Thursday, 28 April 2011

Business Leadership and the Community

by Mark Evenden @ Developing People Limited

Over the years I have read many articles that have been written encouraging business leaders to pay more attention to ‘the 3P’s’ in their organisations.

In other words putting

PEOPLE before
PRODUCT (or service) before
PROFIT (or performance).

However, I think that Archbishop Desmond Tutu has now added another dimension to this expression when he addressed a round table discussion at Saïd Business School’s annual Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship earlier this month. He told the audience that all business leaders’ actions have moral implications, ‘right and wrong matter, we are thinking beings, we are physical beings and ultimately we are moral beings’. His message was that business leaders should not pretend their activities take place in some kind of vacuum, that business leaders’ actions affect society and therefore they should think about the bigger picture. The Archbishops’ message was clear, ‘whatever contributes to the wellbeing of society in a positive way must have important repercussions for business. If you have a community that is prosperous healthy and happy, shouldn’t that automatically mean that it will be good for business?’

Certainly the opposite is true. I have worked in a several communities that have seen their heart ripped from them with the closure of a major employer. In the 1980’s I worked for the NCB and saw many communities suffer at the loss of their pit that employed, grandfathers, fathers and sons, and provided business for other local industries too.

Ultimately, businesses can’t just be about profit for profit’s sake as this is not going to make a sustainable world. They must also understand their interaction with the local community, and be more socially responsible if they want to be sustainable.

And if business leaders need convincing, one of the clearest benefits of an organisation’s charitable and community work is staff engagement. When I worked at Ladybird Books we ran a number of initiatives that ranged from raising funds and supporting local charities, giving books to schools and providing managers to mentor students on the Young Enterprise Scheme. Staff surveys showed that the support the business gave to the community was a big contributing factor towards how employees felt about Ladybird. This had a wider impact locally as Ladybird was seen as a trusted, fair and admired employer but others.

Ultimately, I therefore agree with Archbishop Desmond Tutus’ sentiments that if as a business leader you encourage predatory behaviour you might succeed in the short term but in the longer term, you are likely to increase resentment against you and those who are associated with you, which is not sustainable.

So perhaps the expression I opened with should be modified to include

PRODUCT (or service) before
PROFIT (or performance)

Thursday, 21 April 2011

How is Coaching affected by your personality?

We all have our egos, and they can and do have a big impact on how we conduct ourselves, our communications and our relationships. They also influence our attitudes and how we relate to both the outer world and to our inner world of thoughts and feelings.

As a consequence we also take our egos into any coaching relationships – both as the coach and as coachee.

The coaching subjects all have their own egos to work with and most of them, in my experience, fit in towards the middle of a normal distribution curve of attitudes and behaviours – neither with over-inflated egos, nor with overwhelming anxiety and uncertainty. If there is any tendency towards the extremes, then I sometimes encounter people who are somewhat uncertain and lacking in confidence. In these situations, part of my coaching work is about helping them to build their confidence to an appropriate level and to help them to deal with more assertive people and those who are difficult to work with. Sometimes difficulties exist for coachees with their line managers who may not understand them or who may even have their own swollen egos to deal with.

I have occasionally been asked to coach a person with a big ego and this has provided its own unique challenges varying from person to person. The positive aspect of a big ego is that the person is usually very interested in themselves and in their own success. The potential downside however is that sometimes this type of person wants a lot of stroking from their coach and they may not be very realistic and self-aware. Giving these people objective and useful feedback is part of the challenge and so is the role of challenging itself. Quite often they don’t like the idea of them having weaknesses or development areas to reflect and act upon. One way that I have found to get this aspect across to strong people is to talk about “over played” strengths becoming weaknesses and inhibiting performance. This approach can help them to accept the message and for the feedback to become acceptable and actionable.

In a few coaching assignments that I have taken on, it has become apparent to me and to the coachee that the requirements of this type of coaching relationships are not consistent with their view of themselves and of their world. In such cases we have agreed to discontinue the work. The requirements of openness, looking inwards at oneself, admitting to vulnerabilities and taking the responsibility for producing and implementing an action plan that may include behaviour change, is sometimes a step too far for these people.

We must also consider our own egos as coaches. We cannot deny that we have them but we need to be able to put them to one side if we are to truly focus on the needs of our coachees. We are there to listen to, support and challenge them to work on their real issues and objectives – not to massage our own egos or self-importance. All too often in the arena of sport we can see the ego of the team's coach or “manager” being placed ahead of the needs and achievements of the team – particularly when success arrives!

One aspect of this coaching role that I find particularly challenging is the use of experiences or any anecdotes from my past which I think might be helpful to prompt new thoughts for the coachee, or give them the confidence to deal with an important issue for them, stimulated by my example. In sharing my experiences and vulnerabilities with them I need to check with myself that I am doing this for their benefit and not for my own.

Keeping in my mind that the success of anyone that I coach is their success rather than mine is an important aspect to bear in mind.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Why is coaching often more effective than other forms of training and development?

by Mark Evenden @ Developing People Ltd

When discussing the different approaches to leadership development, questions arise over the effectiveness of coaching vs conventional leadership development programmes. It is frequently been suggested to me that using coaching to improve leadership capability and performance is more effective than spending the equivalent time on a conventional leadership or management development programme. While I recognise that this is a somewhat subjective statement and quite difficult to measure objectively, there is a fair body of evidence that supports this view.

But what are the key differences between these two approaches to development which might produce a different outcome?

I have been coached and attended leadership development courses, as well as having coached leaders and delivered development programmes, and I think that there are a number of key differences.

Firstly coaching is a 1 to 1 process that is focussed is completely on the individual and their needs, whereas conventional leadership development programmes are invariably run in groups. The agenda and objectives for a group leadership development programme will apply to the whole and may or may not relate directly to an individual manager's specific needs. In contrast, the objectives for a coaching session are largely set by the coachee and can be flexible and evolve as the coachee progresses. Again, while not impossible, this is much more difficult to do with a group of learners.

When coaching, the process deals with the reality of a coachee's situation rather than the generalities, theories, models or techniques that form the basis of a leadership programme. Occasionally the barriers to unlocking someone’s potential need to remain confidential or they may lie outside the working environment which makes them almost impossible to resolve in a group situation.

The reality of a call to action can also be stronger and more specific for a coachee than for a participant on a leadership programme where the action can be seen as more general.

The follow through with actions agreed at a coaching session and the follow up where the coachee knows that they will be asked by the coach what progress they have made on their action plan can also be a stronger motivator to action than the follow up generally provided on a conventional course.

The ability for the individual to talk and act honestly, naturally and spontaneously is generally easier in a 1 to 1 coaching session. Any displays of frustration, anger or emotion can sometimes be regarded as disruptive on a leadership or management training course and therefore not encouraged.

Finally, the timing of coaching sessions can be based around the individual’s needs and the speed at which they develop, with sessions planned more closely together, or further part as appropriate. With a conventional programme, you have to deal with the needs of the majority and inevitably the specific time intervals between workshops will suit some and not others.

However, I am not suggesting that conventional leadership or management development programmes don’t have advantages over coaching, because they do. For example, a group programme provides opportunities and stimulus for knowledge sharing, networking and team development, as well as a mechanism for delivering development in a consistent way, and these points are very important and should not be overlooked.

Clearly each approach to development has its own merits and if I reflect on the most successful leadership development programmes that have been involved in they have been a blend of coaching, conventional ‘training’ and other approaches. In this way managers gain the benefits from coaching as it provides a focus for their specific learning needs as well as the benefits of consistency, networking and sharing learning from a group development programme.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Strong Leadership in Times of Crisis

by Lucy Cadman @ Developing People

Like many others, I have been shocked and saddened to hear of the death of 25-year-old police officer Ronan Kerr, who was killed after a bomb exploded under his car in Omagh, County Tyrone last Saturday. It is terrible that 300 families have been similarly bereaved throughout the troubled times in Northern Ireland, and even though there has been some subsidence in terrorism during the last three or four years, it is going to take some very strong leadership to help Northern Ireland through this time of crisis.

Ronan’s mother, Nuala Kerr, was calm, dignified and controlled in her heartfelt television plea to end the violence. I could not comprehend how she and her other children could begin to think about standing in front of the cameras at such a tragic time, but she was inspirational. None the less, how can the leaders in Northern Ireland and in the rest of the UK follow her example and help the country to stand up for what is right, yet still maintain the peace?

I believe that no matter what the leadership challenge being faced, there are two things that remain a constant way to begin the process of getting the best out of a difficult situation.

The first thing that I have learned is that to get the best out of your people, you need to lead them rather than herding them. A son once tried to take on his mother’s usual role of getting their chickens into the hen house each night to keep them safe from foxes. Try as he might, he could not round them all up into the hen house, so the next evening he watched to see how his mother achieved the task. Instead of trying to round the chickens up, she walked among them, dropping handfuls of grain. Once the chickens started following the trail of grain, the mother was easily able to lead them inside the hen house, and they willingly followed.
I think that the same principle applies to human beings – if we have trust in our leaders, and a reason to follow them, then it makes for a much easier process.

The second thing is to ensure that as a leader, you set realistic expectations. These expectations need to be high enough to challenge your people and push them to the best of their ability, but it is also very important that they are set realistically enough to be achievable, or there is a risk of damage to morale, and an air of “can’t be bothered to try any more” can set in.

Finally, I would say that those in leadership should always remember this – people will not remember what you say to them. People will not even remember what you do. But people will always remember how you made them feel. Therefore, a good starting point for leadership is to regularly ask yourself “How do I want my leaders to make *me* feel?”

Monday, 4 April 2011

Setting Standards Using Competencies

I believe that it is vital that managers and staff know what is expected of them if they are to maximise their own performance and contribution to the business. It is common for most organisations to set expectations in terms of what managers are responsible for by using job descriptions and possibly personal objectives / targets.

However, it is also important to set expectations about how job responsibilities should be discharged and targets delivered as I believe it is unacceptable for managers staff to deliver these at ‘any cost’. For example, while a manager may meet his or her targets, it should not be to the detriment of their team (for example in terms of personal relationships, trust, motivation etc).

But what is the best or most appropriate way of doing this? The way that I have done this in the past is by setting behavioural expectations or ‘competencies’ for my managers. I describe a competency as ‘a behaviour that delvers effective or superior performance in a job’. In other words a competency is about an ability to do something and as such comprises a combination of skills, knowledge and personal motivation that result in particular behaviour (or outcome) at work. For example, I have set behavioural expectations (competencies) for my managers in areas such as:

* Leading and motivating staff
* Working with others as part of a team
* Developing themselves and others
* Communication
* Ownership and personal responsibility
* Delivering results
* Continuous improvement
* Customer service.

In addition, I set three ‘levels’ of competence for the different levels of management hierarchy, (team leaders, department managers, directors). Clearly what I expected in terms of leadership from a director was different from what I expected from a team leader.

By doing this I clearly communicated to my managers the standards that I expected for successful performance in each of their roles. In addition, it provided me with a means of objectively assessing each manager’s strengths and weaknesses which formed the basis for their personal development.

The proof of the pudding, however, is always in the eating. While setting the competence standards, assessing and reviewing performance and supporting the manager’s development took a great deal of effort, both I and the business were greatly rewarded. Not only did we change the culture of the business from a reactive ‘I will only do what I am told’ style to a more proactive and empowered one, we also dramatically improved performance and customer service. So competencies, if used in the right way really do work!