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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.

Trojan Horse

Leadership – a Trojan horse in transforming a business?

We all know the story about the Trojan horse? Basically the Greeks had been laying siege to Troy for 10 years. The Greeks needed to bring the siege to an end, built a large wooden horse and hid troops inside it, and left it outside Troy when they pretended to sail away. The Trojans then pulled the horse inside Troy as a trophy. Overnight the Greek troops climbed out of the Trojan Horse and opened the gates, allowing the rest of the Greek forces (who had returned under cover of darkness) to enter Troy and end the stalemate.

Local and central government from Hampshire County Council to the Highland Council, and most private and third-sector organisations in between and globally are going through significant transformations Read more

Ambidextrous Communication

Ambidextrous communication; write it right… and left!

Ambidextrous Communication

With BREXIT, a new UK Prime Minister and leadership challenges in the Labour party, leaders everywhere are aiming to influence the widest possible audience to embed their brand of change.

People say that they hate change. It can be quite brutal, be sudden and have personal impact. This kind of change is often debilitating and the consequences of it are what lead people to think that they hate it.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Even where changes, for all kinds of reasons, happen at pace, competent leadership teams are usually in a position to plan for and help people understand change and how they may adapt to it.

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I Quit!

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When did “I Quit” become an acceptable leadership principle? What is happening to our leaders in the UK? If the current rate of resignations in politics, football and prime time car shows continues then there will be few left to lead anything in a few weeks’ time!

I believe we have to accept that we cannot ask a leader to lead if the direction required goes against their long held principles, values and beliefs so that may let Mr Cameron off the hook, although Mr Osbourne seems to be finding a way to square that particular circle, for now at least. However, the fact Mr Cameron clearly said before the referendum that he would stay on as PM regardless of the outcome and then promptly resigned when he did not get his own way, severely reduces the height of the moral low ground he is hoping to occupy I fear.

The other political leaders in the Brexit referendum need to stop and take a long hard look at themselves. Their conduct over the past week or so has at times been appalling and does nothing to build trust between the ordinary person and the political elite. When the country needs a visionary leader the most, one that can unite our seemingly fractured country and put the ‘Great’ back into Great Britain those that are seeking to convince us they are qualified for this role are to be found squabbling amongst themselves, looking after their own interests, or worse heading for the hills. Read more

Challenges and solutions.

Wise words – the change challenges in the post-Brexit VUCA world?

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Challenges come at us from every direction, all the time.  Faced with a challenge this week at school, my daughter said the above to my wife who duly noted it down. We thought it was a really mature and smart way of looking at things. I found the piece of paper last night.

Not wishing to sound political, I woke this morning to the shock of a Leave vote. Selfish concerns aside, driving into the office I reflected on the implications for the projects world (in the broadest sense) of this momentous change. Here are some immediate thoughts on the challenges ahead, for what they are worth.  Building on my daughters wise words – there are always solutions. Would love to hear what you think the implications will be whether you are in the project / programme / portfolio / transformation / change world or not. Here goes: Read more