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5 Critical Leadership Conversations

There is a critical but largely ignored aspect of leadership success, the conversations that leaders have that are designed to engage, enthuse, direct and motivate their work colleagues to deliver sustainable improved results. The quality of conversation in an organisation is an accurate barometer to the quality of the thinking taking place and therefore largely determines the quality of the work that gets done.

There are 5 radical action conversations’ that leaders should have that hold the key to sustainable success.

Let’s start by defining some terms. By ‘radical’ we mean conversations that go to the root, core, essence and heart or whatever it is you are talking about. Far too many conversations in organisations are too vague, superficial and simply skim over the topic leaving assumptions unsaid, actions unclear and confusion abounds. Such conversations consume valuable face time and create work but add little value and usually have to be repeated several times as the participants scramble around for clarity. By ‘action’ here we mean conversations that drive accountability and convert intentions into decisive follow through. “What specifically are we going to do as a result of the conversation we have just had?” Is a great summary question, not often used at the end of a conversation, however if used it will yield some interesting insights into the quality of the interaction. And finally by ‘conversations’ we mean the entire cascade of dialogue and human interaction that results from a particular topic being discussed throughout the entire organisation.

The first conversation leaders need to consider is The Strategic Conversation’ and is the toughest one to have. The aim of this conversation is to create a compelling future vision for the organisation, function or department, one that talks to the head and to the heart of everyone in the organisation and helps create clarity of direction and most importantly a much needed sense of priority. To lead this conversation requires real authenticity and a degree of courage, as well as the capacity to imagine a bright future. It is a necessary conversation for leaders to have if your organisation is to become future-proof and not get stuck in the operational realities of day-to-day work.

SurveysThe second most important conversation to have is ‘The Customer Conversation’. Existing customers can be a real source of insight into how your organisation is performing and will give you valuable knowledge about why they buy, what they want, and how they feel about your products and services. The explosion of web-based customer surveys have their place but come nowhere close to the insights that can be garnered from an open conversation with customers. Leaders need to be in close personal contact with customers and should amplify the comments they make – both good and bad – throughout the organisation as it reminds everyone that the work they do is really all about serving the people who ultimately create the reason to exist.

‘The Execution Conversation’ is critical for leaders to create a clear line of sight between their strategic intent and the reality of operational performance. Keeping people focused on the strategic destination and linking the work that they do to the outcomes that are being delivered keeps everyone alive to the chance of improvement. Once direction is set and success clarified then everyone needs to know how the work they do is important and where they fit into the ‘big picture’.  This is the key role of the execution conversation and when done well can align scarce improvement resource and focus it into areas that really matter.

Potentially the most ‘fluffy’ of the 5 key conversations leaders can have is ‘The Cultural Conversation’. To give it some substance for the pragmatists, this is all about the way we do things around here when no one else is looking. In my consultancy smilet faceexperience I often ask what frustrates people the most about working in their environment and this usually yields a litany of relatively trivial rituals and practises that sap energy and distract people from doing the work they want to do. Most of these can be changed but never seem to get addressed and leaders can easily remove such obstacles and ‘frustration factors’ in people’s lives. This is a source of quick wins and can pay huge dividends in terms of motivation and access to discretionary effort, so is really worth doing. Once these frustrations are removed then talking seriously about what kind of place  we want to work in and how can we make it so, can be a hugely enabling discussion for people to participate in and can yield disproportionate results in terms of productivity improvements.

Sharp pencilThe final conversation is the most common ‘The Effectiveness Conversation’ where leaders spotlight current performance and examine the gap between this and the desired results. This conversation comes in many forms and the most productive form focuses on the future not the past. It is a tautology to say that your organisation is perfectly tuned to give you the results you are getting at the moment, so if you want better results then something has to change. The effectiveness conversation is designed to discover what and how? It should be approached with a large degree of humility and curiosity, as if what you had to change is so obvious then it is pretty likely someone will already have changed it. Leaders should enter these conversations with a series of very open questions and keep any judgement to an absolute minimum. A real challenge when the gap between existing performance and desired results gets too big and impatience abounds…

Take stock of the conversations you are having at work and focus on those that deliver real value to you and your organisation. The quality of the conversations you are having are a mark of the quality of the relationships you have and in my experience no performance challenge can transcend the quality of relationships that exist between the people aiming to deliver any challenge.

Radical Action Conversations cut to the very core of the adaptive challenge all organisations face. Done well, they amplify potential, enable leaders to tap organisational assets and in short they are the difference that makes the difference. If you are looking for better quality results, you need better quality actions. Such actions are derived from better quality ideas and opportunities which in turn are delivered by better quality conversations.

Helping leaders conduct these Radical Action Conversations is our sweet spot. If you want to learn more then please get in touch and we can have a conversation about how we can help.


Change without Drama – 10 Top Tips for Change Makers…

The job of a Change Maker, to borrow a much used phrase, is to ‘comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable’. Despite the huge amount of change we are all exposed to in our day-to-day lives, the psychology of resistance has not changed one iota. Put simply, we still prefer what we know and are familiar with and we will naturally resist the extra effort required to change.

The basic psychology is that people move away from pain and move towards pleasure. As a Change Maker the conclusion is clear, make change appealing and fun and people will be attracted to it and make the status quo painful and hard work. This is easier said than done however, so here are a few ‘tips of the trade’ that experience has taught me work in most organisations.

Tip #1 – Play with those that want to play – some folk have a predilection for change, start with them and create a game changing internal team. To help our clients identify these people we use the GC Index® which is an online assessment tool that measures how individuals can make an impact inside their organisations. By looking at two dimensions – Imagination & Obsession – the psychometric identifies the five roles that are critical for a Game-Changing Team to exist. Such tools bring science into what was previously an intuitive decision, and one that was often prone to failure. If you are interested in finding out some more click here.

Tip #2 – Improve your tolerance of failure – the way failure is dealt with is a sure sign of how successful any change process / programme will be. Stop asking ‘who?’ Why dispense large amounts of energy to discover who is responsible when, once they have been found, nothing else changes? The working assumption is that carelessness can be avoided if put under the spotlight. No it can’t. The ‘why?’ question is far more powerful. In change, failure is inevitable unless risks are totally eliminated, in which case the status quo will prevail. How you deal with failure is key to your success, failure is the ‘University of Life’ giving you a tutorial; so pay attention as the fees for the session can be steep! My advice is fail forward and fail fast.

Tip #3 – Remove rigidity, replace with agility – learn quickly what works and what doesn’t, in your organisation. Beware, ‘Steering Committees’ and too much process and bureaucracy wrapped around change. Steering Committees are misnamed, they should be called Brake Committees as their very existence slows things down. If you have to oversee a change programme outside of your normal management structure then at least call them Learning Committees so they are reminded that their job is to become a forum for lessons to be shared, new habits to be applauded as well as decisions to be taken.

Tip #4 – Apply the 10 meter rule – the person that works within 10 meters of any problem is the person who knows more about the problem than anyone else on the planet. Talk to them, ask great questions, be interested, listen carefully and with empathy and they will give you all the insight you need to help solve the problem. After all they live with it every day, they see the consequences and it will bother them that it just isn’t right. Also, they probably have a few ideas on what can be done to solve it too, it’s just nobody has asked them.

Tip #5 – Apply the 10 mile rule – zoom out away from the problem and bring in people who are seeing it for the first time. These somewhat naïve challengers are best equipped to help re-frame the challenge and inject some new thinking into the process. Outsiders are not encumbered by the prevailing paradigm, they do not know the art of the possible around here, so are much more likely to upturn a long held belief and assumption and discover a ‘new’ way of approaching the problem. They have to have credibility but their voice should be heard.

Tip #6 – Mind the gap – take a look at what’s missing as well as what’s present. Adopt a future focus and develop a compelling picture of what destination you are heading towards. Measure the gap between where you are and where you want to be and develop future focussed measures to encourage you to drive forward. Far too many measures are backward looking, it’s your speed of progress that counts more than the distance you have covered.

Tip #7 – Catch people doing it right – the focus on non-compliance and statistical problem measurement rarely encourages people to look at instances when the problem did not occur, when everything worked well. Focusing on when things go well changes the psychology of the interaction. Asking what happened when great results have been delivered have people attracted to the discussion as opposed to the far more familiar and habitual, ‘what went wrong?’ discussion. The power of the positive discussion is to replicate success, a far more rewarding challenge than eliminating failure, although the content of the discussions will be much the same the feeling of the discussions are very different.

Tip #8 – Look in strange places – your organisation and how it operates is perfectly formed to give you the results and outcomes you are getting now. If you want different results then you may have to look elsewhere. Who is struggling with the same challenges you face and how are they tackling them. A few moments desk research can take you to some surprising places, so open Google and be curious, see where this takes you. A discussion with and / or  visit to another organisation can be very eye-opening.

 Tip #9 – Get nature on your side – the great outdoors can do wonders to change people’s perspective. Use walk and talk sessions to discuss challenges and opportunities where you feel the wind in your hair, the sun on your back and the exertion of walking. All combine to shake up the mind-set and encourage people to think differently. The quality of conversation increases dramatically when the mobile phones and laptops are out of sight and out of mind for a short while.

Tip #10 – Use your only real USP well – the folk who work for you do not work for anyone else and creating ways to tap into their natural curiosity, desire to succeed and competitive spirit is the fuel that drives every successful change process and will create a hard to copy competitive advantage. Make your change process attractive and enjoyable, remove the fear of failure and celebrate successes when they occur and you will have all the key ingredients to future proof your organisation.

If you need any help with this challenge then please contact us and we can co-create an approach that will work for you.

love change

Leading change : How to LOVE CHANGE

Love change when leading change is not easy.

Leading change is complex and challenging, so we’re going to show you how to Love Change and transform your results!  Everyone who ever writes about change (especially me) normally thinks about change in terms of Kubler-Ross curves, whether in the back of their mind or front and centre of their thinking. In my view using Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s work from the 60s on the emotional impacts of grief during bereavement as a basis for simply outlining the personal reactions to change is still as relevant as ever.

In summary, Kubler-Ross’s research has been extended, adapted and applied across various other subject areas including the emotional impacts of change. For the purposes of this article, an appreciation of the basic model is sufficient – the emotions expressed during a change programme are likely to be: Read more

culture change

Is it really time for culture change?

The established ‘way of doing things’ is just not delivering the high performance, competitive edge, or that market-leading position that you need…. “We need culture change around here or we’re history”.

But, just before anything gets changed, before the HR and Communications teams are wound up, before Advisors are appointed etc., ask yourself these two questions:

  1. What exactly is the existing culture?
  2. Will it, consistently acted out, deliver what our customers really value most?

In truth, there are a couple of supplementary questions to both these two. For example, “How do you really know what the culture is, what’s your evidence for this?” And to the second question, “When was the last time you discussed with a customer, how your culture delivers something they really value? What did they say?”

When the answers are understood better, and you have at least some evidence of this, consider whether culture change is the only solution. Would a restatement or reinforcement of the existing culture, more deeply understood and acted out across the business, be another solution? Read more

the pressures of work

The Search for Value – an intelligent response to the pressures of work

The Pressures of Work

No pressure no diamonds – is a great quote from Thomas Carlyle that epitomises a winning response towards the pressures of work…and life. I recall being told quite early in my career that a diamond was simply a dead piece of wood put under immense pressure. This insight changed my perspective towards pressure. Suddenly pressure was a potential force for good rather than a negative emotion caused by the overload of life.The Search for Value 1

Clearly, pressure is a relative term. When circumstances change for the worse some people can only see and feel negative energy. Others see the opportunity it provides. Put simply some people wilt whilst others thrive on the pressures of work. In this short piece I will explore the pressure created by an organisation being asked once again to do more with less. This is a reality for many organisations in the last few years and, I fear, for many months to come.

The initial reaction always seems to be to reach first for the ‘cost’ lever. “Sharpen the pencils at both ends”, “slash all ‘unnecessary’ expenditure”, “baton down the hatches” are the clarion calls that ring throughout the land. This sends a shiver through most people as they consider, usually not for the first time, what can be cut and what can be stopped? This ‘cut the costs’ call to arms is almost universally received with gloom, worry and despair. The more cynical managers will say ‘here we go again’ and will watch like hawks as the scarcity mind-set begins to paralyse the organisation. They fatalistically observe the consequences as under investment and short term cost cutting begin to break out.

The Search for Value

I contend a better response to ‘cut all costs’ is to start a ‘search for value’. Read more