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Bruce Holland

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ON HOW TO SUCCEED IN A TURBULENT WORLD

Over the last 9 years I've studied and experimented with how to make leaders more successful in a turbulent world. I owe a great deal to a group of carefully selected managers keen to leave a legacy of more successful human endeavour, growth and strong people in their business. I have also experimented with the organisational principles of Virtual Group Business Consultants, testing concepts of complexity and virtual organisation far further than I could with clients. Some things have worked. Others have failed. It's been an interesting ride.

Here's what I've learnt leader should do:

  1. Ensure there is a vision
  2. Gather the talent and build energy
  3. Trust in self organisation
  4. Sort out what matters
  5. Live in the now
  6. Make all boundaries permeable
  7. Let ideas emerge from the bottom up
  8. Give up the idea of equilibrium
  9. Build relationships
  10. Communicate
  11. Simplify processes.

Ensure there is a vision.

The leader needs to make sure that the group has a vision of where it wants to go; this does not necessarily mean that it has to be the leader's idea. Some of the best results I've seen have come when leaders have asked grass roots people what they thought they could achieve in their wildest dreams.

Gather the talent and build energy.

The leader needs to liberate the talent to make it happen. Leadership development doesn't mean changing people; it means identifying the greatness that everyone has and putting it to use where it will make the most difference.

The leader is about building energy and supporting, rather than directing and controlling. Think of body, head, heart and soul. As a leader, how can I add to the financial success and security of my people (body)? How can I add to the knowledge and wisdom of my people (head)? How can I add to the reputation, self worth and respect of my people (heart)? And how can I add to the meaning of life for my people and help them leave a legacy of greatness (soul)?

Trust in self organisation.

Many people have great difficulty in understanding how complexity works because they are unfamiliar with self-oganising systems. Furthermore, group behaviour that emerges - as if by magic - from the collective interactions of individuals can be a frightening concept to those unaccustomed to it. However the theory and experience of complexity is now so well developed that there is no doubt that complex collective behaviour, will emerge if individuals follow simple rules. In previous Snippets (let me know if you'd like a copy), I've already spoken extensively about complex systems and Craig Reynold's three simple rules.

In part it is about opening up the organisational system, removing silos and simplifying processes.

Another example is Jim Donehey the CEO of Capital One who grew his organisation from 150 people in 1994 to 1800 people in 1999 by getting each person in his business to follow four basic rules:

  1. Always align IT activity with the business (ie keep the company's overall goal in mind),
  2. Use good economic judgment (ie spend company money like it's your own),
  3. Be flexible (don't box yourself into one thought pattern),
  4. Have empathy with other people (ie when someone asks you to do something you don't agree with, put yourself in their shoes).

Sort out what matters.

The whole theory of strategy is about being strongest at the decisive point. In other words, knowing what really matters and then putting real horsepower behind these things. Unless you do this you will run around trying to do ten thousand things equally well and fail on the three or four that matter most.

Live in the now.

The mind is a wonderful instrument. After all it is the single biggest difference between man and beast. It's what has been responsible for all of our progress: mathematics, space travel, literature, and art. However it's also what will kill us if we are not careful.

As a recent message on the internet said:

Today we seem to have more knowledge, but less judgment. We have more medicine, but less health. We have more food, but less nutrition. We have reached the moon, but won't cross the street to meet our neighbour. We have conquered outer space, but not inner space.

So what's going on here? It's our thinking that's at fault. Approximately 80% to 90% of people's thinking is wasteful and useless, negative and harmful. Thoughts ceaselessly punish us for things we did in the past (guilt) and things that might happen in the future (worry). It comes in many forms: unease, worry, anxiety, nervousness, tension, dread, phobia, sleepless nights, irritability and so on. It torments us on and on. We can't stop thinking and yet the only thing that is ultimately real and the only thing we can change is the present moment, nothing truly creative or important can come into the world except through this gap. Interestingly, the recent terrorist attacks have led to considerable activity of the internet about slowing down, being present, paying attention to the simple things of life that really matter. Let me know if you'd like me to send you a wonderful example. Companies which bring space, time, calmness and order to their employees will be big winners. The solution is surprisingly simple yet most consultants completely ignore it.

Make all boundaries permeable.

At all levels, make your boundaries permeable. Don't just look within your department, your group or even your company, also look at your suppliers and their suppliers, look at your customers and their customers, look at your staff and their families. All boundaries are a barrier to innovation and creative thinking; they are a relic of a line drawing, compartment obsessed industrial age and linear thinking. Instead of organisation charts (whether drawn with the CEO at the top or the bottom) it's more instructive to have a quite different mental picture.

The image I like is based on life. Did you realise that the membrane around every living cell is neither solid nor water? Rather it is a delicate balance between solid and water. It's just solid enough to hold some sort of form and liquid enough to allow movement in and out of the cell so the cell can interact with its environment. This is the image we need for business, just solid enough to give some sort of form/meaning and open enough to its environment to allow movement (of people, ideas and information) in and out. Imagine a simple multi-celled amoeba as an alternative to an organisation chart.

Insure that, like nature, youre innovating through diversity. Take more time to listen to a wider range of opinions from a wider range of sources.

Let ideas emerge from the bottom up.

Give up information you may have thought was sensitive in order to have the currency to pay for the ideas of others. Offer problems to a broad group of people and see what emerges, rather than trying to determine from the top down how innovation will come. Project teams are the new way of achieving this. I have seen many examples of the power of project teams.

In about 1988 I facilitated a group of about seven people at Healing Industries including the accountant, the sales manager. a paint technologist and representatives from the factory. We were looking at how we could make a significant dent in the New Zealand (or even world) paint market. Someone said: I think were in the colour business. Another said: No were in the fashion or beauty industry. Another commented that he had read an article about a computer programme that allowed women to see what they would look like with different coloured hair before they had it dyed. From this came the idea to develop a programme that would allow people to experiment and see what their house would look like in different colours before they had painted it. This idea went on to win an international award for creativity in Bonn.

In a much bigger example, I was deeply involved in the turn around of the BNZ from being on the floor in 1988 to being sold to National Australia in 1992. This turn around happened because of the ideas of 6,500 people throughout the bank, every single person was involved for at least a day and many for a great deal more. Another example involved a medical center, which initially took 24 hours to admit patients and give them their first dose of antibiotics. The senior nurse put together a diverse team including doctors, nurses, secretaries and administrators to try to improve things. One thing led to another and within four months the team had reduced the admission time to one hour.

Making every person in the organisation feel like a leader will create the following competitive advantage:

  1. better ideas,
  2. easier recruiting,
  3. lower turnover,
  4. greater productivity,
  5. a dynamic team oriented culture.

Grassroots people have to conquer the fear of freedom that comes when they are given the leeway to do something important; but in my experience the biggest barrier comes from middle management who need real help to see their role in a completely different way. Under-estimating the size of the middle management issue kills more change processes than any other factor.

Give up the idea of equilibrium.

Your company isnt a well oiled sowing machine or a mechanical watch. You cant pull it apart and put it together again without destroying its very fabric. For example, if you ask everyone to resign and reapply for new reengineered jobs you must expect there will be a drastic change to the culture. Organisations are in a delicate equilibrium, constantly balancing between the changes within the organisation and outside the organisation. Assume that what ever you thought was fixed, is changing. Whatever you are currently offering your customers will continue to change and evolve. You have no products, just platforms for future products. Its better to think in terms of clusters of competencies. There is no right way, so dont waste time trying to find it; there is only ways that work. Experiment, try things.

''Become like a ratchet, accept the things that work, quickly reject those that dont work. If it works, its beautiful!'

Build relationships.

You can take a watch apart, study it and deduce how it will work as a whole, but you cannot do this with living things, even simple things. Knowing everything about the behaviour of a single ant wont tell you how the anthill as a whole will evolve because the order in a complex system springs from the way individuals interact or relate to each other.

From a systems point of view one of the main things a manager can do is build relationships because this strengthens the connections in thesystem. Can people be real with one another? Do people acknowledge each other and the good work they do? When we talk about the system we mean the wider system including PALs (partnerships, alliances and linkages). In times of turbulence there is probably nothing more important than building relationships.'

Think of yourself as a spider - Is my web better than their web? Building inter connectivity pays enormous dividends because of Metcalfs Law of Networks which says that the costs of adding people to a network increase arithmetically while their value to the network increases exponentially.

Research (see The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell), shows that strong relationships are formed when people come together regularly and do activities in common. People become close and friendly because of proximity, not because of similarity. This implies that if you want people to have stronger relationships close, the best way is to bring them together more often. Gladwell also says, people become friends not because they have similar attitudes, but because they share similar activities. This implies that if you want your teams to become stronger and more unified, the best way is to ensure that they are regularly involved in common activities and projects.

Communicate.

Man is largely hard-wired to communicate without words.

Language is a relatively recent invention in human and near-human history. According to Harry Mills 93% of communication is non verbal, therefore words are essentially unimportant. Its not what you say, its how you say it. In other words, its what we do thats important. So, allow mistakes, be accessible, listen attentively, invest time in conversations, place a high priority in creating opportunities for others, say please and thank you, walk the talk, be friendly, help others, share information, show up on time, do what you say, smile, follow up, constantly discuss the vision, put energy into the three big strategies which will get you to where you want to go.

Even that small part of communication which is dependent on words is a problem. Since English is the common language for most of us, we assume that we share its meaning in common. This is NOT so. Herrmann's Brain Dominance Instrument has shown that people have vastly different perspectives and attach different meaning to the words that they use to describe those perspectives. According to Herrmann these dialects occur because different people have different thinking preferences. In fact, differences in thinking preferences can be so great that they create separate and distinct "languages" or dialects. While superficially employing the same vocabulary, these dialects assign different meanings to the same words and use them to describe worlds seen from vastly different perspectives. Herrmann has found that although we all speak these dialects every day, most of us do so with no awareness of the possibility of miscommunication, and so we all miscommunicate everyday in large or small ways. For example some people prefer the language of logic and reason (Herrmanns A quadrant), others prefer the language of structure and control (B quadrant), a third group prefer the language of feelings and emotions (C quadrant), and the final group prefer the language of intuition and imagination (D quadrant). Unless we know what dialect they speak we have a 75% chance of being misunderstood.

Simplify processes.

Some processes originate by design; others emerge informally to meet real or perceived organisational needs. If all processes were purposefully designed and maintained to meet evolving business needs with the outcomes clearly in mind, reengineering would be unnecessary. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Many of the processes performed emerge informally or become inadequate because they are not changed as business needs change. Therefore, often work is duplicated, undocumented, inconsistently applied, and personality dependent. Complex systems work best when processes are designed with fewer steps and fewer people. If processes are kept short and simple, fewer opportunities exist for things to go wrong. Less degradation of information occurs, because there are fewer 'hand-offs' of information from one person to another. Fewer steps means less feedback loops need to be created in order to ensure that errors or faults in the process are detected and corrected. Small reductions in the number of variables and rules in the system can have a dramatic and non linear impact in reducing the complexity of the system.

Giving people power to break down walls and simplify processes is important if you want to reduce bureaucratic quagmire. It wont happen unless you make it very clear that they have the power. In the BNZ we issued every person with a Nike badge which said, Just Do It!. Maybe it was a prop but it worked wonders.

In another organisation they have put in place a two step improvement process:

  1. People submit Requests for Improvement forms, if these are not acted upon within 30 days the party asking for the improvement can assume that it has been approved and act accordingly;

  2. Direct managers can approve the Request for Improvement, but only senior managers can turn it down. This means supervisors can no longer say no or ignore the request and the balance of power moves from inertia towards change.

Conclusion.

In times of turbulence there are 11 things that make the difference between success and failure. They are simple to talk about, but much more difficult to make stick within an organisation. This is where I come in. Let me know if I can help or if you'd like to discuss these ideas further.

Very best wishes

Bruce.

Bruce Holland

Helps large organisations be focussed, fast and flexible. Places where people have more meaning, depth and connection.

Expert in Strategy Structure Culture Leadership Development.

One of NZs most experienced change agents.

Liberating the Human Spirit at Work
 
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