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Did Charles Handy have a crystal ball?

In May 2001 I had the good fortune of attending a well-known conference within the UK HR industry on board the Oriana. This event is an annual tradition and held on the ship for three days during which time delegates are able to attend a variety of discussions on emerging people issues and, of course, network like machines with an assortment of suppliers, peers and organisations represented.

That year the keynote speaker for the conference was Charles Handy, a great thought leader who, with Irish wit and charm, did not disappoint in the clarity of his view points or challenging the status quo. I got to meet him briefly with this wife Elizabeth as they had chosen to remain on board for an additional three days of the conference (other speakers had scurried off before setting sail on Friday night).

Handy introduced a rapt audience to his latest book at that time, The Elephant and the Flea, which proclaimed the rise of ‘fleas’ – or individuals who would work independently, flexibly and creatively across a number of organisations in their career – versus ‘elephants’ who remained stable in their careers working for a large corporation. Amongst the many ideas that he puts forward in the book Handy identified four key challenges for organisations over the coming 20 years:

  1. how to grow bigger, but remain small and personal;
  2. how to combine creativity with efficiency;
  3. how to be prosperous but socially acceptable; and
  4. how to reward both the owners of the ideas as well as the owners of the company.

Fast forward to 2016. Bombarded with the rising impact of the freelance economy, numerous reports on the future of work – including one from the World Economic Forum – the rapid acceleration of technological and social change and the words of Charles Handy are once again ringing in my ear.

We have been talking a lot about the future of work in the Change2020 hub, particularly as we pursue our vision to Embrace Ambiguity. Today we live in a VUCA world – volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous – and the pace of change is relentless and rapid. It requires news ways of thinking and a new mindset to gain competitive advantage and deliver impactful leadership. Moreover, the greater connection between people and organisations is changing the language of work and the expectations of the customer or client. It’s entrepreneurial meets big business in the face of massive disruption. Charles Handy was both right and way ahead of his time.

However, the most humbling recollection of hearing and meeting Charles Handy at the HR Forum is not only the relevance of his words but the timing of them. In May 2001 the world was breathtakingly different. There had been no 9/11, 7/7, Lehman Brothers collapse, technological revolution, GFC or Facebook (or any other social media) to accelerate the pace of change as all of these events have. A few short months later and we were staring at our TV screens (no tablets then people) for days – in my case at our local in London – as we grimly watched the events of 9/11 unfold.

Putting this into perspective for me in 2016 reminds me of three things: how far we have come, how far we have to go and how embracing new ways of thinking – and views about this issue – is going to be the key to building a sustainable future in business and as leaders.

Humour Champions

Calling all Humour Champions!

I am proud to work for Change2020 an organisation that has humour, as one of its values.  We embody this value in our creativity, laughter and fun.  We understand the serious nature of our business and the business of our clients and we aim to create working partnerships where great outcomes are achieved in an optimistic, positive, happy and energetic environment.

To me, humour at work does not mean telling jokes or being a stand-up comedian, it is about your mindset, your perspective, how you respond and how you approach tasks and activities.

Andrew Tarvin’s TED talk and Jacquelyn Smith’s Forbes article each identify the benefits of humour at work.  Their research-based evidence supports my own observations of the benefits of workplaces where humour is part of the fabric.

From my experience, as a Humour Champion, the benefits of humour at work include:

  • Enhanced working relationships
  • Less stress and tension
  • Greater engagement
  • Increased productivity
  • Creative problem solving
  • Higher levels of trust
  • Better outcomes
  • Improved culture
  • Perspective is maintained
  • Reduces boredom

So how can you be a Humour Champion (without being a comedian)?

  • Smile
  • Have fun as a team – work out what works for you and your colleagues
  • Opt for positive, not negative
  • Be yourself (be aware of what you find funny or makes you laugh)
  • Be curious and ask questions when things are getting too serious
  • Laugh with others (not at them)
  • Establish a routine to energise the office (particularly at that 3 pm slump) e.g. read a Dilbert cartoon; watch a short you-tube skit

The ambiguous and rapidly changing environment that we are all a part will require more Humour Champions in the workplace.  Give yourself permission to bring humour to the workplace and reap the benefits.

So apparently MBTI is not all about me…

Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), is an assessment tool that measures an individual’s preferences and how they make decisions. Change2020 regularly uses this assessment tool to build self-awareness and team effectiveness.

Prior to starting the role as Office and Team Coordinator at Change2020 I had not been exposed to an assessment tool of this type, but I was eager to be involved.  Naturally, as most people are, I was curious to find out about myself and the MBTI tool was a great place to start.

Apparently, I am an ESFJ – a “supportive contributor”.  After reviewing my report, I was not surprised by the results but the real benefit for me came when I shared my results with my team and they shared their profiles with me. I feel I am more considerate of how others like to work in my team, particularly those who fall into the opposite preference to me (for example; those who prefer to direct their energy as an introverted style vs myself who is a clear extrovert).

Completing MBTI has helped me to:

  • Resolve conflicts – learning to recognise that people aren’t wrong – just different
  • Recognise and play to people’s strengths
  • Communicate more effectively with others
  • Provide feedback to others for greater productivity
  • Relate to others with greater understanding
  • Be less judgemental
  • Appreciate the value of a diverse team.

Have you ever taken a personality test? What did it tell you about you and your preferences?

‘Hubris’ or ‘Arrogance’

‘Hubris’ or ‘Arrogance’ – A Workplace Problem?

The ancient Greek word ‘hubris’ means ‘arrogance’ in modern language.  ‘Hubris’ still gets a run in modern usage, usually directed at politicians to denote a detachment from electors.  It can be a problem in the workplace as it goes hand in hand with other negative traits.

The birth of democracy is assigned to 5 BC when it was the political model for Athens.  Essentially, everyone who was entitled to get a vote on all issues.  It was estimated that this allowed about 60,000 people to vote, excluding women, slaves and non-Athenians.  At the end of each year the voters were asked to cast a vote on the politicians whom they believed demonstrated the greatest amount of ‘hubris’, the unfortunate winner of the vote was then banned from Athens for ten years due to their belief that this extreme level of arrogance could lead to irrational and selfish acts.

It’s unlikely that workplaces will introduce the Athenian concept of dealing with ‘hubris’ but it has some attractions!

Is arrogance a problem in the workplace?

First of all, it portrays a certain exclusiveness, at odds with generating a positive and collaborative team.  While the workplace is largely a hierarchical establishment, this feature should be downplayed to get everyone to contribute beyond their level of appointment, it’s important people exceed their own expectation of their capacity to improve performance.  A reminder of where they stand in the pecking order does not support collaboration, co-operation or engagement.  People end up operating as puppets – which is neither good for them or the organisation.

Secondly, this is not to say that ‘hubris’ is necessarily a hierarchical feature.  I’m sure we’ve all worked in places where a new arrival is confident and smart and is happy to let everyone know it.  Using these fabulous traits for evil rather than good may result from an air of arrogance.  This attribute can derail individuals, teams, outcomes and organisations.

Thirdly, some believe ‘hubris’ on occasions can be justified because it’s essential to achieving great things. Steve Jobs’ style of operating is well known, the smartest and most arrogant person in the business but presumed necessary for Apple to achieve its market dominance. I am yet to be convinced about this but I only have anecdotal feedback and observations to support this position.

Fourthly, a culture of arrogance can be the end result when organisations tolerate top-down hubris.  This came to light through “Volkswagen’s Dieselgate scandal” and the subsequent investigation. This culture cost the CEO his job, tarnished the company’s reputation and resulted in significant fines.

It is time to tackle arrogance.

Fortunately, arrogance is a cluster of changeable behaviours, driven by relatively malleable beliefs. The starting point is admitting there is a problem.  This may be painful for both individuals and organisations. It will also take a desire to change, time and focused commitment.

For those people who display a bucket load of ‘hubris’ and no desire to change – it is probably best to cut your losses and exit them. This has a hint of an ‘Athenian’ approach without the vote.

Accelerating Teamwork

Optimising a Team’s Potential by Accelerating Teamwork

Workplaces depend on team effort more than ever.  What’s driving this?  In part, it’s the frenetic pace of change, redundancy was once an infrequent occurrence, now it can be a weekly event.  This creates ambiguity and uncertainty, which can be both exhausting and threatening at the same time.  One certainty amongst this uncertainty is that teamwork comes to the fore.  A united team, underpinned by its collective knowledge and experience, is going to better weather adverse situations.  A silver lining in this is that mutual effort accumulates and makes the next challenge easier to handle, a win/win for the organisation and the individual.

A challenging statistic from a survey by the Centre for Creative Leadership (CCL) indicated 86% of leaders surveyed believe that the capacity to work across demographic, geographic, stakeholder and other boundaries is extremely important.  Yet only 7% of these leaders described themselves as “very effective” at working in cross-boundary teams.

The consoling fact in this figure is there must be huge potential for organisations to harness this upside potential!

So how can this process of working as a team be accelerated?

Self-awareness is the starting point for accelerating teamwork.  Feedback is key to self-awareness.  Feedback should come from multiple sources including assessment tools, colleagues, third-party business parties (suppliers, customers), associates and friends. A high degree of self-awareness allows each team member to excel and exploit his or her full potential.  What this includes is identifying each person’s skill potential; their operating style; and where they may need development.

Encouraging individuals to share something about themselves is a good step towards accelerating team development.  It’s important to provide an environment conducive to this that promotes openness. A simple team building exercise is to ask people to select a photograph or symbol that means something to them, they then share what it means to them and why, invariably you learn much more than where they went to school or their favourite food.  Once people start to talk about their photo/symbol you can ask more questions and understand whom they are.

A shared purpose will accelerate teamwork.  At times the conversation around purpose is missed if the team assumes they have a shared understanding of the “why”. A real conversation, with no ‘super chickens’ (a term from Margaret Heffernan’s TED Talk – “Why it’s time to forget the pecking order at work”) around the team’s purpose, followed by the underpinning behaviours achieves this objective.

Being conscious of the desired team behaviours requires relentless focus (we are only human!). If the team selects behaviours such as curiosity; challenge; listening; and optimism then a strategy may be to focus on one behaviour until it becomes “how we work”, then progress to the next.

Optimising a team’s potential takes time and effort.

So what can you as the leader do right now?

  • Get people talking – face to face, over the phone, Skype – whatever media is available
  • Have some fun together – this doesn’t mean the team has to climb the high ropes – this can be simple: individuals share a Dilbert cartoon that appeals to them; using an abstract image ask individuals to identify what they “see”; have a ‘cook-off’ and ‘break bread’ together, humour and fun is a key ingredient in highly satisfied teams
  • Buddy up individuals – this is a great idea until you are able to get the team together (either physically or virtually)
  • Collaboratively establish a team charter – these are the norms that you and the team establish to ensure efficiency and success.
  • Role model the behaviours you expect from your team – the team will take cues from the leader about what is expected and acceptable behaviour – discuss these expectations as soon as possible with the team

Accelerating teamwork is possible.  The benefits will be worth the effort.

Lessons from Dr Who

Lessons for Leadership from the Classic TV Series, Dr. Who

The iconic Dr Who first hit the screen in a BBC broadcast in 1963.  It’s now the longest-running program in TV history.  Its longevity is due to its clever format that allows it to refresh with new scenarios and periodically new doctors.  Like many TV shows, there is a subtle message built into the show – good over evil, success over failure, risk-taking over risk avoidance, collaboration over isolation, to list a few.

Each episode offers a different scenario and they are quite ambiguous, meaning the viewers really don’t know what to expect from episode to episode. Bouncing around through history, from the past to the future, allows many themes and concepts to develop, it really is like a free (and entertaining) education on how to engage and build creative workplaces – critical elements of great leadership.

What are the takeaways from the show, particularly for leadership?

  • First up, hopping into an ex-police phone box and appearing in a new era that throws out new challenges should be like our modern day work environment. Imagine a Dr Who where every time he landed he found himself in the same place and era; it simply wouldn’t compel viewers to ‘stay tuned’. A stifled workplace with no buzz of excitement simply does not compel employees to perform! This is a challenge for leaders.
  • Next, Dr Who depends on his helpers to get him out of tight jams. He’d have been long demolished by a Dalek or Cyborg if he’d been going it alone. What is the nature of the help? It is collegial and independent.  By collegial I mean working together for the overall good; by independent I mean it’s distinguished by allowing the helpers to use their initiative to get out of jams.  Dr Who doesn’t have all the answers and needs the help of others to survive.  Imagine a show where the ‘star’ told everyone what they had to do; it would be boring, a bit like a command and control workplace.
  • Then, the show doesn’t just focus on history it jumps into the future. It allows the imagination to roam about ‘what could be’.  Does your workplaces lack imagination?  Imaginative and creative leaders think about the future and embrace the ambiguity of future events.
  • Dr Who is a calculated risk taker. Whenever he hits the button in the Tardis to a new adventure, he does it in the confidence that risk is not unhealthy; it is the essence of being alive.  If the shows’ viewers knew where the next adventure was it would be boring, turning up to work every day with a scheduled and configured routine makes for boring work.  Great leaders aim to make the workplace interesting; it increases productivity!
  • When a Dr Who runs out of steam, interest or hits the time to go and smell the roses, the producers cleverly introduce a new Doctor. Always resplendent as a new character and different to the previous Doctors.  A clever way to maintain viewer interest and to refresh the show; some workplaces need to institute a ‘Dr Who replacement program’, particularly when things begin to flag. This could mean new faces or a new style and approach to leadership; regardless, variety is an imperative!
  • Dr Who never forgets the importance of lightness and humour, while he faces tense situations he always paints a positive view and optimism for a successful result; he’s also comfortable with self-mocking and not taking himself too seriously. We the viewers know he’ll be back next week with another dose of optimism and self-deprecation.

What are your takeaways from Dr Who?   How can this formula be implanted into the workplace?

Embrace Ambiguity

Embrace Ambiguity – creating legacy with the agile mindset

This article was previously published in the July 2016 edition of Entrepreneurs and Innovation Magazine (a UK publication) and just in case you missed it, the full article is below; 

‘Change’ is occurring at a pace unprecedented in history.  By example, the Roman Empire essentially used the same military strategy to create its empire over 700 years with little modification, a successful model that had longevity.  By contrast military technology today is changing at lightning speed, it is not that long ago that ‘drone warfare’ entered our vocabulary, the ability of a ‘pilot’ to sit in an office in Arizona and fly missions anywhere in the world.  The next step will be ‘drone warships’, obviating the need to have crewed ships.

‘Change’ is no longer a matter of choice.  If you fail to change you will be left behind.  Amazon is currently developing the capacity to deliver parcels by drone.  The recipient will spread out a receiving mat in the backyard and the drone will land and leave the parcel.  Is the courier industry contemplating this development with their fleets of vans?  It is easy for an industry to miss the wave, who goes to a video store any more?  Movies are delivered to you, streamed over the Internet.

No industry is immune to ‘change’.  In fact ‘change’ is probably a wrong descriptor, it sends the message that this is a momentous exercise that once completed will provide breathing space till the next ‘change’.  An unnecessary impost imposed by a new management regime to make its mark.  Preferable sets of descriptors to ‘change’ are ‘evolve, adapt and mitigate’ with ‘agility’.  ‘Evolve’ indicates you have read the winds and your business is at the cutting edge, leading the pack.  ‘Adapt’ is reading the metadata to tell you what is likely to happen, not what is happening, making sure you do not get left behind by the evolutionary businesses.  If a company is reading the traditional ‘measures of performance’ it is probably at risk of missing the next adaptation.  ‘Mitigation’ is something you want to avoid; it means you are peddling hard because you missed the wave to ‘evolve and adapt’ – you lacked ‘agility’.

To ‘evolve and adapt’ is a 24/7 event; it requires an organisation to be ‘agile’.  Everyone in the organisation needs to be ‘agile’, not just those defined as managers.  This universal requirement reflects the one critical change from the 20th to the 21st Centuries.  ‘Knowledge and information’ in the 20th Century were largely controlled by a limited number of people.  Teachers, for example, were ‘knowledge and information experts’, a position attained by their education, experience and what they had read in books; there was a ‘monopoly’ on knowledge and information and its dispersal.  Now there is no limit or control on the access to knowledge and information, it is no longer a monopoly or a ‘top down process’.  The Internet potentially make everyone an ‘expert’.  Managers should no longer be appointed on what they know, it should be on their agility to consume and interpret new information and reformat it to define how the organisation needs to evolve or adapt.

The term ‘disruptive industries’ has entered our vocabulary.  Essentially people thinking with ‘agility’ outside the box to deliver an old service in a new way.  Disruption is really just evolution, turn an industry on its head and become a monopoly supplier is a smart strategy to making significant revenue quickly.  Why enter a business sector and mirror the way it currently operates, taking the small, start up margin you can eke out while you establish your business?  Shooting to undermine the margins of your competitors by a new way of operating makes more sense, agility at its best.

Established businesses operate with a mindset that the counter to ‘disruptive players’ is to ‘change’.  This is usually an expensive and disruptive process.  It can impact on the ‘bottom line’; the assumption is short-term pain for long-term gain.  Unfortunately most change is premised on what is happening now, or in the immediate future.  ‘Change’ rarely discriminates between previously ‘good and bad practice’; everything goes.   Change is usually based on an embryonic understanding of the future and a large dollop of experience of the past, however, what if the past experience is invalid for the future?  Surely it makes more sense to continuously ‘evolve’ with ‘agility’ as the accepted best practice.  Sequential ‘change’ is a hangover from the 20th Century.

‘Agility’ is an organic process.  It is a mindset that needs to be embedded in the operating style of everyone in an organisation.  It is the only counter to the increasing number of ‘industry disruptors’ and dynamic change.  The key features of this organic and agile process are:

  • It shouldn’t involve expensive, time consuming and disruptive change and restructure
  • It should ensure that everyone is empowered to be an ‘agile contributor’ to the evolution of the organisation
  • It should be non-hierarchical to ensure that a master-servant attitude does not stifle creativity
  • It should encourage networking, knowledge accumulation and sharing – it should encourage self research and the contribution of ideas
  • It should value knowledge, ideas and ‘out of the box’ solutions’ by demonstrable reward
  • It should encourage free thinking and support education
  • It should value ambiguity and uncertainty and celebrate ‘jumping on the next wave’
  • Most of all – it should value ‘agility’ in personal contribution, structure and investment decisions

Importantly the mandating of ‘agility’ to the people in an organisation should not be open slather.  There is ‘good and bad agility’.  ‘Bad agility’ is the actions of rogue traders in the financial market, while making money for their company and themselves it is done unethically.  ‘Good agility’ is framed by ethical standards and clearly enunciated values and principles that are understood and persistently reinforced.

The business world will increasingly become ambiguous – the only solution is to embrace ‘agility’ and to join the team pushing the  ‘evolutionary’ envelope.

Join the Movement

One of my favourite TED Talks is Derek Sivers’– How to Start a Movement.  It is a great resource that is often used in leadership development programs to start a great conversation around the role of the leader.

At Change2020 we sometimes start “dancing by ourselves” particularly when we commence partnering with businesses to transform and transition. This soon changes as the “first follower” joins the dance and then the second until the movement has started.   We love this element of our work.

Recently we started a business changing movement – and while there was limited dancing – we officially began the movement for leaders (and subsequently organisations) to Embrace ambiguity. (Change2020’s vision)

Joining the movement to – Embrace ambiguity. –  will result in leaders remaining relevant.  The skills that leaders have are excellent and will continue to remain relevant but this will not be enough in a world where change is the way of life.  Embracing ambiguity will also enable opportunities to be seized, complex problems to be solved, creativity to be released and stress levels to decrease.

BUT, how do leaders Embrace ambiguity?

Leaders will need to do things differently. We have developed 9 habits that will assist leaders to Embrace ambiguity:

  1. Take a deep breath
  2. Take the reins
  3. Focus on what matters
  4. Rewire expectations
  5. Hatch butterfly moments
  6. Open the floodgates
  7. Challenge idea killers
  8. Be courageous
  9. Let go and move on

This movement is not going to happen overnight and it is going to be challenging for leaders to “flip” the way many currently operate.  It will require focus and support from colleagues and friends.

A starting point for embracing ambiguity is working out your tolerance of ambiguity – low, moderate or high.  Change2020 has designed a survey to assess your tolerance of ambiguity.

To be part of the movement, take our survey by clicking here and we will provide you with your tolerance of ambiguity score and some tips on how to join the movement to Embrace ambiguity.

Be a first follower and join the movement…..

Change is occurring at a pace unprecedented in history. By example, the Roman Empire used the same military strategy to create its Empire over 700 years with little modification – a successful model that had longevity. By contrast military technology today is changing at lightning speed. It is not that long ago that ‘drone warfare’ entered our vocabulary, the ability of a ‘pilot’ to sit in an office in Arizona and fly missions anywhere in the world. The next step will be ‘drone warships’, obviating the need to have crewed ships.

Amazon is currently developing the capacity to deliver parcels by drone. The recipient will spread out a receiving mat in the backyard and the drone will land and leave the parcel. Is the courier industry contemplating this development with their fleets of vans? It is easy for an industry to miss the wave. Who goes to a video shop any more? Movies are delivered to you, streamed over the internet.

Being Memorable

Getting Your Message Across and Being Memorable

Anything to do with change can often be challenging to communicate. To be memorable and to get your key messages across, you need not only need to think about the why, how and the what (ie. Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle framework) you also need structure.

A presentation, meeting or discussion has three elements to it, the beginning, the middle and the end, obviously. Each part is critical but each has a different effect.

The beginning links into the term ‘primacy of learning’ – this is when you are likely to have the greatest effect. This is where you need to make your key points in putting forward your proposition. It is what the listener is most likely to retain cognitively. Many people thread their key thoughts throughout a presentation but this will only dilute the effect.

The end is also critical as it benefits from the ‘recency of learning’- we all know that what you hear last is likely to remain with you, but not to the same extent as what you hear at the start.

Primacy of learning is king in the process.

This brings us to what you say in the middle to be effective and to reduce the clouding over effect in the eyes of the people you are presenting to.

So how do you make this section effective?

Hedwig von Resotrff (1906-1962) a German psychiatrist identified what she termed the “isolation effect”, now known as the von Restorff effect. Essentially when multiple homogeneous stimuli are presented, a stimulus that stands out from the rest will be remembered more effectively.

What does this mean for your presentation? You’ll need to seed the middle with interesting inserts to break what could be the monotony of the middle. This is not to say the middle is not important but it’s likely to be filled with ‘what, when, how’ type details. For example, while providing details you might want to throw in an interesting story, experience or anecdote.

The logic of this is simply demonstrated, if you were given a list of tasks to undertake and all the tasks were in black ink but one was in blue, the one you’re most likely to remember well is the blue.

The other important technique in the middle section is to selectively use repetition, particularly for the information that is important for the listener to retain. However, repetition should be used sparingly as it can become annoying if you repeat everything. To quote William Rastetter, CEO of IDEC Pharmaceuticals, ‘The first time you say something, it’s heard, the second time, it’s recognised, and the third time, it’s learned.’

Another important technique is to make the middle interactive – ask questions and seek input, particularly if it supports your proposition. Participants aligning their comments to your comments will either directly or indirectly lead to greater retention in their memory. I like the observation that ‘when you’re introduced to someone the only name you’re likely to hear is your own’.

These are some simple techniques to help you communicate change (or anything actually) with impact and therefore making the message memorable.