What organisations can learn from the English Premier League

This year’s English Premier League promises to have one of the most interesting title challenges in its history.   Last weekend the top four placed teams all had to fight it out against each other.  The two new challengers (Leicester and Tottenham) outdid the traditional challengers (Manchester City and Arsenal) by each winning.  It’s a story of the two David’s trying to outwit the dominant Goliath’s.   The traditional status quo of Premier League domination is being challenged by new forces and tactics, beautifully illustrated by both Leicester and Tottenham.

The approach of both teams have similarities, and I think provide lessons that organisations need to reflect on.  Here are a couple of insights that both Leicester and Tottenham have demonstrated:

  • Used challenging times to create a positive force –  recently both teams have been seared in adversity.  Tottenham experienced defeat in last year’s league cup final and Leicester had to overcome the prospect of imminent relegation.    Both teams have used these difficult experiences to act as a motivator and it has galvanised the teams.   In recent weeks it looks like these players have a hunger and appetite that is enabling them to run through virtual brick walls
  • Unorthodox approach to talent identification – in an era of inflation busting transfers it’s refreshing that some of the talent both teams have acquired have cut their teeth in lower leagues and been bought for relatively modest amounts.   It’s a great example of the club using different ways of acquiringew talent
  • Hard work and energy – both teams have embraced a style of play that is relentless in pressing opponents and playing with high energy levels.  To do this the teams are training far more than other teams – they are just working harder and smarter
  • They do the basics really well – at the heart of both clubs has been in recent times to run them really well by managing the financials and basics really well.  Transfer dealings have been done astutely and the clubs are run sustainably

When tackling issues like how to be more effective organisations could do well to remember the examples of these two clubs.    As we approach the denouement of the Premier League season there is little guarantee that either team will win the title.   But the shadow they have set so far this season has been nothing short of inspirational and challenged the Premier League orthodoxy.  Long may it contiue and business should take note.

Share Button

Inspiring leadership: nature or nurture?

As a team we recently conducted an exercise centred around Noel Tichy’s Teachable Point of View.  During the session, using Tichy’s model, we covered a lot of ground.   One of the insightful discussion points focused on the notion of inspirational leadership and whether people can develop this or if it is a talent that is bestowed to the minority.

To a certain extent I think society creates and perpetuates the myth of the inspirational leader.   From Mandela to Churchill, Gandhi to the Dali Lama, history is etched with episodes celebrating the inspirational impact a minority of leaders have had.   This helps reinforce the impression that inspiration is a gift from the few and something the masses can only spectate.    But is this fair?  Can’t we all aspire to be and can be inspirational?  If so how?

Tichy’s model on the Teachable Point of View provided a useful insight into the debate.   The crux of the model is to get people to reflect on ‘crucible’ moments.  These are the transformative moments in your career where outcomes probably didn’t go to plan.  Yet the impact of what the leader has learnt can sow the seeds for future growth, provided they can harness this.   Tichy provides a method to help people share and open up over the difficult moments to help inspire others to learn from this.  These crucible moments are key in allowing people to open up, embrace failure, show humility and be authentic.

As a group we found that working through our own experiences inspired the wider group.  For me it was the ability of people to open up, show passion in something important to them and their authentic tone inspired others.

The conclusion we came to was that provided you have the courage to find your voice, be authentic then anyone can inspire others.   It’s about the ability of anyone to take a risk, expose vulnerability and with an equal measure of passion you can light fires in other people’s hearts.   It was a ringing endorsement of the importance of authentic leadership.

As a leader we have a choice in how we create a following and how our shadow is cast.  If we are willing to share our vulnerabilities we can inspire others.  Whilst this can be a challenge it is within anyone’s gift, as Tichy demonstrates and helps facilitate.

Share Button

Learning: from programmes to experience 

When discussing the impact of change there is the often well worn debate between the relative merits of transformational and incremental change.  What’s the most effective way of making the biggest impact?  Is it heavy lifting programmes or smaller iterative changes?  Whilst this polarised debate can be over generalised it is a useful prompt, especially in the context of learning,to think about what brings about the greatest value to organisations.   

Frequently learning practitioners confront this connundrum when they are deciding how best to develop and upskill  their workforce.  When faced with challenges like how to provide front line managers with basic management skills there is an inevitability that you descend into the scalable homogenous, off the shelf management programmes.   In the context of globalisation, tighter budgets and a need to deliver quickly across the workforce you can understand this approach.  But does it deliver the right outcome?

The increasing shift of learning to be more focused around experience than pure curriculum provides an opportunity to influence the debate.  The emphasis needs to be on learning practitioners to provide a more targeted, consultative approach grounded in specific business challenges.   This requires effective partnering with the business to diagnose the opportunity and deliver a solution very quickly (days not months).    This could mean you deliver more contained learning experiences (like interviewing training, managing absence etc.) immediately rather than try and get major long-term programmes off the ground.

The obvious counter to this approach is that you lose scale, breadth and it’s too tailored to be cost effective.  However, we need to challenge this as I don’t think this means that you end up providing bespoke solutions everywhere.  Rather the skill of the learning consultant is to adapt core learning into a local frame of reference which requires a level of sophistication and empathy with their business.   It’s in their gift.

Given how fluid and unpredictable organisations can be this iterative approach provides learning with a simpler, less risky approach to supporting their business and demonstrating return on investment.   It also has the benefit of reducing the investment arm wrestling to determine whether you proceed with a major investment or not.  Smaller changes are far more palatable and can create a sense of progress, energy and momentum.  

Therefore the focus needs to be on how you create small changes against specific challenges.   This requires a level of sophistication to do this but the benefits can be significant and provides both learning and the business a way to keep moving.  The shift in software development from waterfall development to agile offers a compelling template for the learning world to apply.   Deliver small, deliver fast, create a meaningful experience to a specific business challenge and you start to create  a cycle of momentum and energy.  This offers both the learning professionals and the business with simpler way to execute on priorities and make change happen.

Share Button

Avoiding those empty spaces in the gym car park

It’s that time of year when we’ve set our annual resolutions and the energy of January starts to evaporate as the grind of February kicks in.   Noting sums this up better than seeing empty spaces appear in gym car parks as people’s get fit resolutions start to wane with the advent of Spring.

With work it’s no different.   The heady moments in Janaury where goals are set after thrashing them out in long sessions can so easily be lost as you progress throughout the year.    The initial energy and focus around plans and ideas can be lost as people crack on in a ‘busy’ world.      The whole notion of an annual goal setting process feels terribly outdated  given how disruptive the world of work is and therefore to an extent largely irrelevant.   It needs to be replaced with something more iterative, adaptable and more engaging.  

Therefore what would constitute a better approach?  The recent shift in viewing performance as an ongoing dialogue throughout the year represents a total shift from the classically outdated annual processes.  Here are some other characteristics I feel that are important.

  • Scorecards with clear accountability – clear metrics and goals associated with each team member where dependencies both internally and externally is like the room 101 of goals.   Yes plan at the start of year but that is just the start.  A clearly articulated and agreed scorecard, which can be adapted throughout the year, offers the ability and means to facilitate high performance
  • Removing the cult of the leader – one of my biggest frustrations with goal setting is the annual cascade of goals, where everyone feels they have to wait for the CEO then every other manager under the sun to set their goals is outdated.  Yes alignment is key but as we move to more federated and distributed organisational models, people need to take personal responsibility and use scorecards to drive alignment through regular inquiry with what is happening  across the organisation 
  • Banging the drum – once set scorecards only work if there are inbuilt robust routines to regularly hold people to account, celebrate success and apply necessary course corrections.    Weekly, monthly and quarterly routines to different stakeholder groups is fundamental.   There needs to be a mix of both formal and informal dialogues around progress.  In short, people and organisations need to live an breath them.  Innovative channels need to be used to capture the attention of organisations 
  • Shouting out – to keep energy its key to recognise progress and what you’ve achieved.   It can’t wait for the annual company awards or ‘rating’.   The ability to share stories of success, promote good news (and areas of focus) is key in keeping them alive

The recent shift in seeing performance as an ongoing iterative dialogue throughout the year replacing a bureaucratic annual process is welcome.  It provides people a chance to understand what they need to do and are doing to make their work meaningful.   Whilst some of these elements require organisations to rethink their approaches there is enough here for all of us to get on and adapt to this.   By doing some simple things as leaders may just avoid those car park spaces from being empty.

Share Button