Monday, 18 July 2016

The Legacy Man

Avoiding the folly of corporate self-aggrandisement

I’ve a new client. Great guy, been around forever, one of the all time great survivors. He’s been through a lot, but always seems to keep on the success-side of the street. Kurt, his name, Scandinavian background, big built, big presence and big, big ideas. I saw him last week in his new role as CEO of a packaging firm and, since I’m trying to get his business to develop some of his key people, he kindly laid out his current strategy.

All was sounding good until he mentioned the “L” word. “I’ve been in business a long time Rudi,” he said, “achieved just about all I ever wanted, but there’s a few things I’ve left to do. I want to retire in
about three years when my contract is over and leave something, behind me, something lasting.” Kurt hesitated or a moment, leaving the word he was about to say unspoken.

I steeled myself, to say it, knowing I’d regret it the instant it popped into my head.

“A legacy, “I ventured, “ almost whispering the word.

“Exactly!”, cried Kurt, jumping up his seat, his blue eyes flashing with passion and obvious, pent-up emotion. “A legacy, that will last for years to come. Something that they’ll always remember me for.”

Oh dear, oh dear, I thought. What have I gone and gotten myself into this time?

You see, I have a thing about this sort of stuff. Attempting to leave a legacy behind you, is not the icing on the cake, but the poison on the pill - it just doesn’t work. It’s tantamount to committing professional suicide. Time after time I’ve seen business leaders, pour thousands of dollars, dinars and dalasis (*) funding chairs of learning (my goodness where would our B-schools be today if not for misguided -or should I say misgifted- CEOs), that they vainly hope will preserve their name long after the pages of corporate history have curled up and faded.

Sadly, there was a dilemma for me. Should I tell Kurt the horrible truth; that trying to leave a legacy will open him to ridicule and worse, as he joins a long list of misguided, swollen-headed leaders? Is it really worth losing a good friend, not to mention his business, just because he’s got a little above himself?

As our eyes met, it took just a nano-second to transmit my look of doubt (was there a small smidgen of disdain in there too?), and I knew that I’d scored. Looking back on it some hours later, I realised that I didn’t actually have to say anything, he knew what I thought. And he was smart enough to know - without missing a beat - that what I thought was exactly the reaction that everyone else would have: the board, the team, the employees the clients, customers the whole kit and caboodle.

The moment was over. He sat back and looked at me, drained his coffee cup, sighed and said, “You know Rudi, being a leader isn’t much fun really, too much to think about, too many responsibilities.”

I nodded eagerly in agreement. “Yes, but a good leader has to know when NOT to do stuff too.” Again our eyes met. I knew that he knew, that he’d made a fool of himself. But he knew I’d saved him from making a massive mistake, a folly of corporate self-aggrandisement that would be difficult to ever live down – just the legacy you DON’T want. My one look of horror, well mixed with disbelief, was sufficient.

We never spoke of it again – not ever. The business school that would have been the recipient of his largesse, went unfunded. No matter. Another poor sap is always only too eager to have a tablet cemented above the door lintel as a tribute to their – and their shareholders - largesse. They don’t do a chair in corporate stupidity yet – maybe they should think of one.

(*) I didn’t make this up, its the national currency of Gambia, but it rhymes nicely !!!

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.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Take-out in a Takeover

The MD of course!

There’s a lot going on in that big bad business world of mine. Most prominently is the present penchant by ambitious leaders to leave a lasting legacy by taking over someone else’s business. It’s sort of like a leader’s right of passage to pay through the nose to gobble up a rival’s business, do the macho media thing, and then sit back and watch the whole thing collapse.

It is a known fact that more than 80 percent of mergers and acquisitions fail within three years. B-schools are packed to the rafters with tragi-comedic case studies. Yet, still otherwise sane, successful CEOs persist in giving it a go.

My old friend, Charles, has done more mergers than anyone I know and he seems to make them work. Has a practically unblemished track record. So what does he do, that others don’t? Why does he get away with it every time against the odds?

We were sitting in the departure lounge in Frankfurt airport, (the one place where it is odds on if you pass through enough times you’ll eventually meet everyone you know) waiting for a plane that seemed reluctant to take flight.
I settled into my comfy chair hugging a Virgin Mary, (vodka can wait ‘til I get airborne) and asked Charles the secret of his uncanny success.

He thought for a while, then turned to me and said. “Really it’s very simple; it’s all about who you fire in the first 24 hours. Stick to that formula, no matter what and you’ll be fine.” Then he smiled, and added, “There are four people who’ve just got to go right away. In fact, the first 60 seconds isn’t a bad idea.”
“Four?” I said, isn’t that a lot of disruption, so quickly?”
“Yes, F-O-U-R” he countered, with added emphasis.

So who are they?” my curiosity peaked.

Charles held up his fingers. “ONE, The President, MD or founder, goes right away. His or her attachment to the business is just that, bad for business. Remember, you bought this company for its potential, you can’t be all goo-goo about history and people that want to leave a legacy.”

“OK, so who’s next?” By this time I was getting into the spirit of the game, brutal as it all sounded.

“TWO, is the marketing guy. Why? Well he or she wanted to be the next president, so they will be a major barrier to anything you want to do. Get in there and get them out, day one, then we can all get back to doing business with a clear sense of purpose.

THREE, the CFO, he can just mess you around, if he’s bitter can screw you with the analysts and the rest of the financial community. You don’t need him, do you?

“FOUR, and this may come as a surprise, the head of sales. Has to be at the top of my list always,”

I was surprised by his choice, and told him so. “But don’t you need the top sales guy to be on board? Isn’t that about retaining continuity?”

“No, you keep the second best sales guy, but always fire the best one otherwise he’ll tell your customers and suppliers the wrong stories.” Charles looked about him and added in a whisper, “Sales people always know everything because they are out of the office every day talking to everyone. You want them talking UP the business, not talking it down.” Then he quickly added, “Scratch a great sales guy and under the surface they always want to run the business, think they can do it better than anyone else. Have in-built zero loyalty as a default setting, “he sighed, sounding like he was recalling past encounters.

Anything else, I queried?

“Well if you are still into killing off potential troublemakers you can throw in one more. Your legal counsel will always revert to type and be more loyal to their profession than the business. They love building barriers and explaining why you can’t do things. So do you need them?”
Just then my flight was called. I made my excuses and got up to leave. “Sure about those four on the list?” I said as I walked out.
“Absolutely,” said Charles, waving me goodbye, “that’s what I’m doing first thing tomorrow morning.

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.

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.