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Supporting organisations to bridge the gap between strategy and action at moments of change, making sense and shaping conversations with Big Pictures.

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Filtering by Category: Leadership

How can we stop HiPPOs turning into elephants?

julian burton

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Have you come across a HiPPO in a recent meeting? I was at a fantastic Corporate Rebels workshop this weekend where I first heard the term HiPPO. Created by Avinash Kaushik, the acronym stands for ‘The Highest Paid Person’s Opinion’. This refers to the impact of hierarchy in a meeting where people sometimes defer, for various reasons, to the opinion of the person with the most power, experience or salary. 

HiPPOs can get in the way of good decision-making. Having a HiPPO in the room can dominate a meeting as it often carries a lot more weight than other voices. People may feel too scared to challenge a dominant opinion, even though they may fundamentally disagree with it, while others may pay lip service and be eager to please and toe the line. The owner of the dominant voice runs the risk of believing they alone have the best ideas and miss the opportunity of hearing the valuable insights or ideas that come from different voices in the room. A leader may be aware of the impact they have on others but it’s not easy to create a culture where people feel its safe to question a HiPPO without fear of reprisal.

The interesting thing for me is that HiPPOs only exist because of the relationships in the room, with everyone in a sort of collusion in keeping them present. It seems to me that it is vitally important for everyone to be aware of the impact they have on others and how one reacts in silencing oneself in these dynamics.

Taking ownership of the parts we play in creating HiPPOs is the only way to stop them turning into elephants.

Was there a HiPPO in the room today? What was the part you played in keeping it alive?

 

 

So, you think you're collaborative?

Delta7 Change

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We like to believe we’re collaborative - yet it’s all too easy to lose sight of other people you should be having more collaborative relationships with. Do you know how they feel about it? Are you really listening to your people?

Power relationships can make it almost impossible to speak up to someone in charge. As a leader, if you’re not hearing feedback then you're missing an opportunity to learn and demonstrate the new behaviours you want to see in the culture. Just by saying you’re going to be collaborative doesn’t mean you will be, and there may be no one with the courage to hold you accountable. How collaborative do those working around you really think you are?

Why isn't our new strategy taking off?

julian burton

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We often hear leaders’ frustration that the frontline don’t get the new strategy. And we hear from those people that they are being asked to implement a new change strategy they don’t understand, don’t feel connected to, or don’t believe in. 

However brilliant a strategy looks in Powerpoint, it may not be worth much if it’s created at the top and cascaded down onto the people who will be delivering it. The one-way nature of traditional "comms" can create alienation, confusion and lack of meaning if it doesn't encourage the dialogue necessary for people to make sense of and fully understand the changes being asked of them.

This separation between strategy development and its implementation is often cited as a major cause of failed change programmes. The frontline should be involved in the strategy development process. Listening to what they have to say and taking their ideas, concerns and objections seriously can go a long way to creating a genuinely shared narrative that everyone can feel part of and committed to.

How much do you trust your people?

Delta7 Change

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In organisations with a ‘command and control’ culture there is the expectation that orders should be followed to achieve a desired result – rather like following the instructions from a sat nav to reach a destination. This may usually work well, but learning is limited, and the dependency on the sat nav can leave the driver lost or stuck if anything goes wrong with it.

In organisations where individuals are trusted to take more responsibility for their work people have an incentive to take more care, and can become more invested in their outcomes. They are reading the map and charting the route, and having to be alert to their surroundings. Things will go wrong from time to time, but then lessons can be learnt and better solutions found. Sometimes taking a new turning will lead to discoveries and opportunities that would never have appeared on the sat nav.

Going to the moon and back

Delta7 Change

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The well-worn tale of the Apollo Program, the visiting president, and the helpful janitor serves as a memorable illustration of team engagement and an apocryphal narrative about storytelling. After all these years it still stands out as a great example of the motivating effect of an inspiring vision.

 “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills.” John F Kennedy, 1962

Stories invite us to go on a journey and are so effective at delivering a message because they give the audience a way of engaging with the details and caring about the outcome. We are drawn in by being able to relate to the characters, their motivations and needs. We also recognise the challenge in the current state and become curious about how it can be resolved. The challenge may demand a journey or quest, which we hope will have a fitting outcome.

Every organisation has it’s own narrative and while not all projects and stories can be as uplifting or as clear-cut as a mission to the moon, seeing our place in a bigger picture can invest work with more significance and be emotionally compelling. Having the opportunity to reflect upon a narrative and make sense of our role within it allows us to consider new possibilities, inspire us to take on new responsibilities and conduct our daily work mindful of a long-term strategic vision.

Most of all it helps us take ownership of the challenge and consider what we can do differently to help overcome it. The scale and status of one’s role does not necessarily define the value of each contribution.

Even though we may have little influence in the grander scheme of things, by taking personal responsibility to manage the quality of our work we can maximise the positive effect we have. And if everyone has this same personal investment in the outcome of the story there’s no limit to what can be achieved.

The Eve of Disruption

paul stroud

Transformation programmes can be challenging and disruptive, especially when staff are expected to get on with their business as usual efficiently throughout. Hunkering down to try to focus on what they need to get done, with a dull ache of change fatigue, they’re not at their most receptive.

To break out of this defensive position people must feel that they are actively involved in a programme, not merely on the receiving end of the latest salvo from the leadership. A chance to be listened to, to contribute, to influence. That the issues they have experienced personally can be recognised more widely, and addressed. In that way they can become active participants, playing a part in driving a change rather than just being observing passengers.

Without this meaningful involvement a transformation programme risks being hobbled from the start - regarded by employees as the latest attack on the order they’d carefully established, and something to be resisted or quietly subverted.

It should be an opportunity to embrace, as the route to changes that could make a positive difference for them and their organisation. One way or the other they will find a role to play: it all depends on whether the transformation is done with them, or to them.

Me and my Shadow: How can I know what impact I have on other people in meetings?

julian burton

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For me my shadow side is the parts of me I can’t see or I’m completely unconscious of that drive my behaviours and has a significant impact on the quality of my relationships. Have you been in a meeting recently and felt disempowered by someone who has dominated the conversation so much that there was no space for anyone else’s views? Or it felt too risky to share your thoughts, let alone give them feedback on their impact on you?

I’ve only learnt recently that sometimes my silence in a meeting can shut others down more often than my voice does! Since getting that gift of feedback I’ve become more sensitive to what happens in the interactions that I'm taking a part in. And I've become more curious about how I show up, and now want to learn more about the parts of my shadow that closes down others' voices and contributions.

Given that I can’t normally see my own behaviours, I really need others to give me honest feedback on what they see and the impact they have. The trouble is there can often be different realities existing simultaneously in a meeting; what I think I’m doing and how I like to think I’m showing up, and how others see me behaving. It can be obvious to other people how I’m behaving, yet hard or impossible for them to give me feedback if they don’t trust me or it doesn’t feel safe enough.

This is a real bind for me, as how can I learn to develop my self-awareness if it’s not safe enough for others to speak up and give me feedback on my behaviour?  If I don’t know what impact I’m having I can’t learn to change my behaviours - to the ones that could create the relationships of trust needed for it to be safe enough for people to give me feedback in the first place! AARRGHH!

Moving on from my frustrations, I’ve been getting a sense that I need to work on learning to listen more deeply and actively, from a calmer place, responding differently from this position and noticing what happens. If the quality of trust shifts, I hope to get more feedback that can shine some light onto to the parts of my shadow that seem to close down others and get in the way of more open and honest conversations.

 

 

 

 

Discretionary Effort: a DIY Guide

Elinor Rebeiro

A key point of discretionary effort is that by definition it is discretionary. As a leader you can't demand it - you have to earn it. As soon as you set it as a goal you are essentially expecting people to work for free. 

According to Engage for Success "Employee engagement cannot be achieved by a mechanistic approach which tries to extract discretionary effort by manipulating employees’ commitment and emotions. Employees see through such attempts very quickly and can become cynical and disillusioned."

The question becomes why do people sometimes choose to give more of themselves than is asked for in their job description? It is about care and the relationship they have with the people they work for and work with. 

From a management perspective it is clear that the challenges in the world are requiring organisations to respond in a different way; that managers can't succeed without employee discretionary effort. The danger is that as soon as you identify discretionary effort as essential you have to consider what the implications of this are when heard by employees. 

The answer is care and relationships. How we take care of each other, how we relate to those people who we spend more time with than our own families will always impact the level of commitment and care you will receive back. This can be the only motivation -  otherwise the care becomes false and people will see through that very quickly. 

The most amazing example of discretionary effort I have witnessed is within our wonderful (and under cared for) National Health Service. Staff choosing not to go home until they can find a bed for their patients. Preparing food and drinks for them and caring for them in ways that are not asked for or expected. And the reason they do this? Their conscience won't let them do anything else. With the challenges of resourcing and capacity issues facing the NHS it is this quality of care that keeps it functioning. 


My experience

When I first became a manager I was young - a lot younger than some of those I was managing. I had a steep learning curve ahead of me and I failed - a lot - until I realised that I had to earn their respect, trust and care. I tried often to short circuit the process; find a quick way to get people to follow me, manipulate them, guilt them into staying later. I always thanked them for their effort, but that really wasn't enough.

I remember one phrase I used a lot when I was talking about work was 'They don't need to like me. I don't need friends, I need employees that do their job.' I was honestly kidding myself. This was my defence when I had to be tough, but what I realised was that actually they did have to like me and I had to like them, but more than that: we had to care for each other. This was the first time we functioned well as a team, we had each other's backs and we did what needed to be done for each other. I stopped having to think about asking for more because we all gave more where we could and they saw me doing it as well. We were in it together and that's what made it work. My new phrase when I thought about work was 'don't ask others to do something you aren't prepared to do yourself.'