Leaders: Is that how you want to be seen?

I wrote some time ago about the fact that senior teams on organisations are people too. I was chatting to a group a few weeks ago about influencing organisational strategy and that sometimes the aspirational influencing techniques and the ROI figures from research won’t hit the spot. That’s because evidence helps – but people still make decisions based on emotional reactions.

I’ve seen perfectly reasonable business cases rejected because, despite compelling evidence, people just didn’t ‘believe in them’ and less compelling cases termed as ‘worth a punt’ or ‘feeling like what we should be doing’. Quite often it has depended on who is presenting and how it is presented.

The idea of the completely rational senior team is as implausible as that of the rational consumer in economics. They are a group of smart people with the same prejudices, biases and ego challenges as the rest of us. They care about how they are viewed, not just numbers.


Don’t plan around what should happen in those hallowed rooms, plan around what we know does happen.

So I think the following are valid influencing tactics

– Not doing this is inconsistent with the values that you/we keep talking about

– I’ve heard you talk about how you want to be seen as a leader who cares about x and I think that’s really important; and this would be a really good way to bring that to life for people.

– Not doing this undermines your personal credibility and ability to get other things done and I know how hard you have worked to change impressions of this team after the last x left

– What do you want your legacy to be? What type of company are you trying to create? I think this could be a key step to achieving that…

– Doing this will buy you the goodwill to do x or repair the damage caused by y

– It’s not commercially imperative but it sends a clear signal about how to approach other work/how much you as a team care about y

– I’m confident it might be award winning (Note: don’t use this too often unless you regularly land awards)

It’s not nice and fluffy, it may be slightly manipulative and it isn’t all you should rely on. It certainly wouldn’t work with all senior teams, but it should be in the toolkit.

Don’t be afraid to treat people as people – because there is opportunity to do better for people and organisations by knowing which buttons to push. A whole of market approach to influencing to get the right things done.

Learning from Cornettos – Personal Branding

I went to see some Opera in Florence last year at the recommendation of a colleague. It isn’t something I normally do, but if you are in Florence you could do worse than head to St Marks Church to see what they have on. This is especially true as the money they raise from performances all goes to charity.

Anyway I vaguely recognised most of the tunes that were belted out during the main performance and then they came out for an encore. It was the Cornetto song….

Just one Cornetto, give it to me, delicious ice cream from Italy!

Of course they weren’t singing that, they were singing O Solo Mio, the traditional version from Naples that doesn’t mention ice cream. I wondered how many times I would have to hear the ‘proper’ version before the first thing I thought of wasn’t a Cornetto.

Once our brains have anchored on a connection they are tricky things to shift. People often get frustrated that people don’t recognise the development that they have made and still associate old behavioural traits with them.

If you are the individual trying to develop it’s important to remember that changing the perception of others takes longer than creating that perception. Unless it is trust – that can vanish in one moment.

So if you are currently trying to change something then share that goal with people at work and keep checking in. Bring that sense of change to a position that is front of mind for them. Let’s say that you have become well known for the gravest organisational sin, talking over others in meetings. Share this with some people…

‘I know I often talk over people in meetings and I’m really wanting to get better at not doing that. I was wondering if you could be my spotters and let me know at the end of the meeting as to how I’m doing.’

Rather than taking 6 months for anyone to notice the improvement it should only take a few meetings for recognition of improvment- and you have people supporting you on that ambition to improve too.

Everyone wins and you can buy them all a Cornetto to say thanks.






Brangelina Cultures

I remember reading some years ago about a theory as to why so many movie stars fall in love with other on set. The example given was Angelina Jolie splitting up Brad Pitt’s relationship with ‘America’s sweetheart’ Jennifer Aniston.  The argument goes a little like this…

Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt have a normal relationship together. This involves him seeing her without makeup in the mornings, relaxing around the house in jogging bottoms and probably picking her nose and farting in bed. Generally doing the stuff that constitutes being a couple. I confess that I’ve never been in a (long term) relationship with Jennifer Aniston, so I’m filling in some blanks myself.

Pitt then goes to work on the set of the movie Mr & Mrs Smith. Every single day he is greeted by Angelina Jolie, who has had a team of make up artists and stylists devoted to making her look stunning for the camera. Aniston didn’t have a chance (or so the theory goes).

Hearing from organisations and getting a company tour are similar experiences, in that it’s rare that you get to scratch the surface of what is going on. The companies are in full make up. They are never going to urge you to seek out their ugly bits.

They give you a tour and they never, in that short time, tend to share the fact that they also do the organisational equivalent of passing wind in bed. It is easy to leave them thinking that your partner at home should put in more effort and that that the grass is greener elsewhere.

Of course the truth is that most organisations have an ugly underbelly, strapped in by an uncomfortable corset.  They come home drunk occasionally and wake you up when you are trying to get to sleep. They are mean to the cat for no reason. They fiddle with the settings on the toaster so it ends up underdone. Or whatever the organisational equivalent is.

Just because you get the tour doesn’t mean that their day to day challenges aren’t the same as yours.

Over the past few years I’ve been able to visit a large number of great organisations and I’ve seen that even the great ones all have the same challenges

– how do we find great people
– how do we keep great people
– how do we get the best out of them
– how do we manage their performance and pay effectively
– how do we get our best people to understand that Angelina Jolie probably picks her nose too

So don’t be too hard on your Aniston.

Brave L&D – is the other folk

Go on then.

Two quick stories. In each I think the bravery comes from the people who backed me, not from me (because I just did what I do and that’s not very brave).

i) the annual budget for L&D comes through – and despite the fact the headcount has gone up our budget has gone down. Not much, but the per head investment is down enough for me to notice. I point it out to the HRD. She says there are budget cuts everywhere. I say that I know but I don’t think they should be here. I ask for some time to put together my thoughts as to why. She agrees. It takes me a few years to work out that she was agreeing to two things: to back me and to make her life more uncomfortable. That’s brave.

I get some figures from finance and book out a training room. I spend a day crunching numbers on Excel until I have a three year trend of investment per head, by department and by length of service. I turn it into a one page overview. The HRD takes it to the COO.

He asks us to tell him how we would spend an extra 150k and let him know within 48 hours, he doesn’t have to do this, but he’s prepared to take the flack for the overspend and any cuts that need to be made elsewhere. It’s a lot of money for a cost conscious smaller organisation. That’s brave, to tel everyone you are cutting and then reverse in one area. We get the money and we get to offer some smart cheap solutions as well as some more targeted investment. If you don’t ask you don’t get – but if you don’t have brave people backing you then you don’t get. We ran a development programme, two thirds of the programme were promoted before we have even taken the cohort through the full activity. We also got to do some things for everyone in the business we couldn’t have done otherwise. Money well spent.

ii) I’m new in the job. I’ve just taken responsibility for the Training Team and I’m asked to sit through a dry run of material to be rolled out to the entire organisation, sessions start the following day.

I hate 90 per cent of the material. I hate the structure. I hate the packaging. I hate the messaging. I watch the room. I can tell that other people do too. I watch the trainer and I can tell that they do too. We plod on. We can’t answer the questions that we know delegates would ask with any degree of conviction.

At the end of the day we enter the session designed to make any adjustments and people start talking about where we could make improvements. Where we could tweak.

I stop the conversation and ask if anyone believes what we are about to deliver to the organisation solves the problem we have.

The answer is ‘no, but we told the senior team we would deliver it by now, so we have to do something’ .

I ask if they think the senior team would rather we asked for more time or took up the time of every person in the business to put them through something even we didn’t rate.

Nobody wants to deliver it.

I head over to see the CEO. He listens and asks what I want to do. I say that I want us to do it properly and suggest what we should do. It means wasting all of the work and time that has gone into organising time to be available and completely redesigning what we have.

He agrees and asks how we should communicate it. I tell him what I’d like to do and he says to leave it with him.

Twenty minutes an email goes to the whole organisation. It says that time is precious and we take pride in setting our standards high. We are cancelling some training and it isn’t because we don’t want to invest in people, it’s because we want to do it right. He says it is his decision.

That’s brave.