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So far ASK Blog has created 109 blog entries.

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

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

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

Post-truth or post-trust?

Without trust, there’s no need to assess truth – why leadership behaviours matter Dictionaries don’t often make headline news, but Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year is an annual exception – an easy attention-grabbing article that can congratulate itself on seizing the zeitgeist. If newspaper columnists and web editors felt an ironic chill climb their spines as they reported this year’s winner – post-truth – it was probably their relief that the acronym ‘MSM’ (MainStream Media, almost invariably used derogatorily) wasn’t selected instead. Oxford’s definition, however, is worth pondering: post-truth (adjective) Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. Before 2016, we weren’t strangers to being urged to ‘believe’, usually in the context of believing in something so vigorously that it would come true. Quite often, the context was celebrity. (As the Guardian pointed out recently, this has also been The Year of The Snowflake, and of delicate princesses of all genders.) 2016 has, as with so many things, turned this power of belief on its head. Believing now trumps – and what other verb could we use? – empirical fact. Forensic science be damned, evidence is now a thing of the past. Looking back as the year draws to a close, it seems reasonable to ask if this really is the year of ‘post-truth’ or if this is a symptom of something deeper – that this is the year of ‘post-trust’. In one of the year’s most notable quotes back in June, the then Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, declared in a Sky News interview that:  “[…] people in this country have had enough of experts.” There was a context, of course: the divisive EU Referendum campaign, in which dismissing all expert opinion may have seemed a quicker route to sealing an argument that presenting a counter-case, but quotes have a habit of resonating even when they’ve been shorn from their original setting. But in courting feeling, emotion and opinion over fact, we run a risk of undermining not just experts but facts themselves: disbelieving something is not the same as disproving it. […]

By | December 13th, 2016|Leadership Development|Result Type: Post

Learning evolution

How we learn is changing – and how we teach must change too Formal learning has always had – and will always have – a place in L&D, and we will always support the formal learning programmes our clients request. But we also know that people learn in different ways, and that our approach has to be adaptable to support more of them through their learning journey: this is an age of learning evolution. We also appreciate that employees place widely varying value on different learning experiences, and that the training they get is not always the training they might want. CIPD’s Employee Outlook Autumn 2016 report explored this topic, with interesting findings. While 86% found instructor-led off-the-job training useful/very useful, even higher percentages valued learning from peers, on-the-job training, job rotations and secondments. Looking more specifically at comparisons of value with the types of training actually received, it’s striking that 81% valued blended learning, but only 4% had received it in the last twelve months. Coaching was also valued by 81%, but received by only 8%. (CIPD’s Learning and Development 2015 Annual Survey Report also showed coaching as the only learning method that a higher percentage of respondees reported as effect than reported using regularly, which begs an unanswered question.) L&D is also, of course, a business function, and economic factors are an important influencing factor on a changing landscape. L&D budgets are under significant pressure in many industries, especially in the public sector: even in the private sector, as many respondents identified budget cuts as increases. A general picture of rising L&D workloads and decreases headcounts emerges, although increased expenditure on learning technologies is widespread. In looking at training that was both received and valued in the Autumn 2016 Employee Outlook report, it is striking to note that 35% received no training at all. When we consider how much support employees are receiving in being effective performers, it is sobering to remember another CIPD report from 2014 – previously commented on here – that showed that 36% of line managers receive no training in how to better perform their vital role. […]

By | December 13th, 2016|Methodology|Result Type: Post

Getting engaged: a milestone to celebrate

An engaged workforce can make your business fly, and we can help you achieve it Being engaged is something that we all delight in – a celebration of commitment and connection, and of a relationship being cemented. These are fundamental human instincts, and fundamental sources of something else that we crave: a sense of purpose and meaning. But we aren’t talking about a happy couple planning marriage, or even about life-long friendships: we mean employee engagement, something just as worthy of celebration, but also something more often longed for than experienced! Workplace engagement is one of the business topics of our time, and endless articles voice a range of worries – frequently about the generation gaps, the needs of millennials, and the different approach that younger people take to their careers. A specific concern is with retention, and there is a common perception that are more likely to move from role to role, and company to company, to climb the career ladder quickly, meaning that recruitment is a constant process in many organisations. Perhaps related to another popular view that millennials are uniquely different, there is a noticeable panic about how organisations and managers must strive to engage them. (Or better yet, engage with them: engagement is, after all, a two-way street.) Challenging Perception “Perception is reality” is a familiar aphorism. Unfortunately, it’s a misquote: what Christopher Ray actually said was “Perception is merely reality filtered through the prism of your soul.” Although when it comes to ‘the millennial issue’, we might substitute ‘media’ for ‘soul’. The empirical research is less clear about the difference inherent in the millennial generation, beyond simply being a different generation – not in itself a new phenomenon. As Bruce Pfau, KPMG’s Vice Chair of Human Resources and Communications, wrote recently for Harvard Business Review: “On the contrary, a growing body of evidence suggests that employees of all ages are much more alike than different in their attitudes and values at work. To the extent that any gaps do exist, they amount to small differences that have always existed between younger and older workers throughout history and have little to do with the Millennial generation per se.” […]

By | December 6th, 2016|Inclusive Leadership|Result Type: Post

White Paper: The Learning Transfer Problem

When organisations say they have a learning or training problem, it is likely that what they really have is a learning transfer problem. When people learn, they do so by relating new information to something they already know. This explains why teachers and trainers use examples and case studies, and why they so often say ‘For instance…” Metaphors – which also equate one thing with another – are useful ways to explain too. Which might be why we might the following point in our White Paper: The Problem with Learning Transfer : “[…] any approach that suggests that learning ceases at the end of the last session of formal learning is akin to suggesting that a marriage ends once the rings have been exchanged.” Learning Transfer: A Broken Engagement? Formal learning – whether it takes place in a lecture theatre, a seminar room or on the screen of a smartphone – can achieve only so much. While it delivers new attitudes, skills and knowledge, there are two things it cannot do: Ensure that they are personalised to ensure the understanding of each individual learner Put them into practise. What Comes After Learning Transfer is relatively easy to define. In a widely quoted 1988 research article that included an initial ‘model’ that showed the factors that influence it, Timothy Baldwin and Kevin Ford offered the following: “The generalization of the skills acquired during the training phase to the work environment and the maintenance of those acquired skills over time.” But decades of research that show that only 5 – 20% of formal learning is ever subsequently transferred demonstrates that achieving it is rather harder, despite not just the huge amounts spent on training but also available evidence that shows how less of this might be wasted. […]

By | December 8th, 2016|Methodology|Result Type: Post

Life after Trump: Why a clueless leader might be just what you need

Not all leaders are experts, but great senior leaders know how to get the best from their teams It’s been two weeks since the world woke to the news that Donald Trump had won the race for the American Presidency – news that shocked many, as a controversial candidate with little political experience hadn’t been expected to perform so well. His win proves many things – not least that complacency has no place in leadership, and that people who are unhappy with the status quo are attracted to potential leaders who promise to bring change. While ASK had no horse in this particular race – ‘not our circus, not our monkeys’, to borrow a phrase – and there are critical differences between countries and companies, the US Election result raises important points. Trump, with no past political experience, may have seemed like a strange choice, but his very lack of experience seems to a key part of his appeal to people. Neither shaped nor tainted by the way things have always been done, perhaps he can change them? Great leadership is twofold. It’s about inspiration – about making people believe in your dreams for the future, whatever organisation you’re taking the helm of – and about positioning the right people in the right places to ensure that change can be delivered. Trump is open about his lack of knowledge in some areas of the leadership – it’s been reported that his team were surprised to hear that would have to select new staff for the Whitehouse. Guided through the transition period and process by Obama, who is carefully mentoring his successor, his initial attention as President Elect is focussed on who will serve under him. […]

By | November 25th, 2016|Emerging Leaders|Result Type: Post

Feeling useful is not a luxury

It’s not every day that a high-profile professional dismisses their own abilities, makes the news by resigning, acknowledges that privilege is a complex issue, and makes an important point about our relationship with work – but that’s just what Lucy Kellaway, the FT’s award-winning management columnist and journalist, has just done with the announcement that she’s resigning from her job to retrain as a maths teacher. Furthermore, she’s taking the opportunity to encourage others in the later stages of their careers to consider joining her. As someone who has written – usually wittily and often acerbically – about careers, she is not the easiest writer to dismiss when she chooses to be candid about her reason for doing so. While she acknowledges the excitement of the new, especially after 31 years of journalism, she has explained in her own column that: […] the biggest thing, which readers may find hard to swallow given my entire career has been based on ridiculing others, is that, for my next act, I want to be useful. Yes, I know sticking pins in pompous chief executives is useful in a meta kind of way but that’s not the kind of useful I have in mind. Without actually using the phrase, although it’s one she must have typed a great many times, Lucy has hit the nail on the head when it comes to one of the business industry’s Holy Grails: employee engagement. This state of being – so much discussed in some circles that it has almost acquired an aura of myth – is driven by many things: good working relationships, an environment where employees feel confident that they are learning and developing both personally and professionally, and an organisation whose work and purpose they admire are just three of them. But when it comes to summing up such HR-speak sentiments as ‘having a sense of making a personal contribution that is aligned with the organisation’s values and mission’, it is hard to be more succinct than “I want to be useful.” […]

By | November 25th, 2016|Culture Change|Result Type: Post

Business Simulations: A Different Type of Health and Safety

If an organisation that stands at a complex junction, or which faces the turbulent uncertainties that characterise today’s world, its leaders and managers must be able to work together. And they must be able to do so in a pressured environment, collaborating to make sense of complex data, develop innovative solutions and build consensus [...]

By | November 9th, 2016|Business Simulations|Result Type: Post