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 Kill Zombie Projects

According to Clayton Christensen , of the 30,000 new consumer products that are launched each year – 95% fail.

Compare this with the public, voluntary and non-profit sectors – where hardly anything fails.

The social sector must either be fantastic at launching new initiatives, or there’s a lot of things going on that shouldn’t still be living.

Scott D. Anthony has defined the organisational zombie as those initiatives that fail to fulfill their promise and yet keep shuffling along, sucking up resources without any real hope of having a meaningful impact.

They may be started through the best of intentions, but for all sorts of reasons they are failing. Just no-one wants to admit it.

Why is that?

Let’s look at zombies.

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Night Of The Living Dead – 1968
George A. Romero , who sadly passed away this week,  created a defining trilogy of horror films between 1968 and 1985.

They were audacious for the time – he cast a black lead for his first film, released the same year Martin Luther King was assassinated.

Far from being splatter movies – they were stories about racism, consumerism and militaristic aggression.

Ultimately the message from Romero was this:

  • We should avoid group think
  • We should never stop asking questions or just mindlessly follow orders
  • We should never lose our sense of individuality

Zombie projects occur when all these factors converge and confirmation bias sets in. Even though everyone knows this isn’t really working, we carry on regardless.

As Paul Hackett said this week  , the social sector can get pretty much get away with poor decisions without it impacting turnover. In other sectors the share price takes a hit and executives get sacked.

The lack of a conventional market, and no customer walk away point, means projects can be propped up artificially using someone else’s money.

We need to refine our skills at spotting and killing wasteful activities.

In the movies and TV the conventional way to stop a zombie is to drive a sharp implement into the brain of anyone who shuffles along aimlessly.

As tempting as that is for those of us who’ve endured endless meetings – we don’t need to take such drastic action.

Zombies hate just five questions:

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In an era of scant resource and unmet need, spotting zombies is a vital part of leadership. Innovation is happening faster than we can adapt to it – and freeing up resources is vital. Investment must equal impact or we are simply sabotaging our future.

As part of the work we’ve been doing on Bromford 2.0 we recognise that slaying zombies is just part of good governance. Innovation is all about discipline in the creation and implementation of new ideas that create value.

However it’s all about stopping doing things too. As a general rule each new service or activity should lead to the decommissioning of an existing one.  We’ve designed this principle to ensure we stick to it:

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People are losing faith in institutions as they are not seeing the kind of social outcomes they expect.

Today it’s the execution and impact of innovation and change that really matters rather than the cheerleading.

There needs to be as much enthusiasm for stopping the old as there is for starting the new. 

RIP George Romero. Stay dead.

How your culture can promote innovation

“Organisational culture is the sum of values and rituals, which serve as ‘glue’ to integrate the members of the organisation.” – Richard Perrin

I spent a wonderful day in Belfast this week with a group of Housing Organisations. It was refreshing as I got to talk not about tech and social media – but of leadership and culture.

We often bemoan the lack of adoption of innovative practices across the public sector and local government. But less often do we examine the reason why. 

One of them is they just aren’t ready for the latest innovation.

The culture of some organisations is superbly designed to repel anything new. Even if you let it in the organisational antibodies would surround it – killing it in no time. Like the common cold – you may get away with being a bloody great irritant for a while – but against a strong body you’ve no chance long term. 

I’ve been lucky enough to visit lots of organisations doing presentations on the Bromford culture – usually with my co-presenter Helena Moore (who recruited me long ago and did many of the slides above).  

We date our cultural journey from about 2000 – although truth be told a lot of the way we do things were laid out well before then. 

Here are four things I’ve picked up about culture and innovation along the way: 

Leadership is critical

You simply cannot create a culture of innovation if your leadership is not on side. As I’ve said before , if you’ve tried to change executive attitudes and the CEO still doesn’t get it – you have only one option.

Leave the company. 

It’s a noble task to continue the fight – but futile. Find somewhere where your energy and passions will be put to better use. 

The private sector is not more innovative than the public sector. 

There’s good and bad in both. However the private sector has got greater self belief and tends to source ideas better from customers and colleagues. The public sector , which can be prone to increased bureaucracy and risk aversion, is more likely to smother people’s natural creativity. When you’ve had an idea crushed for the 100th time it’s only human to stop telling people about them. Value all colleague and customer ideas – and have a disciplined approach to testing them out.

Being publicly funded is no excuse to be as boring as hell.

Mission and values set a tone for creativity. 

If you’re doing it right they become more than words on paper. They become a call to action and set a behaviour for the organisation. We ditched our mission and values when we realised they were exactly the same as hundreds of others. We asked colleagues to come up with something that they could believe in and remember. 

They came up with the DNA – Be Different, Be Brave , Be Commercial , Be Good. They’ve been made hashtag friendly so people use them in social conversations.  Others have attached their own personal meaning to the words.

Language matters.

It defines us. At Bromford we don’t use the word department (it’s team) we don’t call people staff (they are colleagues) , we don’t say tenants (they’re customers). I’m frequently challenged on the latter when I use it on Twitter. But I have been for over 10 years! Let your organisational language evolve for you and ignore those who sneer or pick fault. Be different.

Never believe your hype.

No matter what awards you win. No matter how many customers say you are brilliant – never ever believe it. The right cultures blend respect for their tradition with a healthy paranoia about the future. Your history counts for nothing tomorrow. 

On 24th October is was our Bromford Bash – a gathering that we feel is culturally important enough to bring 1200 colleagues together. 

It was the last event where Mick Kent will be our CEO. He’s moving on to new adventures in January.

CEOs come and go these days but Mick has headed up Bromford for 30 years. That’s longer than many of our customers and colleagues have been alive. He’s been an immense keeper of the culture. 

He’s one of the few CEOs I could confidently pitch an Innovation Lab to with the words “Look , 75% of what we do will fail”. But I knew I wouldn’t be shown the door. 

Innovation is most likely to take hold where strong leadership coexists with healthy financial viability and a well managed approach to risk. 

As Mick said on Twitter recently  “I never wanted us to be like everyone else …always proud to be different”.

What a journey. 

I guess the next one has just begun. 

Get Social, Embrace Disruption: Serving the Connected Customer

I’m thinking it’s about 6 minutes to midnight on the Digital Doomsday Clock.

Time is running out on the organisations who are yet to board the bus. Yet to start the journey to being different businesses serving changed customers on a multiplicity of screens.

1 in 4 Executives from around the world believe the time has already come to implement digital transformation across their organisations, and that doing so is already a matter of survival. For 63% – the pace of change isn’t happening quickly enough.

I’m in agreement – there are 3 things we need to do , and quickly

1 – Get Social

Having a Twitter account and using a hashtag at a conference doesn’t equate to digital leadership.

The concept is still developing , but the effective digital leader doesn’t say “change takes time” or “there are barriers in the way”. To quote from an excellent article by Mike Clarke:

Digital leaders review and dismantle traditional infrastructures that act as barriers to innovation or which do not add value – they support and champion people that are close to service users and customers – they help people unlearn bad habits & some non-digital skills that impede progress”.

They embrace disruption.

2 – Agree It’s Not So #FutureTech

The future doesn’t arrive next year. It’s here. Now.

John Popham has remarked in a post that there is a  “real divide in our society between those of us who live every day with the possibilities offered by new technologies and those to whom these things are a peripheral interest.”

Having a Customer Services Leader (at any level) with a peripheral interest in social and digital service is no longer fit for purpose – we need to support and re-train people to face up to the connected customer. But we need to balance this with the ticking clock – new skills and thinking may be required.

And don’t make assumptions about your customers. That 75 year old lady you think won’t like the internet is a level 85 Tauren Druid on World of Warcraft.

3 – Reimagine Connected Customer Service 

Let’s not digitise our existing customer service offering . Let’s look at the possibilities and build a new vision. Look at how Amazon have innovated within the digital space. Look at how Wonga have made the user experience really simple and intuitive. Whether you like these brands and what they do is irrelevant. Look and learn.

The steps I would take are these:

  • Align digital with business goals and strategy (If need be , review them)
  • Have a flexible vision. Keep it under review , daily if need be. Don’t try and guess what it’s like in 2020. Nobody knows.
  • Secure buy-in from your Executive team. And continually reinforce it.
  • Develop a project roadmap but make sure this is kept under review too. New tools can emerge very quickly. Agility is key.
  • Develop guidelines for how social and digital tools should be used. Avoid policy as much as you can. Build trust.
  • Agree resources (social and digital are not free). GIve people the tools for the job.
  • Nothing is certain. Accept failure is OK. Just kill things quickly and humanely when they are not working out.

It’s six minutes to midnight on the digital doomsday clock

Better start serving the Connected Customer

20 Things They Never Told Us About Going Social

 ‘Pecha Kucha’ (literally – “Chit Chat” in Japanese) is a short presentation of 20 slides shown for 20 seconds each. The 20×20 format allows the presenter to talk for six minutes and 40 seconds – no more, no less – on a personal passion, project or interest of their choice. 

I was recently asked to present the Top 20 things I’d learned about Social Media in the past year.  I could talk about this for hours. So I imposed a self-limiting Pecha Kucha. It was great fun as I struggled to keep up with the auto-timed slides.

Try it – it can turn that boring 40 minute presentation into double espresso.

The orginal slideshare is available below. But please read on and see my extended remix of the Top 20 Things They Never Told Us About Going Social.

20 – They Never Told Us It Would Be This Fast: It’s perfectly acceptable not to be able to keep up with Social Media. In fact , you can’t keep up. So stop trying to.

19 – Don’t DO social , BE Social: If it feels like an effort – you aren’t doing it right. It should be fun to keep your community engaged. If it’s not , it won’t be much fun for your community either.

18 – Don’t just follow friends , follow people you’d cross the road to avoid: Embrace diversity. Get your opinions challenged. It’s fun to exchange views with people you’d never go for a pint with. Just don’t fall out.

17 – It’s 9 parts about others , 1 part about you: Share the content of others generously rather than talk about yourself. People will love you for it. Think: Every 10th post can be about me.

16 – Social Media is just an extension of your personality: Do it badly and it reflects on only one person. You.

15 – Online is as good as offline – sometimes better: Don’t listen to the snobs who say you can’t form “real” relationships online. You can. And online meetings are just as good as offline. Just a lot cheaper.

14- Prune your followers – it’s essential to growing a tribe: Sometimes you need a trim to allow the new roots to show through. Relationships don’t have to be forever.

13 – Digital Exclusion – There are as many staff who lack digital literacy as social tenants: Line all the housing association residents in the UK up against the HA staff. See who is more internet savvy. I reckon the residents will win.

12 – Wifi is like electricity – people need it to do their jobs properly: A social business is not a desktop business. People need Wifi. No employer can expect staff to eat into their data plans for the good of the company.

11 – It can take over your life – balance it: Look , my other half is glaring at me even as I type this. We all need a break sometime.

10 – The organisations that do it well have one thing in common – TRUST: forget size, forget money, forget resources. The leaders in social media trust their people not to **** up. That is all.

9 – The longer your policy on Social Media the fewer people will ever take part: The Bromford policy is essentially “If you wouldn’t say it out loud in the Cafe area – don’t post it online”. We have hundreds of users. I know an organisation that has an 87 page policy. Only one person uses it.

8 – We all have a Social CV. The worst ones are blank: Google yourself. It’s better you do it before your next employer does. Your online footprint matters. And a digital shadow is worse than any footprint.

7 – It’s not about followers. It’s about relationships: That difficult first month on social media? 10 friends or followers? It’s not about numbers. It’s about interaction and engagement. Always.

6 – Conferences without a hashtag are no longer worth booking: It’s not just about who you meet there – It’s about who you connect with – online – while you are there. Conferences that fail to utilise social to engage the crowd will not exist within a year. It’s like the Premiership – the real money is the audience who are watching around the world – not just the people in your stadium.

5 – People make mistakes online, don’t beat them up: We are all human. We are all learning to deal with this social web. Forgive people for their mistakes. You will need forgiveness yourself someday soon.

4 – If your CEO gets it – great. If they don’t and won’t – leave: Leadership matters. If you have given your all and tried to change attitudes to being a social collaborative business and they just won’t buy it – it’s time to look elsewhere. Other people will snap you up.

3 – You can make social part of the fabric of work: The argument about not having time for it disappears when it becomes ingrained in what you do. Encourage a social workplace. Integrate it. As long as you are still “in the room” – it’s OK to  tweet in meetings

2 – Social Media is the first new leadership responsibility of the 21st Century: The question I get asked most is “how do you manage it?” It’s the first leadership skill that there isn’t a “How To” guide written for. You can’t manage social , you can only be a social leader.

1 – It never stops.

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(Image via @fondalo. Pecha Kucha originally presented at #HGD13)

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.