What is the difference between management and leadership?

I sometimes get commissioned to deliver development for managers, i.e. delivering facilitated learning for people with ‘manager’ in their job title.  But I don’t consider myself to be in the business of management development.  I do however accept that one area on my work might be called leadership development.  So, what is the difference between management and leadership? Google this nugget and you’ll get a bundle of different answers.

At the risk of adding to the confusion, here’s my simple definition.  The leadership definition might surprise you:

  • Management is the act of overseeing a process
  • Leadership is the power to organise ideas into action.

In an organisational context, the processes managers oversee are often referred to as business processes.  In manufacturing, business processes turn inputs into outputs.  This concept can be extended to business processes in other sectors – there will always be some form of inputs (data, designs, resources) and the process turns these into outputs that customers want (information, products, services).

Leadership is the power to organise ideas into action; the power to change.  Deepak Chopra argues this power derives from a combination of creativity, the seed of an idea for the future, and the desire to enact it.  The desire to enact it requires organisation.  Such organisation requires you pay attention to the present to make your intention a future reality.  This is the essence of organisation, the essence of leadership.

Can I be both?

Yes, you can.  In fact, anybody can be a leader.

I argue that the desire to enact a future intention, coupled with the capability to make it happen is all you need to be considered a leader.  You do not need a job title.  In an organisational context, the future intention is called a vision.

There are only three levels of hierarchy in any organisation: strategic leaders, operational (or service) leaders and individuals.  Everything else is fluff to justify job titles, pay grades and HR functions.

  • At the individual contribution level, you are a leader if you choose to do something that aligns to the vision, then make it happen
  • At the operational/service leader level, you are a leader if you organise others to deliver the activities that deliver the vision. You probably have ‘supervisor’ or ‘manager’ in your job title, or perhaps ‘head of…’
  • At the strategic leader level, you are a leader if you organise the whole system to deliver the vision (the whole system comprises things like strategy, operations, people, structures, planning and performance mechanisms, engagement and team culture).
Leadership development at any level is about developing the Four Cs of Leadership

The skills and experience you need at each level are different, and depend on the organisation, the nature of its business and the scale of the activities in which you are involved.

But the leadership behaviours are uncannily similar across organisations, industries and sectors.  And they relate to the power to organise ideas into action.  Four elements must be present:

  • Commitment to the idea itself – the commitment to a vision
  • Competence, i.e. the ability to act – the leader must be good at some aspect of the activity in which they are engaged, and must be able to organise themselves to make progress towards that vision
  • Communication – though not explicit in my definition, the vision and the steps needed to move towards it must be articulated to influence and mobilise others
  • Change orientation – whereas management is about overseeing a defined process, which is fundamentally about stability, the leader must embrace change to make the vision a reality.

These are the Four Cs of Leadership.  You can build your leadership capability by considering the extent to which each of these is fundamentally embedded and working effectively within your organisation.

Jeremy J Lewis

Your help needed: participate in some research and discover your preferred ways of working

I need your help.  I have an amazing opportunity for you to benefit from some research into personality types and behavioural preferences.  But first, some context…

Developing your understanding of personality types and thinking styles is a useful way to improve your knowledge of motivation and behaviour in the workplace.

Millions of people across the world have undertaken assessments to determine their personality type.  There are a plethora of behavioural and personality type psychometric instruments out there.  However, the psychology of Carl Jung, as adapted and interpreted by one Isabel Briggs-Myers and one Katharine Cook Briggs (aka the Myers-Briggs thing), is one of the most recognised and commonly used.

Personality types

Here comes the “science”.  In a nutshell, your personality is determined by four dichotomies.  Firstly, how you take in (or Perceive) information.  This you can do in a detailed, sequential sort of way (Sensing) or a big picture, snapshot sort of way (iNtuition).  Then, you need to consider how you make decisions (or Judgements) based on that information.  This you can do objectively (Thinking) or empathetically (Feeling).  One of these Perceiving or Judging dichotomies will dominate your approach to dealing with the world.  Finally, you will put your energy into your dominant approach either by focusing on the external world (Extraversion) or by internalising it (Introversion).  The answers to these four dichotomies yield 16 personality types, each identified by a four-letter acronym.  Only it’s not “science”.  Rather, it’s a metaphor for observable behaviour, just like the Native American Medicine Wheel or even Astrology.

How these four dichotomies apply most often to you determines which of 16 personality types you have, which in turn determines how you are likely to respond to stimuli.

I sort of have a problem with this.  People are, well, people.  We are just trying to categorise certain observable behaviours.  Neuroscience now shows that our rational and emotional minds are quite able to be trained to respond in whatever way we choose to any given situation.  So why straightjacket us with a “type”?  And why make that type so darned complicated?

The concept of preference

What if some of these types were viewed simply as behavioural preferences?  What would these preferences be?  It turns out four such behavioural modes will suffice – Driving, Analysing, Organising and Energising.

What if we could recognise we already have relatively easy access to more than one behavioural mode, say two or even three of these modes?

I’m told I have an ISFP personality type.  I know I extravert my perceptions and introvert my feelings.  Apparently, this means I work with bursts of energy and makes me a P. Yet I am quite able to plan out my day too (J).  I’m also happy taking in information in different ways (S and N) and applying both rational thinking and emotional feelings (T and F) to make decisions.  I spend long periods of time focusing on others’ needs and taking in others’ perspectives (E) and I spend long periods of time on my own reflecting and making sense of that data (I).

I am all these things and more.  Perhaps we need a behavioural psychometric that understands people and I believe I have found one such tool. I use it a lot in my organisation development consulting, coaching and facilitation practice.  I’m so excited about I, I have become accredited to provide training to others to become MiRo Practitioners.

If you’d like to find out more about your behavioural preferences, and those of your teammates, I have something that might interest you.  MiRo Psychometrics are currently undertaking some research into benchmarking their model with the Myers Briggs model.

Your help needed

That’s why we need your help. We need 25 groups of 20 people to take a MiRo Assessment and another Myers Briggs assessment so that we can benchmark one against the other.

In return we can give you 20 free bespoke reports and a team report, plus up to a free day of practitioner time.  This package would normally be worth £2,500 in total.

We can take your team through the reports and help you to understand them and your team better in the context of your business or your situation. We want this to be a positive and rewarding experience for you.  And we hope that when it’s over you’ll want to know more about MiRo and want to do even more with the tool. However, if you simply want the free reports and the free training and consultancy that comes with them, then it’s all yours and we’ll leave it at that.

All we ask in return is that you spend a few minutes completing a very short questionnaire.

If you’d like to be considered to take part in the research or just want to know more, I’d love to hear from you.

 

Jeremy J Lewis

Why do you do what you do?

First published on LinkedIn, December 21, 2016.

I wrote a post around Christmastime last year saying I believe in Father Christmas, which received a comment about aligning what we do with what we believe in, and that if we could align what we do with what we believe in, then wouldn’t the world be a better place?

Today, I had a great conversation with a colleague concerning why we do the things we do, which got me thinking about why I do the things I do, and whether it is about aligning what I want with what I believe in.  My conclusion is that there is a third dimension – what I do.  Bringing all three of these together might perhaps uncover why I do what I do.

A framework to help you align your thinking

I present this thinking here for no other purpose than to suggest it as a framework for thinking about what you believe in, what you want and what you do.  You might just uncover why you do what you do, and if not, give pause for thought as we approach a New Year and those resolutions to choose something new or different.

I believe in people; I help people be the leaders they want to be; it makes me happy and fulfilled.  These are the ‘whats’ in the Venn diagram.  The intersections are, I believe, the ‘hows’:

  • I believe in people and I help people. I do that by consulting, coaching and facilitating. That is how I align what I believe with what I do
  • I do it with a non-judgmental attitude. I accept the leader you are now, confront the challenges you have and support you to make better choices, so that you become more potent as a leader.  This how I align what I want with what I believe in
  • Being part of a larger corporate machine would not make me happy or fulfilled. So, I do it as a freelance, self-employed consultant – coach – facilitator.  This aligns what I do with what I want.

The final intersection, right in the centre of the diagram, which brings together these ‘whats’ and ‘hows’ is, of course, the ‘why’: why do I do what I do?  And for me, that is the higher purpose of making a difference.

And so, I’m curious, why do you do what you do?

Jeremy J Lewis

CMdeltaConsulting

“Committed to making a difference”

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Eco-friendly consulting?

First published on LinkedIn, December 14, 2016

According to recycling.org.uk, being eco-friendly can be confusing and it can be difficult to know whether you’re doing it right.  It suggests you improve your recycling efforts by learning which type of collection is best and why different areas recycle and collect in different ways.

Is consulting like recycling?

Consulting can be confusing and it can be difficult to know whether you’re getting good advice.  You can improve your use of consultants by learning which type of consulting is best for you and why different firms deliver their services in different ways.

Expert, pair of hands or collaborative?

For example, do you want to hire an expert because you do not have the skills yourself?  Might work in the short-term, but how is this going to build capability to solve similar issues in the future?  Or perhaps you’re just short of a pair of hands to deliver a change programme.  Arguably, this is not consulting at all, more like hiring an expensive interim manager and again, once they leave, who will pick up the reins?

And then there is true collaborative consulting, where a whole-system and people-centred approach is taken to jointly understanding your issues, shaping and delivering solutions together and building your capability to solve similar problems for yourself in the future.  This requires consistently applying fundamental, robust principles and practices to achieve sustainable change.  You can think of this as Eco-friendly consulting because it makes best use of what you already have.  It does this by following that maxim of managing waste: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Reduce your use of consultants that use management fads

Wherever you look, there are fads: celebrities waxing on about the latest crash diet, ‘experts’ explaining how to use live snails or bird poo for skincare, and ‘tweet mirrors’ in the clothing section of department stores to name a few recent ones I’ve spotted.

The world of management and change can also sometimes appear full of fads: total quality management, lean thinking, six sigma, I could go on and on.

You can even have a go at inventing our own management fad: pick three numbers from 1-10 and have a go, for instance 3-6-9 will generate ‘Authentic Customer-focused Partnering’, doesn’t that sound good?

Management fad generator

Extract from the Management Fad Generator, courtesy of Sheffield Business School 

Add a few more words of your own and generate your very own management fad!

How do you know which of the ‘latest thinking’ is real and grounded in robust change theory and which are just fads that have been hijacked by firms looking to get hold of your money, with no real insight into the processes of sustainable change?

Thankfully for every fad, there is an antidote: perhaps listen to a dietician rather than a celebrity for slimming advice, try a value and common sense product for skincare such as NO AD (a company that does not advertise and has no brand and no superfluous packaging and hence is half the price of other ‘brands’, and wins awards for best sun care products), or even shop at Springfield’s traditional department store Costington’s, whose slogan is “100 years without a slogan!”  Okay that last one is from the Simpsons, but you get my point.

Ironically (nay, satirically) Costington’s does indicate that becoming fad-free can itself become a gimmick.

Reuse old theories that work

I believe deeply in tried and trusted processes of change; I believe there are three things you need to do well to effect change: (1) be clear on what needs to change; (2) invest in the support people need to make the change; (3) provide (positive) consequences for those who embrace the change and (negative) consequences for those who resist it.  Consistently applying this theory will save you time and money, and build a reliable approach you can reuse again and again.

Recycle those theories into practice

“Nothing is so practical as a good theory”, as one sage once said (it was Kurt Lewin, btw, in 1941).   And he was right.  Re-badging old theory as new techniques might even be desirable, modernizing ideas that work in today’s reality.  A bit like upcycling, really.  However, I’d recommend you check the theory that underpins your consultant’s techniques is robust, tested in the real world and not just another management fad, otherwise you might just be buying cheap tat that will fall apart when you try to put it to good use.

Jeremy J Lewis

#eco-friendly consulting from @growthepig

The messy job of restructuring, and how not to do it

First published on LinkedIn, December 2, 2016

Strategy informs structure, right?

Something needs to change.  So, you convene a strategy session with your leadership team, commission some market research, and in a relatively short time frame, you’ve set your strategy.  Logically, it is time to lift that off the page.  You need to put the right team in place to deliver it.  So, you sketch out a structure chart that will deliver it and then go about slotting names into places and recruiting for the gaps.

This is often the way of things.  Organisations set their strategy and then create a structure that supports that strategy.  On the face of it, this is eminently sensible.  The goal of organisation design is to maximise the effectiveness of the organisation in serving its purpose.  However, such formal structures are impacted by the informal structures, the power plays, the routines and the symbols of the existing culture.  And culture itself tends to be either ignored or taken for granted when restructuring is underway.

Typically, leaders assume purpose informs strategy informs structure in a linear, predictable way.  They draw a structure chart.  Then they hire into that structure based on capability and expected cultural fit.  And then names appear on the structure chart.  Some new, some existing.  And then the prevailing culture remains steadfastly in place, whether this was the intention or not.  If the culture is out of alignment with the strategy and purpose, then the desired future will never be achieved.

Where should culture feature?

A better mindset going into restructuring acknowledges the causality between strategy, structure and culture is mutual.  This means that the organisation design combines:

  • Appropriate formal and informal structures
  • The capabilities to deliver products/services
  • In a market where those products/services are valued
  • The internal machinations that serve the purpose.

In other words, structure, strategy and culture interdependently in alignment.  It means aligning head, heart and hands.

This requires a different approach to restructuring, more of a configuration of the subsystems.  Indeed, in his 1989 work Mintzberg on management, Henry Mintzberg suggests organisation design is more a LEGO construction than a jigsaw; a creation that goes beyond configuration.

Current theories and good practices in organisation design combine all the above.  They advocate a forward-looking systems-based approach, coupled with an assumption of mutual causality between subsystems and hence a ‘beyond configuration’ approach to designing organisations.

So far, so good.  However, I suggest this is only half the story.

Organisational change is culture change

I believe organisational change is culture change and so culture should be given special attention during change.  I believe the first step in restructuring is to understand the past by considering culture and specifically how the organisation learns.  What are the values, beliefs, behaviours and underlying mindset that collectively define the organisation? I then advocate using organisation development techniques to understand how the organisation got to where it is today by learning from its past.  This will likely consider incrementalism, retrospective sense-making and the development of emergent strategies and structures.  I tend to do this by facilitating workshops with leaders and then with managers and other members of staff to triangulate the findings.

Only then should leaders turn their attention to the future and sketch out some ideas for an appropriate organisation design.  This inherently requires considering the mutual causality between strategy, structure and culture.

By reflecting on the backward-looking loop and engaging others in that reflective exercise, leaders will achieve a deeper understanding of where the organisation is today and what really needs to change to realise the desired future.  And generally, it is not just names on a structure chart.

Jeremy J Lewis

@growthepig

Look after your shiny pennies

First published on LinkedIn, November 14, 2016

Everybody seems to be talking about talent management and succession planning.  Mostly, they’re criticising the dreaded nine-box grid.  I’ve noticed this dread some up in conversation last month at the Northern Organisational Development Network and recently in client meetings.  The issue is neatly summarised in this excellent article by Lucy Adams https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/9-box-grid-fatigue-lucy-adams .

*Metaphor alert*

I think of talent as the shiny pennies you sometimes get in your small change, gleaming with potential to be different to their weather-worn contempories.  We are told if we look after the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves.  Do we nurture these new pennies, or do we toss them into a piggy bank or oversized whisky bottle to dull alongside their tarnished brethren?

If you treat your talent this way – in other words, the same way you treat all your small change – you will lose sight of their shininess, their potential.  And, of course, you don’t ever see them again unless you shake out the piggy bank and rifle through your change.  Worse still, you must smash the bottle to release the potential since expecting talent to rise to the top automatically and find its way through the bottleneck is clearly nonsense (and it’s no accident the bottleneck is always at the top of the bottle!)

A possible solution

Perhaps it would be better to drop your change into an open-necked jar.  That way, you might still see your shiny pennies and can reach in and grab a few, you know, if you want to.  But you don’t.

Talent management and succession planning are processes that were created to address this issue.  Liken them if you will to an automatic coin sorter.  My kids were given automatic coin sorters when they opened their ‘LittleSaver’ (or some such thing) bank accounts; you pop your coin in a slot at the top and it slides into a different holder dependent on the size of the coin.  Doesn’t work with 50 pence pieces though and it doesn’t encourage you to do anything with your savings.  Even electric coins sorters that can deal with huge volumes and tally up the coins into baggable denominations don’t do that.  They just sort it, bag it, bank it.

It strikes me we are dealing with our small change like we deal with our talent in the darned nine-box grid.  Sort it, bag it, bank it.  Let it fester.

Why?

HR professionals have good intentions when designing talent management processes, however they are processes.  They have over-rationalised an emotive subject to pretend it is not emotive.  They are colluding with managers to avoid the real work of managing talent and planning succession.

The antidote?
  1. Reconnect with the reason you are managing talent.  To plan succession, use those shiny pennies.
  2. Scrap the process-centred thinking.  I suggest root cause analysis of what works and what does not. Talent management is not working.  Start with culture, not process.  Your (talent) culture eats your (talent) strategy for breakfast, and goes on to polish off your (talent) processes for lunch.  Use a culture web analysis to uncover what’s going on
  3. DO SOMETHING with talented people to nurture and develop them. In the words of Marie Kondo (from the awesome Life changing magic of tidying), to “see these coins, stripped of their dignity as money, is heartrending.  I beg you to rescue these forgotten coins wasting away in your home by adopting the motto, ‘into my wallet’!”

It’s heartrending to to me to see these talented people, stripped of their dignity as human beings, populating a nine-box grid as initials in a succession plan that will never be fulfilled.  I beg you to rescue these forgotten people wasting away in your organisation by adopting the motto, [complete the sentence in not more than 10 words].

Jeremy J Lewis

@growthepig

A scary thought – could a robot do your job?

First published on LinkedIn on Hallowe’en, 2016

Another month over and time to reflect.  I attended two conferences this month.  The first was the Shared Services UK annual conference in Manchester.  I ran a breakfast seminar on behalf of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales on the importance of attending to culture when establishing a shared services function.  Then it was straight off to Gateshead for the SOLACE Summit.  SOLACE is the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, in case you didn’t know.

The audiences and speakers were quite different at each conference: mostly private sector finance and a few HR professionals at the former, mostly Local Government senior managers at the latter.  Despite these differences, the sessions I managed to catch had eerily a similar message: automation is going further than ever before; digital transformation is happening right now; ultimately; should you be afraid … could a robot do your job?

Digital transformation

The Guardian reported this month 47% of jobs in the UK will be lost to automation by 2050 (Oxford University research).  Global consulting giants McKinsey & Co. have evidence that companies who have embraced digitisation across the entire enterprise have higher revenues and share prices some 20% – 30% higher than the ‘digital laggards’.

The MJ (the leading publication dedicated to local government in the UK) has a view too.  They sagely note that digital transformation only makes sense across silos, which means that local authorities can only embrace digital transformation if they first work on a common shared services infrastructure.  It is not lost on me that this sentence neatly brings together the two conferences I attended.  It is interesting to note the absence of local authorities at the Shared Services Conference though!

In a special report on digital transformation published last month, The MJ noted that Artificial Intelligence can help prioritise citizens’ needs and direct them towards appropriate services 24/7.   Thankfully, they also recognised you still need ‘the human touch’ to deliver those services.  Surely this applies to any service that transcends commoditisation, regardless of sector?

That said, you can always do more to standardise, eliminate waste and centralise service provision.  Surely, the next logical step once this has been achieved is to automate it?

Whether it’s automation or digitisation, the need to work across silos is paramount.  This means more collaboration is needed, and better quality collaboration at that.  For me, this points to the need to understand and deliver whole system leadership.

Whole system leadership

Whole system leadership means attending to strategy, operations and relationships and having the leadership skills to balance the needs of each of these organisational elements.  To do this effectively you need to develop a collaborative mindset and skill-set in your leadership team.

On strategy, you might want to take heed of Chris Paton.  He spoke at the UK Shared Services Annual Conference, recommending you deploy strategy as a live framework rather than a five-year document, obsolete from the moment the ink on it has dried.  This requires agility in operations to ensure the strategy remains flexible and responsive.  In operations, you’ll need to use this agility to operate beyond vertical silos, invest in efficient common services and then automate.

On relationships, you must provide staff with a vision of how digital technology can improve their working lives and the quality of the services they provide and then invest in their skills to deliver those services excellently.

But whole system leadership means more than that too.  There is a real risk of becoming too internally focused and too design-led and as such lose sight of your customers’ needs.  So, you must balance the external pull of the market in which you are operating against the internal pull to efficiency.  And you must balance the rational, design-led approach to optimising operations with the developmental, emotional engagement of the people you lead, and serve.  This is where effective organisational diagnosis comes in.

Collaborative partnering

In the spirit of reflecting on the month, and indeed the year to date, I’d like to share some of the work I’ve been doing recently.  I’ve undertaken a lot of work with clients in developing a system-wide view of their organisational effectiveness.   We then create joined-up development plans to deliver organisational readiness for the future, perhaps a future of digital transformation.  And it’s curious that I’ve delivered more facilitated learning in collaborative partnering skills than any other leadership development topics this year.

You can’t replace customer service with machines, but you need to be ready to work with the machines, collaboratively partner across organisational boundaries and lead the whole system.

 

Jeremy J Lewis

@growthepig

#growthepig

How effective is your organisation at making change stick?

First published on LinkedIn September 28, 2016

People often think transformational change is all about aligning your organisational structure with your strategy and improving the efficiency of your business processes.

They are partly right.

Your organisation is a system with three basic levers – strategy, business process and people.  Transformational change most commonly addresses the issue of aligning strategy to business processes through restructuring.  But unless you also engage your people in your strategy and nurture the right team culture to deliver it, your organisation will look good on paper, but will fail to live up to your expectations.

The role of leaders in making change stick

There is another lever that determines your overall chances of success, and that is your leadership capability to hold these disparate yet connected elements of the organisation in alignment.

The problem with many transformations is that they overplay the rational and structured elements of that system (strategy, organisation and business process), underplay the emotional connections (people, engagement and team culture), and often do not assess leadership capability at all.

So, how effective is your approach at making transformational change stick?  How have you engaged your people in the new strategy and nurtured the right team culture to deliver it?  And how as leaders will you hold it all together?

Take part in my research project

I am undertaking some research into the factors that make organisational change stick, which considers this systems-thinking view and other factors that promote or inhibit change.  I’d be very grateful for your opinion.  The survey will only take a few minutes.

You can take the survey here

Please share with your network

Many thanks

Jeremy J Lewis
@growthepig

The Great Big Data Swindle: aka you don’t Grow the Pig by weighing it

First published in LinkedIn August 9, 2016

It’s not the quantity of data that’s important – it’s the way you use it that truly matters

– Matthew Sharp, Senior Hacker at LinkedIn

Weigh the pig

We all know (especially if you’ve ever listened to me ranting on about it) that you don’t Grow the Pig by weighing it.  And yet everyone’s talking about Big Data. The truth is you should only measure what you can use.

The first example of Big Data dates as far back as William the Conqueror.  His commission in 1086, twenty years after the invasion and defeat of the English in 1066, heralded the end of the Dark Ages. He commissioned the report to assess the extent of the land and resources owned in England so he could maximise the tax due. He needed the tax revenue to wage more war in northern France.

It took around a year to complete the data collection.  Some 900+ years later, a vault in Kew holds the resulting two volumes.  It really is an astonishing story. Commissioners were dispatched to create a comprehensive survey that would provide irrefutable evidence of every single landowner, villager, smallholder, tenant and slave, together with the extent of land owned, occupied and the livestock grazed upon it, as well as details of all buildings. Across the whole of England! It was said at the time that “there was no single…pig left out” (which seems apt here). Its definition as irrefutable fact led it to being named after the Christian tradition of Judgement Day, or Domesday, where every soul is laid bare for judgement.

Anyway, William the Conqueror knew how he was going to use his Big Data, to tax people. Ironically, he died before Domesday was completed. Do we know what Big Data is being collected for nowadays? Do you know why you would want to collect Big Data on your customers, processes, people, and what you are going to use it for?

Domesday today

At a societal level, here in the present day, governments and large corporations appear to be maintaining Domesday databases through Big Data. In fact, Big Data goes beyond databases.  Those governments and large corporations managed it through interconnected networks using the power of the internet and social media. And now, instead of manually collecting all our data by hand in large ledgers, they do it automatically in these vast technology networks that track and model everything from simulating the outcome of referendums to predicting what you will do tomorrow based on your credit score, geographical location and shoe size. Ok, so I made that last bit up, but you get my drift.

Liz Ryan (CEO of the Human Workplace) observes that “when in doubt, fearful humans put their trust in data! (Bad choice)”. Should we put our trust in Big Data, or is it all a bit too much like Big Brother, all a bit too scary? Surely it is us who provide the data that makes Big Data scary. It’s scary not because the machines we have created are getting smarter, but because we are now processing information on such a scale it is impossible to keep track of it.

Paralysis by analysis

And the truth is that data will only go so far. The measurement of demographics, credit cores, shoe sizes, whatever, is useless. What matters is the interpretation of that data into meaningful decisions.  Keep your data limited to what you can use to make effective decisions, and learn to use it, talk to your customers and staff and discuss it. Progress your collection to more sophisticated analytics when you need to, but avoid the pull to paralysis through information overload. Do not let the tail wag the dog, or the pig, for that matter.

(rant over)

Jeremy J Lewis

@growthepig

#growthepig is my philosophy of organisation design and development

Take Alan’s advice: a three-step approach to become a trusted business adviser

First published on LinkedIn July 13, 2016

To paraphrase Alan Partridge, “Lynn’s not my wife.  She’s my accountant.  Hard-worker, but there’s no affection.”

The work of corporate support functions has changed.  This applies to accounting, human resources, learning and development, legal services, risk, IT, corporate strategy and planning, financial and systems analysis, project and change managers and more.  In fact for anyone who has professional experience, limited direct authority over the use of their expertise and the desire to have some impact at an organisational level.

Regardless of Alan’s view, the traditional role of hard-working expert represents only half the story.  You must be able to have that expertise listened to and used.  To do this, you require a commercial ‘business-like’ mindset, a collaborative partnering approach and the skills to develop trusted adviser relationships.  Dare I say it, to develop a certain affection?

The most effective way for professionals in corporate functions to gain respect, lead change and add value to their organisations is to develop these skills.  I have helped the corporate functions of B2B and B2C private service sector clients and clients in the Health sector do this.  Whilst each of the organisations I’ve worked with is unique, with its own unique set of circumstances, they often share similar challenges, i.e. how to:

  • Find the time to cut down on doing the work in order to build relationships?
  • Get business managers to take accountability for its finances, people, IT investment, etc?
  • Prevent the professionals from ‘going native’?
“Knowing me, Alan Partridge; knowing you, my trusted business adviser; Aha!”

You start by adopting a new professional mindset (‘Knowing me’), and go on to develop deeper relationships (‘Knowing you’) and then consistently apply these fundamentals in your role (‘Aha!’).

Knowing me

Professionals are increasingly anxious within organisations.  Two examples of the risks corporate functions face from their customer-facing colleagues are continual downsizing of the ‘back office’ and the democratisation of information through technology.  Professionals in corporate functions must continually demonstrate their worth to the organisation.  And be seen to do so.

Unfortunately, professionals have an unconscious tendency to pay more attention to their own discipline than the direct strategic goals of the organisations they work for.  We call this ‘basic-assumption’ mentality.  In this mode, the corporate function’s directs its behaviour at meeting the unconscious needs of its members by reducing anxiety.  However, professionals have been trained to use their basic-assumption mentality in a sophisticated way that supports the organisation’s strategic objectives.  This sounds confusing, so let me give a few examples[1]

Finance

Chartered accountant firms require their junior staff to be dependent on senior staff while they are training.  This approach delivers a qualified accountant who insists on being independent and behaves hierarchically to juniors.   They review all their subordinates’ work and hold on to decision-making.  This is the basic assumption of dependency, which is sensibly deployed to manage risk.  Remember the partners of the accounting firm are personally liable and stand to lose their all their worldly possessions if things go wrong.

There is a high risk of this behaviour degenerating into an insistence for freedom for its own sake.  This leads to a lack of accountability to the organisation.  It can lead to a culture of subordination and hierarchical power requiring unquestioning obedience from juniors (and business managers).

Human Resources

The HR professional deploys collaboration with management as the best way to deliver change.  We call this the basic assumption of pairing.  Pairing is a psychological coping strategy where a helpless person assumes two other people will come together to create a messiah baby to save their world.

If overplayed, such a collaborative approach can lead to colluding with the business, whilst simultaneously refusing to examine whether HR interventions help or support the organisation’s strategic objectives.  This can lead to a culture of ‘soft’ HR outputs without the requisite action required to make the change.  For example, creating future-oriented organisational vision and values statements that end up merely as posters on the office wall.

Information Technology

IT professionals have the capacity for sophisticated use of the fight/flight basic assumption mentality.  They sell their proposed technology solutions to clients whilst defending against alternative solutions with doomsday premonitions of catastrophic outcomes if they are not heeded.

Frustratingly often, IT projects do not deliver the purported benefits.  When that happens, the fight/flight mentality degenerates into denial of responsibility, assertion that the IT professional is still right and that the business managers need to change to exploit the technology in full.  Projecting responsibility in this way disables the professional/client relationship from productively devising a course of action to resolve issues.  This can lead to a culture of paranoia and aggressive competitiveness.  It can also lead to a preoccupation with the ‘enemy within’ as well as perceived external enemies.   And it can lead to the promulgation of complex and bewildering rules to control these dangers.

Professionals really need to look at themselves and recognise the approach they are prone to taking.  Only then can they choose a new professional role and identity.

Knowing you

When professionals have gained a deeper understanding of themselves, they can choose a productive professional identity (i.e. one of collaborative business partner).  They are then better placed to notice what drives and motivates the business managers they are seeking to partner.  Developing relationships is probably the most important single thing a professional can do.  In this way they can avoid the dual risks of (a) being treated like a ‘pair of hands’ to do the tasks their business colleagues cannot or do not want to do and (b) being treated like a specialist expert who sits outside the workgroup and can only comment from the sidelines.  Importantly, avoiding these risks actually saves time.

Not only can professionals avoid these risks, but they can transcend them to become a trusted business adviser.  They do this by sitting within the workgroup and operating collaboratively (read: high support and high challenge).  This allows them the opportunity to help the business take accountability.

It also allows them to develop into the strategic partner that not only turns data into insight, but also brings perspective and commerciality.  This enables them to retain their professional integrity without going ‘native’.

Aha!

These skills are neither magical nor mysterious, but come about by mastering the basics of ‘knowing me, knowing you’ and practising the skills needed to deepen relationships.

I often run business simulations and action learning sets with clients so they can practise and reflect on their progress in developing their collaborative partnering skills.

And so the penny finally drops.  As Jim Rohn once said, “Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines, practised every day”.

And I agree.

And even, I suspect, would Alan Partridge.

 

Jeremy J Lewis

@growthepig

[1] These examples have been adapted from the work of Jon Stokes (1994). The Unconscious at work in Groups and Teams: Contributions from the Work of Wilfred Bion, in Anton OBHOLZER and Vega Z. ROBERTS (Eds.) The Unconscious at Work. London, Routledge.