Thursday, 2 June 2016

Who needs talented employees anyway?

Source: Mirror Online
One current HR trend is to compete to acquire and retain talented employees. Agreed?

So, how come Leicester City Football Club won the 2016 Premier Title? They have, and I hope they forgive me, an average bunch of guys who were fighting to avoid relegation from the Premier League last year. People had good betting odds that they could win the Premiership. 

There are a few very rich people in Leicester today! Leicester have few players regarded as world talent, so how did it happen?
Where does this leave the view that we must buy talented employees, if we are to be competitive? What did Leicester’s Manager, Claudio Ranieri, do to take this team to the top of the league?

Let’s spend a moment putting things into perspective. Look at the relative cash values spent on each squad. Leicester are worth a fraction of other great teams; at £72m they are easily the least expensive club by a long way.

Squad Cost £M
Leicester City






Man. City
Man United
Source: Skysport Review 2016

We cannot always hire the most expensive talent. If you do, then you must be able to justify how this talent has added to the bottom line of profit. 
My guess is that you cannot do this (except in a few obvious sales-driven roles). My other guess is that most of the real value-driving work of meeting client deliveries, getting prototypes to market, solving client problems and making improvements to products or processes is achieved by the more ordinary people in the engine-rooms, getting on with their jobs to the best of their abilities.

So, I am now questioning why we spend so much time and effort on recruiting talent, when good management and leadership of the ‘ordinary’ people who are already in the business would produce a much better result? 

Claudio Ranieri who took an ‘ordinary’ bunch of guys higher than anyone, thought possible. Some of you will say: “oh this is a once-in-a-lifetime event”. In December 2015, you were saying ‘they-will-never-keep-it-up’, well they did, and in what style!

The real question is, if you cannot afford to buy talent, what can you do to lead and manage the resources you already have, to achieve more than anyone thinks they can?

Let’s explore some of the features of Claudio Ranieri’s approach, according to the Leicester supporters I met when on a home visit.

Talent is not always where you expect to find it.
  • You have to look in unexpected places, trust your instinct, and have faith in who you find. Take James Vardy, the leading goal-scorer, he was released by another premier side as a junior, and played in local town soccer until Leicester signed him in 2012 for £1M! (source: Daily Telegraph, December 2015). He played with them for the past four years and is still not a household name when compared to other leading strikers.
Resilience is worth more than ability.
  • One thing Leicester sport is good at encouraging is determination, no compromise, grit and resilience. This does not mean to say that ability and skill are not important, but what Leicester do well is keep playing, keep players on the pitch and keep coming back. This quality is also seen in Leicester Tigers Rugby, known for tough, combative, tenacious play.
Impending failure can build strength.
  • Leicester were almost relegated. The lessons of avoiding defeat can give a sense of relief, but also of confidence that anything is possible, if you stick at it. Ranieri is known for instilling a belief that anything can be achieved and to enjoy playing for that.
No individual is bigger than the team.
  • Ranieri builds a culture of serving each other. A big player has a bigger duty to produce results for the others, and nobody is worth more than the others. Ego is not of use, interest or relevance at Leicester.

Build tactics around current strengths.
  • Ranieri recognised a fear of different tactics. It can be good to introduce changes, but not if players are unconvinced they have the skill to deploy. Build around what people can do well, and the rest will follow in time.

Let people have a break.

  • Leicester have a small squad; they would easily tire out if they played each week. So players were given rest days to help them survive the long season. Often we keep relentless pressure on people, so they never perform at a peak, and get hurt, angry, lonely, tired.
Train at intensity.
  • High intensity training sessions build the capacity to work and think at speed. Other sports teams use this idea; often it is not the core skill that is a problem – it is the ability to use core skills at speed.

And nowhere is there any mention of buying in
expensive highly talented players to fill gaps or make a difference. There is a lot of talk about using what you have to the best of their ability. And that is leadership.

About the Author:

Nigel Murphy supports is Director of Portfolio and Capability Development at MCE and he has a background in management in manufacturing, education and training.
For the past 10 years he has worked on leadership programmes across the globe. He is interested in the mentoring of new managers and leaders, and leading remote teams of people in today’s globally dispersed businesses.


Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Facing up to a Close Shave

VIEWPOINT: Take time everyday to really know what business you are in, says Rudi Plettinx, Managing Director of Management Centre Europe, in this thirteenth in his series of articles for IEDP: That greatest of management gurus, Peter Drucker, had a fine way with a quotable quote. So much so that Druckerisms have gone into the annals of management myth. Did he really say that; or did someone, wished he had coined that apt epithet?  We may never know the answer to that question. All we know is that in this fast-paced modern world, Drucker’s musings take on more relevance every day.  The most certainly apocryphal story that as a young consultant, Drucker had the temerity to ask that giant of management, GM’s legendary CEO Alfred P. Sloan, “what business do you think you’re in Mr Sloan?”, got me thinking that far too many business leaders take who they are and the business they are entrusted to run for granted.
Me? Well, I’m old fashioned and I like to reflect on the business at the one time of day when I am face-to-face with myself? As an old, much respected, friend of mine used to advise, “No matter who you are, you have to shave each morning, so use that uninterrupted three minutes to ask yourself, “what business am I in and what am I going to do with it today?” That brief diurnal opportunity, reflecting in your reflection, is a sobering habit that we need to do more of. In case I’m accused of not being all-inclusive in my remarks, those female CEOs can do the same while applying their make-up.
What I’m getting at here is that, it doesn’t matter what gender you are, the very fact that you are supposed to be a leader comes with a responsibility that many of us are all too willing to abrogate. Don’t we need a quiet minute to remind ourselves what we are here to do; have we forgotten our mission? In a world where someone somewhere invents a new business every day, don’t we need to assure ourselves of what business we are in? Go on, ask yourself that question tomorrow morning while you’re staring at the mirror. Will you like the answer you give yourself? If you are honest, you may be surprised at the real answer you get.
As it turns out the great Alfred was wrong. There he was, standing in his vest, braces round his waist, shaving all those mornings simply assuming he was an auto engineer, when he was really providing a customer service.
History doesn’t recall if the young Drucker got thrown out of Mr Sloan’s office, but 70-odd years later it still has a telling effect and provides a real rule for any business leader: don’t be complacent. Revisit why your business exists and who it serves every single day. OK I know it’s easy to regard this as a simple gimmick, but good leaders seem to intrinsically know when things aren’t quite right. And if they want to wrong-foot the opposition you can add another question you demand of yourself. Not just, “what business am I in, but what business do I want to be in?”
That question opens a box-full of possibilities. And with the rapid changes in technology, geopolitical and social upheaval, knowing what comes next has to be on every leader’s agenda. For example, how many business leaders didn’t spot the oil-price plunge and consequent financial mayhem until it was too late to change direction, to name just one incident of many?
That daily habit of staring face-to-face with yourself into your shaving mirror while asking yourself those questions bring me to another Druckerism that fits the shaving scenario just perfectly.
Drucker is said to have suggested, “Results are gained by exploiting opportunities, NOT by solving problems.” But if you don’t know what business you are in, you can’t exploit anything, can you? Who’s next for  shaving ?

This column on leadership and organizational development is written exclusively for the IEDP by Rudi Plettinx, Managing Director of Management Centre Europe, the Brussels-based development organization. Have a comment or a question? Engage direct with Rudi Plettinx here.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Leadership: Wily by Nature

VIEWPOINT: Successful senior leaders need the bounce-back resilience of a cartoon character, says Rudi Plettinx, Managing Director of Management Centre Europe, in this twelfth in his series of articles for IEDP:
I’ve just spent the weekend with my old friend Gary. I love Gary. He’s so delightfully old fashioned when it comes to business, and when we talk leadership there’s no one to touch him, he just seems to naturally know how to get everyone behind him - every time. As a leader, I may have had my moments, but for me Gary is the numero uno, the big banana - and he makes it look easy too, getting results and energising people in a way most of us can only dream of.
“How do you do that?” I asked him. “ How do you reach those people, who if they were honest would all like to see you fall, crash and burn, yet, perversely, seem contented to follow you anywhere?”
He paused for a second, then his eyes brightened and he leaned over to me. “You know what they call me in the markets, don’t you?” he asks with a grin on his non too handsome face. I shook my head, somewhat mystified by his attitude.
“Wile E Coyote!” he answered, triumphantly, “like the kid’s cartoon." slapping his hand down hard on his antique desk. “They know that whatever they throw at me. I’ll always be back for more.” I’m like the creature in the cartoon, they can’t kill me off, I’m always still going in the last reel. That’s why the other fella is always looking over his shoulder, because they know I’m out there somewhere and I’ll get that deal done one way or another.”
He adds, “They also know that like the cartoon character I’ll be back next week and the week after that. I can’t be killed off, they need me. I provide continuity, certainty. Sure, a few people may laugh, but I get the star billing. What’s a few bruises, when you always win long-term?”
That got me thinking. Is Gary a good definition of a leader - super hero style indestructibility, but one with real-life staying power?
In reality, although I’m sure Gary hasn’t sat down and analysed this (it’s not in his ‘can do’ DNA to do it), Gary is a real leader in every sense of the word. By his very nature of always being there no matter what happens, he is a rock, a permanent fixture people can relate to and rely on. He can shrug off setbacks, ignore bad news and the disapproval of his peers, and get on with the job in hand. Demonstrating single-minded purpose when all around have given up. He’s also inventive, but most of all, he’s THERE. Rain or shine you know that Gary, if he’s on your side, will be there to see things through whatever the odds are against him pulling it off.
In today’s mixed up and complex world, there are far too many so-called leaders who don’t inspire the confidence they should. No wonder shareholders and institutional investors run for cover, there’s no Gary out there to come to their aid. What we want is a real-life cartoon character who can be blown up in a market bubble, pushed off a fiscal cliff and stretched to the nth degree of credibility and still bounce back. 
For my money that’s my pal Gary. Sadly he’s so busy being there and being successful he doesn’t really see it that way and wouldn’t believe me if I told him. But while everyone is still pointing and laughing at Wile E. Coyote, who’s collecting the winnings?

This column on leadership and organizational development is written exclusively for the IEDP by Rudi Plettinx, Managing Director of Management Centre Europe, the Brussels-based development organization. Have a comment or a question? Engage direct with Rudi Plettinx here.

We don’t do emotion at work, this is a business!

A common message I hear. I was going to say ‘a common cry I hear’, but the word ‘cry’ is a verb and also has an emotional meaning. And that is the whole point. We cannot learn effectively without involving the parts of our brain that handle how we feel.

Let’s examine real example. Last week we were all learning ways of training in a virtual classroom. I felt worried about training in a virtual class, so I did not say much to start with, and so I thought maybe I was not keeping up with my colleagues. Notice how my feelings led to actions led to thoughts:


Research and common sense shows that personal learning experiences in life are deepest when they include a strong emotion; shock, fear, pleasure or excitement. Why is it that many training sessions leave you feeling flat, bored, or partially interested at best?

Assume that THINKING comprises of knowledge, logic and ideas, and that FEELING comprises of personal connection with the issue and engagement with others, and that DO comprises of active practice and application of ideas.

Many training sessions are heavily loaded with THINKING, which provides knowledge. As a trainer, this is easy to do, simply load plenty of concepts, models and ideas into a session. Some trainers assume that a good session means lots of models. 

To be fair, many trainers include a lot of DO in a session, this is the practical element. However, be careful, because DO does not mean a discussion or Q&A or even a role play. These activities involve a lot more logical thinking than they involve real in-the-moment applications. 

FEEL is the piece that is often ignored. We know that emotional connection with a topic, and engagement with other learners makes a huge difference in learning, so why does it make up so little of most courses? ‘No!’ I hear you cry (FEEL response again). ‘I am annoyed that you say this of my training!’ I hear you respond. Good – we have a feeling, and a strong one at that. Stronger the better. Simply asking people how they feel about a subject, or practicing a role play on handling emotions may not be enough. You have to generate the actual emotion naturally, in the learning experience, as a typical and usual reaction. This is not easy to either design, nor facilitate. And yet we agreed at the start that emotions play a vital part in learning?

Let me show you two options: These two illustrations show the emphasis that training sessions give to feel, think, and do, elements.
The balance may vary between learning needs, and that is ok. 
However is the balance as good as it could be? Here are two approaches to a training session, the size of the segments represents the emphasis and time given to each element.

What does this mean for managers? What does this mean for learning specialists? What does this mean for the facilitators of learning?

For managers:
-        It is not possible to separate emotions from performance and working life. People improve when they have a real feeling of connection with the importance of doing something. Remember, discussing feelings is not the same as being emotional, and it will give you an indication of the importance of an issue to people. People are not machines, but then you know this?

For learning specialists:
-        How are you going to design experiences that generate real, strong, emotions that connect with learning needs?
-        How will you convince your sponsors that feelings are as important as thinking in learning?
-        Can you reduce the volume of what people need to know, in order to spend more time connecting with it and doing something with it?

For facilitators:
-        Asking people about how they feel about something during training is a start, but not enough. Can you develop a technique that carefully and supportively allows people to really feel connected with their learning and those who are part of it?
-        Can you debrief learning activities that make sure real, live, feedback is given and felt?
-        Can you ensure people leave with a full learning experience that has ‘held up a mirror’, given people a surprise about themselves, and learnt something?

Does it matter? We all remember how some teachers made us feel at school? Remember events where we did something exceptional, good or bad? And we all remember some things for a long time! This is usually when feeling-doing-thinking, come together.

‘We don’t do emotion at work!’ Yeah right, it’s part of the human condition! If you want robots, then fine. If you want people who show passion for their work, that’s an emotion!

About the Author:

Nigel Murphy is Portfolio & Capability Development Director at MCE. He has a background in management in manufacturing, education and training. For the past 10 years he has worked on leadership programmes across the globe. He is interested in the mentoring of new managers and leaders, and leading remote teams of people in today’s globally dispersed businesses.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Using your talented people for maximum impact

Here are my final thoughts on talent, what do you think? I was watching the Six Nations Rugby Tournament recently, and was fascinated with the way the coaches used the full squad of players. This was no random process, nor was it simply to try out another player. There was a clear plan to bring specific players into the game at a specific time. 
I watched England vs Italy and what I noticed was the strength of the players on the England bench made the difference. There wasn’t much difference in the performance of either side until the England coach started to use his bench strength, then the momentum of the game moved towards England. It got me thinking that most of us in People Development talk about ‘bench-strength’, but we may not be clear what it really means or how to use it.

Players on the bench are there for a purpose. They come into the game at specific planned times:
  • Players cannot always play at top speed for a full game, so players come on to keep pressure on. Two players often share the same position and train together, one player starts with the aim of tiring the opponent ready for when his team-mate comes on.

  • A key player with a special skill is sent onto the pitch at a specific time and makes a big difference.

  • When a new player with high potential needs some experience for a short, managed piece of time.
In the modern game, it is difficult for players to keep up the extreme level of intensity required in a full game, so the starting players are not the same as the finishing players, yet they see themselves as one team squad. They are not first team and reserve players.

In Talent Management we talk about building bench-strength. What often happens is that employees are told they are in the Talent Pool, and then:
  • Nothing happens
  • Or, they are thrown in with no chance to find their way of working
  • Have no access to significant projects where they can learn
  • Get sent to a ‘problem area’ to ‘show what they can do’
What we can learn from the Sports Coach is this:
  • Bench-players are used as a strategy to maintain performance. Do you consider who to bring in, and when to move someone out of a team, as the conditions change? Or do you leave the same team for continuity – but accept that they get tired and run out of options? Moving people in and out it not about the success and failure of the individual. It is about recognizing an individual has done a job, and needs to move out, ready for the next challenge.

  • New, high potential members are given specific experiences for short periods. Do you place new talent into a team for a limited, managed exposure, or do you ‘throw them in, sink or swim’?

  • Impact players are saved for when they can make a difference. Do you know who your impact players are, what they can do that makes a difference, and use them carefully but at maximum impact? Often a high performer is given the wrong assignment and does not enjoy it. Impact players are not good at everything, they do have allowable weaknesses. However they are sent in when they can do their special talents.

  • Leaders need to know when to pull a player out of the game and use someone from the talent pool. Are you aware of how your team is feeling? Can you monitor their emotional and even physical state? Are you sure you know what exposure your new talent needs?

  • The full squad is part of the planning discussions and strategy. Do you included your talented people in the business decision-making processes? When they are moved into a role, they will understand the plan and discussions that led to it.

  • Is your bench strong enough to play a strategic role, regularly?
Watch a professional team game, and observe how the coach moves players on and off the pitch, why, when, and with what impact.

About the Author:

Nigel Murphy supports the whole learning experience of MCE delegates across MCE’s wide range of solutions. He has a background in management in manufacturing, education and training. For the past 10 years he has worked on leadership programmes across the globe. He is interested in the mentoring of new managers and leaders, and leading remote teams of people in today’s globally 
dispersed businesses.

Monday, 29 February 2016

Think Digital Learning

Ben Emmens
Ben Emmens is a teacher and consultant, specializing in third-world and developing world issues by trying to inject leadership and management skills to create stable, strong institutions.  A former senior staffer at People in Aid, he brings a broad brush of on-the-ground experience to his work with national government international corporations and aid agencies worldwide. Here, he perfects on the uphill struggle to improve management teaching across the developing world.

MCE: We know the world’s a bit of a mess... any thoughts on education as an opportunity to bring more of the world together for a common purpose?

Ben Emmens (BE): ‘Always be learning’ is my motto, and learning has never been more accessible (think digital learning) or more engaging (gamification, the arts, technology) or more affordable (for those who have an internet connection).
When people come together they learn, but it requires first class facilitation and brokering skills, and, in the case of face-to face-learning, it requires access. And most of the fragile or war-torn countries I’m working in to try and broker learning and collaboration have all too real access and connectivity issues. Combine that with an uneven distribution of power (extreme inequality) and fear of change / contentment with how things are, then educators have their work cut out. So a new breed of educators are required with a very diverse skill set.   

MCE:  And at the same time we’re getting buried in a digital overload of mega proportions. What’s your view, Can we learn to switch off and chill out, or has it gone too far for that?

BE: I think platforms such as Slack are innovating with their do not disturb or postpone notification functions but ultimately it requires immense courage on the part of each individual (to switch off) plus the (earned or offered) trust of their manager and directors. This takes us into the realm of organisational culture which as we know is a very difficult thing to change. So  I think that for as long as we have colleagues and managers working across time zones, sending messages at all hours, and expecting instant responses, then all individuals will struggle to switch off.

MCE: There’s another trend – the caring corporation, operating with mindfulness for their employees. Is that a workable, doable model, or does economics get in the way, when the going gets tough?

BE: I think many organisations are realising they need to retain their best people, and that talent shortages are a very real issue. So I am encouraged by the fact that many organisations are taking tangible steps towards flexible working, and towards improving staff care and wellbeing. Some organisations have been able to demonstrate a business case for being more socially and/or environmentally caring and that helps too! Ultimately, treating staff unfairly, or with contempt, and that includes in the supply chain too, is not sustainable in human or financial terms, and we have seen the market ‘punish’ corporations that have supply chain labour issues or that have failed to pay a minimum wage or offer basic benefits.

MCE: Finally, what’s the other work trend you can see emerging? 

BE: It’s getting harder and harder to be geographically mobile as countries tighten immigration laws and entry requirements so whether we like it or not we are having to localise, engage with mono-cultural teams and strengthen local capacity… We’re also having to do much more work remotely / at a distance. 
Add to that the slow automation of more and more lower level jobs and we are likely to see a continued ‘hollowing out’ of the workforce and that will require a different kind of leadership, arguably with more than one specialism and towards that of a more expert generalist... 

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Doing Things Differently

Based in the Bay Area of California, Susan Stucky has had a long and varied career as a thinker, consultant and philosopher on how why, where and when people learn - especially at work. As the debate about the future of work rages onwards, we asked for her thoughts on what’s coming next. A “sneaky peek” around tomorrow’s next corner.

MCE: We hear a great deal these days about the need to be creative at work. From your point of view, are we more or less creative in the workplace; are we teaching students how to think creatively?

Susan Stucky  (SS): First. Are we talking about doing things differently - or doing different things; or doing the same thing in different ways; or doing it in different places? Why does it have to be new to be considered creative? Something that is creative in first grade in school isn’t necessarily in sixth grade? Some idea or thing seen as creative at an established firm isn’t at a start-up. 

Isn’t “creativity” just another phrase for "do more with less.” 

Isn’t it just another corporate mandate?  “Be Creative! 

“Here in the Bay Area we talk about innovation more than creativity, so we come down on the side of “new”.  But one important thing to realize is that all so-called new ideas and things are built on existing ideas and things, even if only in opposition to them.  

And that innovation and creativity are actually, fundamentally, social. The lone genius isn’t alone really. He, or she aren’t alone.
Or are we talking about “the creative class” as in the Super Creative Core (innovative, problem-solving) or the Creative Professionals (classic knowledge workers)? 

The Creative Professionals are mainly the ones who did school work well and had connections.  The Super Creative Core are the ones who maybe didn’t do so well in  school, aren’t socially adept necessarily and know people who aren’t afraid of marketing, including themselves. Are we teaching that?  Not really so much. 

But people, including children, are learning it. From the environment around them.  

MCE: California still seems to be the land of “start-ups”.  Is it something “in the air” by the ocean or is it just easier to try and fail.. Are you not a serious player until you’ve failed a few times?

SS: All those myths are bandied about, and it is worth remembering that just because something is a myth e doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Except for the fact that San Francisco is the happening place now and Silicon Valley is now the Bay Area, Anna Lee Saxenian’s conclusions in her 1994 book Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128 still ring true.  

She called Silicon Valley a protean place — a shape- shifter changing”through patterns "of collaboration and competition”.  The whole Bay area is stuffed, literally stuffed, with people.  Those of us who remember a Palo Alto where you could drive to the city (San Francisco, of course) in under an hour now take public transit.  The freeways have those big white busses ferrying commuters from San Francisco to Silicon Valley (still a lot of jobs there). 

In 1994, the commute used to be the other way around.  More to the point, people still go to work in offices some of the time.   Having lunch is still important and there are oodles of Meet-ups that work like pop-up stores for ideas and networking.   

Most people in your network or someone else’s are really ready and willing to talk with you — I was told they would and they do.  Here, if you offer to meet in person, they will often take you up on it.   After all, they may need to talk to you sometime in the future that’s how the world goes around

MCE: You’ve spent a lot of your career thinking about how people learn. Have we got any better at that. What’s the big barrier?

SS: I’d like to think that corporate training has largely disappeared for one simple reason.  That we have finally realized that formal training does not guarantee that people have learned what is being taught is what they need to learn. 

I’d like to think that the rise of social media means that we understand that learning is fundamentally social. I’d like to think that “open office” plans mean that collaboration will be enhanced.  But the first and third are cost-saving plays primarily. Closeness does not necessarily mean collaboration. 
And the middle one — I’m afraid that social media and social media analytics means it is easier to find people like “us" and ignore people who aren’t like us . It means we find ideas and things that people like us like. 

The good thing is that people like us all over the world now have access to much of what is codified and explicit. 
If they want to know it they will.  But knowing is not the same as doing or putting what you know into practice, especially in a firm or a start-up. 
And the barrier to all that?   The way we think about learning.

MCE: The digital agenda is just “business as usual. Any thoughts on coping with the digital overload that seems to be swamping us like a tsunami? Is there a default “off” switch we need to activate at some point?

SS: Are we talking screen-based living and working?  Personally, I keep hoping that as screens become more distributed, that they will eventually fade into the background.  Kind of like wallpaper.  They can serve to remind us without being “in our faces.  The kind of digital I am worried about is the prevalence of too much information   and so little awareness of the context and implications of it. And that means us too. – All of us wherever we live or work anywhere.