“It’s what you learn when you know it all that counts”

I don’t normally share quotes, but here are two of my favourites. Both get at the importance of learning and perspective. This is why I like them:

“It’s what you learn when you know it all that counts.”

John Wooden

This is a quote from John Wooden, the American basketball player and coach. As head coach for the UCLA Bruins, he won ten national championships. Unlike most sports quote this one is humble. It acts as a reminder that even if you have great scores and results, there’s always much more you can learn. For me that’s a hallmark of a high performance culture and great leadership.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”

Albert Einstein, maybe

OK, so Einstein might not have said this (there’s no clear source), but the quote highlights a problem that I come across all the time in my work. You can call it denial, obfuscation, wilful blindness, etc. It gets at the need to take a different perspective. A key way to break out of this leadership trap is to capture different voices and to involve people in solutions and changes. This is at the heart of EX.

Tags: #HighPerformance #Leadership

Simplifying the work

In many companies people are frustrated. They feel they’re running hard and putting in a lot of effort, but they’re not making much of an impact, and this is often due to the difficulty of getting work done.

Yves Morieux has pointed out that the twin problems of stagnant productivity and low employee engagement share the same root cause, the increasing complicatedness of work and the growth of bureaucracy. Fighting complexity, according to Morieux, is the number one battle for all business leaders.

Yves is not alone in worrying about this. Gary Hamel is appalled at the damage being done to the global economy by bureaucratisation. He argues there is a 3 trillion dollar wealth-creating opportunity in tackling bureaucracy, and pleads with business leaders to get to grips with it.

These are some of the issues Hamel identifies:

  • Policies and processes sapping individual initiative
  • Sign-offs slowing decision making
  • Boundaries creating silos, matrix structures blurring accountability
  • Time and energy consumed by unhelpful reporting and pointless meetings

In my experience, the single most effective way of tackling these challenges is to involve employees in simplifying the work. This is what we do when we run employee surveys. We provide a critical feedback loop and involve people in the solutions. Key topics we explore are things like: Does everyone have a clear line of sight to the customer? What’s stopping more effective cooperation? When people believe something can be done better and differently, do they speak up about it? Are people able to sustain the level of personal energy they need in order to have an impact?

These are some important things to watch out for when simplifying work:

  • Managers need to know that one of their key tasks is to get stuff out of the way, so their teams can work effectively
  • Financial and operational information should be transparent and widely shared
  • Managers have a role in helping their teams understand how the business works and their contribution
  • Feedback is critical and this means listening to employees and encouraging dialogue
  • You need to reward people who do a good job of simplifying work and share their success stories widely

Hamel believes we need “a revolution of the mind” in order to go to war with bureaucracy. And in this there is also a critical role for people analytics. This is because, as new ways of working are tested and piloted, you need good people analytics to understand the impact of such “hacks” on engagement, productivity and other outcomes in order to build the business case and to direct the next iteration of changes.

It really bugs me when unnecessary things get in the way of my work, so this is one mission I am proud to play a part in.


Tags: #HighPerformance #OrganizationalEffectiveness #Bureaucracy

This article was first published on LinkedIn on April 25, 2016

High performance, innovation and simplicity

We do a lot of research into high performance organisations and I am often asked what makes the best companies stand out. Here are some of the things I’ve noticed:

  • High performance companies work simply. That means doing things once and always with a very clear focus on the customer. In companies where people work simply, they’re trusted to make decisions and encouraged to speak up when they see things that can be improved. “Simple” also requires discipline, the ability to prioritise critical tasks and to cut out the rest.
  • Innovation fuels success. Innovation can sound soft, but it’s really about transformation. I like Adam Hartung’s approach to innovation – a constant battle against old ways of working that become “locked in”. So much energy is spent defending the status quo. Effective leaders give people permission to challenge the way things are done. The best leaders actually spend time plotting how to create disruptions.
  • I visit a lot of different work places and what makes an effective manager is nearly always the same. They’re good at getting to know the people in their team and to learn their strengths. They’re interested in developing people, they recognise when things go well and they help people understand how the business works and how they contribute through their job. High performance depends on having more effective managers.
  • In many companies leaders spend a lot of time looking back – reviewing last year’s numbers in order to determine next year’s plans. The insights we collect from employees through our surveys give leaders a chance to look forward, to identify future opportunities and to think about their future workforce. That kind of forward-looking exercise is another hallmark of success, especially as there is so much change happening in the workplace.

These are some of the key things that I have seen. What would be on your list?

Towers Watson, Tracking Trends in High Performance Companies (2014)
Adam Hartung, Create Marketplace Disruption (FT Press, 2008)

Tags: #Innovation #HighPerformance

This article was published on LinkedIn on  December 3, 2015.