Archives for posts with tag: management

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 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!

In our previous blog we discussed the importance of the strategic narrative, and in doing so explained the importance of the cascade of the narrative. Leaders and managers play a key role in this, and this blog looks at aspects of their role in the process.

The senior leaders of an organisation are the ones who come up with the strategy; in our previous example of Grommetco, it was to become the first choice of grommet suppliers to the chandler and ironmongers of North West England.

Imagine Grommetco has a number of divisions. There is Research and Development, where highly trained grommet boffins, culled from the finest universities in the land, toil to produce the latest, most cutting edge grommets.

There is manufacture, where people in overalls and hairnets work the shining machines which produce the grommets.

There is warehousing and logistics, who store the grommets and ensure delivery to the chandlers and ironmongers of North West England. Alongside them are procurement, who ensure the finest quality raw materials are sourced and delivered. 

Over there is sales, teams of sharp-suited professionals with the smoothest of all patters ready to go out and ensure repeat business for Grommetco, to be its public face and voice.

Over there is marketing, and next to them finance and accounts, IT, and then Human Resources.

At this point, permit me to descend into anecdote. I was leading a session some years ago at which the results of the engagement survey was being shared with a team from HR. I asked, in passing, what people thought of a couple of products the business had recently launched, to not inconsiderable fanfare. Blank looks ensued. Puzzlement, even bafflement.

“I work in HR,” said one lady. “Why do I need to know what products we sell?”

This rejoinder changed the nature of the rest of the session quite fundamentally, and gave me an explanation for a section of the results which I had found slightly puzzling up until that point.

It also uncovered a common theme among HR departments, which I have encountered in most such places I have come across, the old “cobblers children” issue. HR, usually, design the process to set objectives and performance measures, as this, usually, feeds into the reward systems which are also owned by HR. they spend so much time and energy helping the rest of the business do to right, they never have the time or energy to do it for themselves. I guess a few of you, good readers, are HR people, and I’d love to know if this rings a bell.

Anyway, I digress, and back to Grommetco.

The board, made up of the CEO, CFO, CIO, CPO, marketing director, director of procurement and logistics and the MD of the manufacturing division.

They agree they want Grommetco to be the first choice of grommet suppliers to the chandler and ironmongers of North West England, now it is their job to translate that to the rest of the organisation, and translate it into a narrative by which they can engage their people.

The easy thing for those leaders to do would be to switch “grommet suppliers” to their division name; again, I have seen this done. One organisation I am familiar with wanted to be “the most admired (type of business) in the UK”. Within a month or two, I was working in a department that wanted to be “the most admired HR department in the UK.”

Which is fine, unless the business doesn’t need an admired HR department, it needs one that is effective in getting the right people in post to serve customers. Having the stuff that HR departments are admired for (as they will only, really, be admired by other HR departments, are all), such as cutting edge reward strategies, or having zero Industrial Tribunal losses, may not be what the company needed to deliver its strategy.

So don’t just do that. Instead, the leader has to sit with their local leadership team and discuss the narrative; what do they need to do to make Grommetco the number one? What does that mean for manufacturing? For procurement? For warehousing? For HR, for that matter?

At each stage the managers need to tell the same narrative in a way that is meaningful for their departments. Does being number one mean having the best grommets? Or the best grommets within a certain price threshold? Does it mean having an award-winning Human Capital Measurement strategy, or getting the best boffins into R&D by knowing which university courses produce the finest grommet boffins?

Engaging managers do this, and do this well. In doing so, they develop the strategic targets for the divisions, and then their departments, and their teams, right down to the conversation where each line manager sits down with each person in their team to discuss their objectives for the year. To engage people, the manager doesn’t set objectives, they agree them with the team member. In my experience the best objectives are designed by the team member rather than the manager, but only when the team member truly understands the team’s role in delivering the strategic vision.

Then they give that team member the scope and support they need to achieve those objectives, allowing them as much freedom and autonomy as possible.

Engaging managers are ones who translate the strategy readily and help others to understand it. They are coaches and mentors. They do not command or control, they achieve through their teams, rather than as individuals, they let people make mistakes and then make sure everyone learns from them.

Engaging managers are courageous, they cascade power and accept responsibility, rather than the other way around.

What kind of leaders and managers are in your organisation? How do you help them engage the rest of the business? Have a think.