Ending Our Obsession With Leadership

Organisations need to completely rethink what it means to lead. It’s not about one person or even those residing at the top anymore. In today’s world, everyone has to adopt a leadership mindset. We have to think of ourselves as members of a leadership community  — Patty McCord, former chief talent officer, Netflix

Leadership worship – the act of mythologizing those near the top of organisations – is holding us back now more than ever.

When we look to others to make decisions, set the rules or uphold the culture we actively disempower ourselves, levying a huge inefficiency tax upon our organisations.

How much inefficiency? It could be 75% or higher.

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According to a recent report –  the vast majority of employees wish their boss or manager would give them more responsibility, with 83%  wishing ‘leaders’ would ask for their opinion or input more often.

Far from shirking, employees are actually crying out to make more of a contribution at work.

Those kind of numbers suggest enormous amounts of talent, ideas and innovation are being squandered – all in the name of supporting a hierarchical approach to leadership by the few, rather than the many.

It’s not as if those leaders appear to have all the answers anyway. According to the World Economic Forum  86% of people agree that ‘we have a leadership crisis in the world today’ with an alarmingly weak correspondence between power and competency.

Additionally, a series of reports from MIT argues that current leaders lack the mindset needed to bring about the strategic and cultural changes required to lead in the new digital economy.

So you have two things going on:

You don’t have to be an expert in innovation to see that’s a busted model.

But is it our own obsession with leadership that is actually supporting this dysfunction?

As Neil Tamplin has written , in today’s world of work people want to be accountable for their own actions and our leaders can’t possibly know the fullness of every decision they make. In our increasingly uncertain operating environments, this model is setting ourselves up to fail because we choose to avoid vulnerability and uncertainty in favour of comfort.

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Fear of Failure

So what’s stopping us? One reason organisations might not want to include their employees in their decision-making involves our focus on outcomes and a fear of failure.

The more people involved in decisions means the greater the risk of screwing things up – or so the conventional thinking goes. Mark Robinson has argued though that it’s often better to have poor outcomes with a great decision-making process than it is to have good outcomes with a poor decision-making process. His reasoning is that “you need a culture where people aren’t to blame for decisions. What your culture should be about is learning from bad decisions.”

Perhaps we need to lose the language of leadership altogether.

A Google search for leadership traits reveals a tiresome focus on visioning, strategizing and feedback loops – the kind of management bullshit we should have left back in the 1990s.

The real traits that matter such as empathy or self awareness, are key attributes for all human beings , not just for those of us who have a couple of line reports.

You will be hard-pressed nowadays to find a business that does not have some sort of a mentorship or development programme geared towards the leaders of tomorrow or emerging or aspiring leaders.

Hardly any of those self-same businesses will have programmes aimed at developing the ideas of tomorrow or creating the organisation of tomorrow.

It’s all about leaders. 

Arguably we are prioritising the perpetuation of existing systems and structures over meaningful change. Unless we address the root of the system, unless we really address how organisations make decisions and engage people, then we are not changing anything materially.

The new world of work requires us to become less fixated on the leader and more focused on leveraging the community at every level of our organisations.

Breeding the idea of the leader as superhero is getting us nowhere fast.

As we begin a new year the most radical thing you could do is rip up your plans for leadership development – and concentrate instead on how you can democratise innovation for the 80% rather than the 20%.

 

How To Find And Nurture Digital Readiness

When someone in public service says, ‘I don’t use social media. No one wants to know what I had for breakfast!’ I hear, ‘I don’t have the vaguest interest in understanding how an increasing number of citizens get information or choose to interact.’  – Leah Lockhart

What are we doing about boosting the Digital IQ of our organisations?

As we continue to transform and tilt ever further towards automation, it’s time to question the amount of support we are giving our colleagues.

The latest report from PWC says that confidence in our digital abilities is at an all time low.

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In a global survey of Executives 52% rated their digital IQ as strong. Down from 66% just three years ago.

Our people , it seems, simply can’t keep up with the advances in technology.  So what are we doing wrong?

First of all the scope of “digital” has changed. It used to mean our IT capabilities, then extended to take in social media awareness. Now it’s much more pervasive, touching on strategy, culture, customer and colleague experience.

Employing people with the right digital skills is now non-negotiable.

Yet some organisations are adopting a wait and see tactic:  let the old guard retire and be usurped by a new breed of younger digital natives.

Except that won’t happen.

‘Born digital’ millennials are a figment of our collective imagination. A review paper has concluded that “information-savvy digital natives do not exist.”

Instead we need to focus on seeking out what Pew Research call ‘digital readiness’.

This exhibits itself in two ways:

Digital skills: the skills necessary to adapt to new technology, browse the internet and share content online.

Trust:  people’s beliefs about their capacity to determine the trustworthiness of digital resources and to safeguard personal information.

These two factors express themselves in the third dimension of digital readiness, namely use – the degree and aptitude to which people use digital tools in the course of carrying out their day to day work.

Being digitally ready doesn’t mean having a CEO on Twitter or chasing the latest apps. It means knowing what your personal goals are and what tools to use to achieve them. It means creating new networks and sharing knowledge to benefit your team or organisation.

In the Pew research, only 50% of people describe themselves as very digitally confident. Therefore it follows we all have people in our organisations , from Executives to the frontline, that are falling behind.

Perhaps we need to identify the digital laggards and connect them with the leaders who are often hiding in full view from the organisation. They are often overlooked by traditional Leadership Development programmes which tend to perpetuate a hierarchical model of ‘identifying future leaders’.

In my experience the most digitally ready often operate in ways that are wholly inconsistent with the current operating structure. They take a more radical approach to decision-making, and they don’t recognise a command-and-control model.

We haven’t really discussed the implications of this for our leadership. The new potential of artificial intelligence and robotics poses major new challenges for organisational development.

Really we need a new set of questions:

  • What are the implications of new technologies for leadership at all levels?
  • How will these changes disrupt and impact the business model?
  • What knowledge and skills should be our priority?
  • What do we hold on to from our past? What do we discard?

Just like knowledge has been democratised through social media, leadership will become democratised and ever more flattened. Making the transition from the individualist nature of leadership to a more collective focus won’t be easy.

It requires moving away from thinking that tools and systems can transform us.

It requires moving away from seeing ‘Digital Leadership’ as the preserve of an elite few who we all follow.

Unless we all feel that our Digital IQs are improving – that we are ready for the challenges of an increasingly automated future – we may find we have no place in it.

Avoiding The Iceberg of Organisational Change

Formal reorganisation is an elaborate illusion. Reorganisation has to be part of an organisation, not something done to it Harold Jarche

The concept of the ‘iceberg of ignorance’ – that most problems in organisations are invisible to leaders, and therefore unsolvable – was popularised by Sidney Yoshida in the late 1980’s.

Nearly 30 years later we find ourselves in the place where most transformation efforts fail,  or seem to be based on a strategy of changing the business as little as possible.

It’s not difficult to see a link between the two. If change is delivered top down, by the people furthest away from the problem, it’s a hardly a surprise we get this perfect illusion.

Change appears to be happening, but what we are really witnessing is just a makeover of the status quo. A new way of getting the same results we always got.

A couple of weeks ago Bromford Lab hosted a session looking at the future of work and a really interesting thing happened.

Two colleagues who had never met (one in the room, one on Skype) started talking about a problem they faced and how they’d go about resolving it.

  • They’d free up resources and get them as close to the customer as possible
  • They’d devolve responsibility and decision making to themselves and a few other colleagues
  • They’d deliver a better and more personalised service to their customers that they felt would save a lot of time and money

In just a few minutes of conversation they’d come up with something more rebellious, and more workable, than I’d heard from months of other sessions.

The reason is they are personally invested in the problem – and want change now – not in a few years time.

At the moment most change programmes are mostly linear, planned, time-framed, well resourced.

The behaviour is totally at odds with digital networks that are fluid. messy and have erased all hierarchies.

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There are two worlds of power in our organisations right now. The challenge is resisting the lure to presume one is automatically better than the other.

Maybe there’s a third way.  Where one provides the platform for the other.

It’s helpful to think of large scale change programmes as just the infrastructure for change. A reboot of organisational governance.

It’s building a stage  – just an empty one.

The real action will only happen when you free up people to take the stage, break the rules and experiment.

(1) Disobey unjust rules, (2) ask for forgiveness, not permission, (3) team up, and (4) go public – Corporate Rebels

The opportunity is for large scale programmes to use their resources to leverage in a culture that embraces new and foreign ideas and quickly assimilates them.

  • A culture where change is led by everyone – not initiated by leaders and consultants
  • Where everyone is actively questioning the status quo.

You can’t have a mass movement without the masses.

Truly transformational change would be to take back control: from the bottom up.

Three Simple Ideas To Stop Change Failing

“The essence of transformation isn’t incremental. Transformation means ‘radical change’. And few companies truly countenance that because it’s, well…too radical.” – Anne McCrossan

Maybe we are being too ambitious.

Perhaps the hype of business change is becoming all consuming, leading us to aim for things our leadership can’t possibly deliver.

In my last couple of posts I explored the current failings of digital transformation and the rise of complexity – two things that are to my mind inextricably linked. The former was my most popular post for over a year and brought with it some great comments and follow up conversations.

What we really need to address is summed up by Anne McCrossan in her comment.

We have a skills deficit.

Transformation means acquiring new skills, new capabilities around data management, processes that support rapid, iterative design and collaborating more openly.

That’s just not happening.

The Myth Of The Complete Leader

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As Chris Bolton said –  it’s tempting to link the rise of overly complicated systems and processes to the creation of the MBA and a proliferation of Management Consultants. The inexplicable rise of leadership fads correlates with a sharp decline in productivity and a general disengagement with work.

Perhaps the actual practice of change is being complicated by a profusion of tools and ideas about strategy and management. 

What if we’ve got it wrong?  What if the management practices we hold onto – the leadership development courses we exalt – the behaviours we seek at recruitment – are not fit for purpose?

What if there’s another way?

Three Not-So-Radical Ideas

1 – Let the People Closest to the Problem Lead Change

Perhaps change would be better served if leaders and consultants stepped out of the way. After all – when you hire a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

As Stowe Boyd writes – change is often about transfusion rather than true transformation. A small set of not-particularly-revolutionary ideas transfused into the existing system, based on the implicit strategy of changing the business as little as possible.

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The people least invested in change (but with the most to gain by it) also have the biggest impact upon it. McKinsey report only a 3% success rate of transformations that fail to engage line managers or frontline employees.

If their role is that mission critical maybe they should have a commanding , rather than supporting, role in the design and implementation of change itself. Perhaps they would be braver.

Designing a form of governance to devolve responsibility to ensure executives and managers are unable to engage directly in these initiatives sounds radical. However – it is in effect no different to the strengths based thinking emerging in community practice.

Basically – change is best served when we devolve power, and the institutions and hierarchy get out of the way.

2 – Sweat The Small Stuff

Perhaps we’d achieve more if we gave up on big change and moved towards marginal gains. According to Steve Sewell  – most change programmes concentrate on modelling, planning or design work that takes months if not years.  People lose heart, are daunted by the scale and the programmes lose momentum.

Staying below the executive radar and letting the small changes flourish through iterative design and testing sounds like rebellious behaviour but there’s much sense here.

The evaluation of the Northern Ireland Innovation Lab recognises this importance of looking for cheap and small ways to test ideas and concepts, breaking larger change down into small chunks.

3 – Rethink the Love Affair with Change

Perhaps it’s time to escape the idea of organisational transformation once and for all.

Zachary First points out the tremendous, if largely invisible, cost to chasing management fads. Instead of the constant call to keep pace in times of rapid change we might be better placed thinking how we can avoid the need for customers or colleagues to face yet another choice.

Our change programmes rarely answer the question “Why are we changing?” in a truly coherent way.

This – combined with our cultural bias for execution over problem definition – is why change often fails. We may solve a problem – just not the right one.

Really – none of this is that radical at all.

  • Recognising that a digital age requires new mindsets alongside skill-sets.
  • Reflection and contemplation rather than lots of management activity.
  • Devolving resources and influence to those closest to the problem.
  • Changing slowly through small-scale experimentation.
  • Not rolling out anything until you have evidence that it works.

That sounds incredibly simple.

And maybe it is.

How To Become A Disobedient Organisation

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Imagine being given $250,000 for deliberately breaking the rules. No strings attached.

That’s exactly what MIT are doing.

Recognising that societies and institutions lean toward order and away from chaos they have launched an award and cash prize that will go to a person or group engaged in an extraordinary example of disobedience for the benefit of society.

MIT want to see if they can identify creative and principled disobedience.

Perhaps 2017 is a time for not doing what you’re told.

70% of us are not engaged in the work we do with over a third saying our jobs are meaningless.

This lack of engagement with work comes at a time when we need more world changing ideas than ever before.

Maybe the answer lies in a move away from complex and bureaucratic systems.

As Joost Minnaar and Pim de Morree write – organisational complexity has gone up 6 fold since 1955.  The number of procedures & rules to fight the same complexity have seen a 35-fold increase.

In the most complicated organisations managers spend more than 40% of their time writing reports, and between 30 – 60% of their time on meetings.

There could be a very simple reason for the growth of organisational complexity:

We are employing more managers than ever before.  And management is the least efficient activity in your organisation.

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As Gary Hamel has pointed out, the U.S managerial workforce has grown by 90%. In the UK the employment share of managers and supervisors increased to 16% in 2015.

Removing managers is never going to be a popular choice  – not least with managers –  so a better focus might be to encourage people to overtly identify complex or perverse rules.

  • Hootsuite has appointed a  Czar of Bad Systems – with the authority to challenge the rules and fix the things that never get fixed –anywhere in the company.
  • Adrian Cho at Shopify is Director of Getting Shit Done , a role aimed at breaking tradition and accelerating decision-making.
  • Philippa Jones at Bromford encourages colleagues to “Do the right thing, not the rule thing” –  building positive rule breaking into everyday service.

On the latter – it’s interesting to note that some people have interpreted this as a potential route to chaos. It’s perfectly possible to get rid of rules without unleashing anarchy.

Generally getting rid of rules doesn’t bother anyone except managers.  The average colleague sees needless complexity every day.

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Whilst most executives have a very good understanding of collective complexity at a strategic level, relatively few consider the forms of individual complexity that the vast majority of employees face.

I’m deep in the midst of some service redesign work at the moment – helping colleagues detoxify the organisation of needless complexity. I had a long conversation with John Wade yesterday and it reminded me that it’s important not to think of complexity as a bad thing in itself – it can be very good for business too.

Older organisations are often bad at change and innovation for a reason – they are designed that way. They are built to execute on delivery — not to spend time thinking about things or engaging in discovery. That execution is what made them successful in the first place.

However – if we want to be world changing rather than system sustaining we need very different behaviours. That means leaning towards chaos and rewarding positive deviance.

Whilst organisations need to get better at encouraging rule breaking, but they also need to get better at understanding why the rules needed to be broken in the first place.

The answer really lies in replacing rules with values and by leaders encouraging behaviours that challenge the status quo.

It’s a time for disobedience, not acquiescence.

Why We Love Silo Working And What To Do About It

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In 1988 Phil. S. Ensor coined the term the functional silo system.  His contention was that narrow, specialised teams and jobs were easy to manage but imposed a very damaging learning disability on the organisation.

  • We become focused on addressing organisational fixes rather than exploring the underlying symptoms.
  • Social chasms emerge resulting in people not seeing any problem in context. Indeed – cross organisational problem solving can break down.
  • And as every function focuses on its own objectives and KPIs – the organisation slowly becomes reactive.

Nearly 30 years later, silo working is one of our most enduring management buzzwords.

They’ve gone nowhere – so are silos really such a problem?

Truth is, we love them.  They give us a lot of security and belonging.

Silos don’t just exist at team level.  Our sectors organise themselves into siloed echo chambers – each with their own system of professional bodies, conferences and award ceremonies.

You may have your own silo at a personal level. Most of our online social networks – particularly professional social networks – conform to the functional silo system. We follow and connect with people just like us.

You see, the much maligned silo actually has a great deal going for it.

untitled-presentation-3Silos are great for teamwork, but a barrier to external collaboration. And in a networked era – we need to adopt very different strategies.

I’m currently doing some work with David Anderton and the team at Bromford to redraw the relationship between 30 different service areas. It’s a fascinating exercise as you get to work with colleagues to draw a fantasy version of your organisation and then make it happen.

The lesson I’m learning is that our desire for operational efficiency has adversely affected interoperability between teams.

That’s not a bad thing per se – Bromford has a Moody’s AA3 rating and a core operating margin of 43%. Efficiency has a definite benefit! However we don’t want to rest on our laurels as we move to the dizzying challenges of the future.

In the book Team of Teams, General Stanley McChrystal describes taking command of the Joint Special Operations Task Force in Iraq. He quickly realised that conventional tactics were failing. Although the allied forces had a huge advantage in numbers, technology and training – they were no match for the adaptable and networked nature of Al-Qaeda.

After watching Al-Qaeda confound the army and win battles, McChrystal saw that the problem wasn’t one of capability, but interoperability.

Each time valuable intelligence was gathered it tooks weeks for the data to be distributed. Also – the information flowed through silos. Information was sent up the chain of command, where it was passed on to other teams who would then develop strategies for the frontline.

The individual teams were all experts , armed and trained beyond the capabilities of their foe.

They were meeting all their individual objectives.

Yet the shared mission—defeating Al Qaeda—was being lost.

The answer was to build a “shared consciousness,” through the creation of a network of teams.  This encouraged agile interaction, embedding the data intelligence within localised units and conducting daily status calls that included all of the stakeholders.

As McChrystal has said, “it takes a network to defeat a network”.

The focus on interoperability did reduce the efficiency of individual teams but the overall mission was accomplished. 

Our job right now is exactly that – to reduce the efficiency of silos, whilst boosting the interactive capacity of small networked teams.

In the digital age we can no longer afford to think in conventional terms of efficiency.

We must optimise our silos to work together – as networks in the context of a fully understood mission.

Learning faster than the rest, and acting accordingly, is a new competitive advantage.

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Bromford Design Principle Eight – Joined Up

Five Questions for Prospective Digital Leaders

Engaged leadership in the digital era means not chasing the latest apps and gadgets. Being an engaged leader in the digital era means knowing what your goals are and what tools to use to achieve them. It also means being brave and bold enough to step into the fray: listen to followers, share yourself with them, and engage them directly in new and amazing ways. – Charlene Li 

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It’s highly unlikely an app is going to save your business. The huge problems across the social sector will not be solved by technology alone.

In our headlong rush to tech for solutions we risk ignoring the root of our problems.

People. Poor service design. Leadership.

Certainly if I look at the work of Bromford Lab over the past year I’d say 90% of the time has been spent exploring non-technology solutions. This would surprise many people who think we spend our time playing with 3D printers and drones. Why is this?

People are fascinated with technology and the possibilities it presents to transform their lives. And they are looking for salvation. The majority of our working lives are fairly humdrum – boring even. Most of us have not escaped the tedium of commuting , of meetings , of email. We dream of a day that technology will come along and make our lives better.

However, technology won’t save us.  We don’t need new websites – we need new cultures.

The breakthrough digital has given us is the opportunity to listen to our organisations and our customers in real time. Never before have we had the opportunity to share ourselves and our thoughts. We’ve never been able to work out loud before.

But – wake up call – it’s a tiny percentage of leaders who are really living a digital lifestyle. There are still relatively few having open debates , showing transparency in public discourse , answering questions online and sharing progress.

I often see comments like “isn’t it great we have so many (insert sector) leaders on Twitter?”. Let me kill that for you. That is NOT , by any measure, a way of gauging leadership. Membership of a network does not imply positive use of it.

Digital leadership is too often taken to mean “people who use digital” rather than “people who use digital to lead”.

As Li points out in her latest book, to be a true digital leader requires a metamorphosis. It requires connecting directly by listening, sharing, and engaging using digital technologies.

Only this new type of leader is going to help us move forward. And they might not be the people at the top of , or even part of , our organisations.

Five questions for prospective digital leaders

  • Do you actively listen and respond to what internal and external communities are saying?
  • Do you use digital technologies to source new ideas for your organisation or team?
  • Do you put opinions out there rather than press releases? Are you known for provoking debate?
  • Do people you’ve never met come to you for advice on the strength of your online presence?
  • Do people tell you they value the resources and information you share?

I’d suggest that if you can answer yes to three of those you would be going in the right direction.

Digital leadership is not gained through position or self proclamation. The network dicates who are its influencers.

Rather than looking for technology to solve problems the digital leader understands that this network is their greatest ally.

And that the true power lies at its centre.

Lessons in Digital Leadership (from South Korea and Uganda)

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In case you missed it: the South Korean President , Park Geun-hye , issued a press release last week that sent reverberations around the globe.

Her Klout score had gone up.

Yes , the leader of one of the most digitally connected nations on the planet , saw fit to announce that her score had risen from 65 to 82 – reflecting the “effective and positive” role of Government in efforts to connect with the public. 

Surely a leader making a fuss about their social influence scores and the rise in number of Twitter followers and Facebook fans should be concentrating on more important things?

I’m not so sure. I think engagement through social media IS important for the modern leader. As is an understanding of online influence.

She seems like fun too. I can’t understand her tweets but certainly the images accompanying her feed look more interesting than those of David Cameron. Check this out:

David Cameron - Crime and Meetings
David Cameron – Statistics and Meetings
Park Geun-hye - Toys and Funny Dog pictures
Park Geun-hye – Toy Cats and Funny Dogs

And it’s not just South Korea where you get sociable leaders. Last week I was having a twitter chat when who should wander into the conversation but Ugandan Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi. He popped in to thank me for my comments about his active twitter presence. Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 13.51.18

Just reflect on that statistic for one minute. 96% of his tweets are replies to the public. That is an incredible level of responsiveness and engagement that puts not just elected representatives to shame but also many organisations and brands.

So what’s the point of this post?

Well , the other day I was talking with a friend and we both realised we weren’t sure of the names of our local Councillors. We both follow quite a few highly sociable Councillors from all over the UK – but when it came to where we actually live we didn’t have a clue. Our fault or theirs?

We did a check on the online presence of a sample. We googled and checked up on 46 people and these were the results:

  • 6 had Twitter accounts (13%)
  • 2 had Facebook profiles (3%)
  • 1 was on LinkedIn
  • 2 had blogs – but hadn’t yet posted anything on them.

Catherine Howe has written about how the digital and networked society will need more digital and networked councillors. In a great piece she argues “transforming local democracy is going to take more than simply getting politicians to use Twitter.” I agree completely.

Really this isn’t about social media. It’s not even about the lack of political engagement. It’s about what appears to be a digital fault line between local leaders and the communities they represent. 

Community leaders have to embrace this new way of participation – placing themselves at the heart of networks and reaching out to collaborate and even co-produce new services.

Online presence is just the start – a minimum requirement. Establishing a relationship that values more than consultation and the occasional vote is the true challenge.

It’s time for the UK to up its game.

The Top 50 Power Players In Housing [Klout Edition]

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“The list doesn’t destroy culture; it creates it. Wherever you look in cultural history, you will find lists. In fact, there is a dizzying array. We like lists because we don’t want to die.” – Umberto Eco

We all love a good list.

You know – The top 500 movies of all time. The best albums ever recorded. The 50 funniest comedians.

The only reason we don’t like lists are if we disagree with them. Or worse – if we are not featured in them.

I had both reactions when reading The Top 50 Power Players In Housing – recently featured in 24Housing Magazine. It’s a list of the supposed great and the good within the Social Housing sector in the UK. The full list is featured here.

First of all – I’m joking. I think lists like this are a bit of fun – no more , no less. I don’t think being featured in 24Housing Magazine guarantees immortality. It’s just interesting to see who your peers rate as influential. And it would be unnatural if we didn’t get a frisson of anticipation as we wait to find out whether our colleagues have been noted for their achievements.

But my main thought on reading the list and hence the reason for writing this post was – “What would Generation Y think of this?”

And what about the new social media super-connectors who have emerged since the walls came down between sectors like housing , health, care and technology.

How many of these people would they honestly recognise? For example – 5 of the Top 10 Power Players have no meaningful social media profile. Surely that is worth some debate?

So I started thinking about what the list would look like if we ranked people according to their digital footprint. How different would the list look if it was voted for by users of social media? And what if Klout, Kred or PeerIndex had created it?

So I’ve produced an alternative. And I’ve used Klout – simply because it’s the most well known social scoring platform.

Now – we could argue all day about the methodology that Klout uses. And we could do the same over the methodology that 24Housing used as well. The point here is not to say Klout is anything more than a vanity metric – I’m just comparing two approaches to measuring perceived influence.

If you want my views on the concept of social scoring or more information about what it is – you can read it in my post The Delicate Balance of Online and Offline Influence.

So how have I approached this?

  • I’ve used exactly the same process as 24Housing. So all the people on the original list were included in my sample.
  • I’ve then checked the Klout scores of the people on the list and other people that I know have an online presence within Social Housing. If their Klout score was higher they replaced one of the original Power Players.
  • I have also – similar to the original – added in people who don’t work directly in housing but who Klout says influence people. So for example, neither Alistair Somerville or John Popham work within the sector – but they are noted as online influencers. I have also included people who frequently share housing related information or take part in debates.

So here you go – the alternative Power Players……

[You are best viewing it in full screen mode or if you have trouble click on this Power Players link.]
So , first thoughts?

Astonishingly – only 14 of the original Power Players remain on the list. This shows divergent views of online as opposed to real world influence.

I’m also struck by the apparent democratising effect of social media. CEOs disappear almost completely and are replaced by people with less seniority – in the traditional sense at least. There is also a higher number of women. I don’t know everybody’s ages but at least 3 of the top 10 influencers are under the age of 30.

If you remove politicians and civil servants only five people remain on both lists – Nick Atkin , Julia Unwin , Matt Leach, Jules Birch and Lara Oyedale.

Is that acceptable in a world where digital presence and engagement are more important than ever? Perhaps it is.

Perhaps we are seeing the emergence of online and offline worlds with different movers and shakers. Or perhaps one represents the present and one represents the more connected and inclusive future of the sector.

Looking forward to your thoughts!

How Social Is Your CEO?

Last week I ran a workshop for a number of Chief Executives. Whilst preparing my slidedeck (which is featured above) I spoke to a friend who is the Managing Director of a medium sized business.

They have a very basic website. No media links.

When I asked why he doesn’t use social media , he answered simply:

Paul , I don’t have the time you have. My customers don’t use it. There is no reason for me to waste any time on it. I’ve asked my staff on many occasions what the business case is and all they say is – everyone else is doing it, we should too….

You know what? If I was him I would be exactly the same. If people can’t articulate a compelling reason for social why would a very busy person waste their time on it?

If your CEO isn’t using social, or doesn’t see that embedding it in your organisation is important, maybe you need to have a different conversation? Perhaps you need to make it more relevant to them as senior leaders.

These are my tips for why it makes business sense to be a Social CEO:

1: Forget social media – it’s about being a social business

If your conversation with your CEO starts with why you need a Facebook account you have probably lost them already. The real leadership benefit of using social tools is that used well they can reinforce the purpose and values of your organisation. If you are just pushing product and you don’t need to engage customers then maybe social isn’t for you.  But if you are about more than business then it can amplify your social and ethical goals.

2:  It will make you more visible, people will like you more

A CEO loves to be visible. (If they don’t I suggest you have another , more serious, problem). Internal enterprise networks , such as  Yammer , boost executive visibility. They can also democratise the organisation and destroy hierarchy. That’s a good thing by the way.

3: You are missing out on recruiting the best people

A Gen Y colleague told me the other day that they “couldn’t work for a leader who wasn’t visible on social”. It’s an increasing trend for talented people seeking work to check out the social profile of the company – but also that of the recruiting managers.  I do not believe any CEO would knowingly miss out on adding the very best talent to their organisation. If a competitor is recruiting and they are social and you are not – it’s pretty much a certainty that the better talent is going their way.

4: Customers will trust your organisation more

Leadership visibility promotes an open and transparent culture to customers and stakeholders. In the same way that an internal social presence removes hierarchy – showing your visibility to customers gives you a human face. You are no longer the person on a big salary behind the closed door in an office a long way away. You are in reach.

5:  You are missing out on vital market intelligence

A CEO who doesn’t promote a digital presence runs the risk of marginalising their organisation. New relationships and business propositions form minute by minute today. They cross sectors and they can even cross continents. Those annual conferences you go to are becoming an irrelevance. The social digital organisation is more connected, aware and adaptive.

This is the advice I would give a CEO about going social – but I’m sure there are other benefits. Please add any thoughts in the comments box they are hugely appreciated.

How Your Social Media Policy Could Kill Your Culture

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I love Social Media. But really, it’s not that important.

Not compared to some things.

I’ve begun to see a few posts suggesting that companies need to take more control over their employees social media output. That word – ‘control’ – has actually been used on more than one occasion.

An unwelcome trend.

It’s obvious to see why this is happening. Last year saw some big organisations fall victim to social media “blunders”. Although personally I prefer thinking of them as “lessons”.

And we’ve just had one of the most high profile UK cases to date – the redundancy tweets at HMV. That event has been blogged to death and I don’t want to add to it. I’d rather concentrate on what I think are some of the incorrect conclusions that have been drawn from it , and cases like it.

If you somehow missed the incident you can have a read about it here , or you can read my 140 character summary below:

"Company goes bust. Calls 60 staff into sacking. Staff tweet live from corporate account about what a bunch of idiots the managers are."
“Company goes bust. Calls 60 staff into sacking. Staff tweet live from corporate account about what a bunch of idiots the managers are.”

In the weeks that followed there have been a number of suggestions , often from Social Media and PR experts, about how we could avoid these kind of incidents in the future.

Some of the suggestions have included:

  • Only permitting “Junior” employees permission to draft social media messages, and making them go through an approval queuefor senior management to sign off before they are published
  • Banning all your employees from using social media at work and asking them to hand over their phones as they enter the premises

I couldn’t agree more.

Most employees are borderline psychotic. Little time-bombs preparing to explode at the slightest incident. In fact, rarely a day goes by in my team without one of them tweeting “@paulbromford – what a tosser” – just because I don’t make many cups of tea.

Seriously – is this what we have come to?

I think we are learning the wrong things. Here’s what I think we can take away from such incidents:

1 – Treat your employees well at all times.

2 – Don’t employ managers who are rubbish.

3 – Educate employees about the magnificent positives of social media but also the negatives. Support them and learn together.

This has nothing to do with social media and everything to do with leadership and culture.

Culture is what allows my own organisation to have such an open approach to social media. Everyone has access. Anyone can tweet or blog. My Opportunity4Employment Assistant – Chai Podins was set up with social media accounts on his first day at work. He would qualify as a “junior” if we used such archaic terms. Which we don’t.

A risky approach to social media? Maybe. But all use of social media has risks.

It does make sense that corporate accounts are protected. There should be plans in place for when errors are made or there is a hacking. Both of which are far more likely to happen than a colleague going into meltdown.

But if you write a Social Media Policy and it effectively says:

  • There is a hierarchy for message approval.
  • That you start with a belief that colleagues are going to “go rogue”
  • That you don’t trust the people you employ with 140 characters of text.

It will kill your culture. And that will take you years and years to rebuild.

So if you or your company are risk averse , and you don’t trust your people with social media, my advice is simple:

Don’t use it. It’s not worth it.

10 Myths From The Year We Went Social

2012 was the year in which the Housing Association sector went social. It’s very positive that so many of us have recognised the clear customer service and business benefits that social and digital engagement can bring.

This was year we went social. And these are 10 things we have learned not to be true:

1: Social Media Is Simple

It’s easy to set up an account, but it’s not easy to make it work. Having worked in customer engagement for over 10 years I feel it is harder to effectively engage online than it is offline. In real life you can look into a customers eyes and read their reaction. In the social stream – you can’t. And our customers are becoming increasingly fragmented and harder to find. To engage with customers we used to knock doors.  In the virtual world they could be anywhere, anytime. It’s hard work.

2: Our Customers Are Not Online

I knew this to be false when a Customer Board Member emailed me to say they didn’t have internet access. People are online,  but they often choose not to tell their landlord. And sometimes they don’t even realise they are online. A customer recently told me they didn’t need broadband as they only ever used Facebook. Although I don’t deny that exclusion exists – the emerging issue is digital literacy and confidence rather than lack of access.

3: Social Media is Free

It is at first. And then you realise you need content. And content takes time to find, and longer to create. Too many organisations are making the mistake of thinking social media equals no printing and no advertising  – so it will be cheaper. But you are going to have to invest in new skills and new technology. It’s an investment in a completely different customer relationship.

4: Policy Can Protect Your Brand.

Whether you have a one page social media policy or hundreds of pages , your success or failure will be defined by just two things: leadership and common sense. In my experience the shorter the policy and the more visible the leadership , the greater the common sense.

5: We Are Ready For Generation Z.

Generally we are not. My challenge? Offer up your web and online services up to any 15 year old used to managing an account with Xbox Live or Playstation Network. Then ask them what they think. Most of our organisations are in the dark ages when it comes to intuitive online user experiences. It should be a concern that many of the people we involve in implementing new services have never heard of , let alone used , Xbox Live or Playstation Network.

6: Digital Will Lead To Better Customer Service.

You can make your service worse if you are just present without having presence. When people used to leave the phone ringing the only person who knew about it was the customer on the other end of the line. I just looked at an account by a large organisation. Last tweet 12th October. Last Facebook post 15th November. Website last updated in July. It’s there for the whole world to see.

7: Digital Is Slowing Down.

Marc Prensky has said slowdown in the digital age is a “myth,” as innovation will only press forward “faster… And faster and faster.” I love his quote: “We are not going through a transition to another phase of stability. People will always be behind now and that will be a stress they have to cope with.” Our companies , our people , our websites – always behind. Get used to it.

8: People Will Follow You And Like Your Page

Only if you are Justin Bieber or One Direction. Otherwise you are going to have to make it worth peoples time. You must post interesting content that is relevant to your audience and engage them in conversations around it. If you are looking at the slides you will see I referenced Bagpuss. It’s a reminder to Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers that we have a different medium but the rules are essentially the same. Every episode of Bagpuss was about the telling of a story and the engagement and contribution of the community to the telling of it. Nobody remembers how the ship got in that bottle. But everyone remembers how the story was told.

9: We Are Moving Our Customers To The Website

You can’t. We don’t have any way of commanding our customers attention anymore. Customers ARE your new website. One of the most significant shifts this year is the amount of time people are spending within social networks. I know people who have arranged their holidays, had their homes re-decorated , bought a car – purely through Facebook. I no longer read Inside Housing (our trade publication) – as its’ content is curated for me by people like Lara Oyedele , Philip Lyons and Jules Birch. I trust them and they are my network. Why would anyone come to the website of a Housing Association when they can get what they want from their network?  The only question is  – do you know who is curating and sharing your content?

10: Social Media Is Great For Broadcasting News

People engage with people not press releases. If there is one thing we all have to embrace next year it is putting the social into social media. The most popular post I have written this year was about the way housing has a tendency to talk about itself rather than create a compelling narrative around the difference it makes to peoples lives. I think we have improved. But we could do so much more in 2013.

These are my myths. I’d love to hear yours.

(The content of this post was originally presented at the Chartered Institute of Housing Social Media and Digital Engagement Conference)

What’s in a name?

How do you describe what you do?

A few months ago an incredibly wise guy by the name of Bob Battye delivered a session to our Leadership team.

He challenged us to re-write our Linkedin profiles describing what we were like as people – what we were actually about – rather than what we actually DID.

It’s challenging.

We are so used to hiding behind job titles and career achievements. We use words that provide an easily understandable code to each other but , let’s be honest, mean little to anyone living in the real world.

That’s why plenty of Bromford people now have a profile reading something like this:

Bob reminded us that we engage with people not titles.  We are interested in people who show what they care about , rather than just the function they perform.

Job titles can often lead us to talk about our purpose in the most prosaic terms imaginable.

From Assistant to Officer to Team Leader to Head of Whatever , to Director of You Know What.

It’s too often about structure rather than culture.

Starbucks knew this. It just wouldn’t have worked if they had employed Beverage Attendants. They had to have Baristas instead.

Most modern job titles only exist for two reasons: To differentiate one department from another and to provide a snapshot of the persons position in the hierarchy.

A lot of this was borne out of 20th Century management think. Before the onset of flatter structures , collaborative workspaces, crowdsourcing.

Last week I posted about how we had tried to apply new thinking to Job Descriptions. Aiming for the inspirational rather than the functional.

But we have gone a step further and begun to apply it to Job titles.

  • A Neighbourhood Investment Advisor becomes a Skills Coach.
  • An Economic Inclusion Manager (what?!) becomes an Opportunities Manager.
  • And I’m now an Innovation Coach.

You can’t tell who leads the teams and it’s not clear who line reports to whom.  But does that matter?

This isn’t about us.

It’s not even about the organisation.

It’s about not letting people be limited by their place on a structure chart. Enabling them to be they best they can be.

And to talk about why they got up this morning.

Let’s make job descriptions inspirational….

About 3 months ago I posted a blog/rant about why most Job Descriptions are complete rubbish.

You know what I’m talking about. You read the one for the job you are doing now.

Uninspiring: Although you said it was really really exciting at interview.

Impenetrable: You had to search the web to understand some of the jargon.

Long. Very Long: You didn’t read all of it did you? Be honest.

If the typical manager/HR team had written a job description for Mo Farah it would very likely read:

“Needs to run 10,000m every couple of years , remain upright throughout and complete the task to an acceptable level. Your performance is subject to an annual review but don’t worry mate keep your head down and do your best – you won’t get fired.”

And then we would follow it with a load of waffle that states the bleeding obvious:

  • Must demonstrate ability to tie own laces
  • Punctuality when turning up for the race – essential
  • Performs other duties as required by the line manager

As I mentioned in the previous blog – my 5 rules are now these:

  1. Stick to a 140 Character Job Purpose
  2. 1 Page Total Job Description.
  3. Use a picture or graphic.
  4. Use passionate language.
  5. Describe how you want the person to make a difference.

A few people have asked what happened next. Did HR get it? Did a JD that included the word “Sexy” in its job purpose get past go?

Well , the answer is yes.

Here’s a quick sample from five of them. See what you think. Would it make you want to get out of bed in the morning?

“You are a teacher , a coach , a mentor and a shoulder to cry on….your mission is that no meeting you host will ever be boring.”

“You are responsible for making Volunteering sexy. You give people something to look forward to.”

‘You will live and breathe Connect – ensuring it delivers “Apple standard” performance to its users. You are responsible for whether it succeeds or fails.”

 “You believe that young people can create the jobs of the future. And you make it happen.”

“You are the first step in helping someone be the best they can be. You change lives”

Whether you love or loathe this – there is a genuine problem we all need to help solve. 1 in 4 of us don’t feel we reach our creative potential in the workplace.

And right now we need creativity , innovation and aspiration in our companies and communities more than ever before.

So let’s say goodbye to average. And aim for inspirational from the start.

Break Your Own Rules

I had a couple of great little customer service experiences recently that I’d like to share.

On both occasions the employee admitted breaking the rules.  They had done something that I , the customer , thought was great service. But it was against the practices or policies as applied by their own managers.

See what you think.

“I Like To Give My Best Customers Free Drinks”

I’m on holiday in a bar I’ve been to a couple of times. On both occasions we’ve had maybe two drinks and left a very modest tip. On the third occasion the waitress comes over without taking our order.

She remembered it. A large beer, a white wine. Ice on the side.

She says – “This is a free round on the house. My manager doesn’t like me doing it – but I think regular customers deserve it. Please don’t mention it if you see him.”

Two previous visits. To her – we were now regulars. I think we went back to the bar every night for the rest of our holiday. The manager never knew why.

“How could anyone remember something so stupid?”

So I’m staying in a hotel that has free Wi-Fi. Except you have to renew it every few days at reception. And you are given a very complicated password and username that you can’t change, and you have no chance of remembering.

So one day I see someone new on reception and I ask her for a couple of passwords.  She asks – “Can you tell me your room number Sir?”

And she hands over two user names and two passwords – personalised based on our names.

She says – “My manager says its not policy. But people keep saying they forget their passwords and they keep coming to the desk.  I mean , how could anyone remember something so stupid? So I thought we could use their names. Please don’t tell them I do this though.”

_____________________________________________________________________________

Customer Service isn’t about policies , systems and protocol. It’s about common sense.

Knowing the customers , personalising service, surprising people with the unexpected. Making them remember you.

Management should be about encouraging these unexpected behaviours that don’t follow the script. And building these unexpected acts into everyday service.

My mission for the week?

Tell my teams to break a few rules every day. As long as they encourage customers to tell me about it.

Job Descriptions are rubbish…..My Top 5 new rules

The Worlds Worst Job Description. Ever
The Worlds Worst Job Description. Ever

Did some work on some JD’s this week. I’ve been messing around them for some time – really struggling to articulate what I wanted.

On Wednesday morning at 9:40am it struck me. Somebody , somewhere , about 50 or 60 years ago – decided what a JD should look and feel like. A lot of words (management words, not real words) describing a lot of tasks and job accountability. I’ve never questioned it.

Need to recruit someone? Yeah! Lets make their eyes bleed with 3 pages of total bollocks.

Most of the work we are now doing , and the work the economy desperately needs, requires people to have creativity , a sense of autonomy and certainly a high degree of purpose.

So why on earth would we put things like this in a JD?

“The post holder will also perform any additional duties at the request of the Manager” (Which means – you need to do as I tell you – I don’t  trust you)

“You will be responsible for completing a daily report at 9:30am that should outline the tasks you and your team achieved in the previous day” (Which means – I don’t trust you or anyone else who works for me)

“Postholder will be required to attend in a punctual manner and be well-presented at all times” (Which means – I don’t trust you to get out of bed. Or even to have a wash)

I didn’t make these up by the way – just did a quick search.

I think at Bromford we have shown a fair degree of innovation. But there is much to be done. Here’s my (personal) new rules for JD’s:

1: 140 Character Job Purpose – If you can’t sum it up in that you are waffling. Plus – you can advertise it on Twitter

2: 1 Page Total – Anything more than that means we are in 20th Century Management mode and being over prescriptive – squeezing creativity out of someone before they have even applied.

3: Use a picture or graphic. A picture that describes the purpose. If you can’t think of a really bold , emotive image to accompany the job then you probably don’t need to even recruit someone. You can probably get a spreadsheet to do it.

4: Passionate language. If you really want someone to get out bed in the morning knowing EXACTLY what they are here to do there is nothing wrong with including words like “inspiring” “brave” or even “sexy”. I’ve gone a step further this week and included lyrics from George Benson’s “The Greatest Love Of All” (or Whitney if you prefer ) and Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power”. Ridiculous? Maybe. No problem , don’t apply!

5: Stick to how you want the person to make a difference. Describe how you want the successful applicant to make people FEEL rather than a list of things you want them to do. I’ve amended one JD to say to I want them “to inspire people each and every day”. That’s their purpose. How they do that it is entirely up to them.

I’m not saying this is right. But let’s all try something different. There has to be a better way.

I’m with our HR team on Monday finishing them off. Wonder if Public Enemy will make the final cut?

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