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So far ASK Blog has created 117 blog entries.

Why Can’t We Talk?

Communication matters. Organisations are networks of relationships – individuals interacting in pursuit of hopefully shared goals, aims or objectives. Even departments of one must interact with others to be able to clearly identify what others require – or what they require from others – and how best this can be achieved. No desk is an island, not matter how big or deep the metaphorical moat around them might sometimes feel, but when things go wrong or mistakes are made it is common to hear ‘communication’ being singled out as the diagnosis. But perhaps something else needs to be said here: that communication – or a lack of it – is more likely to be a symptom than a cause. Think of communication issues as the organisational equivalent of post-adolescent acne or obesity: yes, they’re something to tackle, but they have arisen for a reason. What needs to be addressed is the underlying cause, of which there could be several. The following are only a few examples – the list is potentially lengthy. Unclear Goals or Roles […]

By | March 13th, 2017|Management Development|Result Type: Post

Why measure management effectiveness?

Because it matters, of course. You’re probably familiar with a business management cliché first uttered by Peter Drucker – ‘What gets measured gets managed’ – but how to measure? The question of management effectiveness becomes more burning when you consider it in the contact of training: while a basic question – “Was is worth it, and what did it achieve?” – should matter to every organisation, few know or attempt to discover the answer. When it comes to training evaluation, organisations hunger for evidence of two often elusive factors: return on investment (ROI), to prove that their expenditure was not wasted, and increases in productivity. Training and learning that doesn’t increase performance wastes not just money but time, energy and optimism. Despite this, many organisations limit evaluation to satisfaction scores: a record that the training took place and was ‘enjoyed’, but its impact remains elusive. One reason that more meaning evaluation is rarely undertaken is the perception that it is difficult to do. Management performance, after all, is typically assessed using not one but a number of yardsticks: ASK’s own Management Development 360 Degree Feedback tool includes sixty individual competences. No training programme could aspire to address and improve managers’ performance in all of these, and we typically gather and facilitate feedback on the 6 – 10 competences most relevant to the scope of the training. We use this 360 degree instrument at the beginning of our programmes as a diagnostic tool, identifying areas for personal development and providing insights that can drive self-awareness. Re-deploying it after training allows us to measure how far participants have travelled and supports future development activity, but it is also another starting point: the beginning of a measure of their effectiveness. […]

By | March 7th, 2017|Management Development|Result Type: Post

Hunting, Fishing and Trawling for diversity: the net benefits of promoting women into leadership

Leadership pipelines, succession planning and talent development are on-going organisational headaches. A recent McKinsey Insights article agreed, arguing that “Organizations should learn to hunt, fish, and trawl for the best talent.” The problem seems to be one of diversity: where they cast their nets – and what or who they are aiming to catch. Most organisations (or at least those that don’t recruit inward, despite the costs and risks associated) rely on in-house programmes with pre-determined selection criteria. But are they looking for HiPos when they should try a different kettle of fish? Few organisations, McKinsey argue: […] scan systematically for the hidden talent that often lurks unnoticed within their own corporate ranks. Sometimes those overlooked leaders remain invisible because of gender, racial, or other biases. Others may have unconventional backgrounds, be reluctant to put themselves forward, or have fallen off (or steered clear of) the standard development path. That selection and promotion are areas of life where (un)conscious bias is a contentious and troublesome issue is not news, even if that does not necessarily translate into corrective action. But the tendency in many organisations to base criteria on ‘tried and tested’ leadership attributes may also be a growing issue, especially in times of rapid change and rising turbulence. Echoing the findings of the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer (which we have previously commented on), the 2016 Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor reports dismal levels of public support for the effectiveness of leaders. Unlike Edelman, it also explores the type of leadership that would be more appreciated – and finds that a higher percentage believe that leadership would be more effective coming from the company/organization overall and everyone within it than would place their faith in either the CEO or senior management. […]

By | March 1st, 2017|Leadership Development|Result Type: Post

Truth matters

I wrote recently on this blog about Radical Candor (sic). I’m still as English as I was when I wrote the original, where a degree of sarcasm may not have escaped your attention. But a lack of not just candour, but something closely related – honesty – is really not a laughing matter. You may have noticed a strapline on this website. Truth matters. Without truth, there is no credibility, no trust, no faith. Lies are quick, cheap and easy, but the bill can be pretty big when it does arrive. And it will. Have a read of a recent article from the US press, and ponder for a few seconds the impact on the credibility of Kellyanne Conway. If you’ve not glazed over yet, bear in mind her job title. Counselor to President of The United States. Her job is to speak on his behalf. And if she’s not credible… We may live and work in an era when examples or allegations of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ – a phrase that Ms Conway herself ‘popularised’ recently – seem to be everywhere, and where echo chambers digitally amplify them at the speed of whatever it is the Internet travels at. (The extent to which people may believe fictional news stories has led Facebook to introduce revised software in Germany ahead of this year’s elections.) But we are also in the age of the camera-phone, the server log, the CCTV camera, key capture software and many other little technological wonders that track and monitor a remarkably percentage of everything we do. If it happened – or if it didn’t happen (the size of President Trump’s inauguration crowd, anyone?) – there’s a very high chance the evidence exists to prove or disprove it. Dishonesty has never been the best policy: in 2017, it’s also very stupid. With such a high chance of evidence being available, there is only so far that truth can be stretched before it not only becomes dishonest but transparently so. Remember the Emperor’s New Clothes? You might think you’ve got everything covered so to speak, but other people’s view could be pretty off-putting. […]

By | February 20th, 2017|Leadership Development|Result Type: Post

The antidote to a toxic culture is better behaviour

They say culture eats strategy for breakfast, and they may have a point. But, like breakfast, culture has ingredients: the behaviours that create the atmosphere and patterns that everyone works within. Think for a moment about your morning muesli, and contemplate that old adage – “One bad apple…” It seems the staff at Business Grapevine might be thinking along similar lines, judging by their recent article, 5 warning signs of a TOXIC company culture. For those that might be concerned, here’s the summary checklist: A lack of employee motivation Inauthentic leadershipHigh turnover rates Absenteeism Lack of communication While culture can – indeed, should – be managed, it’s only reasonable to assume that the decision to create a culture with these characteristics is rarely that any intelligent organisation would take, but how many are mindful that these symptoms can arise surprisingly swiftly when behaviour goes either awry or unchecked? No matter what our staff handbooks and codes of conduct might say, organisations are composed of people, and a degree of irrationality comes with the turf. But that does not mean all is lost. A recent Strategy & Business article profiling Maryam Kouchaki, an expert in the causes of unethical behavioural, included an important reminder: […] although we humans may be hardwired to react and behave in certain ways that may not always make us proud, we are by no means a lost cause. This is just as well, given some of the findings of a recent McKinsey article, The hidden toll of workplace incivility, which charted some of the impact of toxic behaviours:   […]

By | February 14th, 2017|Culture Change|Result Type: Post

Peak trust: is it ahead, or is it behind us?

In findings that may dampen spirits in the C-Suites of the kingdom (and more than a few republics), CEOs are – with the exception of media spokespeople – currently the least trusted sources of information, according to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer. As Management Today reported: “Trust in businesses and business leaders is on the wane, the report found, but the group the public does trust to tell them the truth about a company is its employees” The Edelman report’s introductory section pulls few punches, even in its sub-title: “An Implosion of Trust”. After what it acknowledges as being a year of ‘unprecedented upheaval’, the report seems little surprised by human reaction to a world where heads of state have rolled, the Panama papers were released, elections and referendums brought widespread shock and a combination of rising fake news and falling advertising revenue undermined mainstream media. The ‘news’ – although that doesn’t feel like exactly the right word – is that the sense that the world is heading in the wrong direction is increasingly widespread. In finding that 53% judged that ‘the system is not working’, Edelman is not the only organisation to feel the pulse of the global public mood. In a worldwide a October 2016 Ipsos survey, What Worries the World, 61% of respondents said their country was on the ‘wrong track’ – 60% of Britons agreed. The main worries varied between the 25 profiled countries (the most frequently raised was not – as it is uniquely in the UK – immigration, but unemployment, with poverty and inequality also frequently highly ranked.) […]

By | February 7th, 2017|Agile Leadership|Result Type: Post

“Senior business leaders unequipped to manage and develop people”

Those blunt words were how the CIPD announced the findings of its HR Outlook: Winter 2016-17 survey.  While organisations voted performance management and people management as the two most important behaviours and skills for organisations over the next three years, senior leaders’ current performance in these areas were considered ineffective by 53% of respondents for the former, and 44% for the latter. Dr Jill Miller, CIPD Research Adviser, was similarly plain spoken, drawing a series of pretty unavoidable conclusions and arguing that organisations need to: make ‘targeted investment in their leadership’s people management capability’ review ‘outdated career development models’ to create pathways for progression for those with a technical bias that does not oblige them to take on people management responsibilities provide formal training and greater support for line managers, who are increasingly being expected to take on people management responsibilities that were previously handled by HR functions. We can only agree with another of her comments: a business really is its people. The senior leadership may call the tune, but the workforce are the band that actually play it. They are the people that deliver its vision, mission and strategy, that live its customer relationships and provide the productivity that generates success. Yet the detailed results in the Winter 2016-17 survey (which you can download as PDF) don’t provide a great deal of comfort: The only current organisational priority reported by a majority of respondents was Cost Management 70% of HR staff believe their team’s activities are at best ‘somewhat aligned’ with organisational priorities Senior leaders are rated least effective in relation to conflict management, inspiring trust, communicating strategy, performance management, engagement/motivation and empowering others 17% of line managers get neither formal training nor ‘tailored support’: only 25% currently receive both. Where analytics are used within the business, line managers are less likely to have access to HR dashboards and reports than Finance managers. We have always argued the importance of the ‘people’ aspect of business – whether it is referred to as ‘soft skills’, ‘people management capability’ or any other phrase. If leadership is largely meaningless without the capacity to engage and inspire others, that management is similarly lacking in impact without a focus on communication, understanding and an ability to motivate. A manager’s team is not yet another task to tackle, but the means to accomplish aims and objectives. […]

By | January 31st, 2017|Management Development|Result Type: Post

Can I speak with candour?

Silicon Valley – where else? – has a new ‘thing’, apparently. It’s called Radical Candor. We’re English, so we won’t be mean and quibble about the spelling. After all, there’s an important point here. (And a book and a website. And a company and a TED Talk…) Helen Rumbelow interviewed its co-founder, Kim Scott for The Times recently to find out more about what it means, and where it draws the line between showing complete honesty rather a form that might – if we’re being frank – be called ‘brutal’. The company’s website provides a handy matrix, with axes labelled ‘Care Personally’ and ‘Challenge Directly’. Radical Candor represents the apex of both, trumping ‘Ruinous Empathy’ and ‘Obnoxious Aggression’ and leaving ‘Manipulative Insincerity’ in a dark corner, presumably crying into its hankie or pulling the legs off insects. As The Times observed, this sounds terribly un-British. We are, after all, the country that has been the subject of a long-running web meme that helps non-Brits to understand that what we say to them is neither what we meant, nor what they thought we meant. When, for example, we say “That’s a very brave proposal”, others might think we mean “He thinks I have courage”. What we actually meant, of course, is “You are insane.” […]

By | January 24th, 2017|Difficult Conversations|Result Type: Post

Bending into the wind: staying agile in 2017

How can you stay agile and lead a business when it feels like things are falling apart? As 2016 rolled to a close, many of us heaved a sigh of relief, looking forward to a new year that offered hope of better things after a tumultuous twelve months. But as you look ahead, have you put much thought into the way your business leaders can support your team through any further difficulties that might come in the aftermath of last year’s political and economic changes? We spend much of our waking lives in the workplace, where the organisational culture impacts the wellbeing of every team member. When that environment is impacted as seriously as we witnessed in 2016, people can lose motivation and morale can be low. We don’t like to hear words like ‘volatile’, ‘uncertain’, ‘complex’ and ‘ambiguous’ in association with our business plans, but it’s unrealistic not to expect changes in the global landscape to have an impact, whatever the size of your organisation. As specialist consultancy Control Risks commented in December 2016: “The unexpected US election and Brexit referendum results that caught the world by surprise have tipped the balance to make 2017 one of the most difficult years for business’ strategic decision making since the end of the Cold War. “The catalysts to international business – geopolitical stability, trade and investment liberalisation and democratisation – are facing erosion.” Successful leaders know how to restore morale, set goals and tasks that draw teams together, and develop their employees as well as themselves, offering everyone the right opportunities. As currently hard to predict changes make their inevitable marks in the coming months, do your leadership team know how to engage with people (both professionally and personally) in a time of uncertainty, and how to maintain a positive culture that maintains productivity, with plans for future growth? […]

By | January 17th, 2017|Agile Leadership|Result Type: Post

Women in Leadership: Is the female of the species more human than the male?

Are women in leadership really as different as we’re led to believe? In recent years, we’ve begun to see an increase – some might say a long overdue increase – in women entering the top positions, bringing with them a new approach to leadership and managing complex business situations in a world that’s currently full of challenge and antagonism. With a female PM stepping in to guide the country through the response to a controversial referendum, a woman coming close to the top job in the USA and an increase in female CEOs on the world stage, has leadership changed in response? Many believe that men and women lead differently, focusing on different skills and approaches. But is this down to gender differences, or is it simply a change triggered by necessity when the world as a whole has changed and the way we lead must adapt to suit? With so much focus on the gender differences, are we blinded to the more complex needs of our team? After all, there are a great many factors that determine who we are – and what makes us unique – other than the sex we individually happen to be. Is categorising your workforce by gender truly going to help you to better connect to them, develop them and get the best from every member of the team? One area in which people believe women lead differently is in their’ humanity’ – their ‘soft skills’ approach to managing business. But is this, perhaps, less to do with being female and more to do with the proven successes of understanding your employees as complex individuals, and of communicating more openly as a way to create more connected, content and committed workers? […]

By | January 10th, 2017|Inclusive Leadership|Result Type: Post