Blog Articles

The new CEO: “Who do I trust?” - November 2012

During their first few weeks, a newly appointed CEO will have lots of advice from subordinates keen to make their views heard.  Some of these aim only to improve efficiency and the service provided to customers, learning from past mistakes.  Many, however, will be defending vested interests, seeking personal advancement or riding favoured hobbyhorses of dubious pedigree.  So who should the new CEO trust?

The new CEO can be certain of two things: there will be weaknesses inherited from the past and (as always) significant things will need to change in future. So the most important voices to listen to will be those of the ‘practical innovators’- particularly those who are influential and respected by colleagues.  Put the org chart to one side and focus on identifying these key individuals, bearing in mind that unlike the formal leadership structure of a traditional organisation chart, in reality, there is not a single or small group of leaders in organisations but lots of them.  Some leaders influence the views and behaviours of many people and some of just one or two.  More than 75% of these leaders are probably not in the management hierarchy at all

These key people who are also innovative by nature make up only about 3% to 5% of total employees. Their potential is usually latent: sadly under-utilised, because typically the entire management hierarchy from top to bottom can only identify about a third of them. 

So how does the new CEO set about identifying these golden needles in the organisational haystack?  The answer is to use experienced consultants specialising in informal networks.  There are a small but growing band of these, the best of whom have experience of successful change programmes using informal techniques.  The five steps to identify these key leaders are:

  • Start with a 100% (preferably online) sample in relevant work areas using basic questions, such as: who are the top 5 most innovative colleagues?  Who are the top 5 best communicators?  Who are the top 5 work knowledge ‘experts’ in your experience?  Who are the top 5 most influential people?  Who are the best work collaborators across organisational boundaries?

 

  • Then use informal network analysis software to home in on the target sector leaders to meet different change situations.  For example, the most frequently mentioned individuals across both the innovative and good communicator questions are likely to include most of the change-positive influencers – the organisation’s real change agents.  Similarly, mapping the highest-scoring ‘best collaborators’ with the people who influence them is likely to include the key people needed for a major collaborative initiative across organisational boundaries.

 

  • Then use a technique known as ‘network walking’ to ‘invert the networks’ and see who the top (say) 10%  of sector leaders in each category actually influence, both within and outside their work areas.  This is a fine tuning exercise to minimise ‘friend and family ’ nominations and to identify these informal leaders in as many areas as possible, including areas with relatively few employees.

 

  • This top 10% of relevant influencers and sector leaders are then invited to attend a series of short ‘discussion & analysis’ meetings, where their input is used to identify the top 3% to 5% of colleagues who have the greatest potential to contribute to designing business changes and winning the hearts and minds of colleagues in all relevant areas and levels.


The new CEO now knows who to trust. 

 

The new CEO: diving below the surface - November 2012

Every year, about fifteen new CEOs will be appointed in FTSE 100 organisations.  Their confidence on day one may be high but the odds are stacked against them:  the typical tenure of a Fortune 500 CEO, according to Fortune magazine, is only three and a half years - less than that of a one-term US president.  CEOs in the UK fare slightly better but the facts should still give them sleepless nights.

Scanning the surface

A natural and logical first step for any shiny new CEO is to analyse the future business direction and then carry out some form of capability review across key issues: is the current business model fit for purpose?  Is the technology base right to meet future needs?  Do we have the right numbers of people with the right skills?  Is the culture right?  Where are the gaps? 

Almost always, the people issues are the most difficult to get to grips with.  Traditionally, the end results of capability reviews for people resources are a useful start but are usually inadequate.  Where psychometrics are added to the mix, the outcomes often include more heat than light.  Historical performance records on individuals add some insights but are often distorted by internal politics and are always backward looking.

Essentially, new CEOs will, sooner or later, ask one very fundamental question: Who do I need to keep and develop to create a core of really good people for the future - and where do we still have significant gaps? 

Diving below the surface

The first insight below the surface is that the working world is not always mechanistic and logical.  Not just names, competencies and gaps: It’s full of inter-personal networks and local leaders of different types and hidden capabilities. 

There is a huge mismatch between the formally-recognised, so-called ‘leaders’ in management hierarchies and the real leaders in organisations.  The real leaders come in various forms: those who strongly influence the views and behaviours of colleagues, those who others go to for knowledge and advice, those who collaborate naturally across organisational boundaries, those who energise failing projects.  Most of these real leaders are unrecognised, hugely under-used and not in management positions.  

In times of change, humans look to these real leaders, their ‘influencers’, rather than their formal managers.  Who are the key influencers and where do they influence?  Who do people go to when they need different types of technical or business advice or information?  Who are the natural collaborators that can be relied on to link groups during big projects?  Who keeps the energy levels of teams high through difficult periods?  Which formal managers are influential with their staff and have developed effective teams?  Which individuals have created informal networks that link different work groups?  And of course: Which managers don’t merit a mention in any of the answers to these questions?

CEOs who are appointed internally often assume that they know who the informal leaders are.  Externally appointed CEOs recognise that they don’t know but believe that their senior managers do.  We worked with one externally appointed CEO, John who had a senior military background.  John was a very logical person and he was surprisingly open-minded on new approaches to leadership.  But, as more and more local influencers were used in a major transformational initiative that ended up massively increasing efficiency (and staff morale) he kept saying ‘the jury is still out’ on informal leaders.  Even as the successes of the change programme grew month after month, he only grudgingly gave up on his career-long belief in formal management practices.  To his credit, however, he never stopped us from using these key individuals across a whole range of change activities.  John retired at the end of a very successful four years as CEO – he achieved par for the course.

But John could have lasted even longer.  Evidence in recent years suggests that new CEOs who see the potential of informal networks can increase their CEO life span substantially.



   

Organisational Improvement in efficiency and effectiveness that you have only dreamed about! - August 2012

The vast majority of change programmes fail because their designers have only a partial understanding of how their organisations work. There is a hidden side to an organisation which has never been measured and therefore largely ignored. This hidden side is how people work in networks and make sense of the complexities of modern business. This ‘social capital’ and ‘meaning capital’ are crucial assets which can deliver amazing increases in productivity and added value.

Measuring and understanding hidden informal networks leads to true transformational change not traditional first order change. It requires new learning, new ways of seeing things and different ways of operating. Strategic initiatives designed to change culture, improve innovation, reduce costs,  improve services, increase employee engagement, will never achieve their aims unless the social networks are mapped, analysed and critical positive influencers found and used.

This is crystalised in the following equation:

the-golden-equation



We make the intangible, tangible and providing  a ‘reality baseline ‘ before any change starts . Our evidence based reality means we help improve personal and organisational effectiveness simultaneously.
   

What to do - ‘After the Riots’ - October 2011

A very complex issue - it’s another of those ‘wicked problems’

Since the spate of riots that recently broke out in our towns and cities around the UK, there has been much talk about likely causes of this undesirable phenomenon. Some of the suggested causes include:

  • Disaffected / alienated youth
  • Worklessness and illiteracy
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Unemployment and spending cuts
  • Breakdown of ‘family life’
  • Loss of sense of personal responsibility
  • Over-emphasis on personal rights and entitlement
  • Twisting and misrepresenting of human rights
  • A failure of the penal system - in particular in terms of reducing re-offending
  • Criminal opportunism which did not fear any possibility of getting caught or any meaningful judicial  penalty

Experience shows that many different causes have contributed to the kind of behaviour that we saw in the recent riots. It stands to reason, therefore, that many different tactics need to be applied to start addressing this sorry state of affairs.

These needed tactics are, however, not within the remit or capability of just one individual, or department, or public agency. What is needed is a genuine commitment, within and between agencies, to truly collaborate and deliver common outcomes.

We also need to recognise that this is not a simple problem but a very complex, inter-related one which is often labelled a ‘wicked problem’. These types of problems should be addressed in a more sophisticated way. Those involved should recognise that:

  • The problem is essentially unique (although there are some common themes across different areas) - so solutions must be local
  • Solutions need to tackle root causes as well as immediate causes
  • A number of partial solutions are required to reduce the scale and impact of a problem as ‘wicked problems’ cannot be totally eliminated
  • The nature of the problem becomes clearer once you start to tackle it
  • Every solution will change the problem in some way
  • Solutions to wicked problems are not ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ - only ‘better’ or ‘worse’
  • Searching for the ‘correct solution’ is self-defeating, as it does not exist

Identifying key knowledge holders, influencers, and informal leaders quickly, connecting them up with the right people and then facilitating their ideas into multiple but coherent solutions will make a significant and visible impact on this wicked problem and the desired outcomes.

“Easy to say, but not easy to achieve”, we hear you say. But maybe it’s not that hard if you know how to do it.

Key Performance, via associate company INL, has years of experience in helping clients tackle ‘wicked problems’. Using a unique collaborative methodology, we tap into the collective knowledge of informal networks of people and stimulate knowledge sharing within and between the organisations with which you need to work. We create safe environments in which your people and others create novel and innovative solutions. Unlike those who might claim to know the answers to your problems, we help by unleashing the talent and knowledge that exists within relevant local organisations. By helping your people to confront and deal with the complexity of the problems, more robust and effective solutions can be developed.

Our methodology achieves positive results quickly and cost-effectively, leaving your organisation and its people more capable of dealing with future ‘wicked problems’.

   

Leadership is not what you thought it was - August 2011

Leadership is one of the most misunderstood areas of business today; often resulting in poor leadership & management skills and demotivated & unproductive employees. So we thought it was about time to disspell some of those leadership myths and present you with some more helpful insights into what makes a good leader.

Nature versus nurture

Humans are impacted by both their genes and their environment. However, most nurture impact occurs during an individual’s formative years. By the time a person starts work, their main characteristics are embedded and the impact of workplace ‘nurture’ is relatively marginal.

Emergent leadership

Natural leaders will ‘emerge’ in all human groups who interact together.  BUT these natural leaders are associated with their specific groups: move a strong natural leader from one group to another and the continuation of natural leadership is a lottery.

Less than 20% of managers are strong, effective, change-positive ‘natural leaders’

Although on average about 40% of managers have some natural leadership credentials (in terms of influencing some colleagues and being at least open-minded on change), a more rigorous assessment (strongly influential and change-positive by nature) brings this figure down to less than 20%.

The great leadership training flaw

Transferring the skills and behaviours of successful (normally senior level) leaders to others through ‘leadership’ training has a very mixed track record.  The fundamental flaw is that (mostly) the wrong people are being trained!

The most effective leadership of people occurs where strong ‘natural leaders’ are also in relevant formal leadership. Where this happens, both performance and staff morale almost always rise, even during stressful periods of profound change, including downsizing.

The most consistently effective innovation occurs when individuals with different skills and knowledge work together across organisational boundaries (both internally and externally). Although formal mechanisms can provide a useful focus (such as a new product requirement or a specific problem to be solved), the key ingredient is almost always activating relevant inter-personal (largely informal) networks.

In the real world of work, consistently effective leadership is ‘networked’ with three key elements: innovation,  judgement and implementation. Only one of these three elements – judgement - is dominated by formal managers.  The other two elements are dominated by ‘natural leaders’ and informal networks.

leadership-model

   

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