Tag Archives: harvard business review

Purpose statements revisited: how they matter and how to make them work


By Elisabeth Goodman, 2nd December 2019

How purpose statements matter

I’ve written before about the importance of purpose as a motivator for employees (see ‘Why clarity of purpose is so important for both effective leadership and management)

Sally Blount and Paul Leinwand sum it up nicely in “Why are we here?” in the Nov-Dec 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review:

“Many people, not just Millennials – want to work for organisation’s whose missions and business philosophies resonate with them intellectually and emotionally.”

Purpose - HBR Nov-Dec 2019

Illustration from Why are we here? Harvard Business Review, November – December 2019, pp. 132-139.

According to these authors, an effective and indeed powerful purpose statement achieves two things:

  • It articulates strategic goals focused on your customers
  • It motivates your employees.

Paul Leinwand is a global manager at Strategy&, PwC’s strategy consulting business. Their recent survey of 540 employees worldwide revealed many ways in which purpose statements matter.

For instance:

  • Employees consider purpose to be more than twice as important, on average as other motivators such as compensation and career advancement
  • At companies that have clearly defined and communicated purpose related statements, 63% of employees say they are motivated vs. 31% in other companies

How to make purpose statements work

1. Don’t worry too much about the distinctions between mission, vision and purpose.

Many companies use these interchangeably, and what you will find on different websites varies enormously.  The important thing, as the HBR authors assert, is that whatever form of statement you use it should clearly articulate:

  • Why your organisation exists, in relation to the products or services it delivers to customers. What difference it makes to your customers’ lives or business.
  • What makes your organisation unique. What gap it would leave if it ceased to function.
  • How your organisation does business including any guiding principles that influence interactions with customers, suppliers and employees themselves

2. Be clear about what key talent you need to attract to deliver on your purpose

Rather than trying to attract the best talent for every aspect of your business, which may not be possible or sustainable, home in on the key areas that are vital to your business.

You can always support other areas through high-quality outsourcing.

3. Structure and invest in your organisation so that people can effectively work together to achieve your purpose

Many organisations create cross-functional teams to break down silos and enable the creativity, innovation and development necessary to deliver on their purpose.(This is certainly true of most of the companies with which RiverRhee works.)

In fact, given that working this way is often key to the success of an organisation, cross-functional teams need to receive adequate time, funding and attention. Is this the case in your organisation? If not, how could the focus of attention be shifted to make it so?

4. Make sure your leaders are acting as role models for your purpose.

The HBR authors put it perfectly:

“Strong leaders personify their organisation’s purpose every day through their words and actions, whether that involves communicating priorities to the workforce or visibly spending time with employees and customers.”

5. Challenge your board to ask you tough questions about your purpose

Your board is well placed to keep you focused. The HBR authors suggest some questions they could ask, or indeed that you could ask yourself:

  • Would your employees be able to tell your purpose statement apart from a competitor’s?
  • How many of your employees could cite your purpose?
  • Do your employees have the resources that they need to deliver on your purpose?

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.

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.

Recognising and responding to employees’ receptiveness to change


By Elisabeth Goodman, 19th June 2019

Victim, survivor and navigator mindsets in change – based on the work of Richard McKnight.  Illustrations by Nathaniel Spain in my book “The Effective Team’s Change Management Workbook”, RiverRhee Publishing, 2013

providing the conditions for navigators of change

One of the most repeated and, in my view, misleading tropes about change is that “people resist change”.

Certainly if people are not given enough information and involvement or control they are likely to demonstrate resistance characterised by being a ‘victim’ or ‘survivor’ of change.

However, if the opposite is true: if people at least understand what the change is about, and what it is for, then they may come to believe in and value it – and demonstrate the characteristics of ‘navigators’ of change.

(You can read more about the concepts of ‘victims, survivors and navigators’ of change in one of my blogs on navigating change.)

employees are more receptive to change than business leaders give them credit for

An article in the May-June issue of Harvard Business Review – “Your workforce is more adaptable than you think” – by Joseph B Fuller et al (pp. 118-126) reveals that employees can be more aware and receptive to change than their business leaders predict.

Joseph B. Fuller et al, Harvard Business Review, May-June 2019 pp. 118-126

In fact, these employees would like to have more support and development opportunities to better equip them to deal with change i.e. they want to be ‘navigators’, but need the tools to help them to be so.

This was a large multi-country study, including the UK, which compared the perceptions and attitudes towards trends or changes (‘forces of disruption’) in the workplace, between low to middle-skill workers and business leaders.

The forces of disruptive change

Joseph B Fuller and his co-authors explored a total of 17 aspects of change, under six broad headings:

  1. Accelerating technological change – resulting in a decrease, increase, or other form of change in the nature of people’s work
  2. Growing demand on skills – an increase in the skills or knowledge expected of people at work; and an increased demand for (new) people with the relevant skills
  3. Changing employee expectations – people wanting to work more flexible hours for a better work/life balance; people more motivated by purpose and autonomy
  4. Shifting demographics – the expectation and necessity of greater diversity in the workforce: age, gender, race etc.
  5. Transitioning work / business models – reflecting some of point 3. but also more complex ecosystems of collaborations and partnerships
  6. Evolving business environment – in terms of regulatory, economic and political changes..

What business leaders can do to nurture employees’ receptiveness to change

Joseph B. Fuller and his co-authors’ recommendations would seem to echo my earlier points about people being more receptive to change if they are given some level of information and control or involvement in change.

Here is what they recommend:

 1.  Instil a continuous learning culture – with resources to support it, on the job, and also by recruiting from within. (This echoes a point in another article in the same issue of HBR about recruitment.)

2.  Involve and engage employees in the ‘why’ and the ‘what’ of transition.  In one case study, the authors show how a company asked everyone to reapply for the smaller number of jobs resulting from their transition, and then provided support for those who were not successful to find new jobs.

3. Look to develop talent from within (a similar point to 1. above).  Be ambitious rather than assuming that you need to hire for the new skills.  Plan for what you need, and also for the skills that you will no longer need.

4. Collaborate with competitors and with academia to develop training and resources for new skills – especially in areas that are not currently being supported.  (This is something that companies in Cambridgeshire and in the Life Sciences are quite active in.  See for example this introductory Bioinformatics course from the Wellcome Sanger Institute.)

5. Find ways to manage the uncertainty within your organisation – for example by tracking emerging trends and giving people the opportunity to volunteer to be involved. They could for example work on projects outside their immediate area of work; another way to develop talent and skills.

Conclusion

Although business leaders might be tempted to ‘protect’ their employees from the changes that their organisations are subjected too, doing so can only backfire.

People cope better with change if they are kept informed and involved and, as this HBR article shows, will be better placed to take a proactive role in the associated challenges and opportunities.

NOTES

RiverRhee’s next course on Managing Change is on the 14th November.  Do get in touch if you would like to learn more about our approach.

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.

Working across silos – leadership in the matrix and in multi-functional projects


By Elisabeth Goodman, 14th May 2019

7 Seismic Shifts for Leadership. Based on Michael D Watkins. Material used in RiverRhee and PERLA’s course “Transition to Leadership”, delivered to members of One Nucleus working in the Life Sciences.

Working across silos – an enabler for developing leadership skills

I recently delivered one of RiverRhee‘s and PERLA‘s Transition to Leadership courses where we share, amongst other information, Michael D Watkins’ “7 seismic shifts” for new leaders.

An essential skill, when moving into a leadership role, is the ability to become familiar with the vocabulary, systems, structures and cultures that are unique to each area of the organisation.  Those working in specific technical fields – such as biology, chemistry, clinical, IT – will have their own ways of communicating and understanding each other, of working and of making decisions, which will be quite distinct from those working in HR or finance for example.

To be effective, a leader must be able to engage with people right across the organisation, and so shift from being a specialist in their field, to becoming a generalist across all areas.

Delegates at RIverRhee's Transition to Leadership course

Delegates discussing the “7 seismic shifts” at RiverRhee and PERLA’s recent Transition to Leadership  course.

Working across silos, in an organisation that may already have a matrix structure – where people are assigned to functional departments, but also work on multi-functional projects – is a great way to develop this broader awareness and understanding.

There are valuable tips on this whole topic in: “Cross-silo leadership.  How to create more value by connecting experts from inside and outside the organization”, by Tiziana Casciaro, Amy C. Edmondson and Sujin Jang, Harvard Business Review, May-June 2019, pp. 130-139.

Shifting the emphasis from vertical to horizontal collaboration

The authors of the HBR article share their findings from conversations with individuals in companies around the world.  They found that whilst people prioritise the vertical relationships (i.e. those that they report to, and who report to them) in their day-to-day work, it is the horizontal relationships, across functional groups in the organisation that will bring the greatest value to customers.

Horizontal relationships, across functions, is where there is the greatest scope for innovation and for the larger scale projects that will support integrated research, development and customer service.

As the authors say, these kinds of horizontal relationship can be the most challenging for people, as they need to learn about and relate to people who may have very different ways of thinking and learning.

As with all the best HBR articles, the author have some tips for helping leaders and those who work with them to operate horizontally, across the silos in an organisation.

Developing and making use of “cultural brokers”.

Some people are well-placed to bridge the gap between different parts of the organisation.  Examples of these, in the organisations that RiverRhee works with, are project managers and leaders on cross-functional projects.

The authors of the HBR article suggest that there are two types of “cultural brokers”: those who act as go-betweens, translating the language of the two domains in more one-off , or time-restricted collaborations; and those who take the time to facilitate collaborations in a way that will be longer-lasting and able to function without the “broker”.

Either type of “cultural broker” will need to develop the multi-functional and/or multi-cultural skills, enhanced with strong interpersonal skills, to enable them to facilitate this kind of rapport and collaboration between others.

Encouraging and developing skills in asking good questions

We all know that asking questions is a powerful adjunct to learning – it’s a technique that we teach in RiverRhee’s courses.

Instilling a climate of curiosity is a great way to foster collaboration and hence activities such as innovation and continuous improvement – as described in a previous blog (Curiosity, Continuous Improvement and Innovation).

The authors suggest that the best practices for asking good questions include:

  • Asking open questions – rather than those that just require ‘yes’ ‘no’ answers.  And what’s more, questions that contain as little of the questioner’s preconceptions as possible such as: “How are things going for you?” [This is also referred to as “clean” language.]
  • Transitioning to more specific questions as the collaboration develops – ones that will reveal and so allow sharing of greater depths of knowledge such as: “What can you tell me about x?”
  • Checking your understanding by playing back what you’ve heard and understood – saying something like: “Can you help me check that I have this right?  What have I missed?”
  • Checking in with the other contributor(s) on their perspective of how the collaboration is going – asking something like: “What can we do to work together more effectively?”

Getting people to see things from others’ perspectives

The HBR article gives some very interesting examples of organisations that have taken novel approaches to this.  The main thing is to recognise that most people that we interact with have different perspectives to our own, and this may be even more so if they are working in different parts of a company.

Apparently whilst most people have the skills to understand other people’s perspectives, they are not necessarily motivated to do so.  It is therefore a leadership responsibility to role-model and to encourage this form of behaviour to support a more collaborate approach across an organisation.

Building internal and external networks

This is another way that leaders can role-model and encourage others to develop skills and habits for working beyond their more immediate (vertical) work group:

  • Create cross-functional projects, meetings and agendas that encourage horizontal networks, conversations and collaborations
  • Encourage employees (give them the time and resources) to explore networks that go outside their areas of expertise.  The authors advocate crossing domains between art, science, technology, business etc. – as the basis for true innovation.

Conclusion

Working across silos will help leaders to develop essential skills which will enable them to be more effective.  This way of working already exists, at least in part, for those operating in a matrix organisation and/or working on large cross-functional projects.

It’s a way of working that offers greater potential for innovation, solving complex problems and meeting customer needs.

It requires encouragement, role modelling by leaders, training and support to enhance the take-up of this form of horizontal collaboration across all parts of an organisation.

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.

A more effective approach to feedback?


By Elisabeth Goodman, 4th March 2019

How to give ‘negative’ feedback is one of the most frequent questions posed by delegates on RiverRhee’s management courses.  It’s a topic we get into during our course on Performance Management and Development too.  And it’s a question that arises when we explore the difference between coaching and mentoring.

WordItOut-word-cloud-3645948

Word Cloud (https://worditout.com/word-cloud/create) generated from this blog on Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall’s article “The Feedback Fallacy” in the March-April 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review (pages 92-101) 

Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall’s article “The Feedback Fallacy” in the March-April 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review (pages 92-101) is a gold-mine of information on this subject.  And by the way, it also reminds us about why ‘positive’ feedback is so important, with fabulous guidance on how to do that well too.

Dispelling three feedback fallacies

Traditional approaches to feedback rely on three fallacies which Buckingham and Goodall masterfully dispel through the use of analogies and neuroscience research results.

1. The source of truth

Our new managers are often uncomfortable about giving feedback. Although their reasons for feeling so may vary, the HBR authors assert that we are not necessarily the best judge of what constitutes ‘good’ or ‘the right’ performance.

They point out that we will each have a different perspective of this – they call this the “idiosyncratic rater effect”.  The analogy they use is how different people will rate the redness of a rose – asking more people will only create more diversity in the interpretation of the truth of that redness!

Instead, the authors suggest that people are better at assessing their own performance (as they would assess their own level of post-operative pain).

In this situation, as Buckingham and Goodall say: “all we can do – and it’s not nothing – is share our own feelings and experiences”.

In our courses we suggest that managers emphasize what they have observed when they give feedback. This would still seem like a good starting point.  They could then add to that, “When you did this, I felt that”; or “Here is what I would have done in that situation.”

2. The theory of learning

The authors confirm something that we know from the field of Appreciative Enquiry: that people will learn (most) effectively if they build on strengths and what’s working well, rather than on weaknesses and what isn’t working well!

As they say: ” Learning is less a function of adding something that isn’t there than it is of recognizing, reinforcing, and refining what already is.”

Buckingham and Goodall cite insights from neuroscience as evidence of this:

  • Our brains build far more neurons and synaptic connections where we already have more of them i.e. in our areas of strength, than in our areas of weakness.
  • When we focus on areas that we need to correct, our sympathetic “fight or flight” survival system kicks in and actually impairs learning.
  • When we focus on  dreams and how to achieve them, our parasympathetic or “rest and digest” system is stimulated and fosters openness to learning.

This reinforces the need for managers to draw individuals’ attention to their strengths and explore with them how they might develop these strengths further.

3. The theory of excellence

This is perhaps the most exciting of the authors’ three theories.  They point out, again with analogies, from comedians, and sports, that each person’s example of excellence is unique: no two people will excel in the same way.

The trick then is to help individuals recognise their moments of excellence, and how they can top up their learning to make these repeatable.  The authors call this a “highest priority interrupt”.

We can do this by giving feedback at the moment that we spot some great performance – what it was that we observed and how we felt about it – and asking for instance: “What was going through your mind when you did that?”.  (Hence reinforcing the “rest and digest” performance of the parasympathetic system.)

And by the way, the authors explain how studying failure and how to avoid it will help to plug gaps in performance and fix flaws, but is unlikely to lead to excellence!

Coaching vs. mentoring

The observations in this article reinforce our approach to coaching: that it’s about creating the conditions and asking the open questions that will help the individual build on their strengths, further their learning, and excel.

Buckingham and Goodall give an excellent framework for helping people think through what they might need to do going forward:

  • Start with the present, and encourage them to think about what is working for them right now.  (This stimulates oxytocin – the “love or creativity drug”.)
  • Then get them thinking about the past: what example can they think about of when they tackled something similar that worked well – what they did or felt.
  • Then focus on the future – what do they already know that they could do; “What would you like to have happen” (an example of clean questioning).

There is still a need to give instruction and feedback on aspects of work where there is a need to do things in a certain way – for health and safety or otherwise critical steps.  This is more like mentoring.

And we can also share how we would do something, but this will only be a starting point for an individual’s reflection.

NOTES

About the author. 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 and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals). 

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 and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.