Four Key Characteristics for Businesses to Thrive in an Ever-changing Environment.

As Darwin stated “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”. This ground breaking view of its time remains true today and is coming to the fore in our exponentially changing business world. It is predicted that AQ – your ability to adapt and change will be a lead predictor of success for business and as a leader.

pv-tilesAs we enter a period with more change occurring now than during the entirety of our human existence, how will you as a business leader adapt and lead change? Surviving and thriving will depend on it.

What is your ability unlearn what you currently know and hold as true, and learn the new? For example, how hard did you find to change say from Microsoft to an IOS operating system, or learn a new software tool, then switch? Perhaps for some things it will be time throw the baby out with the bathwater – and adopt totally new ideas and concepts? Can you leave legacy thinking or systems behind? These are all questions we need to think about as we head into an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) business environment. A recent research study lead by Canterbury and Auckland Universities found that the most resilient businesses and organisations to not only endure but thrive in a world of uncertainty were those that demonstrated four key characteristics (out of an overall 13). These businesses not only survived, but thrived in the face of adversity and in challenging times.

1.      Leadership. Strong leadership to provide good direction, management and decision making during times of crisis or challenge, as well as continuous evaluation of strategies and work programmes against business goals. Great leadership creates engaged people across the business.

2.      Staff Engagement: The engagement and involvement of staff who understand the link between their own work, the organisation’s adaptability & resilience, and its long term success. Staff are empowered and use their skills to solve problems. Engaged staff give their residual effort to the business and go the extra mile.

3.      Innovation and Creativity: Leadership also creates an environment where staff are encouraged and rewarded for using their knowledge and initiative in novel ways to solve new and existing problems, and for utilising innovative and creative approaches to developing solutions. What is your ability to adapt and change? How fast can you do this in relation to your competition? (see out manoeuvring your competition)

4.      Effective Partnerships: Great leaders know when to collaborate and when to compete, and are adept at developing new and cementing lasting relationships. This requires an understanding of the relationships and resources the organisation might need to access from other businesses or organisations during a crisis, and planning and management to ensure this access.

While there are other supporting indicators, these combine to produce the foundation of a resilient and agile business. Agility is a strategic capability and part of your competitive advantage. The above characteristics are supported by two other important capabilities – the foresight and situation awareness to prevent potential crises emerging; and an ability to turn crises into a source of strategic opportunity. This is a leadership skill. Are you as a business leader looking forward and trying understand the future business environment? What could disrupt you? And therefore, how can you start to position yourself to adapt.

Leadership will make the difference – and that leadership starts with you.

Greg is a consultant at Advisory.Works

Getting a Great Senior Leadership Team

Have you ever sat around the Senior Leadership Team table and wondered – Why are we here again? What is it we are actually trying to do? Or, Why is he/she here?

I can speculate that at some point you have asked one or all of these questions. Whether in business, a charity or sport, the principles are the same.

As businesses grow and scale, the leadership of the business changes from being vested in one person to a group of senior people within the business. This evolution happens overtime, and at some point it is worthwhile to pause and make your Executive or Senior Leadership Team (ELT/SLT) a deliberate choice. And the first question should be – do I even need or want a SLT?

If the perceived benefit that ‘two or more heads are better than one’ resonates with you, here are some ideas to help your thinking and development of your SLT.

The first thing is to consider the purpose of the SLT, even for an existing team, doing this will force everyone to reconsider what it is there for, and not what it is today but what should it be. Without a real purpose it is a team in name only. For example:

  • To support the CEO to lead the business – strategically, our people, and execution, or
  • To make great things happen. To inspire, motivate, empower, communicate and provide direction.

While these may appear common sense, defining the purpose creates clarity and alignment for the team to keep each other honest about what the purpose of getting together and being a member of the team means. It is then relatively easy to develop some key objectives off the back of this purpose. These might include:

  • Defining or modifying the organization’s strategy
  • Building organizational capability
  • Managing mission-critical initiatives
  • Leading and monitoring the organization’s performance

professional-servicesSo then, who is in and who is out? In larger organisations there is a tendency to have an equally large leadership team. My suggestion is about 5-6 people. Any more and it becomes cumbersome to have decent conversations, debate and alignment. When I had an SLT as part of a large organisation, I had a ‘tight five’ made up of the principle leaders of the organisation. Beyond that there was an extended leadership team of about another 8-10, made up of the principle advisors and other senior leaders. Having this balance, and ability to use different forums was conducive to high trust, agility and decision making, while having the ability to draw on other skills and knowledge as necessary.

Once you have determined the purpose and players, you then need to set some expectations around what is expected of an SLT member such as: to lead across boundaries, be a role model 24/7, disrupt business as usual and be open to challenge, no surprises, promote our vision and values, and develop and celebrate our people.  This sets a clear expectation that it is about leadership, not about just being a functional head, a courtesy or entitlement.

Then develop some ideas around how you will operate together – some ground rules or rules of engagement for when you are together. This helps build trust, a safe and supportive environment and creates mutual accountability.

Clear expectations of members helps define the membership. As a result of this, at times people elect not to be part of the team – and this is ok. However, this then requires you to manage their expectations to either develop their desire to be part of them team and realise their contribution, or how they fit and contribute if they aren’t in the team anymore and the consequences of that ie not necessarily being involved in key decisions or in the loop. Likewise if they don’t perform to expectations a different conversation needs to be had. Similarly if some players aren’t working well together and you have a dysfunctional team, this is whole different challenge I will discuss on another day.

Getting the right mix of people is a challenge. You need diversity of thinking and input. In traditionally hierarchical organisations this can be a challenge as being part of the SLT is based upon a title or role, which can make it hard to get beyond the ‘male, pale and stale’ personas and bring fresh thinking. One SLT I work with has deliberately bought two emerging talent leaders into the SLT (and they also happen to be female) to serve two purposes a. to get different and fresh perspectives and b. to develop and expose these emerging leaders to strategic business perspectives. You can also always bring in other people to bring perspective or to gain specialist insights into an issue. Challenge yourself to think beyond who has been there the longest – to who will add the most value.

These foundations will set you and your leadership team and business up for leadership success. Bring yourself back to this charter every so often, rate yourself, and then challenge yourself to be better. It’s a journey.

Greg is a consultant at Advisory.Works

Lead your people Through Good Meetings

We often say that we have too many meetings, that they are a waste of time, or that they are ineffective, – why is that, when in reality if done right, meetings help us ensure we execute our business, live our culture and lead effectively.

army-o-groupI often find when talking to clients and friends that people get frustrated either by either the lack of coordination and direction, lack of accountability to get action, or while their meetings are well intentioned – they are just a ‘talk-fest‘. Something I learnt early on in my military career (and no I am not as old as this photo) as a leader was the importance of being able to discuss, plan and execute operations to achieve a result. A key component of this was to have clear meetings with an agenda, where team members contributed ideas, they were given tasks, and were then held accountable for implementing them.

Later at a more strategic level, it was about being able to have robust discussions about strategic initiatives.  This was about having a level of trust to have conflict that enabled healthy and safe challenging of each others ideas, so that we could make the best decisions for the future of the organisation.

I have since found that these ideas are equally important in business – and while it sounds simple – people often have trouble making it happen, confusing the nature of their meetings, and so end up frustrated. I think it is useful to reflect on what we are trying to do, and then shape or meetings to best effect.

On this topic, Kaplan and Norton, in The Execution Premium suggest:

‘Operational review meetings are typically departmental and functional, bringing together the expertise and experience of employees to solve the issues of the day in departments. They should be short, highly focused, data driven and action oriented.’  While ‘Strategy review meetings bring together the leadership team to discuss whether strategy execution is on track, detects where problems are occurring in the implementation, attempts to determine why the problems are occurring, recommends actions to correct the cause and assigns responsibility for achieving the targeted performance.’

They go to say that, ‘Operational and strategy review meetings help keep organisations on a strategic trajectory for breakthrough performance. The meetings serve different functions, occur at different frequencies, typically have different attendees and have different agendas…..despite the differences in frequency, attendees, and agendas, operational and strategic review meetings share important characteristics. Meetings start and finish on time. Attendance is mandatory so that members build confidence and trust in each other….The meetings are data driven….they spend their time at the meeting problem solving, learning and formulating actions, not passively listening….They encourage frank discussion among all participants…The leader stresses the importance of “what is right” and not “who is right”….Although the idea of separating operational review meetings from strategy review meetings seems both logical and simple to implement, many companies fail to make such a separation.’

I recall as I was about to leave one organisation that I had worked in as  Regional Manager for several years, I got got some feedback that has stuck in my mind.  We had achieved many successes, tried novel ideas, taken risks and built a good culture of getting things done and having some fun along the way – but the feedback was ‘that weekly meeting you introduced has been gold – that was one of the best things we did’.  I have since found that this is supported by the theory of Elliot Jaques in Requisite Organisation, which he stated that regular meetings should be a matter of policy – and personal style is only a matter of how it should be carried out – not whether they should be done or not.  He goes on to say, ‘everyone needs to provide current information, bring discussions to a decision, or be able to explore difficult problems without a decision necessarily being made.  I find that there typically isn’t a need for elaborate minutes, but the capture of any key decisions and a simple Who, What, by When (WWW) matrix helps create accountability, gets action happening and keeps things moving forward.

As a leader, how do your meetings stack up?  Are you getting the best from this leadership opportunity?

Greg is a consultant at Advisory.Works

Scott Robertson Shares Some of his Teamwork Strategies

scott-robertsonThis year former All Black, and Coach of Canterbury and the recent champion New Zealand Under 20’s rugby teams, Scott Robertson takes over the helm of the Crusaders Rugby team.  I recently facilitated an annual conference for a client. Part of the conference was centred on continuing to develop their team culture. We were extremely fortunate to have Scott come to discuss team strategies with the conference.

I took the opportunity to capture a few of Scott’s key points to share – it is surprising how much if what works in high performance sports teams is the same for any business team.

  • The role of leaders. Leaders set the direction, then they must trust everyone else to do their job in making it happen. The leader needs to grow people and other leaders and just be there to guide and support. Secondly, the leader must know and manage the risks or worries so that the team can then focus on successful implementation of their plan without worrying unnecessarily about ‘what if’ scenarios. You need to plan as much as you can and then adapt to the environment. A leader also knows that you can’t be at peak performance every day or week, so the leader has to set the pace. Scott makes the plan, he makes the pace and routine obvious to the members, so that the expectations are clear and predictable along their journey, which then makes it is easier to hold people accountable for performance.
  • Fanatical Discipline. It takes fanatical discipline to be a great team (as their championship results would show). The Canterbury team use data and predictive stats to tell them how things are working, where they can improve and if they are hitting their performance targets – but importantly they also use data to see how they can take it to the next level of exceptional performance.
  • Celebrate the wins. Everyone in the team needs to own the team’s goal and its achievement. If one fails, they all fail – but conversely they achieve together. You need to plan milestones along the journey, and take the time to still have fun and celebrate the wins, (as Scott’s breakdancing after the Under 20s and Canterbury championship wins is testament to). But it is even as simple as just acknowledging the hardest worker at the training session by giving them the trophy. Interestingly, this is for the player who dug hardest in relation to their normal effort – so not necessarily the biggest effort but for who is upping their personal effort.
  • The importance of the core purpose. When establishing the team at the start of the season, the Canterbury coaching staff make sure that they connect the existing members with the new members, and take the time to connect them all back to the core purpose. In doing so, the team members understand the bigger picture of the team’s existence. That is, they believe that the team must know where the team has come from, to know where they are going. The coaching staff have realised that by the team members knowing the team history and their connection to the core purpose, it drives the players’ energy and motivation. This becomes their mental model for driving performance.
  • The team is its people. The team takes the time to connect in every week on a Monday morning as the foundation of trust, but also just to connect as people. Scott also ensures they bring in the wider team, ie the families and partners, so that they too understand the plan, the expectations of the guys, the journey and the likely peaks and troughs along the way. As a result that the players know that they have the base support, and the guys can focus on the job at hand and know that they have the support and understanding they need.
  • Lastly, Take risks and learn. Know that you have to take risks, try new things and that mistakes will happen, but its equally important to make sure you are learning.

I am sure that the Crusaders are using this thinking this year to chase a championship title.

Greg is a consultant at Advisory.Works

Out Manouvre Your Competition Like a Fighter Pilot

fighter-pilotA fighter pilot in a dog fight is focusing on many things that appear to happen all at once, while still focusing on the end game – winning.  When an enemy aircraft comes into radar contact, he is gauging his and its speed, size, numbers and type of and manoeuvrability of the enemy aircraft, cloud cover, sun position, all unfolding through chatter over the radio with their wing-man, all in an effort to determine how he is going to out manoeuvre his opponent, take action and win.

This is the same for a business owner in their market.  They are getting customer feedback, ensuring cashflow, dealing with staff or client issues, finding new sales to meet growth targets, negotiating new supply agreements, expanding into new territories, launching new products or services, while all of the time trying to out manoeuvre their competition and win – and if you don’t have this mind-set, someone else does.

And just like the in the history of air combat, the market place is moving faster, technology is making huge advances, and social media & the internet are increasingly extending the reach and speed at which other players can engage your market.

In 1998, I stood on the deck of a US aircraft carrier during flight operations as fighters took off and landed from bombing targets in Iraq during Operation Desert Fox (as a result of weapon inspectors being removed from Iraq).   I also worked alongside pilots in the headquarters as we watched potential engagements with Iraqi aircraft via the aircraft tracking system radar, and sat in on mission debriefs with UK No 617 ‘Dam Buster’ Squadron.  We talked through the multitude of issues that the pilot must be contending with to make a rapid decision, especially in light of the no-fly-zones and rules of engagement complicating their decision making.

So how does a fighter pilot do this and win in an ever increasingly complex environment?   According to John Boyd, (the USA Fighter Weapons School Instructor who revolutionised aerial tactics and develop his concept of the OODA loop), decision-making occurs in a recurring cycle of Observe-Orient-Decide-Act (OODA).   An individual or business that can conduct this cycle quickly, observing and reacting to unfolding events more rapidly than their opponent can “get inside” the opponent’s decision cycle, gain the advantage and ultimately win.  And while this has been around a while – it is timeless.

The key to victory is to be able to create situations wherein one can make appropriate decisions more quickly than one’s competition. Time is the dominant parameter. The pilot who goes through the OODA cycle in the shortest time prevails because his opponent is caught responding to situations that have already changed.”

It is no surprise that these principles apply in business.  As John Spence states in Awesomely Simple, ‘Speed = success.  You must create a culture of urgency.  Clear direction + strong information flow + fast decision making = an agile organisation.’  Unfortunately many businesses are either ill-informed, don’t develop options, are slow to react, or cant decide, implement or follow-through – or all of the above.  Yet they often convince themselves that slow and deliberate is the way to go.   And while strategic decisions can often be made in strategic time frames – if you have no decision making framework you will always be reacting.  So lets look at the simple process for making this work.

Observe: the collection and observation of data by any means.  How are you collecting information on your market, the competition, or benchmarking? What environmental indicators are you looking for that might predict a market shift?   Taking time to observe and see what is happening around you the fastest is imperative – that’s why the F-16 has an oval-shaped canopy is so the pilot can see 360 degrees, and why the heads-up display was invented so a pilot didn’t have to look down at instruments for a split second. Just like in sport, the more readily you can continually take these things in the better prepared you will be.   It’s like in rugby when Dan Carter gets the ball how he has all the time in the world, it is because he can observe more quickly what is happening around him.   So start regularly observing your market, your competition, technology developments and looking for indicators that will better inform the decisions you should make.

Orientate: how do you then pull these views together, analyse and synthesise the data to form a current mental perspective that starts to shape what you should do. In sport it might be seeing where players are, that informs a first five that the planned move is off, but the chip kick is now on, or a skip pass has been read but has opened a gap to sell a dummy pass and pursue the gap.  How often do you bring in market and your own performance data, analyse what it is telling you to form a perspective.  Have you ever watched a sports game and seen a move that has been executed as if in practice only for it not to work because they hadn’t watched what the opposition? – the same can happen in business.

Decide: the decision to select a preferred course of action is then based on the current mental perspective from Orientate.   In a fighter jet travelling at high speed those instant decisions – right or wrong – that cost winning or losing, are being decided in milliseconds.  In business it is, ‘do I take the opportunity or not?’  The entrepreneur’s curse is that there are always more opportunities than you have capability or resource to pursue, so this is when you reference back to your strategy to check for fit i.e. is this my core business? Is this my target market?  Is this where I want to expand? Etc.  Every leader should also realise that you will never have all of the information, and if you do it may be too late.  There will be ambiguity and uncertainty, known as ‘the fog of war’, so we need to be confident in making decisions without all of the information – the key is to make a decision, and that decision can be ‘no’.  And as Warren Buffet said, ‘the most successful business people say no to almost everything’.

Act: the physical implementation of the decision.  Executing action as fast as you can to make the necessary change.  The difference between intention and attention is execution.  And as soon as you have taken action, you begin observing again, to see the reaction or counter action, ready re-orientate, decide and act.

The faster you can OODA, the greater the likelihood that you will beat your competition and lead your market, leaving them to react in your jet-wash.

Greg is a consultant at Advisory.Works

Driving High Performance by the Numbers at the Crusaders

Last season I had a unique opportunity to head to the home of the Crusaders at Rugby Park as part of a select group, and talk with players Andy Ellis, Cody Taylor and Ged Robinson, Coach Tabai Matson and Performance Analyst Jon Gardner.

img_0313When Tabai said, “you work out how you want to play and win, then it all flows through to how the team trains, and how the player performs their part.  It is about sustaining a competitive advantage and being as efficient and effective in your performance”, you realise the parallels are pretty clear between how one of the best performing rugby franchises develops their team to be consistently high performing, and businesses trying to build high performance in their market space.

You could instantly sense a real desire to improve and be the best.  From walking in the door there is obvious pride and a culture of performance that as we toured the gym and facilities creates healthy competition, banter with transparent performance data to raise the standard.  It didn’t matter whether it was in the gym with the records board, or in the match analytics and data on each player, or the guy out on the field solo training seeking his personal edge – it was obvious everywhere.  While we sometimes see reticence for people to have their performance measured and receive critique in businesses, at the Crusaders having numbers against their performance, combined with a culture of feedback is just part of doing business to pursue that 1% advantage.

Their Performance Analyst is a key part of the team.  He seeks to understand the opposition and looks for the opportunities or kinks in the opposing team, he looks at the trends and the focus areas, then informs the game plan for training emphasis.  They then utilise video technology to develop and shape training and selection.  On game day, live analysis condenses the data, makes it relevant and enables the coaches to identify whether the skills and training are playing out as anticipated, whether the opposition are playing as predicted, look for opportunities, adjust and adapt as necessary – a bit like an on the spot SWOT and action plan.  Some definite similarities in the ‘one page game plan’ approach too.

The interesting part, as Tabai said, “was that the teams can all get the same data – its understanding what you want to measure and what you do with it that makes the difference” – sounds familiar doesn’t it.


The subsequent review of games then enables each player to analyse their performance and focus on key aspects.  The Crusaders have found that they need to layer coaching feedback at least three times to ‘get it beyond white noise’ and get a better acceptance and uptake for improvement.  Jon Gardiner said “The data and video technology analytics enables marginal gains for individuals, but massive gains at team level.  The key is to strip away the clutter – less is clearer”.  So how often do businesses analyse their individual and collective performance by the few key numbers that drive performance?

Tabai’s final insight was about changing the coaching conversation from being via microscope and in the trenches with a player, to getting them to see it from a helicopter or system view, or up to the satellite perspective, so that they can see alternatives and then re-focus.

Thanks to the Crusaders and their sponsors EMDA for this unique opportunity.  Here’s hoping they have a fantastic year under the new leadership team.

Greg is a consultant at Advisory.Works

Handing over the Baton of Business Succession

The recent ANZ Business Barometer of New Zealand businesses, found that succession is an issue for 44% of kiwi businesses. It also found that finding a suitable successor, complicated by an over-reliance on the owner’s expertise, was a key issue for 49% of businesses. For 48% of owners considering succession, they just wanted to scale back their efforts and gradually exit over time – so there is a good chance that this sounds like you?

Businessmen Passing the Relay Race Baton

This came as no surprise to us at Advisory.Works, as within our wider business and leadership network this is a conversation that is often at the front of mind for many businesses. What we also hear and find, is that too many business leaders are thinking about this far too late. For some this is when they are now ill and wanting to exit fast but the business is still over-reliant on them; for some it is when they are already in their 70s and wondering where their opportunity to enjoy life in retirement has gone; some are now wanting to exit but the business isn’t financially strong enough to support the current owner and the next generation; the lack of an agreed plan has meant divergent views on the future of the business that then hasn’t ended well; or clarity of roles within the business are hampering getting things done i.e. within the resulting 49 & 51% shareholding who is still ‘really calling the shots’ – or worst of all, they just close the doors because their business isn’t sellable or able to be succeeded – and we are at the tip of the succession iceberg.

If we look at New Zealand’s age pyramid, there is about a five year window until most baby boomers are in their 70s. Many of these baby boomers are the people owning and running our businesses today, and if we are anything like Australia, over 80% of these businesses do not have a plan for how they are going to achieve succession. Dr Richard Shrapnel, partner Pitcher Partners, Australia has stated in a SmartCompany article, that “a succession plan could take three to five years to put in place and achieve”. From our experience, these succession plans need to develop the long term vision for the business, a strategy for how to get there and the strategic actions to start implementing to make this a plan to build the business a reality. Part of which outlines how and when the succession will occur. This plan needs to be complemented by putting in place a framework to make your business less reliant on you.

It is important to note that succession doesn’t need to be retirement, but it is about defining how the business will look in the future and your role in it – this requires you to have a plan, and start that plan early. If it is a family business, you want to work to have harmony to keep all parties informed, fairly dealt with, and structure it right using the right people to lead into the next generation. A CEO of a family business I was talking to this morning, that has gone through succession said, “His generation of the family knew it was time, but they needed to utilise independent advice from their accountants and lawyers to help their parents see that it was time to hand-over the reins. We then created a plan to work through it. We are still ironing out a few things – it doesn’t happen overnight and you need to work on it.”

If succession is a consideration for you, the greatest thing you can be doing as a business leader, is preparing those who work for you to do it all in your absence. You need to grow your leaders, and in turn they will grow your business. You need to delegate responsibility and empower others to lead the business for you through systems and processes. This is supported by creating measures and accountability that drive the business, building an engaged team and building your customer loyalty and having a regular business cadence or routine will build your business’s value. If you are planning to exit or step back from your business in the future, I suggest you start working on it now, as all of this takes time.

Greg is a consultant at Advisory.Works

Sometimes You Need to Shoot a Hostage so that They Know you are Serious

I was at a dinner recently with a number of business executive leaders and the comment was made that it is so hard to get rid of poor performers these days, but I have to disagree – I have never found it hard to exit a poor performer and if you do it right, they typically jump before they are pushed.  So I have learnt that when you appear to shoot a hostage – people then know you are serious. So lets explore that.

pistol-firing-bulletFirst and foremost, we should always try and build, coach and develop our people to be successful – its what leaders do, but sometimes there are those who either don’t rise to the challenge, or respond,  or by the nature of their behaviour, they just don’t fit.  Lets look at these two categories of poor performance.

The person who doesn’t hit the numbers.  We need to set very clear expectations around what is expected of them in their role, make it as black and white as possible for what the expected performance looks like – if you can, bring it back to the numbers, or what will be yes or no answer (have they done it or not) – and then get them to agree to it.

The key then is to monitor this weekly, fortnightly or monthly as part of your regular meeting cadence.  Even better, make it transparent for the whole team to see – as mutual accountability is the best kind.  You then coach and support them to try and achieve the required performance, and track how they are going.   If they aren’t improving or aren’t performing it is then clear for everyone to see.

As an example, I had a marketing person working for me who in my view had been ‘coasting’.  So as part of his task I made him responsible for delivering a market segmentation report by a certain date and made it clear what was required in that report.  At the first catch-up he hadn’t done it.  I asked why not and he provided and excuse.  I reiterated the expectation of delivery by the end of the month.  The next week he was no further ahead, and when I enquired, I got the responded that he didn’t really like research.  I checked “this was part of your role when you joined right?”  “Yes” “You have a degree in this and you had to do research to get that, so you can do it right?” “Yes”  “So I don’t really care whether you like doing it or not, you just need to allocate some time to it, and get it done”.  What happened?  He resigned.  He had been found out.

Similarly, I became responsible for a site manager who had apparently been a below average performer for some time.  He then exercised poor judgement and left his site during a construction activity with some risk during which time an incident occurred.  The conversation was – “Was this a high risk activity yes/no?” “Yes”  “As Site Manager responsible for the site should you have been there? Yes/No?” “Yes but….”,  “No buts, you exercised poor judgement and should have been there.  Next time………Agreed?  Yes!  Three weeks later another incident of poor judgement occurred.  A similar discussion ensued.  Result – he suddenly found another job in a different city.

While in these two examples (and I have many more) the person had resigned, everyone else in the office though appeared to be under no illusion that people were going to be held accountable, and that they had two choices, improve and deliver performance as expected, or leave.

So what about when someone is hitting the numbers but is just toxic in their behaviour.  This when good core values are invaluable.  Core values set the tone for how your people should behave.  Your business should have a number of these that highlight how people should act safely, as a team, as an individual and how they should represent the brand – and be in language that everyone uses every day.  For example at transport company “Always wear your PPE (Passion, Pride and Enthusiasm)”, at a construction company “Don’t take the piss”, or a professional services firm “bring your ‘A’ game” “be part of the team”, in construction “Reputation before profit” and “Safety First”, or at an automotive repair shop “its people, not just cars”.    When you have good agreed core values, which are displayed, in job descriptions and are celebrated, it becomes easy to hold people to these.

When I was in the army our values were Courage, Commitment, Comradeship and Integrity.  Similarly, whenever I removed someone for poor performance it was bought back to these values.  If someone was passing their fitness tests, was constantly late to work etc they demonstrated a lack of commitment.

I was in one organisation our values were “Sign up, Team Up, Front Up” and we had recently been through a merger.  We were delivering a joint presentation to an external stakeholder and someone from another of our business units started hacking at my statistics and saying they were wrong – quite embarrassing.  Afterwards I pulled them aside and said “what part of Team Up was that?”  Then gave guidance as to how it might be more appropriate to do that in the future (by the way the statistics weren’t wrong).   I similarly heard someone abuse a customer on the phone, so spoke them about not living our value fronting up in a way expected of an employee.

It takes courage to have the conversation, as it’s a bit subjective, they might be hurt or embarrassed, they wont like you for it, but as a leader you must do it and say that that their behaviour is unacceptable.  Core Values let you bring the behaviour back to an agreed reference-point.  Without these it is just your opinion.

The key here is two fold.  Have the conversation at the time, when it occurs – just say “excuse me can I have a word, ………..”  You don’t need to be authoritarian or superior, you just need to state what happened and how that is unacceptable and doesn’t represent our core value of xyz.  Secondly make a written note on a staff file so that there is a continual record of every time you have had these conversations.  As one of my clients says – build the war chest – so that if they do get a lawyer involved you have a history of their performance.  In my experience it seldom gets to this, and if it does the data does the talking.  When people see you doing this, they then know you are serious about the way they are expected to behave.

Build, train coach and develop your people for success as they will grow your business.  But when people aren’t performing they need to see that there is a consequence for not performing.  Research by Winsborough shows that New Zealand businesses typically build soft cultures, but our talent expect us as leaders to deal with those who aren’t performing, so have the courage to have the conversations, take notes and occasionally you might need to ‘shoot a hostage’.

Are you still pushing in the right direction? Or are you stuck in the mud?

We all want to be able to do the things we are meant to do to move our organisation forward to achieve our vision but often we find ourselves putting things off, making excuses, saying “next week/month”.Continue reading “Are you still pushing in the right direction? Or are you stuck in the mud?”

The Elephant in the Room


In the wild there are two types of elephant, the African and the Indian.  Likewise in Leadership Teams there are often two elephants that are poorly addressed – these are difficult issues and poor behaviour.

How often have you been in a leadership team meeting and you think that there is an issue that isn’t being discussed or is being avoided – and it’s the real issue?  How often do you leave a meeting thinking we skirted around a topic without getting to the crux of the issue?  When has some one behaved poorly, or always behaves poorly – and no-one calls them on it?  It sounds like there are a few elephants gathering at your table.

It is hard to call them out by name and deal with them.  It firstly it depends on how much you trust each other and how prepared the leader is to be vulnerable enough to lay it bare on the table.  Do you genuinely know each other well enough to leave the egos at the door and tackle the difficult issues?  Do you understand how each other really tick, how you respond to stress or what stresses you and them and how that effects the potential interaction?  For example, if the CEO doesn’t like surprises and likes to be prepared, then something from left field is going to potentially derail the meeting.  Or if someone likes to talk a lot, use emotions and go around and around an issue, it will be hard to get them to focus on a structured decision making process.  Moreover, do you hang out together, socialise and know what is going on in each other’s lives and genuinely care?

Having a basis of trust established enables the conversations to be broached.  A good tool is that if you suspect that there might be an underlying issue then ask at the start if there is something that needs to be discussed first before the agenda commences so that they aren’t distracted; or is there something that if we left the meeting today without discussing – would someone be disappointed.  Then comfortable to sit in silence for a while until someone speaks. Then put the identified issue in the parking lot to be addressed.  it is then for the chair to successfully mange the process of addressing the issue to a conclusion.  Or if it is a distraction ask how does it fit with the business plan or strategy?

We took an idea from a client and now have a plastic toy elephant on the table that enables a subtle and novel way to name the elephant.  It takes practice – just remember to play above the line and tackle the issue not the person.

But what if the elephant is someone’s behaviour – in that they don’t play well with others eg the toss their pen, make dismissive gestures, interject, speak over people, always right, always have the last word, need to win, avoids conflict, etc – you know the ones.  This is where a courageous conversation needs to be had with either a peer or your Boss.  I suggest bringing the conversation back to your core values or your expected leadership behaviours.  Or perhaps leverage some basic meeting rules or ‘rules of engagement’ – you will surprised at how effective it is to have an agreed set of operating principles at the start against which you can refer is someone is starting to misbehave or derail the meeting – call them on it.  It directly makes a statement of “we aren’t going to tolerate your sh!t anymore”.

But the reality is that some won’t change, as these behaviours have been developed and self-reinforced over time – for some they are still leveraging the exact behaviours that got them to this point in their career.  This is when you are likely going to need an independent person to help address and coach the individual.  A 360 is a fantastic tool to create self-awareness, so that are aware that they need to change and grow, and then prepared to take action and be held accountable.  And this is going to take some time – but it reaps huge rewards.

It takes courage to stand in front of a moody elephant, but as leaders we must have the mettle to give it a name and start addressing it.

Greg is a consultant at Advisory.Works