Leading is tough…

On January 2nd a well fed version of me plopped down at my desk full of good intentions. And before I got to answering emails and walking about wishing people New Year I took some time out to think about accountability, collaboration and trust.

Before Christmas I’d queried someone’s decison on something and I wasn’t really content with their response. It just wasn’t the one I’d want them to make… That happens a lot, but I guess I it was one of the last things I did before shutting down. Before Christmas. It wasn’t a big decison, but it’s one where I can’t see something working out… And if I’d gone back and queried again that would have sent a clear messages. As it was they probably didn’t even notice.

So here is what I’ve been thinking

i) I get paid more than most people in the organisation – and that pay should be commensurate with me taking more accountability. If something goes wrong in my area I expect to be held accountable.

ii) But I want the people in my area to feel trusted and backed to make decisions

iii) But sometimes I can see problems coming down the line and in fact, I’m more experienced that most in spotting that (as I’ve made more mistakes than most), which is part of the reason why I get paid more than most.

iv) I’m also accountable for setting standards for my area – which can arguably conflict with ii)

So I’m sitting here waiting for things to progress and either me to be proved wrong (it happens) or to see how the person reacts if I turn out to be right. What I’m not doing is using a hierarchy to ensure what I think should happen happens. But maybe I should because I’m still accountable.

So I’m probably in this instance accountable for allowing some risk to help ensure continuity of trust. And then I have to ask if that’s the right thing to do for the people the organisation serves.

I guess I’m writing this because it’s about such a tiny, tiny thing. But most days are made up of similar choices but over much bigger things.

  • How much are things decided by a group vs me being paid to apply my judgement?
  • What do I let go vs what do I make a clear statement on?
  • What do I find time for vs how do I protect time to think?
  • How much is too much oversight vs how much of not having oversight is negligence

And it’s similar for anyone who leads a group of people. But I don’t think that complexity is always reflected by the experts commentating on the roles we do. Sometimes it’s a bit like watching the football pundits that you know failed to make it in management or never even attempted that role. You can speak with easily adopted authority if you’ve never had to make the same mistakes that we face (and make) each day.

‘What the modern leader needs to do is just…‘.

‘Yeah. But I’d like to see you try…’

You don’t give someone a four/nine box model and away they go… You don’t just say ‘Embrace your autonomy’ and everything turns out fine. You wrestle with this stuff every single day. And if you are me you go home and replay each day in your head second guessing each decison you made and then still come in the next day trying to give people confidence that you know what you are doing. A constant balance of unpicking and stepping forward. Because I’m paid to be good at stuff for people and I’m accountable for that.

So this is just a mini plea to the people writing/talking about leadership. Unless you do this stuff (and I mean you lead teams now – not have a rose tinted recollection of doing it half a decade ago) if you could mix some humility and understanding in with the insight that would be awesome. Because most of us know we aren’t perfect already.

And if you read this and think it is about you, but isn’t fair, then it wasn’t about you so it’s all good here.

Final thought – since I drafted this blog it turns out that my initial instinct was correct. However I’m not stupid enough to think there are countless examples every single day where the opposite is true. But on this one… Well, if you have made the same mistake multiple times you spot it when someone else is going to make it.

A compilation of thoughts

I’ve had a relentless few days of writing  so I thought I’d pull all of the pieces into one place as some are currently just sitting on LinkedIn…so

For my reflections on the UK launch of Google Glass. Yes, I look like a….

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For a reminder that CEOs are people too

For that exclusive extended interview with Dr Maslow Pinkwell

For some thoughts on the need to be honest about motives when talking engagement

And if you don’t normally check it out you should make Christopher Demers’ best of blogs a fixture on your reading calendar. It is wonderfully curated and if you read some of his work whilst you are there you will be better off for it. Every word makes you smarter.

Dirty Rotten Bloggers and Thought Leechership

Last week I had the opportunity to go and see F.W. De Klerk speak about the end of apartheid and the importance of leadership – something that Kate Griffiths-Lambeth covers in wonderful detail here. I then went to see Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the weekend. 

De Klerk spoke at some length about how the requirement of leadership is to stand for something, – not to just play back to the people what they want to hear in order to get yourself elected. It is an important distinction and a complicated one – is it arrogant to suggest that sometimes the leader will be in the best position to see what is best for the people? Is the essence of democracy enshrining of choice – or the enshrining of the choice of a leader? Since principles seem to shift over time how do you stand up for them?

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was great fun and one of the songs elaborated on what it took to be a great con man

“Give them want they want. Smooth and easy.”

So much of the content that we read is so similar to other content that it is hard to pick out

  • who is trying to make a point
  • who thinks in the same way as other people
  • who is just trying to sound ‘on message’ and give the people what they want

I’m pretty sure someone who has never worked in HR could read a few blogs/’thought leadership’ pieces and cobble them together into something that would get a good reception.

Top topics seem to be

  • Isn’t the recruitment experience a bit pants?
  • Aren’t performance reviews a bit pants?
  • Isn’t HR a bit pants?
  • Isn’t classroom training a bit pants?
  • Don’t we have too much policy?
  • Shouldn’t we have more diversity? 
  • Is x dead? (where x = engagement/thought leadership/ROI as required)
  • Shouldn’t we all use technology more?
  • Remote working is a good thing isn’t it?
  • Isn’t command and control a bit too commanding and controlling?
  • Isn’t Big Data an opportunity/a pathway to a dystopian future?

Maybe writing those is giving the people what they want? Maybe some of us are unwitting con artists and some of us are intentional con artists. Plenty of us will say we don’t write for the stats – but I bet not many of us would write if nobody read or responded. 

Maybe being unpopular is a sign of genuine leadership. Maybe the best thought leadership out there is so unpalatable or progressive that it doesn’t register, as it doesn’t fit into one of the categories above.

I’ve written posts on most of the topics above, so this is a reflection rather than a pop at other people. What would leadership in this space look like? Or is ‘social’, by its nature, more about collaboration than genuine creation? 

How can you tell someone exploring a topic from a stats hungry Dirty Rotten Blogger? How can you tell a thought leader from a thought leecher? 

Would it make any difference if you could? 

 

I don’t know who’ll want this post, but thanks to Mervyn Dinnen for the nudge

 

 

Gamification – the early years

It was my daughter’s birthday at the weekend. Two things happened which made me reflect on the nature of playing games.

The first was that Kate Griffiths-Lambeth gave my daughter a game, it was actually a Christmas present, but I wanted my daughter to open it early. The game was one that I’ve never seen before and is designed, at its core, to increase collaboration. It says that on the box. Kate said it was one of her favourites as a child.

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I’ve worked alongside Kate for the past few months and had a chance to observe Kate in action. Collaboration, help, support, team – I smiled when I saw the game – as it was exactly the kind of thing you would have expected to see Kate play as a child.

I wonder how much impact what we play as children has on how we behave when we are older. We are now starting to appreciate the power of the systems of games as tools in the workplace.

How much of a difference does what we play in our formative years make?

Did the individuals behind the banking crisis play Monopoly with their pals and delight in everyone else going bankrupt? Maybe rig the card deck so that they always got out of jail free?

Are the top surgeons in the country the individuals who just kept on playing Operation long after everyone else had finished? When the batteries died they wouldn’t rest until they could test their steady hands again?

Are our best structural engineers the best Jenga players?

I was addicted to Trivial Pursuit as a child. All I wanted to do was test myself against the adults. If somebody wanted me on their team on Trivial Pursuit then I got to stay up late . My freakish capability at Trivial Pursuit at a young age became something for my family to show off when people came over. That stimulated me to read more and get even better. In the end we used to play all of my family against me to make it fair. If you keep doing things you keep good at them. There was nothing special about me, it wasn’t about me being smart or making claims about my ability. It was about what Matthew Syed describes as ‘purposeful practice’.

Believe you can get better, approach learning in a controlled way and test yourself. Trivial Pursuit allowed me/encouraged me to do this. I was a product of that environment.

So, what lessons is my daughter learning? Well, at the weekend she had  a birthday party. We had a game of pass the parcel and my wife and I fouled up. A real parenting low point. My daughter waited for all of the other children to receive presents and then there was nothing left for her. Her bottom lip quivered but she kept it together.

I can imagine the moment being played back as part of an interview on a chat show when she is older.

‘I’m sure my parents did love me, but one of my first memories is being the only child not to receive a present in pass the parcel – at my own party’.

Plenty of other parents came up to us to say that their child would have thrown a tantrum. We are lucky we don’t have one of those children.

Doug Shaw suggested that it was a genuine life lesson for her. He may be right, but it isn’t one that I had planned. Maybe I should have. The Marshmallow Test is a fantastic example of understanding the importance of self control and more and more work on the importance of ‘grit’ to success is being produced.

Maybe I should be planning more life lessons through games for her. Or maybe if I really want her to help others I should just dust off Operation?

Final thought.

People play games every day. We tend to view people in the office who ‘play games’ as a bad thing. It suggests engineering a result for them, using other people as pawns. It is worth remembering there are more positive results available if you play nicely with others. Same is true for Social Media, same is true for life.

(written on the train, may have multiple errors, all apologies)

Humane, Resourced – out on Kindle

I’ve just had a bizarre experience where Twitter has once again managed to beat other technology to the punch. At about 6pm someone tweeted me a picture of Humane, Resourced available in the Amazon Kindle store. It was another hour before I got an email from Amazon to say it was available in the store – and it is available here…

http://goo.gl/pi2KAm

A quick recap and then a call to arms

The recap

1. Over 50 authors contributed – if you were one then congratulations, thank you and it couldn’t have happened without you. People also checked the text, created a cover and promoted the book – thank you, it couldn’t have happened without you

2. All proceeds go to charity. The book will be available for free next week, but if you can spare a couple of pounds (or a few dollars) then please know your money is going to a good cause. And you are only paying about 4p per chapter

3. There will be some errors – I’ll correct them, if I can, in future revisions

A call to arms

  1. Share it – share it and then please share it again. On LinkedIn, Google +, MySpace, Twitter, Facebook and word of mouth. People have given their time and effort for free so let’s make the most of that.
  2. Share it at different times in different ways and not just this week – talk at conferences, networking events and family parties – something brilliant has happened here
  3. If you have connections that might want to review it for a publication etc then put them in contact with me – likewise if they want to talk to me about the story behind it I’ll do that
  4. Encourage people to post reviews – let’s get it properly backed on Amazon
  5. Enjoy it. There is something of real substance and ambition here and some exceptional content.

Thanks,

David

BoB cover

Humane, Resourced – almost there #bookofblogs

UPDATE! GOOD UPDATE! NEWS!

So, today I spent most of the day cutting and pasting and swearing and exporting and grumbling and drinking tea. It looks like we are one step away from publishing a book – an incredible achievement when you consider the original ‘anybody fancy doing this?’ blog post only went out in mid July

I have just sent the review copy off to People Management – that is quick.

Over 50 authors – that is big. BoB cover

Simon Heath, who designed the cover, spent a chunk of the day at my house, sipping tea and solving problems. We have one problem left which is that when I move the book from Pressbooks (where we designed it) to Kindle it opens in the middle of the index. This isn’t the end of the world, but it is far from ideal.

I hope a couple of service calls I’ve put in will resolve the issue and the next button I get to press on Amazon says ‘SAVE AND PUBLISH’. 

I’d extend thanks to lots of people – several are mentioned in the book – but Peter Cheese, CEO of the CIPD spent his Sunday writing me a foreword. That is a classy and supportive thing to do.

So what can you do to help if you are an author or want to support the project?

  1. Tweet and Linkedin when we launch – Google + if you can and certainly Facebook
  2. Remember it is all for charity
  3. Consider updating your LinkedIn profile with the book cover or something imaginative
  4. Talk to people – you’ve been part of an amazing community journey, share that. We have inspiring content but we also have an amazing story
  5. Enjoy it – if you weren’t before you are now a published author

I’ll let you know more when I’ve stopped breaking things.

Dave

Moneyball – essential HR speedreads (part 2)

Moneyball (film)
Moneyball (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the second in a series of quick summaries of essential business/HR books (the first, The Drunkard’s Walk, can be found here http://wp.me/p3wxuY-4H) . As with the first review, I hope the lessons are useful, but also that you read the books in due course. I chose them because they are good books that you might not have recommended or given to you as straight ‘HR texts’.

Moneyball (The Art of Winning an Unfair Game)

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Moneyball-Winning-Unfair-Tie-In-Editions/dp/0393338398

Moneyball was hijacked as book and subjected to the unenviable and unfair fate of having up to a billion articles written about it suggestion it was all about ‘big data’. The book does focus on data – but there are far richer lessons to be enjoyed regarding teamwork, culture, innovation and bravery.

Essentially, the book provides an insight into the workings of a baseball team from Oakland that, due to having a limited budget, chose to hire more diversely; finding talent outside of the normal profiles for successful baseball players. They purchased players that might have unorthodox actions or techniques, but who could still be productive.

The team went on the longest winning streak in baseball history, using a strategy of hiring players based on actual results, rather than perceived desirable skills (informed by some cool data analysis) and getting the most out of them.

A short clip from the movie…and then the lessons from HR.

Lessons for HR

It’s not all about data. It probably never will be. Most summaries of the book focus on the level of analysis that went into the hiring decisions. What is often neglected is that the team’s success only really kicked off when they traded two high performers OUT of the club, due to the negative impact they were having on others around them. They valued and understood team dynamics and made a brave change as a result. The ability to let go of talent that didn’t fit was as important as the ability to acquire.

Performance is in the aggregate. When the team lost high performers it looked for where it could replace their contribution in the aggregate of the next hires i.e I don’t need a replacement star if I can hire two upper quartile replacements. This meant that over time they increased average performance, whilst ensuring that they were less reliant on individuals.

Results matter, not the way they are achieved. The team’s analysts looked at what won games of baseball and made teams a success. They ignored traditionally sexy or glamorous measures, like how many home runs people could hit or how fast they could throw – and simply looked at how good people were at hitting a baseball and stopping other people hitting baseballs. Focusing on metrics that mattered, to the exclusion of all other noise helped focus their hiring policy and how they used their strengths. As you can see in the clip identifying the problem, the real problem, is always key.

They stayed true to their vision. Having identified that they needed to compete in a different way to other teams the management’s strategy came under both external and internal pressure. They had a vision, they stuck to it and they were prepared to take accountability for failure as well. They understood they were playing a game they could lose, but they were passionate that they were playing it in the best way they could. It paid off. You can’t be right all the time, but to fail through lack of commitment. That is a real loss.

‘If you don’t stick to your principles when times are tough, they aren’t principles; they are hobbies.’ Jon Stewart