Tag: Transformation

Success in hard times.

Posted on 12/01/11 by Aidan

Awareness

Is it always true that if we work harder we will do better? In times like we are passing through now, if we put our heads down and push are we doing the right thing? What happens if we are already working very hard and if we are already expending more of ourselves than we like and leaving nothing for our personal lives  – the wringings from a dishcloth. Is this sustainable?

The term work smarter is very old. However the term applies still to the concepts of using your efforts more wisely.  What about working more intelligently? A friend of mine once said to me – smart is short term – intelligence is long term. I see a lot of well meaning managers and leaders, leading by example, burning the candle at both ends and bringing their people with them. For a time the work culture in  Japan for instance precluded you leaving the office before the boss left even if it meant staying until midnight. Corporate in Japan had to turn off the lights in their buildings to make people go home. Bosses mean well and often lead this way – “work harder and we’ll get through this!”

But what about working more Intelligently. What about waking up your people to Awareness and making them more Emotionally Intelligent? What about using training to improve the success of your people, who properly motivated use these new skills to be better in all facets of their jobs. We have been hearing for years that we need to encourage people to be leaders and to strive independently for their team in their own interests as well as the teams. Well what about giving them the tools to develop their Self Awareness, Self Regulation , Empathy and Social Skills, all of which are directly related to success.

In 2004 Stanford’s Graduate School of Business stated that “Emotional intelligence skills such as vision, building relationships and developing people are more important to leadership success than typical leadership traits, such as external/market orientation, financial acumen and planning“. This study involved 265 corporate executives, directors, managers, business owners, and consultants.  Sir John Egan, former head of the Confederation of British Industry, BAA and Jaguar is quoted as saying that “It is the really inspirational leaders who stand out in a crisis…Emotional intelligence is a big plus in hard times“.

I met someone the other evening – a small business owner  – who said that becoming aware of his personality type made an immediate difference to the running of his business. He said he was able to re-organise his and others work to match his strengths. I have watched how the processes that improve awareness and Emotional Intelligence build better teams, comradeship and networks in business.

Better still its something we can do something about. Its not “out there” with the financial difficulties, its internal. We can get our people awake and working better together by applying simple techniques and opening up their awareness of themselves and others quite readily.

And success breeds success.

Aidan Higgins

First Published 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

Against the Ice the Tiger and the Bear

Posted on 08/23/10 by Aidan

This was sent to me just after I delivered a Management Development Course last week that included the Enneagram. Its from Dr David Daniels who has been to Ireland a number of times and I have been lucky enought to spend a bit of time learning from him. As with most things this former Professor of Psychiatry from Stanford University has a wonderfully clear way of getting to the root of things and explaining them succinctly.

So, Why the Enneagram – By David Daniels

The need is not really for more brains,
The need is now for a gentler, a more tolerant people
Than those who won for us
Against the ice, the tiger, and the bear.”

From the Immense Journey by Loren Eisley

This is one of my very favorite quotes. For to me it represents our crucial human need to develop past our earlier levels of being on the planet. We need an expanded appreciation of the positive possibilities for our species. And the Enneagram offers a key way to evolve ourselves into expanded and more inclusive levels of consciousness. For the Enneagram is all about understanding ourselves and others; all about appreciating differences; all about reclaiming a separate self from which we can truly join in union with others; all about opening our hearts to ourselves and others in nonjudgment; and all about reclaiming and integrating in our higher qualities – all representing the work of transformation.

In terms of levels of development simply put we will in the process become more world centric. I have simplified the levels from integral psychology into four basic ones. We can readily understand these.

• Pre-conventional: Impulsive and Self-protective (ego centric). We all know that we can do destructive behaviors when upset. But this impulsive, totally self-referenced level explains why we as a species can so readily kill and pillage others who don’t give us what we want or need. Others are simply objects, basically nothing more.

• Conventional: Conformist (ethno centric). Here we can love those with whom we are identified – our religious group, race, culture, and even team. But we can denounce and even annihilate those who aren’t in our group. They are children of a lesser god so to speak. We all know this from “ethnic cleansing” and the daily news. This explains how mothers (and fathers too) send off their sons into battle for the sake of the church, country or whatever.

• Post-conventional: Self-aware to Autonomous (world centric). Here there is an ability to include diversity, to expand the boundaries of inclusion and see other groups’ point of views. The down side results from belittling the “lesser” levels.

• Non-conventional: Integrated and Unitive (universe centric). This is a rare “species”. This is live beyond ego and ethnic identifications. Very, very few of us have reached this level, certainly less than 1%. Yet it remains a possibility.

The Enneagram work helps us move into the world centric stance thus providing hope for the future for all who embrace it.. I believe this move represents a core value of the various Enneagram schools. It gives hope to Loren Eisley’s words of our need for a more “gentler, a more tolerant people than those who won for us against the ice, the tiger and the bear.”

Ideas Ideas Ideas

Posted on 11/29/09 by admin

I lecture at the Kemmy Business School in Limerick in Business Consulting to the postgraduate students in Entrepeneurship. Its a great program that gives budding Entrepreneurs the skills to develop their ideas into profitable businesses with an emphasis on exporting.  The course specialises in providing the education and support needed to get the idea to the next phase and in the current economic climate it is even more important to put these forward thinking business ideas into action to help stimulate economic recovery. Of course these skills also translate into Intrapreneurial skills for large businesses and some of the feedback received from those graduating confirms the benefits these skills have for the bigger organisations.

I have over the last number of years taken part in the final project presentations as a “Dragon” for the MBS’s and MBA‘s and  this year the BBS group as well.  Working this year with Ulster Bank  , Enterprise Ireland  and guest Entrepeneurs we reviewed some absolutely brilliant ideas in terms of their potential and marketability with full presentations and a display and show afterwards where each competitor demonstrated their products. Some excellent marketing and ideas made it difficult to decide the prize winners and several of the ideas were definitely candidates for immediate product launch. Feedback from the other “Dragons” was very positive also and the quality was a credit to the staff at KBS and in particular the creativity/innovation coaching.

I have been reviewing projects of this sort for a number of years at a number of Universities and I have to say this year at UL was certainly the best. Its ideas and enthusiasm we need right now and these students have them in buckets. Courses like this add real value to our country’s prospects of making a full economic recovery. I keep reminding people that Barak Obama in his inaugural address speech said “…it has been the risk-takers, the  doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women  obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long, rugged path toward  prosperity…”

Aidan Higgins

Motivate Yourself First

Posted on 10/31/09 by admin


I recently gave a talk before Cavan County Enterprise Boards recent Awards Dinner on the topic of Motivation, with reference to the current economic climate. The reaction to the talk was extremely positive and also the feedback was particularly interesting.

I told the group that there are times I think when we forget the basics and lose ourselves in worry about things we don’t really need. This leads to suffering on a personal level that is not necessary and totally within our own control. Cutbacks and reductions can have an overly negative effect on us if we do not see that often these are necessary to moving forward. Often we attach meaning to things that causes us grief and worry. The way to address this is to sit down and think about what is really necessary at the end of the day and what of those things we worry about  are supports to our Ego rather than to our well-being and happiness.

Entrepeneurs and Small business owners in particular need to remain motivated and optimistic despite the current travails and to influence and motivate those around them as well. Someone once said “Sincerity is the secret – if you can fake that you can achieve anything!”. Well it can’t be faked, the people around you have a good idea whats going on really. So the feeling of motivation has to be real and come from within. Taking action every morning to bring a positive outlook into play by focusing on the positive things in our life can set the mood for the whole day. And bringing it to work influences those around us particularly small business owners.

The folks from Cavan had an interesting perspective. They reckoned the Celtic tiger hadn’t done much for them and so they didn’t miss it. “We never had too much around here anyway” they said and so we don’t miss it either. And this from as chirpy and cheery bunch of people as I’ve met. You know when you see what some have lost in terms of happiness and clarity in their lives its great to see that some have held on to what matters.

Aidan Higgins

Decent Management?

Posted on 06/15/09 by Aidan

Some of the public sector management stories remind me of a something I came across about the battle of Balaclava in 1854. Famous for the charge of the light brigade and “the thin red line” it became a logistical nightmare. While the British soldiers were up to their waists in water and cholera in summer clothes during the Russian winter, eating their own horses and dying by the thousands, the supplies they needed to survive languished in their ships for months – just down the hill from the front line – because the paperwork had not been properly done.

Front line staff  in public sector organisations are in my experience mostly doing their best often with back end management unable to meet their needs – not because there are too few but because there are too many. And I am beginning to believe that most of these poor managers are not aware of their capabilities and how bad they are.  And their managers are not helping by filling in review forms (where reviews are done at all) in a manner which rewards mediocre performance.

Listening to people who work in some areas of the public sector there are stories of mind boggling bureaucracy and failures. Improvements are resisted by a culture where positional power is taken so seriously it becomes the target of management rather than customer service. This leads to interdepartmental barriers, territoriality and lack of joined up thinking. I often wonder how old the process are in these organisations – did they every go through the BPR’s of the 90’s and are we dealing with systems put in place over 50 years ago.

I was at a hospital clinic some time back and as often happens I and about 20 others were kept waiting in the outer area for the consultants to arrive. There was a young woman on the front desk who was constantly getting enquiries about how long people could expect to be waiting. Of course she could not help – willing as she was – because she had not been informed. So she sat there working on her computer while 20 pairs of eyes stared at her and as people got more and more annoyed due to the delay and lack of information. I could feel the stress in the room and I felt quite sorry for her. I happened to sit down beside her and I asked how often it was like this …

“Oh” she said “every clinic”.

I kindly suggested that she should get a privacy screen so she could do her work without all those eyes burning a hole in her head. She confirmed that she had in fact asked for one and it was coming.

“Really?” I asked “when did you order it”.

She replied “3 years ago….”

This is a complex problem overall and will have to be resolved because the inefficiences generated by this culture drain our countries tax revenues at a far greater rate than is recognised I believe.  A little compassion for those who work for you might be a good start.

Aidan Higgins