Archives for posts with tag: employee engagement

In previous blogs I have threatened to metaphoricalise the Ashes and the lessons that this most arcane and wonderful sporting occasion brings to the world of work; this is that blog.

First up, just in case we have any readers from countries where cricket is not played, you have my undying sympathy and a quick explanation: the Ashes is a series of cricket matches between England and Australia; each match lasts up to five days and there are five matches – known as test matches – in the series. England recently won the last series 3-0, and if you want to know more, look no further than here

Any road up, there are many, many things that can be learned from embracing the wonder that is test cricket in the world of work. There is the lesson of finding and working to your strengths – for example, it is important to keep a cricket ball dry so that a bowler can make it move in the air when he bowls; to this end, England captain Alastair Cook is in charge of polishing the ball because he doesn’t sweat as much as other players.

There are different players – batsmen, bowlers, and different types within each type – there are opening batsmen and middle-order batsmen; there are fast bowlers and spinners – and even leg and off spinners.

Cricket, in short, is the perfect example of the notion of diversity being strength – everyone has their own skills and needs to perform to their best to deliver this strength in order for the team to succeed. But as well as individual strengths you need team-work; for a bowler to be successful you need the fielders to be in the right place at the right time and do their part; a batsman can only build an innings if he builds partnerships with other batsmen.

Cricket also tells us that you need the right people at the right time – you need to have have the right team to make the most of conditions; if the sky is overcast and cloudy, you need your swing bowlers; sunny on a dry pitch and your spinners are the best option.

Thus it is in work; if you have a change project you need people to kick it off, get it started and underway; these are the opening batsmen, making a start and laying a foundation for others to build upon. Their success is key to enable later success and you need the right kind of people to do this – doers, planners, people who can manage stakeholder and establish a vision and path to the future.

Once the foundations have been laid, then it is up to the middle order to really get things done and deliver the project; these are a different kind of person than the openers; they build on previous success, use the relationships the openers have built already to ensure success, they consolidate and they take things on.

A rich vein indeed, for the sport-minded business person to mine; in this blog, however, I want to focus on two things that happened in this most recent Ashes series, and specifically in the final test at the Oval.

First was the decision by Australian captain Michael Clarke to declare at tea on the last day and set his team the challenge of bowling England out before they could reach the winning total. The decision was sporting; it was in the spirit of the game, and set up for the spectators a spectacle, a thrilling denouement to a great game and a great series. For me it showed courage and a sense of fair play, and so two great aspects that leaders need: the courage of their convictions and to take risks, and a sense of fairness and reason to temper that courage so that it doesn’t lose perspective and become rash or foolhardy.

The second thing was a decision made many months before the match, in a committee room by a group of bureaucrats. This meant the match had to end with only four overs – 24 balls – to be bowled and England needing only 21 runs to win the game and claim an unprecedented 4-0 series victory. The light was worse than it had been at a previous point in a previous match, and because of the bureaucrats the umpires had no choice but to end the game; there was no room for common sense or in the moment thinking, only an arbitrary line marked in the sand by officious suits.

This ruling robbed the crowd of a fitting climax to the match, and England of a likely victory, but it also robbed the umpires of an opportunity to exercise common sense and manage in the moment, in the now.

The lesson here that while we all need rules in a business setting, they should not be so arbitrary and hard and fast that they prevent a sensible and reasonable decision be made to take an opportunity; bureaucracies stifle organisations because they limit thinking and discourage decisions being made in the moment.

Had the umpired been free to make up their own minds, then the courage shown by Michael Clarke to give the watching public a real show would have been vindicated; as it was, it was lost, denied by bureaucracy.

Have a think about your leaders in your organisation – are they courageous? Fair-minded? Do they balance what it right for themselves with what is just right?

Think about your organisation, about its rules and regulations (and remember these can be unwritten rules, not just the “official” ones). Do they prevent the courageous and fair-minded leaders from leading in the right way? Do they allow common sense to prevail and let people manage in the now? Can your organisation learn a valuable lesson from the strange and wonderful world of cricket? I hope it can.


I was mucking out the rabbit this morning (not a euphemism) and for some reason I thought of a session I once ran for a group of managers in the legal department of the organisation I was part of at the time.

I was feeding back my insight from their employee survey, in the hope of gaining their perspective and together agreeing a way forward to address the issues raised and improve engagement levels, making their department more effective in future. The usual. These four were great; highly experienced and intelligent and, because of their training as lawyers, I assume, generally adversarial. It was like playing four games of chess at once. While riding a unicycle.

With the support of the head of department and the local HR business partner I survived unscathed and we all went away wiser and better for the experience. I ran many such sessions for a wide variety of audiences over the years, and there was always a wide range of reactions from the various teams I spoke to. I thought I would use this blog to examine some of these reactions, to see if anyone found them familiar and had any thoughts on how to deal with the various reactions.

Before going in, I think it is important that anyone going into part of an organisation with any insight or communication is responsible for that information and how it lands. There is a great cop-out to this, called “assuming positive intent”, which is a rule applied to the receiver of the information which basically means “if this upsets you, it’s your own fault, not mine”. In this, as with a great many other things, I find myself more on the side of Leonidas, King of Sparta, in 300 when he gets a message from King Xerxes via a messenger. The news is not good, and it doesn’t end well for the messenger. Clearly Leonidas should have assumed positive intent and the whole nasty business could have been avoided.

Anyway, as in Sparta, when I go into a room and tell a leadership team what it’s like to work there, you can be damn sure I take full responsibility not only for that information, but for how it lands.

First up, there is the blank looks and complete acceptance. The information is taken at face value and accepted fully and without question, as though I were some guru or sage, whose words are gospel. Now this is an issue, because wise, sagacious even, I may well be, but I have only a limited amount of knowledge, based on my exploration of data. I will have done some homework too, usually a chat with the local HR people prior to the session, but I cannot know all the operational and strategic issues at play in every part of the business at the time of the survey. For the department to move forward requires genuine insight, and this can only come from analysis of the data combined with the local context; any recommended actions based on data alone are unlikely to succeed, despite the warm glow you get from speaking to a group of people who nod heartily after every sentence and agree with all you say as though you have some preternatural ability.

My approach in such cases is to drop the data as soon as I see that things are being taken too easily, without questions and fire out a few myself. “What were the big issues at the time…” “one of the comments mentions such and such, can you explain what that was all about?”, that kind of thing. If you have any tips, let me know.

The other end of the spectrum is outright hostility: this is my department, these are my people, you know nothing about them, you can add nothing. Again the data goes into the back pocket and it’s into a coaching conversation to get underneath the behaviours; have they got something to hide? Are they worried what I will think of them as leaders? The trick is not to challenge back but engage in a dialogue; my favourite answer in one such sessions was “I would be a better leader if I had better people” – I invited the leader who said that to have a think about it and what he, as a leader, could do about this, which made for a somewhat better conversation.

Hostility usually comes from fear, in my experience, and so it’s about the conversation, openness and reigning back on any inclination you may have to be a smart arse. Just me? OK then.

My personal favourites in terms of reaction is the one I eventually got with the lawyers – challenging but in a positive and engaged manner. It started feeling adversarial, but I realised they were challenging not the data but the validity of the process; this is where having a good knowledge of that process and its validity comes in handy; and also having a lot of confidence that the data is valid. Fail to prepare, and all that; homework is vital as is really good process and project management prior to the survey.

Once I gave the reassurance they needed, backed up my models with the right level of academic rigour, the dialogue about the data took place and genuine insight was achieved, actions put in place and engagement levels improved.

Other reactions fell at various stages along the spectrum from complete acceptance to complete hostility, and all improved over time as I got to know the audiences and the likely reactions and prepared myself better.

So, if you are preparing something of this ilk, have a think. How is this news likely to go down? Will people challenge you, or the process, or the data from which you drew your insight? Can you be completely confident in the validity of everything you intend to say, and do you have all the sources and background likely to be needed to meet any such challenges? After all, you don’t want to end up being kicked into a well by a bad-tempered monarch.

I have been racking (wracking? No, it is racking) my brains about how to shoehorn today’s reasonably welcome announcement about the improvement of cycling facilities in many cities across the UK into this blog which is, essentially, about employee engagement and organisational culture.

This got me thinking, and, as often happens when I get thinking, I wandered off on a neurological tangent, and ended up at a place where I was in a cycle shop and there, in front of me in the queue, is a trainee accountant clutching a cycle to work scheme voucher in one hand, and a full-suspension mountain bike in the other, all ready to start his daily commute.

This is not the forum to explain why Henry, our trainee accountant friend, should get a road or hybrid bike for commuting (unless he’s commuting to the upper slopes of Snowdonia), but it is just the place to have a think about cycle to work schemes. In my last blog I talked about flexibility when it came to reward and employment packages and how to communicate them. This time I wanted to ruminate on why you would encourage people to cycle to work and other methods of driving engagement through reward and recognition.

First let us go back in time, back to the middle of the last decade, when businesses were beginning to look seriously at this whole employee engagement thing. I was an engagement manager in a big company, and having a conversation with the head of the reward team, who sat in the next bank of desks. A fine bunch of people, they were the only team in the whole company who scored 100% favourably for the question “I believe I am fairly rewarded for the work that I do” in the annual survey. Fact.

Anyway, Head of Reward chap said to me “The best way to engage someone is to pay them more”. He was big believer in this, and had research to back it up. Made sense, certainly, people come to work to make a living, so the better the living they can make the, well, the better. Or so I thought until I got hold of some research of my own.

First up I looked at the rest of the organisation to see if they felt they were fairly paid. Very few thought they were, but this had absolutely no link whatsoever with their levels of engagement. Then I looked at the actual pay – generally the higher up the organisation you went, the higher the engagement score was. Except there was a dip, just before the top, where some pretty well-paid people were less engaged than people paid less than them.

And I looked at other research that real academic researchers had done, and it told me that it was far more complex than my chum the reward bod thought; reward plays some part in engaging employees, but then so did recognition and non-financial stuff. I went back to my data and  looked at recognition schemes across the business – and found some pretty firm linkages between engagement levels and how well embedded and managed recognition schemes were in various bits of the organisation. These ranged from a formal recording of a job well done in an email to awards nights with posh frocks and tuxedos, but they were all about making people feel good about the job they had done. Among the most effective were in the customer-facing areas where they were explicitly linked to customer service and feedback.

Cycle to work schemes are slightly different – everyone gets to take advantage of these, should they wish to do so – but they are all part of offering a more rounded and flexible reward to your people. They also help reduce carbon emissions, improve the health of your workforce and send a very strong message about how socially responsible your organisation is.

The point I am trying to get to is to have a think about ways you can improve your organisation through having a rounded and flexible reward system run alongside effective recognition processes. In my experience, you need a few things to make such schemes really work, so here are some top tips:

  • Make sure they are inclusive, clear and fair – no room for favouritism or even the appearance of favouritism
  • Link them explicitly to your organisational purpose, values, strategy and brand
  • Combine formal, structured recognition with lots of informal, in the moment recognition
  • Make recognition down-up and side to side,  not just top-down
  • Make a big fuss about them – publicise it when people are recognised, create role models
  • Make sure people are clear why they have been recognised
  • Recognise behaviours, rather than targets met or tasks achieved

Have a think – how do you recognise the behaviours you know will make your organisation more effective? I you don’t know, it may be worth having a scan through some older blogs to check out what I mean by this, and then have another think, and get something in place. Oh, and why not try cycling to work too? Don’t wait for those new cycle lanes, be that change now!

New research shows that up to a million people are on so-called “zero-hour” contracts – whereby part-time employees aren’t guaranteed set hours in any particular week. 

This is something of a surprise to the abacus wielders in Westminster, who reckoned only a quarter of that number were on the contracts, but a survey by the fine people of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (the BMA of HR) reckons that it is nearly a million.

There is a debate about this, with unions and poverty charities on one side, employers (including many charities) on the other; and at the core of the debate is flexibility.

Flexibility is very much the watchword of the modern employment zeitgeist – and I’m very much in favour of it. Provided  it is truly flexibility and not just exploitation wearing a cloak of zeitgeist-esque respectability.

Now I’m not an expert in employment law or terms and conditions – although I have dabbled, and have helped with getting new sets of terms and conditions accepted by a sizeable proportion of a workforce every now and then, and I am an expert in employee engagement and organisational development – and I know that truly flexible employment packages are ticks in those particular boxes.

Young, single people just setting out on their working lives are likely to want as much money as possible, and may be quite happy to forego a week or two of holiday to get a bigger number at the bottom right hand corner of their payslip.

More mature workers, with family commitments, may want more in the way of flexible time, and can afford to take a hit on the wage if they can get more generous leave or working from home.

All the while there needs to be balance – meeting the employer’s needs while fulfilling the needs of the employee. Having a flexible, home-based workforce doesn’t tend to be much use for manufacturers or bus companies, I would have thought; you need people operating those lathes and driving buses, after all. Call centres need people on the end of the phones (although do they really need to be in a aluminium-sided shed on an industrial park on the outskirts of a post-industrial city?).

In other words, there is work to be done and employers need people to do it in order to deliver what they need to do.

The trick with achieving this balance is to get both sides to understand what they want and need out of the process; this in turn requires really good communication channels both up and down the organisation.

So while I actually did write the book on a new set of T&Cs once, that wasn’t what swung it when it came to the ballot; what swung it was a really good quality conversation between the employer and employees before the proposals were even put into that book; followed by a series of equally good conversations at every level of the organisation to explain the benefits and drawbacks, address the concerns of managers and workers, and an organisational understanding of why this was the best for everyone.

It’s not easy, and can fall down spectacularly when managers forget to manage and indulge in the old affiliative behaviour (“look what they are doing to us”, when it should be “this is what’s happening and why”), but when it works it can deliver that level and quality of flexibility that really is win-win for everyone.

I can see the benefits of zero-hour contracts (to both sides, if sides have to be taken) and I can see the dangers (again to both sides; exploitation of the workers and brand damage for the employers, for example); what is required to ensure the benefits are realised and the dangers avoided is a really good quality conversation. 

If you’re in an organisation where flexibility is seen as the way forward, maybe ask yourself – is it flexibility, or something else? And ask yourself what conversation have you had about it?

I have recently subscribed to one of those new-fangled streaming services, whereby I can watch TV and films any time I like.

My current addiction is The West Wing, the tale of simple everyday leaders of the free world, and, for my money, one of the best shows ever on television. I was launching into season four when a moment sent  a frisson of recognition from corporate life.

For those of you unfamiliar with the show, it is set in a fictional White House, and follows the adventures of the senior staff of President Jed Bartlet. As Season Four opens, Bartlet is seeking re-election, and is speaking at a soya bean farm in Indiana.

At the event three of his staff – the Director of Communications, the Deputy Chief of Staff and his assistant, get left behind by the motorcade and end up having to find their way back to Washington via various modes of transport, including a truck powered by soya diesel. The owner of the van explains how difficult things are for small farmers, and the senior staff give them the standard, off-the-cuff soundbites.

A little later the assistant, Donna, plays back to the more senior staff the conversation they have had, and tells them that they didn’t listen – they just spoke. That’s when the frisson hit.

A lot of businesses and organisations regularly have town hall meetings, management roadshows, leadership days out – they are always about getting the leaders out and about, meeting the people, getting those key messages where they need to be heard, aren’t they? Just like the President out on the stump, making the speeches and pressing the flesh.

But what an opportunity could be missed. See, there are lots of people there who listen, and a few who speak – even when there are Q&A sessions, the majority listen, the minority speak. What happens a bit less is that the minority listen, and the majority speak.

Obviously, leaders are busy people and their time is precious, they need to be doing important strategic things; but when they get an opportunity to listen to their people, how often do they take it?

People ask me about how to engage people in an organisation – they should do, I know about this stuff – and I tell them they need to get their leaders out there, on the shop floor, out on the road, in the factories, offices, fields or whatever, and speak to their people.

This leads to the aforementioned roadshows and town halls, and lots of extra work for the internal comms and events teams. It’s formal, it’s the presidential motorcade, the stage-managed delivery of the key messages. But that’s not what I meant, necessarily.

What I mean is management by walking about, what I mean is talking with people, rather than talking to them or at them.

The essence of communication is conversation, an exchange of information and ideas. If leaders go out and have the conversations, then it’s really important that they listen and take on board what they hear. 

In The West Wing, Donna upbraids her more senior colleagues for being focussed on the job in front of them – winning the election – and not listening to the farmer who had to take a second job so her father got health insurance, of making fun of the local fair when it was a source of pride and joy to the people who took part, in short, not being aware of what is important to “ordinary” people – or voters, as they are known. (If you want to check it out, it’s about 32 minutes into episode 2 of season 4, although it might be best to have a look at the rest of the programme too, if only for context. I’d put up a YouTube clip, but then I’d need to find one and all that).

Anyway, to give you a business example I was aware of – a retail chain did management roadshows, and asked workers what they needed to do. They got some really useful feedback – how products were selling, ideas for new product lines or marketing strategies. They also found out that there weren’t enough coat hooks in the staff rooms. They acted on this, and guess what? Engagement levels improved.

Another example, again from retail. In an employee survey one of the free text comments (out of many thousands) mentioned that the fridge in the staff area of a store in Scotland was no good. The leadership saw that, and bought them a new fridge. The next year the survey (which was predominantly paper-based) featured a picture on the cover of two colleagues from that store eating a nice cold yoghurt which they had stored  in their new fridge. That survey had a response rate in the high 80s.

Both examples show that when leaders listen and understand what matters to their people they can improve engagement, and, in turn, they can improve their business. So next time you plan a roadshow or town hall have a think – is this about getting the messages out, or getting them in?

Are your leaders so focussed on what’s in front of them they can’t see what’s important to their people – or even their customers? Have a think.

A few blogs back I looked at lessons that the world of work can take from the world of sport, and promised a blog on the Tour de France. This is that blog.

I started watching Le Tour years ago, when it first popped up on Channel 4, as I recall. I went off it after an arrogant Texan started to dominate it, but came back a few years ago, coinciding with the appearance of a stocky Manxman called Cav, who was pretty nippy on his bike. Then came a gangly mod who I knew from track racing at the Olympics, who had lost a bit of weight and got handy at hills, and only went and won the whole thing last year.

There are so many things that I love about long-distance cycling; the sheer effort it takes; I cycle, usually to commute, and every now and then go a bit further, taking in some hills. What I don’t do is go several hundred miles, over mountains, in a day. Just awesome.

Then there is the tactics, the continual ebb and flow, breakaways and catches, being swept up by the peloton, how to ride in different wind conditions, lead-out trains delivering stocky Manxmen to within a few hundred metres of a finish line for a sprint after 200km+ of cycling. A sprint! I can barely beat an amber light at a junction after four miles of commuting.

And, as there is much to admire in Le Tour and cycle racing generally, there are many metaphors for the world of the workplace.

Teams, for example. If you stay to watch the interviews after any stage of Le Tour, the winners will usually thank their team – especially if it was a sprint stage. In a sprint stage a team will have a specialist sprinter who they nurse through the entire race, often over 200+km, so towards the end they can get into single file, drive up the speed and gradually drop off from the front one by one, until the final lead-out rider allows the sprinter to fly out from his back wheel and make a dash for the finish line.

Over the past few years Mark Cavendish has been the best in the world at this, and my favourite image in cycling was Cav being lead out to victory on the final stage of the 2012 tour by the yellow jersey of Bradley Wiggins, the first British rider to win the event. This year he had a few more challengers, which always makes it interesting.

What lessons here, then, for teams: you need a strategy, you need tactics, you need a plan, but you also need flexibility. What happens if your sprinter gets a puncture? What happens if another team’s lead-out train cuts ahead of yours, or takes your line into the finish? You have to make decisions on the road, in the moment, and act accordingly.

You also need clarity of the roles: you need a sprinter, but also you need lead-out men; in other teams there will be specialist climbers, for the lumpy stages when the race goes over mountains; they will also have lead out men who help them get up the mountains until the end when the specialists can attack towards the peak. There are also the generalists, the domestiques, who’s job it is to go back to the team car and pick up drinks, food, and energy gels and deliver them back to the specialists at the front of the pack. That said, if your leader cracks on a climb (ie they can’t find the strength to carry on climbing at the speed of the race) then a domestique may have the legs and have a go themselves.

It makes for fascinating viewing, and makes cycling more unpredictable than many other sports. In this year’s Le Tour, the winner, Chris Froome was nailed on as the winner from the first mountain stage, it seemed, but a couple of stages later his team were dropped and he had to fight against his main rivals without his team supporting him. He still won, though.

To sum up:

  • Have a plan: know where you are going; cycle racers know their route really well, when the climbs are coming, when there are tricky bits, where there are likely to be challenges from other teams
  • Have your tactics in place: know how to deliver your plan at each step; who is going to lead the race in the early stages? Who needs to save their legs for the climbs or the sprint?
  • Be clear on your roles: who is your sprinter? Who is your climber? Who are your domestiques?
  • Be flexible and responsive when your plan can’t deliver any more: when another teams attacks earlier than expected, you need to respond then, there isn’t time to go back through planning and re-thinking tactics until you have responded and caught them; then you re-assess and develop plan B, but you do it on the hoof, you don’t go back to the start and go again.

I will no doubt return to the sporting world in a few weeks, hopefully when the Aussies are on the plane home having failed miserably to win The Ashes.

In the mean time, have a think about your team, your organisation. Is everyone clear on where you’re going? How you’re going to get there? Who needs to do what? And what will you do if things change? If your competitors pull something new into the market? If there’s another economic crisis? Have you the flexibility to respond and react and re-plan as appropriate?

And, while you are thinking about this, think about getting a bike. Think about getting your workforce to cycle to work – they will be fitter, happier and more productive, and you will make the world a little bit better, and who doesn’t want that?

One thing I do quite a lot is networking. This often involves going into a room full of strangers and talking to them. This is how a typical conversation will go:

Stranger: “Hello, I’m Geoff.”

Me: “Hello Geoff, I’m Richard.”

(Business cards are exchanged)

Me: “So what do you do?”

Geoff (Not a stranger any more, you see): “I’m a procurement manager.” (inspects my card). “So what is it that you do?”

Me: “I’m and Organisational Development Consultant.”

Geoff: “Oh. So what what is it that you do?”

The next line depends very much on what Geoff does. Sometimes I say “It’s sort of like HR”, sometimes I tell them “it’s kind of like personal development, only with organisations.”

In my more retrospective moments, which rarely occur during networking, I try and think what Organisational Development is, and how to describe it.

For me, OD is about making organisations more effective through its people.

That sounds simple, but what that encompasses is really, really complex, and it means you need to know quite a few things before you can get started.

Firstly, you need to know how effective the organisation is now. And for that, you need to know what the organisation is there for; what is it meant to do?

This is a very straightforward question, surely? A shop sells things; a manufacturer makes things (and then sells them); a legal firm offers advice about the law to clients. 

There is clearly more to it than that, and I have blogged previously about the importance of vision and values to an organisation, and how these link to the strategy; if you combine all of these, you will get a sense of what the purpose of the organisation is, and then you can start to think about how effective the organisation is.

Then you need to think about how they can make it more effective. How it can do what it needs to do to meet its purpose in a better way.

Clearly you can change things like systems and processes, making them more efficient and productive, which is fine as far as it goes; what you also need to bear in mind is that you need people to operate these new systems and make these new processes happen, which is why I define OD as the process of making organisations more effective through their people.

This can be as simple as making sure people can operate the new processes or systems; however, there should be more OD can do. OD can look at the culture of an organisation, and see if it is aligned to the purpose; OD can see if the behaviours that are dominant in the organisation are going to help or hinder effectiveness; OD can see if leaders are leading in a way that helps or hinders too; OD can help you understand if your people are engaged with what you are doing, and with the organisation.

At its heart, OD for me is about change; if you are becoming more effective, then you need to change something about the organisation, and for change to be effective, people need to understand what’s changing, why and how, in order to make that change happen. Again, it’s all about the people.

Most of all, OD is about asking questions; it’s about defining and clarifying where the organisation is now, and where it needs to be, and then asking more questions to understand and define the journey between those places that the people of the organisation need to go on.

Which is why, in my blog, I usually end up with a question. What does organisational development mean to you? What have I left out? What else does it mean? Have a think, and let me know.

Last week I shoe-horned Glastonbury into a blog about making work fun; this weekend have seen a couple of sporting events worthy of note, from which, I contend, lessons can be taken for the world of work.

First up the Welsh Lions, sorry, British and Irish Lions thumped Australia to win their first series in way too long; second British (and not Scottish anymore) Andy Murray won Wimbledon, ending 77 years of hurt, apparently.

The Lions, then. There are any number of things here – team-work, the strength provided by diversity – but I need to save that for my Tour de France blog in a couple of weeks. Instead I will concentrate on the biggest story in the run-up to the final test, the dropping of the iconic centre Brian O’Driscoll by coach Warren Gatland.

Gatland has described the reaction to his decision as vitriolic; people – and not just people on twitter but proper, informed people who get paid to have a sensible opinion on these kind of things, described it as a terrible decision, stupid, wrong-headed, a gamble too far, handing the test and so the series to the Aussies.

In the event, Jonathan Davies the (Welsh) centre chosen ahead of O’Driscoll played a blinder and his (just as Welsh) fellow centre Jamie Roberts ran in one of several tries in the second half to turn the defeat into a rout. The word “vindicated” has never been more apposite, I think; Gatland’s decision now ranks alongside Alf Ramsey dropping Jimmy Greaves for the 66 World Cup final as an exemplar of an unpopular decision that came good.

So what is the lesson we can take from this? Leadership; it’s not about making the popular decisions, it’s about making the right decisions; right for the team. Gatland based his decision on how he saw the team should play, and based his selection on form and what was right for how he saw the game would go. Unlike the prognosticators and experts who berated him, who based their judgement on the past success of O’Driscoll; history rather than the needs of now.

In the world of work it is often easy to make the wrong but popular decision; people, on the whole, like to be liked. An example many people who find themselves leading teams will be familiar with is the annual appraisal. The popular and easy thing to do would be to give everyone a top grade, ensuring the biggest bonus and top pay rise for the whole team.

Easy, but very likely to be the wrong decision for the team. In your team you may have a member, let’s call him Brian, who has consistently delivered in past years, been a top performer, a star turn. More recently, however, things have changed. Customers need something a bit different, and what delivered success for Brian in the past isn’t delivering that success any more; he’s also made a few mistakes recently. You have a newer member of the team, let’s call him Jonathan, who seems more in tune with what customers want these days; he also works really well with your other star player, Jamie. When it comes to appraisal time, the easy thing to do is give everyone a top mark; the right thing to do is give Jonathan and Jamie top marks, and have a difficult conversation with Brian about why his work isn’t giving the customers what they need any more.

Of course, in the world of work, there is no reason why that conversation can’t turn Brian’s work around and make him a star player again, which is one reason why sport metaphors don’t always bear scrutiny.

Anyway, on to Andy Murray, yet more reasons for proud Celts this weekend just gone. What can business people learn from him? Any number of things; dedication, attention to detail, the importance of preparation, and having the right team behind you.

Again, there is the lesson of making the right decision; Murray famously dropped the coach who had taken him to the brink of greatness and took on the taciturn Czech winner Ivan Lendl; as with Gatland’s dropping of O’Driscoll eyebrows were raised when Murray made the move; and vindication resulted with grand slam wins at the US Open and, most iconically, at Wimbledon this weekend.

But I think more than that, Murray’s success on the grass courts of SW19 is a story of dedication – of having a vision and ruthlessly and relentlessly working to deliver that vision. More than that, it is about building the right team around him to ensure he achieved that vision, making the right decisions at the right time, and building on natural talent to achieve what he set out to do.

In business it is vital to have a vision, a place to aim for, and it is equally important to unite people towards delivering that vision. That united group of people, aimed at delivering your vision, is your business.

Your thinking this week; then:

  1. How do you make decisions? Do you go for easy or right? Think through some recent decisions you have made, an think about how you reached those decisions, what was your thought process, and how did you reach your outcome?
  2. How is your vision defined? Are you clear on what you want to achieve? What is your Wimbledon? And do your people know what it is?

Glastonbury has just happened again, and it got me thinking about that most elusive of things – having fun at work.

“Eh?” I hear you say. What has the nation’s largest festival of music and performing arts got to do with work? Well, allow me to explain.

Glastonbury is a wonderful thing, and the one just gone (2013, for those of you who stumble across this post in the future) seems to have been one of the best, with the Rolling Stones finally pitching up and playing a pretty blinding set. Even the weather did its bit, with the mud only making a fleeting appearance.

Back in 2003 the weather was cracking, sunshine all weekend and Radiohead played the set of the festival, closely followed by the Manic Street Preachers. How do I know? Because I was there, and I was there for work.

That’s right, I was working at the greatest festival in the world, but not as a security guard or roadie or falafel salesperson, I was there in my capacity as a communications manager for a large financial services organisation.

Every day I did a shift in one of the tents manning what was called the Cyberstation, which allowed festival goers the chance to have their picture taken and email it off to their loved ones, with a nice big “Greetings from Glastonbury 2003” message, alongside the corporate logos of my employer. The rest of the time I got to wander around, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the festival.

On the downside I missed REM because that was my evening shift, on the plus the memory of Johnny Greenwood plunking out the opening chords of Karma Police on a clunky old piano still sends shivers down my spine. Check this out, see what it does to your central nervous system:; see if you can spot me in the crowd.

It was  tremendous weekend, not even the six hours it took to get out of the car park, and it was all, as they say, on the company dollar.

I had some serious fun at work, as did the other dozen or so colleagues who went along to help man the cyberstation, and then we all went back to our day jobs, me back to my comms team, others to bank branches and offices across the country.

But why should the fun stop there? Shouldn’t people enjoy their work? I think they should; I think it’s important that work can be fun. Obviously we can’t all go to a music festival every day (unless you work as a musician or associated role) but we can have an enjoyable time at work.

In my experience, I had the most fun when times were busy, work was hard, and teams were doing everything they could to deliver. Sounds strange? Being busy and workign hard isn’t fun!

I disagree. In one team I led, working on a huge modernisation programme, we worked hours beyond our contracted hours,; travelled the country to hold workshops and roadshows with people impacted by change (usually not always for the better), every day was a challenge and the team were rung out every Friday. On the wall by our little group of desks was a little sign which said: “If it was easy, it wouldn’t be any fun”.

Because it was seriously enjoyable. We were working hard, but the people in charge of the programme trusted us to do a good job, and appreciated when we delivered, time after time. We celebrated success, regularly and as a team. We worked hard and played hard, in fact.

When I reflect on the times when work has been fun, they have a few common themes:

  • There was plenty to do; no-one had time to be bored
  • I was enabled and I enabled those working for me – we had the tools to do the job and the trust of colleagues and superiors to deliver
  • Leaders led by example, and were supportive of their people
  • We celebrated when we got things right
  • We learned when we got things wrong
  • We found new ways to do things we hadn’t done before
  • We developed in our roles and as people

Conversely when things weren’t fun, the opposite applied: there was nothing to do, I lacked the trust of leaders, leaders were nowhere to be seen, there was nothing new to do and things stagnated, the same old tired solutions were rolled out for every situation.

Fortunately the latter were the minority; when things got like that I moved on as soon as I could. Perhaps I was lucky, but I think it’s important for the workplace to be an enjoyable place to be.

What about your workplace? Are you having fun, or do you dread Monday mornings and spend all week counting the hours until Friday afternoon? If you are a leader, do your people have fun at work? You don’t need to go to Glastonbury to do it (although the occasional treat like that can’t do any harm)? Have a look at the little checklist above. How many boxes can you tick?

Have a think.

In a recent post I discussed my experiences of the public and private sectors – and how similar they seemed, on the surface at least.

In that blog I said I would return to that point – where you see the same things but they come from different places, and how important this was for cultural diagnostics.

I’ve used a few diagnostic tools in my time, and some of the most useful look at behaviours in an organisation – what people do. Even better is to uncover the behavioural norms that underly these – what kinds of behaviours do people need to demonstrate in order to get on and get along within an organisation.

Regular readers will know that these form part of the Rousseau culture model – layers two and three of the five-skinned onion, in fact. And these are vitally important = you need to know what people are doing so you can compare it against what you want people to do – defined effective behaviours.

For example, if you are (or are striving to be) an innovative organisation, then you need people to be open and honest about mistakes, because you learn from them and build upon them, in order to produce something new. If, however, you have a culture where people hide mistakes, or look to blame others, then you are likely to repeat the same mistakes and you don’t learn – the behaviours are ineffective.

So behaviours = important, yes? Yes.

Now, imagine you are re-organising, bringing new teams together, perhaps. Or even merging two separate organisations. You take a look, and do a behavioural diagnostic and you see similar behaviours in both sides. Great,you think. Job’s a good ‘un, these two will work together seamlessly, off you pop.

But, being regular readers will know that there is more to culture than the behavioural stuff; there are further layers underneath; there are values and there are the underlying beliefs and assumptions that cause the behavioural norms, and, in turn, the behaviours.

Another example, based on real life; two organisations where people take forever to do things. The behavioural norm is to put things off, prevaricate or otherwise delay implementing things. Clearly this is ineffective behaviour, you need to get things done; no point having a strategy if you’re not executing it, is there?

So how do you address this? Tell people just to get on with it? Just, as someone once said, do it? Fine, try that, and see what happens. Any ideas? Yep, the same thing that always happened, ie not that much.

No, what you need to do is look at the whys and wherefores, understand the reasons behind those behaviours and norms; what values are driving them, what beliefs lie beneath them.

In the example I’m thinking of, there were two organisations. Both had long histories, dating back well over 100 years, proud heritages and, apparently, shared values. Those values were only the ones on the  posters and on the corporate intranets, however; they were the stated or aspirational values, not the actual values; the actual values were quite different.

Organisation A was based in a large city, and was about twice the size of the other organisation in terms of headcount, but just another player in the employment profile of the city; Organisation B was based in a small rural town, and was by far the biggest fish in a tiny, tiny pond.

Organisation A was political; people based their loyalties on a series of mutual favours rather than personal relationships; power was based on knowledge and decisions tended to be made in private, outside of the “official” decision-making forums.

Organisation B was entirely based on personal relationships. Generations of the same family worked there, former schoolmates worked on the  same team, and you were as likely to have a chat about work with a colleague on a night out.

In Organisation A things took forever because the decision to do something was made over a brew between two people prior to them going into a meeting where the decision was apparently going to be made; everyone else at the meeting then spent the next few months trying to change things to support their agenda, stopping things going ahead as originally decided; the upshot was that things took forever to happen.

In Organisation B  decisions were made by consensus; everyone involved had to be happy with every aspect of the decision, every sharp corner had to be smoothed off, because the person who might have caught the sharp end could be bad-mouthing you in the pub on Friday night; everything was gone through in detail and over and over again, each iteration being run past everyone again to make sure they were happy with it; the upshot was that things took forever to happen.

So, they looked the same, but the reasons they happened were very different, and so needed addressing in different ways; where it went well leaders looked to pull out the positive aspects of both and I ran quite a few workshops on decision-making, demonstrating the value of dialogue over debate and how decision-making by consent tends to be more effective than decision-making by consensus. You could tell which workshop attendees were Organisation A people and which were Organisation B people just by how they related to this workshop, which was fascinating in itself.

So how did we get this insight? That would be telling, suffice to say I have more tools in my toolbox than just behavioural diagnostics. What I hope to demonstrate from this blog is the advantages you can get of going that bit deeper into the layers of the cultural onion.

Have a think, then, about different parts of your organisation, where you see similar behaviours. What lies beneath? Not the schlocky film with Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer, but beneath those behaviours. Is it the same thing? Or is it different values, different beliefs, driving similar outcomes?

It’s important, because if those behaviours aren’t working out for you, then you need to change them, and to do that, you really need to understand what’s causing them, don’t you?