘niches’ can be physical or in cyberspace as well as in time.

We already know that the workplace could be better designed for extraverts as well as introverts (see references to workplace design here: http://riverrhee.com/neurodiversity).

Brian Little explores this topic further in terms of how well architecture, geographical environments, and even cities can lend themselves to different personality types.  He also explores how cyberspace can work differently for different reasons.

In all these contexts, what makes a place more comfortable for one person than for another is the extent and nature of personal interaction, and the exposure to or sharing of ideas that they lend themselves to.  So they play on several of the personality traits as described by personality tools.

conclusion

Understanding our fixed and free traits will help us to make conscious decisions about our home and work environments, which of our traits we use for personal development and challenge, and how we ensure that we rest and recuperate and build our well-being.

Notes

Brian Little questions the reliability of MBTI (the extent to which people get the same result each time they complete the questionnaire).  He also suggests that its validity (the extent to which it measures what it claims to measure) is adequate but not exceptional.  However he does refer to the insights that we can gain from it at some points in the book.

OCEAN is an acronym for the personality traits that The Big Five evaluates:

  • Openness – the extent to which we are open to new ideas and experiences
  • Conscientiousness – how much we tend to persevere in getting things done and to a certain quality
  • Extraversion (and introversion) – defined in a very similar way to how they are defined in MBTI
  • Agreeableness (and disagreeableness) – our tendency to be mindful and accommodating towards others, their feelings and their points of view
  • Neuroticism – how alert we are to potential dangers and set-backs

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Re-building working relationships with emotional intelligence


By Elisabeth Goodman, 9th August 2019

Emotional intelligence - the basics

Emotional intelligence – the basics. Illustration by Robin Spain for RiverRhee

The Summer issue of APM’s (Association for Project Management) Project magazine has a couple of excellent articles on rebuilding relationships.

Susanne Madsen (p. 63) addresses how to strengthen your relationship with internal stakeholders who have become cynical and negative over the years.

Marion Thomas and Sarah Walton (pp. 65-67) have an amusing article about how to take on adversarial project team members. They suggest that team members fall into one of 5 types (the adjectives are my additions):

  • enthusiastic advocates
  • supportive allies
  • passive associates
  • problematic adversaries
  • unhelpful abdicators.

As the names imply, some types will be more harmful in their effects on your work than others.  People can also flip between categories depending on changing pressures on them, or even how you interact with them.

As all three authors point out, there is a lot that can be done to repair such damaged relationships in a very positive way.  These strategies rely on engaging your emotional intelligence.

Oh and never use email to do this – face-to-face is always best to pick up on body language as well as tone.  The telephone is a back-up option if face-to-face is not possible.

Here are a few tips, inspired by the articles and also with a few of my own elaborations.

 1. Assume positive intent.

It’s amazing how much of a difference the ‘going in’ attitude that you adopt in your interactions with others can make.  It’s very true that “behaviour begets behaviour” – and that others will very often reflect your behaviour.

As Susanne Madsen says – someone else will sense if you feel negative when you approach them and are likely to become hostile in return.  It’s an almost automatic emotional response.  Her advice? Present yourself as a friend rather than a foe.

2.  Try to see things from the other person’s perspective.

We have a tendency to think that someone is a difficult person, or being difficult, whereas what might be happening is that they are struggling to find the best way to deal with a difficult situation.

Marion Thomas and Sarah Walton take a similar stance:

When people are being difficult there is usually an underlying reason

Here is what Susanne Madsen suggests:

If you are in doubt about somebody, assume that their need is to feel listened to, accepted and appreciated.  That thought alone can transform your professional relationships.

We need to use our best observational, questioning and listening skills to understand another person’s perspective.

Then, if we can at least acknowledge the situation that they are dealing with, and maybe even help them with it, we will ultimately make our working relationship with them that much stronger.

3. Connect with the whole person – rather than with aspects of their behaviour. 

This is something that Marion Thomas and Sarah Walton explain very well.

They suggest that you aim to get to know something about the other person that enables you to connect with them at a personal level as well as at a professional one.  It might be something that they enjoy doing in their spare time, something about their home situation, a personal ambition.  You might be able to share something about yourself that might help them to connect with you too.

Connecting with someone as a person should make it easier to keep any ‘difficult’ occurrences in perspective, and also to open conversations about them.

4. Pick your battles

This is based on another point made by Marion Thomas and Sarah Walton.  They suggest that you assess the impact of any apparently negative or adversarial behaviour, and then match your action appropriately.

In some cases the ‘damage’ may be one of discomfort only, that can be safely ignored.

In other cases it might be more damaging for instance to team morale, or to the quality of service to customers, or to the outcome of a piece of work.  In these situations, you will need to take action.

Actions will include:

  • Engaging other people who are better positioned to influence them – perhaps because they have a good relationship with them
  • Speaking directly to the person concerned (see point 5. below)

5. Articulate your perception of a situation and seek a way to address it collaboratively.

Any interaction involving emotions is very easily influenced by assumptions and misunderstandings.

If:

  • assuming positive intent
  • trying to see things from the other’s perspective
  • connecting with them as a person
  • using the influence of others

have not somehow addressed a situation, then it’s time to articulate what you are observing.

As Thomas and Walton point out, it’s a good idea to prepare well for any discussion of this type by:

  • Thinking about the other person’s style of working and communicating and how you can approach them in a similar style
  • Looking for any positive aspect of their behaviour and/or work that you can speak about in terms of the value that they bring
  • Gathering evidence that you can use to illustrate the behaviour that you are observing and what a difference changing it would make

This is about trying to engage their emotional intelligence to understand the consequences of their actions.  The skill is to do this objectively, non-confrontationally, without implying blame.

A good tactic is to talk about the behaviour that you have observed, how you are feeling about it, and the different result that you would like to achieve.  If you can encourage and persuade them to find a better way forward, or if you can work collaboratively to find one, then you will get a  much more robust and longer lasting outcome.

Notes

There is more about using emotional intelligence to manage conflict in one of my earlier blogs: Conflict is the lifeblood of high performing organisations.

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

The soul of a start-up, nimble leadership, flexibility and control


By Elisabeth Goodman, 5th August 2019

Remember Gary Hamel’s article last November about how to retain employee engagement in growing and large organisations?

The latest issue of Harvard Business Review (July – August 2019) carries two articles that provide some stimulating and converging ideas about how to achieve employee engagement through a combination of control and flexibility.

It is good food for thought in the context of another article on employee engagement, from the 31st July Business Weekly, which I reference in the conclusion at the end of this blog.

The start-up “soul”

The first article is by Ranjay Gulati (a professor at Harvard Business School) which essentially shows us how to retain engagement in start-ups.  It all hinges around what he calls “the soul of a start-up” – discovering what this is for your organisation, and then putting in measures to retain it.

The soul of a start-up

Image inspired by Ranjay Gulati’s article: “The sould of a start-up”, HBR July-August 2019, pp. 84-91

Ranjay Gulati studied more than a dozen fast growing ventures, and interviewed 200-plus founders and executives to help him reach his conclusions.  Although the companies he spoke to are US-based, and did not include the kinds of Life Science SMEs we work with at RiverRhee , what he deduced certainly resonates with our experiences.

THe three dimensions of a start-up’s “soul”

Ranjay Gulati has identified three dimensions (“the spiritual trinity”) of a start-up’s “soul”:

1/ Business intent. Employees are energised in SMEs by being connected with what their organisation aspires to achieve – also referred to as the vision, mission, purpose, or meaning of their work.

2/ Customer connection. An intimate understanding of the perspectives and needs of their customers will enhance employees’ energy and creativity.

3/ Employee experience. This is described as giving employees “freedom with a framework”, “voice and choice”, or basically the autonomy to innovate and make decisions within the context of the company’s overarching purpose and general rules of engagement.

balancing control and flexibility

Ranjay Gulati’s experience is that start-ups will fail if they don’t introduce structure and discipline to support them as they grow.  But they do also need to be uncompromising about their original business intent, maintain strong customer connections and ensure that they retain the flexibility that will allow employees to be autonomous and passionate about their goal.

The author cites examples from Netflix and Warby Parker for how to do this.

At Netflix, the message to employees, once managers have made the context about the organisation and its operations clear, is: “We think you’re really good at what you do.  We’re not going to mandate how you do it, but we’re going to trust and empower you to do great work.”

At Warby Parker, they developed the “Warbles” program, where engineers are asked to suggest and advocate new technology initiatives, and to position them within the context of the organisation’s strategic intent. Although the ideas are voted on by senior management, individuals can also pursue any that they choose if they align with their priorities and can deliver “maximum value”.

“Nimble leadership”

Deborah Ancona, Elaine Backman and Kate Isaacs (all associated in some way with MIT), approach the subject of employee engagement from the perspective of retaining employees’ entrepreneurial spirit in mature organisations.

They use PARC and W.L.Gore as case studies in their article (Nimble Leadership, HBR July-August 2019, pp. 74-83) to describe three types of leadership, which, together with clear cultural norms, also result in a balance of flexibility and control.

THree types of leadership

Deborah Ancona et al’s three types of leaders and their characteristics are as follows:

1/ Entrepreneurial leaders who are very much in the frontline of the action in the two companies.  They “sense and seize” opportunities, or new initiatives, and influence their colleagues to join them, or provide resources to make them happen.

These entrepreneurial leaders are again well-tuned into the strategic goals of the organisation.  They have the self-confidence and energy that enable them to exercise autonomy.  They are also good at influencing and persuading others, whilst having the openness to listen to others’ views and the flexibility to change course if it makes sense to do so.

[These sound like they could be the senior scientists, or project leaders that we encounter in Life Science SMEs – but with a significantly different decision-making and resource allocation model.]

2/ Enabling leaders are generally more experienced than entrepreneurial leaders, and are there to coach, develop and connect the entrepreneurs to each other.  They also have a strong communicating role to ensure that everyone is kept abreast of the bigger picture:

  • What activities others are engaged in
  • The overall business context (which includes the vision, values and simple organisational rules – all key “guardrails” for decision-making)

[These sound like they could be the line managers we encounter in Life Science SMEs – but with a much more explicit remit for talent development and support.]

3/ Architecting leaders are essentially the senior leaders in an organisation who are paying attention to the bigger picture, and changing remit, culture and structure.  They initiate change, and will also respond to how the ‘bottom up’ initiatives may be a prompt for change.

Conclusion – some refreshing ideas for tackling employee engagement

These two articles have some very refreshing ideas for creating the combination of “flexibility and control” which seem to be key to achieving employee engagement.

Jennifer Leeder (Senior Associate at Birketts LLP) has some sobering data about the current state of employee engagement in the UK (“Taking steps to improve employee engagement”, Business Weekly, 31st July 2019, p. 14).

She quotes a 2017 Gallup analysis, State of the Global Workplace, revealing that only seven per cent of UK employees are actively engaged at work.  The data no doubt vary by sector but that is little consolation for this very low average.

I was interested to find three measures in Jennifer Leeder’s article that echo those in the HBR articles and would also create and support environments featuring flexibility and control:

  1. Define your culture. She mentions company values as a component of culture.
  2. Keep open and honest communication flowing between managers and employees.
  3. Develop your leaders and managers

How rigorously are you preserving the ‘soul’ of your organisation?  Are you making sure that everyone in your organisation is connected to your strategic intent, perfectly attuned to your customers’ perceptions and needs, and exercising autonomy within this well-defined framework of mission and values?

Are you keeping the communication flowing in all directions?  And are you developing your leaders and managers to sustain this way of working?

Notes

RiverRhee‘s offerings include team building workshops and leadership and management development. We can help you to articulate your vision, mission and values, as well as develop your team.  You can see further details and testimonials on our team building workshops and on our management development.

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.