Monday 14 December 2015

How to re-establish leadership balance in a boundary less world?

Gone are the ‘good old days’ where we could list on the right hand side of our screen or page what “defines” a manager and on the left hand side of the page the “features” defining a leader.

In today’s busy business and work world, we are continuously bombarded with information through all sorts of channels & technology, on an ongoing 24/7 basis. As a result, our jobs need our constant attention. We need to be able to solve problems, make decisions, strategize, and support our virtual and non-virtual teams and all of this at the speed of light. It can be really difficult to keep any kind of boundaries and sometimes nearly impossible.
Managers need to be leaders and leaders need to be managers. Referring to leading and managing as ‘either or’ won’t help us to navigate the complex realities of our work environment nor those of the global economic, social, political or business landscape.
At MCE, we believe that Management and Leadership is not only expressed and best applied alongside a ‘continuum’ (see below graph #1) but it is also 360 degree and holistic.

#1 like this:

Getting the right balance between knowing and managing yourself, knowing how to lead others and knowing the business is key in being a successful manager today. As a manager there are times when you need to manage functional tasks and others times when you are required to take important strategic decisions, have a vision, and to inspire others to outperform. The ability to demonstrate and apply both is critical.

Many other boundaries or limits are also being effected by the fast moving world we live in. For example a clear separation between work life and private life is becoming more difficult to achieve. There are many ongoing contradictions that make it more difficult to define a clear identity and clear roles. Technology is no longer a ‘means’ to an end or a channel of communication for example, but it defines who we are and blurs the lines between private life and business life. We are always connected. So, knowing yourself (Leading Self) and ‘being in balance with yourself’ is even more critical than it ever has been.

But how can you know if you are in balance if you don’t know what your boundaries should be? How do you know what is right and what is wrong? When should you stop responding to emails that come to your mailbox 24 hours a day?

So let us review some quick tips to help you focus on what matters and to set the boundaries that we need to be better leaders, managers, partners, individuals, parents…:

  • Set boundaries: start with defining what these are for you. It starts with you and managing yourself: stop and reflect.  What does life balance mean for me? What do I need to be in balance?
  • Define the most important areas: Which areas of my life are important to me and which out of these do I personally rank as my top three: (e.g.. spending quality time with my family, doing outdoor sports, seeing friends, contributing to society or to the community, travelling, time to reflect etc.)
  •  Reflect: To what extent I am honouring these or neglecting these areas? What’s the possible negative impact this lack of balance is having on myself, my environment and the way I manage and lead?
  •  Act: What behaviours and habits am I willing to change to re-establish my personal balance and by when and how will I do this?
  •  Measure: How do I know I have succeeded to get my balance back? (E.g. more time for myself, more energy, more helpful to my team members, less stress etc.)

To be great managers and leaders in today’s demanding world where little boundaries exist, our first job is to be conscious of the boundaries we need to set to enable us to act as great leaders. These can be different for different people. Once we are aware of these, we need to assess whether they are being challenged by outside demands and if so, how we can get back our control over the way we manage our environment, not the other way around. The best leaders are those who are versatile. This means they can manage and lead whenever it is needed and they can adapt and be holistic in their way of leading (self, others, business). However the most important aspect is to get a good balance. Being out of balance will lead to stress, low energy, lower productivity and ultimately less good people & business leadership.

In the next post we will explore further, the impact of your lack of balance on your personal health, your team’s engagement, and your creativity.

About the author: 
Natalie Schurmann
Natalie Schurmann supports MCE with the design and quality of the open enrolment programmes. Natalie Schurmann has over 15 years’ experience in leadership development, executive coaching, leadership training and design and psychometric assessments. Natalie’s global delivery has impacted numerous regions including Europe, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, India, Russia, and Africa.

Tuesday 1 December 2015

Leader! Get Those Priorities Carved in Stone!

VIEWPOINT: Agreeing the ground rules is key to leading change, according to Rudi Plettinx, Managing Director of Management Centre Europe, in this seventh in his series of articles for IEDP:
I had a call from my old friend Charlotte the other day. She’s one of those corporate trouble-shooters who get sent to problem parts of an organization when the going gets too hot for everyone else. Is she a leader? You bet. But talking to her about her last challenge made me think just how poorly prepared many of us are when we take on one of those tricky assignments.

Here’s what Charlotte told me about her recent experiences. “Often the problem for me is that I’m only called in when others have failed to do their job. So the number one issue, especially if you are sent to clear up a mess, is to be certain that the firm has given you all the tools you need to turn things around.”

“don’t ever let the initial euphoria stop them from getting some very basic rules agreed”

She went on to say, “If you aren’t sure just how far you can go (and don’t have it in writing) then you’ll never achieve anything. My belief – based on a great deal of ‘combat’ missions – is that you need maximum autonomy (and authority) to get a job like that done well. You can’t build respect and develop and engage employees if you – as the leader – are unsure of what you can and cannot do. Hesitation and prevarication aren’t options out there on the battle front.”

Charlotte’s belief is that the biggest trap any manager moving into a new job can fall into is letting the initial euphoria (of their so-called promotion) stop them from getting some very basic rules agreed between them and their boss.

As she explains, “time and again I hear of newly appointed managers who were so excited by their new promotion they forgot all the basics – that’s a recipe for disaster.” She continues, “sure, have that bottle of celebratory champagne, but next morning sit down with your boss and get the rules agreed. AND get them in writing. If they aren’t carved in stone they aren’t rules at all.” She adds, “without that you can’t do the job you are being asked to do.”

So what are Charlotte’s rules ?

“Any manager heading into a new assignment needs to have at least these clear from day one,” she stresses. “Not just clear, but agreed in writing before they begin.”
  • What are my short-term goals?
  • What are my long-term goals?
  • What is the time frame for reviewing, correcting and revising these goals?
  • What is the report-back relationship and how and when does this happen (weekly, monthly etc)?
  • If my personal compensation is related to performance, what are the parameters?
  • Is the budget for my group agreed and what autonomy do I have in using it?
  • What is my expense approval threshold?
  • What are my limits on hiring new personnel?
  • What are my limits on dismissing existing personnel?

She concludes, “There are more than this, but get these basic ground rules agreed and you will at least know where your limitations are. This saves a lot of grief and hand-wringing later on.”

Charlotte tells me that she is consistently successful because she and her boss both know the rules. “This way there are no ambiguities, nosurprises. I know where I stand and the company knows what it has asked me to do and the parameters that have been set.”

My question: Is that how the rest of us work ?

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? Connect with him via Linkedin. 

Monday 16 November 2015

Four Reasons Why Organizations Should Invest In Employee Development

Market pressure and a desire to succeed means that it is only logical that organizations and managers do what they can to deliver results and outperform the competition. So, for some, taking employees away from their workstations for training and development purpose is often perceived as counter-productive.

During my 26 years’ professional experience in corporate life, and 10 years as a transformation coach, I have worked with thousands of successful entrepreneurs, managers, leaders and organizations to help them adopt a positive culture when it comes to employee development.

Throughout this time, I have learned hugely through observing, assessing and interacting with workers at every level and, in this article, I would like to share the four reasons why employee development and training is vitally important to organizational success:

1. The organization will be a talent magnet, attracting the best talent in the market, while, at the same time, retaining the best employees. Replacing a member of staff can, depending on the role, cost the company anywhere between $50,000 and $100,000.

2. Employee development creates a talent pool containing the future leaders of the organization. Adopting a ‘promote-from-within’ culture offers the following advantages:
  •  Boost employee morale and motivation
  • Improve staff retention – ‘60% of employees choose to stay with an employer that invests in their professional development‘ – CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development)
  • Avoid burnout and an negative attitude in the workplace.

3. Employee engagement and productivity increases.

4. Generate a positive return on investment – ‘Untrained employees take up to six times longer to perform the same task as trained employees’ – Hewlett Packard

Also – ‘Organizations that invest in staff development outperform the market by 45%’ – ASTD (Association for Talent Development)

Organizations need to see the development of employees as an investment rather than an expense. While some companies might be wary of spending too much on training, in case the employee leaves soon after, the development and training of employees is a huge benefit to companies in the long term. So, perhaps it should be a case of can you afford not to develop your employees.

About the Author: 

Samir Bata
Samir Bata's expertise in Management and Leadership has been built in 26 years in key positions in sales, marketing, general operations management, and business development. In addition to his management and leadership expertise, Samir is also a Senior Associate at MCE. 

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Monday 9 November 2015

"Wicked problems", the most important problems a business has.

Dr. Patricia Seemann is a Swiss surgeon and the founder of The 3am Group, with a specialty like no-one else. Her unique expertise is diagnosing and treating the most complicated and intractable issues that plague large global corporations … the “Wicked Problems” that, left unaddressed, can endanger the entire enterprise. She is a former member of the Group Management Board of a major financial services firm and has 15 years of experience in helping CEO identify and deal with “Wicked Problems.” She will be addressing those issues in a keynote presentation at #MCE55 Event in Brussels in April 2016 (19-20 April 2016).  

MCE: Does EVERYONE, no matter how driven, successful, ruthless, or misunderstood genius they may be, have that 3 a.m. trauma in their make-up? Why ? and what is it ?

Patricia Seemann (PS): Some will claim they don’t. The idea is to project complete command over everything. As one guy told me: If I were losing sleep, it would reflect a lack of competence on my side. Vulnerability isn’t in the make-up of conventional leaders. They don’t know that there is a whole bunch of stuff they don’t know. Which is what makes them so dangerous.

In a recent paper, two journalists interviewed about 60 leaders (government, military, corporate) who all agreed that Leadership is failing because individuals cannot have the answers anymore. The word has become unknowable.
What keeps them awake? Some things never change: where do I get real talent from? How can I get my team to play nice, etc. Today it is also a kind of impostor syndrome, feeling deep down that they aren’t up to the job. The thing is, in a way nobody is.

You can help but helping them acknowledge that having the answer is no longer the requisite or even possible skill. What is critical is the ability to ask the right questions and to draw on the collective intelligence of the firm. That of course predicates a very different leadership model

MCE: Can YOU cure them of these night time bogeymen the “something” lurking in the shadows ?

PS: I don’t know whether curing is possible, but certainly helping the cope, yes.

MCE: Does guilt, unfulfilled dreams, unrequited ambition and the need to be top dog play a key part and should certain behaviours act as a warning flag? Can YOU do anything about it?

PS: Well, Carly Fiorina had a larger-than-life portrait hung in the lobby of HP. I think that is a pretty clear signal that she has a problem. Would I have been able to change that, probably now, because she wouldn’t seek counsel from people like me. Of course all the things you point to can and do play a role. I cannot change deep rooted character traits. But what I can do is show them how working on some of their behaviours is to their advantage.

MCE: We’ve seen a whole slew of M and A’ s seriously derail because tough CEOs want to empire-build to the exclusion of all rationality. Will that always be there, or is it inherent in the “beast” that is the 21st Century CEO?

PS:Certainly! But it is also the inability to think in non-linear, messy ways. People assume that doubling the size of the firm doubles complexity, in fact it increases on a logarhythmic scale. They also rarely understand the notion of company as social systems with deeply tribal characteristics. Tribes really don’t like to be brought together.  Note also the role of the bankers. They can make any deal look compelling good on paper. The numbers are always pretty. But they do not reflect reality, because that is grounded in humanness, not numbers. And finally scale means something very different in a knowledge economy than if you are producing bricks.

MCE: Finally, If you had to say (or gently whisper) one word or phrase to a CEO with his or her eyes wide open at 3 a.m., what would it be?

P S: Build a company that’s smarter than you Then you can rely on it.

Monday 2 November 2015

Leadership in an Age of Convergence

Jens Maier is Lecturer at the University of St. Gallen, Fellow at London Business School (Centre for Management Development) and the Founder of CE Convergence Engineers.

He is the author of “The ambidextrous Organization-exploring the new while exploiting the now”; Palgrave Macmillan; 2015 and will be presenting a keynote session at #MCE55 Event in April (19-20 April 2016). 

Convergence between markets and technologies happens around us. The perfect Storm of ubiquitous Technologies (smartphones, cloud computing, big data, social media and the internet of everything), often characterized as „digitization” is by itself challenging enough. When coupled with a megatrend such as aging population, the implications are felt across most industries.

MCE: You’ve introduced "the ambidextrous leader” as a viable concept and a “must- have” for today’s successful corporation. But doesn’t the evidence indicate that a lot of senior managers can’t use even one hand effectively to steer the corporate boat?

Jens Maier (JM): Sure, there are always exceptions: that individual leaders fail at running the existing business smoothly. However, years of benchmarking, continuous improvement, black belts etc. have helped to raise the professionalism in most industries. Therefore, I have observed that senior managers have become quite proficient at using the hand of “exploiting” the current business.
Now, the perfect storm of technologies such as smartphones, cloud computing, big data, social media and the internet of everything has a huge impact on the future of most existing industries.
This current phenomenon, often summarized as digitalization, creates new competitors in the existing business and is simultaneously offering opportunities for new businesses. Therefore, organizations are challenged to develop the capability of exploration. It is no longer just about playing existing game better, shaping game is now required. In shaping game organizations are fighting for relevance in the next phase of their industry. Witness Nokia and Blackberry fresh in our minds as examples for organizations struggling to move beyond efficiency to stay relevant.
Relevance therefore is the result for an organization’s capability to reconcile exploitation (efficiency in the existing busing business) and successful exploration of new opportunities beyond today’s core business. Organizations have to develop the organizational “bandwidth” to reconcile exploitation and exploration.

MCE: What’s your recipe for getting respect as a leader? What would you mandate/demand that CEOs-in waiting MUST experience, learn, adopt or get enthused about on their way to the top.

JM: Respect is earned and due when a leader can demonstrate both authenticity and adaptability. In the book I use the analogy of the T-model. We find that initially first time team or project leaders tend to repeat the leadership behaviour that brought them success in the previous assignment. If the “hammer” was successful, in the next, larger assignment a bigger “hammer” is being used. This brings leaders success in their functional area of expertise or to stay with the analogy, as long as the challenge presents itself in the shape of a nail... However, we have learned about the high levels of de-railment that take place at the transition from the vertical line of the T-model to the horizontal line, the transition from functional specialist to general manager.
At the level of general management, the CEO role is just the broadest version of general management, a leader has to demonstrate additional competencies such as “influencing”.
This means that the leader has to develop the necessary “bandwidth” of behaviors over and beyond the preference for the “hammer”.

Now, in the current age of “digitization” the need for developing bandwidth in leadership behavior has been added one important new dimension, the requirement to be able to do both “exploitation” and “exploration”.
In their role as leader, individuals are required to prepare their organizations for the future, in short to innovate. Now, as leaders progress in their careers they usually assemble a good track record around exploitation, the continuous improvement of processes and products. However, in the age of digitization, exploration as a key competence has to be acquired. Again the new dimension for increasing personal bandwidth is the competency to do both exploitation and exploration.

MCE: We keep hearing about phrases like soft skills and mindfulness, but it’s a tough, real-world out there. Doesn’t the ambidextrous leader need an iron fist in a velvet glove to gain respect? So how do you reconcile these opposites to be the real leader so many of us want to follow?

JM: This is where the idea of individual bandwidth comes in: There are times when a leader has to apply the iron-fist, or the hammer. This may be necessary to apply exploitation. However, during our times of digitization, when it is important to explore new approaches, the competence to develop a vision, a point of view is also critical. This exploration competence includes winning the hearts and minds of followers, includes influencing inside and outside the organization. This could be described as the velvet glove. This means that leaders have to develop their individual bandwidth to be adaptable to both exploitation and exploration requirements and to stay authentic.

MCE: If you could sum up your book’s message in one phrase that any would-be leaders should keep in mind everyday to repeat as a mantra as they start their day’s work, what would it be?

JM: Ambidexterity is about personal and organizational bandwidth – what do I do today to improve both my personal and our organizational bandwidth.

#MCE55 Event 19-20 April 2016: Accelerated solutions for building organizational relevance and connectivity in a disruptive world.
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Wednesday 14 October 2015

Six Ways To Create A Motivating Workplace And Encourage An ‘Extra Step Culture’

What is it that makes one workplace productive, filled with energy, enthusiasm and a shared commitment to a common purpose, while others appear lacking in those qualities and, instead, finds workers instilled with a sense of frustration and boredom? 
The answer lies in ‘motivation’. A motivating environment is one where people are willing to work at their full capacity, give their best, and enjoy what they do, without any external push. It is an environment that ignites the will to do and the passion of shared goals.
Simply enjoying what you do creates momentum and it is the role of the leader to make sure that the work environment is full of positive energy and a can-do culture. 
Here are six different ways to help promote this type of working environment for our teams and ourselves: 

  1. Link work objectives with the personal values of your team member: If individual team members feel that what they are doing is of no value, they can become unmotivated. It is the role of the team leader to help workers see the value of what they do and how their role helps the team reach key objectives.  
  1. Communicate, listen, engage, offer feedback and define expectations: Reach out to team members for their feedback and how they feel about their role and shared objectives. Actively seek suggestions and opinions. 
  1. Give team members space to work: Avoid becoming involved with every detail of the task at hand. Demonstrate that you trust and respect decisions by giving team members autonomy in their roles; coaching and mentoring, when necessary. 
  1. Be fair and promote equality: Be equitable in the treatment of team members, especially when it comes to incentives and payment. Praise achievements and promote high performers. Likewise, be consistent when it comes to dealing with those who create a negative atmosphere, or perform poorly. 
  1. Avoid routine and bureaucracy: Add fun and excitement to the work environment, wherever possible. People spend more time at work than they spend at home, or with friends. Lightheartedness breaks the routine and promotes enthusiasm and productivity.  
  1. Dedicate some time each week on team building: Just a few hours each week spent on team-building exercises can dramatically boost morale and performance. 

Your team members deserve an open, positive, inspiring environment in which to develop their skills and grow in confidence and ability. By following these six steps you can motivate your people and transform the workplace into a positive environment where people can really enjoy their work. 

About the Author: 

Samir Bata
Samir Bata's expertise in Management and Leadership has been built in 26 years in key positions in sales, marketing, general operations management, and business development. In addition to his management and leadership expertise, Samir is also a Senior Associate at MCE. 

Wednesday 7 October 2015

What employers are doing to fight youth unemployment?

Peter Vogel
Peter Vogel is an entrepreneur, consultant and researcher at the University of St Gallen. 

He is the founder of Jobzippers and Entrepreneurs’ Ship that helps highlight youth employment issues and solutions. He is the author of the just-published book ”Generation Jobless – Turning the Youth Employment Crisis into Opportunity” .

MCE: Generation Jobless is a huge issue that just isn’t going to go away. If you were a business leader what do you think could be your (no matter how small) contribution to helping people into real work?

Peter Vogel (PV): Employers play a key role in tackling youth unemployment and there are many different things that can and have to be done on that front. However, the issue is everything but straightforward and solutions always require an orchestrated effort from various stakeholders, including employers but also public policy, educational institutions and of course young people, too.
In ‘Generation Jobless?’ I discuss dozens of examples of what employers are doing to fight youth unemployment. Overall, one can sum them up into the following action items:
Employers must
  1.      Properly think through the actual ‘business case’ for hiring young people and balance the advantages and disadvantages. Overall, when taking a long-term perspective, they will come to the conclusion that it pays off to engage in young recruiting rather sooner than later. 
  2.     Assume their responsibilities in preparing youth for the world of work by closely collaborating with the education system, providing internship and mentoring opportunities, giving lectures and talks in school, attending career fairs and other career-related events and open up their doors for young people. 
  3.     Build a global skills supply chain in order to recruit for tomorrow’s needs instead of yesterday’s needs. 
  4.     Ensure that they build adequate vocational training opportunities to counteract the increasing academization and help build relevant skills and capabilities on the job.
  5.      Build a workforce management system that allows them to effectively work with four or five generations of employees.
  6.     Ensure that there are sufficient youth-compatible jobs available in their companies, taking into account the Digital Natives’ characteristics and expectations from work. 
  7.     Ensure that tomorrow’s leaders (i.e., the talents from today’s youth) find a stimulating and satisfying work environment in order to ensure continuity when the older managing employees are retiring. This needs to be done by building a 21st century workplace.
MCE: You talk a lot about entrepreneurs and the vast reservoir of creative energy. How do we promote that in the school system to encourage people to try out new ideas and take risks?

PV: Entrepreneurship is considered one of the most promising avenues to solving the current youth labor market crisis. Why? Because it is one of the main drivers of innovation, economic and societal development and job creation.
As I argue in ‘Generation Jobless?’, the promotion of youth entrepreneurship is essential to tackling youth unemployment, because it…

  •  …creates employment opportunities for those that start the businesses as well as those that they employ, particularly because young entrepreneurs are more prone to hiring other young people
  •  …brings back alienated and marginalized youth into the labor market
  •  …helps address socio-psychological issues arising from unemployment
  •  …helps youth develop new skills and professional experience that, in turn, can enhance their general employability
  •  …revitalizes local communities through new products and services
  • …capitalizes on the youth’s particular responsiveness to new trends and opportunities
  • …keeps young and otherwise idle young people occupied, which is always better than not having anything to do leaving them feeling useless and without hope.
Promoting an entrepreneurial mindset early on in life – at school or at home – is the key to success when it comes to boosting youth entrepreneurship. It therefore also cannot be considered a short-term solution to the crisis but rather a long-term strategic shift of the labor market.

To foster an entrepreneurial mindset, we need to…

  • …make room for creativity and inspiration – at home, in school, and elsewhere.
  • …give our kids the opportunity to develop financial literacy in a fun and playful way.
  • …help them jump over their shadow and pro-actively engage in conversations.
  • …foster their problem-solving skills by brainstorming solutions to their problems.
  • …turn learning into a fun and playful setup to acquire important skills.
  • …let them take responsibility and make decisions.
  • …help them experience risk and their boundaries.
  •  …allow our children to be critical about the status quo and come up with better ideas.

MCE:   For every well-educated kid out there, you’ll find another nine who are in the wrong place with the wrong qualifications at the wrong time. How do we get better at predicting where the new jobs will come from?

PV: Overall, we can say that the level of education is less an issue than the “match” between what is being taught and what is being looked for on the labor market. According to UNESCO, the Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) for Tertiary Education in Europe went up from around 50% in 1999 to above 70% in 2013. Of course this picture looks different in developing countries, but even on a global level it went up from 20% to over 30%.

Hence, in order to become better at predicting where new jobs will come from, employers need to spend significant time on predicting their future skills requirements – that is build a global skills supply chain. At the same time, the interaction between the employers and the education system must become more frequent and relevant. Unfortunately, we can observe a drift into theory at academic institutions, which further reduces the chances of teaching practical and relevant things. It is therefore even more important that employers get active and try to connect into the education system to shape what is being taught.

MCE:    And a simple question. If you are 16 years old what do you do to give yourself a better chance of climbing on the career ladder and being a success? What experience and what qualifications will win through?

PV: There are of course many evident steps that can be taken to enhance one’s employability, including internships, language courses, exchange programs, etc. However, this is a rather blunt advice that doesn’t seem to have done too much in helping the Gen Y and Gen Z in getting ready for the world of work. First of all, because there are not enough youth-specific job opportunities and second, because today’s youth has fundamentally different expectations from work than those 40 or 50 years ago. Hence, the best thing that young people can do is to try and develop a clear understanding of what they specifically want to do with their life and which career path is a realistic and interesting option for them – corporate, entrepreneurial, academic, political, etc. The better one gets at understanding one’s goals in life, the easier it gets to align the specific next steps to reach that goal. The current youth seems to have a particularly hard time to express their goals and ambitions.