Tag: Leadership Development

Staying grounded is key to balancing life and leadership

Posted on 12/07/15 by Aidan

Grounded LeadershipSuccessful leaders live complex and demanding lives. As the frequency of communication has intensified, the pace of business has increased.

Yet many of us have not learned how to deal with this. There is never enough time to do everything you want to do, because the world around you makes ever greater demands on your time. Nor will you be able to achieve a perfect balance between all aspects of your life – career, family, friends and community, and personal life. Inevitably, you will have to make trade-offs. How you do so will determine how fulfilling your life will be.

How to successfully navigate the sharing economy

Authentic leaders are aware of the importance of staying grounded. In doing so, they avoid getting too cocky during high points and forgetting who they are during low points. Spending time with family and close friends, getting physical exercise, having spiritual practices, doing community service, and returning to places where they grew up are all ways to stay grounded. This grounding is essential to their effectiveness as leaders because it enables them to preserve their authenticity.

To avoid letting professional commitments dominate their time, authentic leaders must give priority to their families and take care of themselves personally, in terms of their health, recreation, spirituality, and introspection. There is no silver-bullet solution to this issue, but neglecting to integrate the facets of life can derail you. To lead an integrated life, you need to bring together the major elements of your personal life and professional life, including work, family, community, and friends, so that you can be the same person in each environment. For authentic leaders, being true to themselves by being the same person at work that they are at home is a constant test, yet personal fulfilment is their ultimate reward. Doing so will make you a more effective leader in all aspects of your life.

Stay Grounded

To integrate your life, you must remain grounded in your authentic self, especially when the outside world is chaotic. Well-grounded leaders have a steady and confident presence. They do not show up as one person one day and another the next. Integration takes discipline, particularly during stressful times, when it is easy to become reactive and slip into bad habits.

Leading is high-stress work. There is no way to avoid stress when you are responsible for people, organizations, outcomes, and uncertainties of the environment. For global leaders, long overseas trips intensify the stress. The higher you go, the greater your freedom to control your destiny but also the higher the stress. The question is not whether you can avoid stress but how you can manage and relieve it to maintain your own sense of equilibrium.

When Medtronic’s Chris O’Connell gets stressed, he said:

“I feel myself slipping into a negative frame of mind. When I’m at my best, I’m very positive and feel I can accomplish anything, both at work and home. When I become negative, I lose effectiveness as a leader and become even less effective at home. Both positive and negative emotions carry over between work and home.”

Focus on What Matters

When Sheryl Sandberg worked as a McKinsey management consultant, her manager implored her to take more control over her career, telling her, “McKinsey will never stop making demands on our time, so it is our responsibility to draw the line … We need to determine how many hours we are willing to work and how many nights we travel.”

After the birth of her son, Sandberg adjusted her in-office hours at Google to 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., enabling her to nurse her son. To compensate, Sandberg got up in the early morning hours to check e-mails and worked at home after her son went to bed. She learned that by focusing her time, she did not need to spend 12 hours a day in the office.

“I focused on what really mattered and became more efficient, only attending meetings that were truly necessary. I was determined to maximize my output while away from home,” said Sandberg. “I also paid more attention to the working hours of those around me; cutting unnecessary meetings saved time for them as well.”

Stay true to your roots

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz goes back to Brooklyn from time to time, Intuit Chairman Bill Campbell stays in regular contact with his old friends in Homestead, Penn., which helps him keep perspective on life in Silicon Valley. To restore themselves and keep their sense of perspective, leaders may have a special place they can go with their families on weekends and vacations. Many renowned leaders found they can think more clearly when they escape: Thomas Jefferson had Poplar Forest and Winston Churchill had Chartwell. For decades, former U.S. secretary of state George Shultz and his wife went to an old family farm they own in Massachusetts.

“I once told the president, ‘This is my Camp David,’” said Shultz. “When I go there, I put on an old pair of pants and old shoes. I am so relaxed, I don’t worry about anything.”

Find time for yourself

To manage the stress of our leadership roles, we need personal time to reflect. Some people practise meditation or yoga to centre themselves and relieve anxiety. Others find solace in prayer. Some people find they can release tension by jogging. Others find relief through laughing with friends, listening to music, reading, or going to movies. It’s not important what you do, as long as you establish routines to relieve your stress and think clearly about life, work, and personal issues. It is critical not to abandon these routines when facing an especially busy period, because that is when you most need your stress reduction techniques.

From Discover Your True North, Expanded and Updated Edition by Bill George. Copyright (c) 2015 by Bill George. Bill George is a senior fellow at Harvard Business School and former chairman and CEO of Medtronic.

Autonomy is an important element of good Leadership

Posted on 06/02/15 by Aidan

autonomy1I was coaching a number of C-Suite Leaders from a large multi-national recently and part of our work included the topic of Autonomy and its importance to Leadership. Great discussions and feedback reminded me there are some assumptions and some blind spots with regard to autonomy.

Autonomy and Motivation

The level of autonomy is the degree to which an organisation or leader gives their people the discretion or independence to schedule their work and determine how it is to be done. It can also mean allowing them to determine which work to do, trusting them to select their solution to a problem using their understanding of organisational strategy in the context of the organisations vision and goals.

Autonomy is important to motivation, one of the top three people motivators in fact. It helps your people feel they have some say in what happens and that they can make a difference in the world.

Autonomy is a key part of empowerment and engagement so including it and using it as part of one’s Leadership style is very important.

In a bureaucratic or hierarchical organisation autonomy is limited. Not only is this de-motivational but it retards decision making, response times, service quality and people growth over time. The more decisions people can make the more they learn and grow. Sometimes people make mistakes.

People make less mistakes with experience, and when supported by training and communication and an understanding of the goals and objectives even less. Autonomy also allows the growth of your next stage of leaders who take over when decision makes leave or go missing.

 How much Autonomy is needed?

This is something to judge in context. There is a difference between delegation and abdication. Throwing someone in at the deep end can teach them to swim, but sometimes they drown.

A good leader will encourage autonomy in their people. They will make a decision about the level of risk suitable to the roles involved. They will look at risk and work to mitigate through mentoring and support. So it is a complex decision but in general there is not enough autonomy given.

Leaders who keep intervening to fix the problem are often well meaning but this is not the best solution in the long term. Serving your team is about putting in place that which is needed for the team to thrive.

Some leaders only give Autonomy to some of their people and often need to review how their perspective or opinion of some of their people (particularly those not being given autonomy) is influencing who gets autonomy and who does not. This can be a blind spot.

The Leaders own relationship with Autonomy

It is also a good exercise to examine one’s own relationship with autonomy. A Leader who has no autonomy is not a Leader.  He or she is a manager. In a bureaucratic organisation, a “leader” who is all about control and “the rules” cannot inspire or motivate or engage the people around him. If this person becomes about growing his or her people, about carving out autonomy and with resources, empowerment – then he or she becomes a leader.

On the other hand a leader who is overly focused on their own autonomy may have problems aligning with the organisations goals and objectives. This can become apparent when change happens and the organisation is forced to change direction. Sometimes these leaders become about their own power, whether this is used for their own ends or to protect their own team this can cause tensions in the organisation.

A key part of leadership growth is to become aware of their relationship with autonomy. Both their own and that of their people. Often we find that part of this relationship with autonomy is emotional and clarity can be obtained as part of mindfulness or awareness work.

Aidan Higgins

Emotional Intelligence: Forget Business School – Why An Emotional Education Is Indispensible

Posted on 07/31/14 by Aidan

Where is the HBS for emotional intelligence?

Most people still equate intelligence to academia, the power your brain has to process and remember information and your ability to draw conclusions from fact and data. But it is painfully obvious that there is much more to intelligence than just raw IQ.

How many people do you know who are academically brilliant and have degrees from the best schools, but have not managed to become successful in their professional or personal lives, despite having had many opportunities handed to them? How many times have you come across an employee who is brilliant and excels at the skill set required, but is so incapable of communicating or listening that he thwarts his own growth? How many times have you thought: “How did this idiot become so successful?” Often, the answer is linked to emotional intelligence.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand, use, manage and control emotions. This not only comprises our own emotions but also those of others, including their motivations and desires. Throughout your life, from childhood to adulthood, your level of emotional intelligence affects your behavior and interaction with others: your family, your friends, your colleagues, people you don’t know, those you respect, those you want to gain respect from, those you want to impress, those you need, people you fear, people you love. Your level of emotional intelligence will determine how good you are at engaging with others and drawing them to you.

Like many children, I grew up being told by my teachers throughout school that being the best in academics, being intellectually curious and working hard would make me successful. Therefore, as a diligent student, I collected the honors and academic brand names one after the other to put on my resume. And do not get me wrong, I am very proud of my achievements. Institutions like Stanford University and Harvard Business School have been invaluable in my growth and the path that I have taken, not only because of the classes but also because they connected me with some of the most admirable people I know. However, when faced with life’s personal and professional challenges, I do not find myself relying on the teachings from those institutions as much as I find myself having to draw from my emotional understanding of my environment and of myself.

According to the Emotional and Social Competency Inventory published by the Hay Group, emotional intelligence is defined by four fundamental attributes: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, and Relationship Management. I strongly believe that it is by developing all of these that we become more successful and fulfilled people.

Self-awareness is about knowing yourself and being able to assess your own emotions.

When you are able to understand why you respond a certain way to a situation, you are then able to manage it better and avoid the stress and discomfort that comes with it. The other source of self-awareness is an understanding of the way others respond to you. This is a difficult skill to grow because we naturally tend to see what we want to see. But being aware of your impact on others allows you to better motivate and lead them, which is an indispensable trait of a successful leader.

Self-management is your ability to control impulsive feelings.

It is your ability to adapt to changing situations while staying positive without reacting to them quickly. This is particularly important as an entrepreneur when you are constantly faced with new challenges. Managing your impulses is the only way to tackle challenges successfully and prevent yourself from feeling overwhelmed. In practical terms, this can translate to taking a cool-off period before responding to an investor who may have upset you, or taking the time to explain a problem to an employee instead of telling her off in front of the team.

Social awareness is the ability to understand the needs and concerns of others.

It requires a high level of empathy and will enable you to recognize power dynamics. People who are socially aware are able to relate to others and to draw them in. They know how to make every individual feel special, understood and respected. As an entrepreneur, if you are trying to build a team and motivate people, you need to be socially aware in order to create and foster a culture in which your team can grow in a healthy way.

Finally, relationship management is the ability to nurture relationships and inspire people. It is the capacity to influence others and defuse conflicts. For this you need to have developed self-awareness, self-management and social awareness. This is the attribute that leaders most share. Inspiring others comes naturally to them and because people believe in these strong leaders, they are more likely to overcome challenges for them.

Where do you learn Emotional Intelligence?

None of these attributes are taught in school. There is no official track one can follow to improve them. And yet they are integral to success and self-fulfillment. I have focused here on their professional impact, but it is easy to draw parallels to one’s personal life. Ever since I started Boticca with my business partner, it has been blatantly obvious to me that it is almost impossible to be a successful entrepreneur without high emotional intelligence. This is even more significant today, when teams are cross-cultural and businesses are global, thus increasing the complexity in the nuances of how emotions are expressed. Yet where does one learn how to hone it?

People I know with high emotional intelligence have often developed it thanks to their families. Their parents are themselves highly emotionally intelligent and have taught them as children through dinner conversations, through the simple observation of their interactions with others or through their direct coaching. They also surround themselves with friends with similarly high emotional intelligence. I see that with my successful entrepreneur friends who openly discuss issues of self-awareness and relationship management amongst themselves. Organizations such as EO or YPO try to encourage the development of emotional intelligence by creating environments where young leaders feel comfortable enough to discuss these issues. But this only comes along when you have already reached a certain level of success and awareness.

So, without a strong support system of family, friends or mentors to teach you and help you grow your emotional intelligence, what are you supposed to do? This is such a critical component of success and yet it is mostly ignored. Where is the Harvard Business School equivalent for emotional education? Why shouldn’t you prepare for emotional conflicts and management while you prepare for a career in business? Until someone opens the University of Emotional Intelligence or creates a curriculum for it, we’re stuck learning exclusively through the School of Life.

Original Article by Avid Larizadeh  in Forbes.com

Left and right brain thinking – leadership needs both.

Posted on 08/31/12 by admin

The teams and people with whom I work are always very interested in mindfulness and innovation and the relevance of  the differences between left and right brain thinking. We also work on understanding meditation and the benefits of being “present” – leading to awareness of our leadership style and its impact on the world around us. This twenty minute video presentation by a mostly left brain – academically trained – Scientist brilliantly illustrates the differences between the left and right hemispheres in terms of thinking. Her passion for her life changing event and discoveries shine through in a most human way and her conclusions are very interesting. See what you think…

Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor had an opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: One morning, she realized she was having a massive stroke. As it happened — as she felt her brain functions slip away one by one, speech, movement, understanding — she studied and remembered every moment. This is a powerful story about how our brains define us and connect us to the world and to one another.

 

Employee Engagement needs Emotional Leadership

Posted on 05/24/12 by Aidan

It was just over five years ago I was talking to corporates about employee engagement and ways to engender it. Some interesting strategies on rewards and remuneration were around and some of the incentive or “points” reward systems were in place. In Ireland in particular, high employment meant getting and securing suitable employees was a challenge.  And keeping them was a high priority especially after training costs and the costs of actually employing them were taken into account. In high turnover industries like call centres – staff would move for the slightest increase in salary and often companies would find themselves hiring back employees who had left –one year later at a much higher hourly rate.

Things have changed. Unemployment is high, savings are low, property is where it is and there is an idea out there that people are happy to “have jobs” and can be treated less well.  Not true. I have noticed that key performers for the Sales and IT functions for example, are often hard to locate in Ireland currently. A number of businesses I work with find these positions hard to fill – with the right people.

While there have been a lot of cutbacks the retained staff in organisations have to do more, have a wider brief (requiring more training and key skills) and own more intellectual capital than heretofore. Assuming that those that are currently engaged are performers it is more critical than ever to keep them and their key skills. Not only is retention required but in this “New Economy” they need to be operating at their full potential in a way that is sustainable and positive. They need to be “Engaged”.

Employee engagement means employees  being involved in, and enthusiastic about their work, who consistently act in ways that further their company’s interests without reward or external motivational factors. Engagement is distinctively different from employee satisfaction, motivation and organisational culture and contributes directly to shareholder value (the bottom line folks!)

While Engagement is distinctively different, it is driven by satisfaction, motivation and culture – as well as a sense of belonging and being valued. It is about passion, for your job, your team, your brand and what the company is trying to achieve. And passion is more than a number. Passion is an emotion.

To engage employees and get them passionate one must use passion and communicate passion and act passionately. One must communicate on an emotional level with people – because to get them passionate you must connect emotionally. As a leader it’s a considerable advantage to be emotionally intelligent. To engender world class performance you must work with people on an intellectual level and an emotional level. I also think to be at its best there needs to be an instinctual or gut level connection.

The results of using the three levels and particularly the underdeveloped emotional level are been seen as having huge impact in organisations. Being emotionally Intelligent is not about being emotional, but of being able to understand your own and others emotions and act accordingly. Through understanding how you are, how others are, how empathy works and understanding how to communicate with this understanding.

Your key employees can resonate with positive emotions if you lead them in this way. This resonance passes through the organisation like ripples on a pond engaging other employees and customers too after all – they are never more enamoured with your company than your people are.

It starts with Leadership. They are the core. They can be the stones dropped into the still pond to send out ripples of energy, motivation and positivity impacting all your people and your results. To the spreadsheet lovers out there – that’s “leveraging your Human Capital to deliver bottom line results and shareholder value!”

Aidan Higgins

Leadership and Emotional Intelligence Development.

Posted on 01/25/12 by admin

In 2012 it is widely accepted that Emotional Intelligence gives an advantage in the achievement of “success” and is more important than IQ. This is especially true for Leadership and its importance improves the higher up the organisation an individual goes.

From Darwin to the present, most descriptions, definitions and conceptualizations of emotional intelligence have included one or more of the following components:
(a) The ability to recognize, understand and express emotions and feelings.
(b) The ability to understand how others feel and relate with them.
(c) The ability to manage and control emotions.
(d) The ability to manage change, adapt and solve problems of a personal and interpersonal nature.
(e) The ability to generate positive affect and be self-motivated.

Emotional Intelligence is broken down into competences which are categorised by Goleman into Dimensions: Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation, Motivation, Empathy and Social Skills.

All agree that Emotional Intelligence can be learned and improved. There is debate however, as to how much it can be improved.
Higgs and Dulewicz contend that only some competences can be improved and of these only some by training – the others by experience.
Goleman suggests a different type of training is required. Organizations need to make accessible a mode of learning that is appropriate to the emotional intelligence domain these abilities can be improved. I carried out Academic research on a significant statistical population in 2007 which concluded that Emotional Intelligence can be improved substantially using the correct approach.

As it’s a different part of the brain that needs to be retrained one can’t improve these abilities in the same way that you learn technical expertise. So the appropriate mode is a requirement of successful outcome. Adapting from Goleman, Bytazis & McKee (2002) one can derive a 5 step model:

  • Define who you want to be
  • Define who you are now
  • Define how you get to who you want to be.
  • Plan to make the changes stick.
  • Identify who can help and support you.

My own experience and research contends that Emotional Intelligence can be developed through innovative and specific one to one or group training. The learning is not however like academic learning and revolves around processes which change the way you look at yourself, feel about yourself and engage with the world around you. Aristotle once said “We are what we repeadly do, excellence then is not an act but a habit”. How true!

Aidan Higgins

Overview of the Origins of the Enneagram

Posted on 01/04/12 by admin

Much of the development of the ideas of the Enneagram in the modern sense is attributed to Gurdjieff (b. 1875) – a Greek Armenian working in the early 20th Century (Riso and Hudson 1999, Lapid-Bogda 2004, Kale and Shrivastava 2002) who is credited with assembling the first parts of the Enneagram from Eastern traditions. This work was built on researched by and added to from various classical and spiritual teachings by Oscar Ichazo a Bolivian Philosopher (Riso and Hudson 1999, Lapid-Bogda 2004, Kale and Shrivastava 2002, Maitri 2005) following his travels and was synthesised formally into a “system” in the mid 1950s.

We see the world through our type.

It is derived from the (Riso and Hudson 1999) “nine divine attributes as they are reflected in human nature” and these ideas are originally attributed to the Neo-Platonists and appeared in Plotinus’s writings “the Enneads” (3rd Century AD). According to Goldberg (1999) the Enneagram is very old. He claims Homer (ca 750BCE) knew the nine basic themes essentially as they are today.

Riso and Hudson (1999) explain that they found their way into the Christian Tradition as the seven deadly sins (to match the seven sacraments) and two others – fear and deceit. Ichazo traced early ideas about the nine divine attributes from Greece to the “desert fathers of the fourth century” who first developed the concept of the seven deadly sins and from there into medieval literature including the “Canterbury Tales” and Dante’s “Purgatorio”. Following studies of the Jewish tradition of the Kaballah and in particular “the tree of life” Ichazo assembled the basic template of the Enneagram as it is known today.

Helen Palmer in an interview posted on www.ennea.com (1997) echoes this clarifying that the roots of the Enneagram are in the mystical wings of many sacred traditions. These roots are also found in Sufism (the mystical wing of Islam) and in the Judaic tradition however the Enneagram is especially prominent in the Christian tradition through the study of the seven capital tendencies. These in company with two generic or general tendencies that all types hold in common bring the total to nine.

In 1970 a noted Chilean Psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo (Palmer 1995, Maitri 2005, Riso and Hudson 1996) who was developing a program of Gestalt Therapy (the client is encouraged to experience his or her own feelings and behaviours in the here and now) was taught by Ichazo in Chile about the nine types or as he called them “ego fixations”. Returning to California he began to teach the enneagram with other psychological systems and began correlating the Enneagram with the psychiatric categories he was familiar with thereby expanding the concept.

Working with private groups initially Naranjo began to teach a version of the Enneagram in the Oral tradition and it spread rapidly from there through Naranjo’s Students, enthusiasts and the Jesuit retreat houses.

Wagner, Palmer and Riso were students of Naranjo and became the foremost thinkers on the Enneagram. Their work since the 1970s has added to the understanding of the Enneagram and with Naranjo’s work this has added a dept of experiential learning and understanding to the Psychological framework. According to Cutting and Kouzmin (2004) the Enneagram typology itself has been built up from experience and observing it over a long period of time.

Jerome Wagner PHD and author of the Enneagram Spectrum of Personality Styles (1996) summarises the origins nicely for the purposes of this study. He confirms that the trail of the Enneagram grows less distinct before Ichazo, but that it is evident that the parameters of the person as viewed through the lens of Enneagram theory have been recognized in some fashion across ages and centuries and across cultures, races, and genders. The Enneagram must tap into something universal in the nature and functioning of human beings. The fact that people from such varied places as Africa, Japan, Korea, India, Europe, North and South America and Russia etc can recognize these nine styles in their native cultures speaks to the generalizability of the Enneagram system.

Now being used through large multi-national businesses and organisations, its use is resulting in distinct improvements in many areas from financial metrics to leadership capabilities as well as teamwork. The Enneagram has become universally accepted a a key tool in Emotional Intelligence development.

Aidan Higgins

Empowerment is key

Posted on 10/29/11 by Aidan

I was once on a course at the IMI and my teacher was Prof  Terri Monroe from the University of San Diego. The module was leadership and she took a very intersting couple of days where she was a guide rather than a teacher. This unsettled some who were used to being told what to do next (despite being executive level management) but she was keen to let us evolve the learning and watch the leadership dynamics in the group. So she gave us all the leeway we wanted. I found this new and interesting.

She spoke about her work with the US Navy and how the dymanics of the armed forces had changed considerably from the “Over the Top” mentality of the past to one which recognised that fast decisions and reactions were key to meeting (and hitting) targets. Therefore management was focused on empowerment and leadership on Motivation – from command and control they had moved to enabling decisions to be made where “the rubber meets the road”.

Much is made of empowerment in business where the decisions can be made, where needed, at the coal face  – where your team meet your customers, where the sales are done and revenues generated and where knowledge is gathered about the customer and the environment. In our ever faster moving world the old chain of command idea means bureaucracy, slow response times, and lost opportunities. Empowerment is a critical success factor in the business world.

So I heard a story the other day about my oft quoted All Blacks Rugby team which illustrated it nicely. I often hold that they are the most successful team in the world overall because they all know what they are doing (as opposed to just the coach/captain) and they have an ability to adapt to expose newly discovered weaknesses. In a lot of sports and in some rugby teams there is the autocratic manager with the team plan who is handing out instructions about how the game should be played with all and sundry sticking to this plan until told to change. These changes are sent out via a “waterboy” or “doctors assistant” or shouted from the edge of the pitch or even bored into the players during the half-time break.

The All Blacks have a formidable Manager – Graham Henry –  who from a distance looks like the autocratic type and although he is seperated from his players during the game he does send messengers to and from the pitch. However the story goes that during one of his recent visits with his team to Ireland when the All Blacks won the grand slam (eg very strong and successful team) one of his messengers was corralled during a critical part of the Ireland game and asked what instructions he had sent out. “Oh none mate” came the reply – “I was asked to find out what the players were thinking of doing next“.

Now thats Empowerment.

Aidan Higgins

First Posted August 2009

Evolution time.

Posted on 09/30/11 by Aidan

Darwin is famously quoted as saying “It is not the biggest or strongest that survive but those most adaptable to change”.  In biological terms its the idea that the organism that best adapts to the environment will survive best and therefore pass on their genes to the next generation. This ideology has been used in most competitive organisations for many years and is an adage used to improve flexibility and innovation within the organisation. For this the general axioms are reduce bureaucracy and encourage change mechanisms within the organisation so that adaptation can occur. In a competitive market place this means change or go out of business.

Evolution is at its most powerful when a defined enviroment gets squeezed, forcing competition. When there is loads of food, space and resources then Evolution slows down but when the pressure comes on its evolve or die.

In the current recession most competitive environments are adapting by cutting overheads, changing processes, getting closer to the customers and such. Some businesses are being clever and taking advantage by defining their niche while the competition is weak and instead of focusing on quarterly results at any cost are getting closer to customers and understanding them and their needs better and improving their processes so that when the gloom lifts, as it always does, they will find themselves positioned at the top of the food chain and the number one in their space.

Others are in survival mode – taking any bit of business that comes along in order to survive. So they try to break out of their niche to areas where they may not have a competitive advantage. Or take the long road to product diversification requiring them while at their weakest to learn a new skillset and a new market. For some this is necessary and there is a natural tension in this and decisions need to be made.

What however is to be done with organisations who are slow to react with rigid bureaucracy, an inflexible workforce and a culture that resists change.  Those without a very strong position in the market will die.  I am watching this in some organisations in this country with awe. Organisations who need to move fast and adapt have either management who cannot change or a workforce, possibly unionised, who are all about “us and them” and never “we” who argue  while their more flexible competitors (abroad) are eating their dinner.

Most interesting is the Public Sector who seem like rabbits caught in headlights and seem to be able to do nothing but CUT things. People. Services. Budgets. What about performance inefficiencies? What about getting more done with less by reducing the amount that needs to be done? What about mapping processes across departments? What about putting real managers into the Health Service for example? From outside the crazy culture that exists? If you get more done with the same people everybody keeps their job and the customers get their services and “everybody goes home with a balloon”.

The question arises – does Evolutionary pressure come to bear on the Public Sector Organisations – if they don’t shape up will they go out of existence. Well – no – in reality it does not apply. On an organisational level.  This is why it is sometimes it is prudent to privatize these organisations to allow their new environment to apply pressures that their current environment does not allow.

But what about Ireland Inc? What about the economic status of Ireland as a whole. The Public Sector Organisations are just parts of a larger whole. And so long as they are as they are and they remain as they are Ireland will suffer. Ireland is in an Evolutionary squeeze. Other more competitive entities are putting their hands up to eat our dinner while we are distracted with political expedience. Ireland Inc is in danger of dying out perhaps? I wonder if those who are focused on their own little territories and those who block improvements at the local level think of what they are doing in these terms?

Perhaps they should.

Aidan Higgins

First Published May 2009

Re-engineering the Downturn

Posted on 02/09/11 by Aidan

Back in the early nineties I was working with Business Process Re-engineering which is still current today if as part of other systems. It laymans terms it was a way of looking at a process within a company – for example how an invoice is processed – and simplifying it so that it takes less time, includes technology where possible and removes steps from the chain. It leads to efficiencies and better value for money.

Difficulties in implementation include the difficulties in crossing departmental barriers, getting people on board and retraining.  However in competitive adaptable organisations with the will to do so it can be achieved with spectacular results from lower costs, improved adaptability, faster time to market and quicker response to customer demands.

Looking at the Public Sector organisations we have in this country – I wonder has it ever been done. The strong us and them culture that exists, the “change nothin” policy, the slow adaptation of technology, the resistance to all things new (without compensation!) and the lack of will (from the top down) to change the status quo.

With the Political Turmoil at the moment there are a lot of ideas and promises flying around. However loads of glib solutions abound. There are cultural problems as well as organisational problems to be addressed. Cutting jobs is not the whole answer although cutting some is part of the solution. Stretching front-line staff to breaking point by refusing to replace those who leave or are on maternity leave is an idiotic solution.

Culture is first and foremost. You have to win hearts and minds. I wrote before about the Monkeys in a Cage

Researchers started with 4 chimpanzees in a cage (all having a great time I presume screeching, scratching etc) which are left to their own devices to form a group. A bunch of Bananas is then put on the roof of the cage and the chimps, naturally, climb up the cage to get the bananas. After a while the researchers started to hose the cage (and Chimps hate being wet) with water everytime they went for the Bananas. Of course it did not take long for our hairy cousins to figure out that going for the Bananas was a no-no. Being researchers, they then introduced another Chimp who when he saw the bananas immendiately went to get them with the resultant hosing of him and his cellmates. So the next time he went for the Bananas his cellmates stopped him. And this became the norm – every time a new Chimp was added and he went for the bananas the others stopped him. After a while the researchers stopped the hosing and eventually they had a group of Chimps who had never been hosed. And yet still they refused to go for the bananas and stopped any new member going for them either.

Sean Lemass warned after he set up the semi-states that they needed to be monitored closesly lest they become more focused on the interests of their employees than those of the country. Some of our best people are swamped by the culture that pervades parts of our Public Sector. Trying new things and trying to improve the system is frowned upon. Vested interests and power centres block change and will continue to do so while there is so little else there to reward people. Cutting jobs is part of the solution but only part. Cutting inefficiencies is the trick. Leave the systems as the are and cutting a job only leaves another poor soul with twice as much paper in his or her in-tray.  And a bigger bottleneck in the system.

To do this needs a change in culture. A better reward system and a happier more motivated more flexible group of people. Lots of international organisations have achieved this – why not here in Ireland in our Semi-States and public sectors?  Because of the us and them mentality, because top management are often appointed for their political affiliation rather than their abilities, because nobody in power wants to change.  We need more like Willie Walsh at the top. We need to treat our people better, to train them better and to be able to remove them from their jobs (managers especially) if they cannot do their jobs –  nowadays we promote the problem! Legislation exists nowadays to protect people and to keep it fair. So job cutters, budget squeezers everywhere – aim for smarter work, better efficiencies and try to have a bit of imagination! Less of the broad stroke quick fix solutions! And the “us and them crew” try and think of the interests of the country eh?

I once got into an amicable conversation with a man over a pint and we were getting along well and he told me he was the union rep for his sector.  Immediately interested I asked him something like “what are the main problems you see with the restrictions forced on you by the systems and bureaucracy you are forced to operate with”… for which I got a suspicious look followed by “jeasuss – you sound like you one of dem fookin management”.

And so it goes on…

Aidan Higgins