Real Change or Rhetoric?

There’s a lot of rhetoric around doing things differently across the public and voluntary sectors. The current and increasing budget challenges are supposed to make everyone think of new ways of delivering the same or better outcomes with fewer resources.

The reality is rather different. 1970’s industrial re-engineering seems to be the order of the day. Take three departments, merge them into two, strip out management costs and ask people to do more work.

Now there is scope for this. Undoubtedly there is management overpopulation and, while it’s a complex world, does it really have to be so complex? There is also a lot of activity that is unproductive in terms of good outcomes or inefficiently delivered.

So, yes there are opportunities for traditional efficiency drives and these are being taken. The real prize is something different.

The key is in the phrase “ask people to do more work.” We need to shift people from concentrating on how they do the same things with fewer resources. At all levels, people need to focus on how they can have a bigger impact, how they can make a difference. And they need to do this in a tight financial framework. Shifting plans and accountabilities from activity to impact will be a massive cultural shift with a need for radical internal and external collaborations. The payback will be equally massive.

While the prize will be won when we get a critical mass of people thinking and operating differently, it starts at the top. The leadership of our public bodies need to show the way. Let’s not underestimate the personal and professional challenge for them, but do it they must.

Are you in the middle of all this? Are leaders – and that may be you – genuinely up for it?

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Is Cultural Matching the missing ingredient in collaboration?

I was recently brought in to help a partnership where the honeymoon period was well and truly over and it was proving hard to achieve all that looked possible while “courting”.  Some things were going well but there was still a lot more to be gained.  We certainly helped, but some hard thinking and honest evaluation earlier in the partnership could have avoided a lot of anguish.   Sometimes we are involved in the early stages, facilitating the initial joint discussions, however the real work of making collaboration work starts even before this.

You need to be asking two critical questions before any formal discussions:

  1. Is Collaboration the right answer?
  2. Are these really the right partners?

I’ll address alternatives to collaboration later.  So dealing with the second point: choosing the right partners can be very difficult.  The numbers seem right and the opportunity is clear so what can go wrong?  Resources, Shared objectives, Governance and Leadership all matter a great deal but not considering the impact of different cultures is one of the most common mistakes.

Differing organisational cultures (fundamentally the way things are done) can be big barriers to a successful partnership. It is very easy to trust “it will all work out” but once the unwritten rules that make up a culture come into play it is very easy to start to misunderstand or even doubt each other.  This then impacts on your mutual trust the cornerstone of good collaboration.

Once you are committed, changing the culture of either partner is very difficult, if not impossible. So before you reach that stage you need to be asking – “Can these cultures work together to deliver value for both of us?”

This is a really challenging question to answer involving unquantifiable cultures, sub-cultures, artefacts and layers.  The temptation is to ignore these challenging “soft” issues especially while caught up in resolving the other easier “hard” issues but doing so can put your whole project at risk from day one.

Initiated, designed and delivered  professionally, genuine collaborative working can offer both partners many advantages.  In fact, in the current economic environment collaboration can be the only way for organisations to thrive (or even survive).

Leading through Adversity

During a recent workshop on Leading through Adversity people spoke of how difficult it is to keep focussed through hard times.  I find that, as a coach, I am often helping executives, both experienced and less-experienced, navigate their way through uncertainties they have never come across before. Fortunately there are frameworks and techniques to help, as adverse times require a different sort of leadership and mental state.

For example, controlling only what you can now, and letting go of what you have no influence over, prevents you from getting stuck in the problem. Deciding what impact you are going to have on what happens next and how you can maintain this keeps you thinking of your positive reactions for the future. These all contribute to being a more resilient leader; but you can’t do it all on your own and you need to keep working on it.   Beating the downturn takes good health, mental resilience and focusing on your inner strengths.

Over the last decade Coaching has become a real success in people development, both for top level people to hone their performance and as a powerful way to shift cultures from within the organisation. The recent downturn has seen a shift in the need and style of coaching – coaching for resilience is far more likely to be the theme. The context is often one of survival as well as keeping going in these tough times, where it can be difficult to keep yourself and your teams motivated.

Mentoring and why we need it!

Boards are still not properly reflecting the growing diversity of their markets and employees.

There have been several reports written about a shortage of women in boardroom positions, particularly over the last 2 years. We know from the International Centre for Women Leaders at Cranfield that only 12% of the FTSE 100 companies have female board members. On a positive note, there is an increase in companies with more than one woman board member, which research shows increases effectiveness substantially.

More recently, there is a growing belief that the economic crisis has increased the need for more women in the boardroom as rebuilding the economy requires a different emphasis on leadership. An Ernst & Young report from January this year concluded that it is time to use the resources of women to rebuild the world economy and made specific recommendations on how board practice needs to change, particularly in giving more scope to encouraging female candidates for new board positions.

All too often there are too few women in the pipeline gaining the relevant experience needed in the top executive roles. We need to be more proactive in the recruitment process, and although there are a number of voluntary initiatives underway, it seems more has to be done.

Following a range of discussions with a number of you over the last few months and the IOD Scotland’s women’s leadership event last September, we see an opportunity in Scotland to drive a “Women into the Boardroom” initiative through mentoring. Traditionally, mentoring is the long term passing on of support, guidance and advice. In the workplace it has tended to describe a relationship in which a more experienced colleague uses their greater knowledge and understanding of the work or workplace to support the development of a more junior or inexperienced member of staff. This comes from the Greek myth where Odysseus entrusts the education of his son to his friend Mentor.

Much of the existing evidence has been both positive and encouraging as mentoring is a distinct activity which has become a widespread development tool. We all know of famous sports mentoring relationships such as Ian Botham being mentored by Brian Close, Kevin Keegan by Bill Shankly. There are many business mentoring relationships, notably Chris Gent and Arun Sarin at Vodafone and there are many more examples from politics and other fields.

Our own experience at Kynesis in designing and managing mentoring programmes has shown that mentoring has developed a huge amount of talent that otherwise may have left the organisation. Our programmes have been designed to support global culture change, mergers and acquisitions, talent management and in particular, succession planning for key roles –  key priorities for any growing business.

A number of vibrant women networks are alive and well in Scotland and the IOD is interested in how Mentoring in particular may be helpful in encouraging female executives to be ready to head for the Boardroom! What better way than to learn from someone who has done it?

To this end the IoD and Kynesis are currently driving this forward in Scotland.  Connecting the best of our rising talent to our those with proven experience.  The project is already delivering excellent results from some really interesting partnerships.

This is just the beginning. We know even more  top women will want to be involved in growing our next generation of female directors. Creating organisations with a senior team that reflects their markets and employees, fully equipped to lead into the future -what a difference we will make to Scotland!

So if you are keen to be involved either as a mentor or mentee – let us know.

Public sector = Bad people?

There’s a move afoot. People in the public sector are having to shift how they think about their job and how they work. Four years into the Scottish Government’s outcome-based approach, the advent of Scotland Performs and Single Outcome Agreements, the power of outcome-based planning is starting to be understood – if not realised.

Over generations, public sector workers have been held accountable for activity. Put together a plan at the beginning of the year and review progress on that plan. Success was largely about whether you did what you said you would do – or made a case for why it couldn’t be done.

Now we are moving to a world where plans start with the difference we intend to make rather than the things we put in place. This means that simply delivering what you said will not be enough – if it didn’t make the difference you intended.

Many public sector organisations are way more complex than private sector companies. Getting things done means collaborating with varied interest groups, in your own organisation and others. Making a difference means doing that – plus doing it in a much more flexible way.

Middle managers in particular now need to think in terms of the impact they have on citizens and service users, not on the programme of work they have committed to. They need to reflect on the effectiveness of what they are doing; monitoring impact, changing course in mid-stream and taking complex partnerships with them as they adapt.

The deep organisational culture change implicit in this is the single biggest lever in delivering efficiency while still delivering better services for citizens. To achieve this we need to see accountabilities deep in public sector organisations shifting dramatically. People need to see their roles framed differently and managers need to be able to coach and support staff through the change – and beyond.

There is a human danger in this. People who have worked in one way and with one mind set, for their entire career, will have to change. Many of them know only an output-based or process-based world. Indeed, either through career choice or inertia, they have selected to work in this world. They need to change. Some will not want to and we need to allow them to leave with dignity. Others will find the changes required difficult to understand or implement – they have no experience of this new way of working.

The danger is that they are branded as “bad people.” The reality is that this kind of fundamental shift can be enormously difficult. Trouble is I hear a lot of talk about service redesign (“real or imagined” is for another blog) but little focus on organisational and human development to make the change work. We need a step change in culture and in management capability if we are to meet the coming challenge.

Are our public bodies taking this seriously?

Cognitive Fitness – Get your brain sweating

Looking after yourself generally means exercising and watching what you eat.  New research in neuroscience is now showing that it is just as important to exercise and feed your brain as well as your body!  We know that the brain is split into 2 sides with the left side taking care of the practical, ordered side of life whilst the right hand side if the imagination and creativity.  Opinions vary as to which side you should focus on but one is linked to the other so both sides should be developed.

It used to be thought that as we got older we “lost brain cells’ and that it was impossible to get them back.  The new research however proves this not to be true. In fact it is quite the opposite, you can actually increase the connections and neurons by exercising your brain.  4 simple steps can help you (adapted from Gibley & Kits, HBR Nov 2007) –

1. Understand how experience makes the brain grow.  Look at how you learn and the different ways in which we learn, for example – through observation, by listening, reading, getting professional qualifications in a structured manner, by learning languages or studying sport.

2. Work hard at playing.  Play improves your ability to reason and understand the world.  It can be a learning or a social activity and increases our enjoyment of life.  Play has an important role in learning skills, helping us set goals, developing our mental imagery and our memory amongst other things.

3. Search for patterns.  Your brain’s ability to scan the environment and create order and meaning from all of the information out there.  By doing this we can then assess a situation and decide the best or most appropriate course of action to take.

4. Seek novelty and innovation.  It was traditionally thought that this only develops the right side of your brain however, we now know that it is actually develops the connections and neuron growth in both sides.  It is also what keeps your mind open to new ideas and other people’s views, opinions and thoughts.

Here are some quick ideas that might get you started

  • Manage by walking about – chat to other people in your life/work, listen to what they have to say and don’t live in a silo.
  • Read humourous books or watch comedy programmes.  Laughter not only makes you feel good but also boosts your immune system and allows you to cope with the physical and mental strains in life much better.
  • Play games, not just physical ones but do crosswords, suduko, play chess.
  • Act on what you have learned to get physical and theoretical  experiences.
  • Take a look at what you don’t know, get feed-back from others, fill the gaps, open your mind to new ideas and experiences.
  • Get the most out of your business trips, make time to visit a place of interest, speak to local people, read a book about the area.
  • Take notes on things that interest you, ideas, thoughts of others.  Read them back and make use of them even if it is to help create other ideas.
  • Play with new technologies, download music/funny video clips onto your ipod, get the latest gadget and share with friends.  Technology uses a whole range of senses giving you a complete workout in one.
  • Learn a language or instrument, this will give your brain a top workout.
  • Exercise your body.  The chemical reactions that take place in your body during and after exercise also help your brain develop.