Friday, 29 January 2010

Is strategy dead?

An article appeared on the Wall Street Times the other day suggesting that even if strategy was not quite dead - it was not looking too well:
During the recession, as business forecasts based on seemingly plausible swings in sales smacked up against reality, executives discovered that strategic planning doesn't always work... (Full article by Joann S. Lublin and Dana Mattioli is here)
This was my response:

Ossified strategic plans have always been dead. But managing the future has always been and will always be - absolutely critical to business success.

In my book, the best strategic leaders spend their time creating 'stractegies' rather than 'strutegies' - where the emphasis is on dynamic action rather than glossy pages. To do this, leaders need to generate the conditions where creativity, commitment and complexity are brought together and used in search of shaping (rather than succumbing to) the future. Ideally, strategy is not something that lives in a few glossy pages, or indeed in an (expensive) consultant's report.

Instead strategy should live in all the minds & actions of those working in and with the organisation.

Effective strategy is not created top down in my view - it is built, person by person, from the outside in.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Leader as midwife

Just came across this - I thought I would share it

Being a Midwife
The wise leader does not intervene unnecessarily.
The leader’s presence is felt, but often the group runs itself.
Lesser leaders do a lot, say a lot, have followers, and form cults.
Even worse ones use fear to energize the group and force to overcome resistance.
Only the most dreadful leaders have bad reputations.
Remember that you are facilitating anothers person’s process. It is not your process.
Do not intrude. Do not control. Do not force your own needs and insights into the foreground.
If you do not trust a person’s process, that person will not trust you.
Imagine that you are a midwife; you are assisting at someone else’s birth.
Do good without show or fuss.
Facilitate what is happening rather than what you think ought to be happening.
If you must take the lead, lead so that the mother is helped, yet still free and in charge.
When the baby is born, the mother will rightly say: ”We did it ourselves!”
John Heider, The Tao of leadership

How much of you leadership is this kind of facilitation?

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The power of a good checklist

Yes - we all 'hate' checklists and all that infuriating 'box-ticking' that goes along with it... But are we in danger of overlooking the power and usefulness of a good checklist that has been well researched?

Listening to the radio this morning (BBC Radio 4) I heard a piece about how the airline industry & World Health Organisation has been working with the NHS to deploy the 'Surgical Safety Checklist'. The main principle of this seems to be about team work and making sure that, at the start of an operation, everyone knows what they are doing.

To quote a well known meerkat - "simples!"

There are the other stories about these developments herehere and here. And there is more information about the whole approach to create "The Productive Operating Theatre" on the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement here.

But back to checklists... how many other services could be improved for want of a good checklist? Whenever I talk about 'knowledge management' (which is often over complicated beyond belief) I talk about the value of a simple checklist as being the embodiment of practical knowledge.

What checklists do you work with... and what new ones would help?

UPDATE: A couple of good articles here too: New Yorker 1 & New Yorker 2

Monday, 11 January 2010

Performance management or performance leadership...?

In preparation for a presentation the other day, I got to thinking about performance management - and I challenged myself to think about what I had learnt about the subject. First I wondered whether there is such a thing... I think you can manage people, you can understand performance and you can improve your own performance. But I was left wondering whether you can ever manage someone else's performance. Should we in fact be talking about performance leadership...? What do you think?

Beyond that - the following observations occurred to me:

  • People are strikingly different, so any 'regime of performance management needs to reflect this
  • Performance management is not just about skills & protocols, it is probably far more to do with relationships
  • Too much carrot or stick does not work. Too much carrot can easily become patronising or lead to the kind of excesses we have seen in financial institutions of late. Too much stick leads to some really odd behaviour
  • I think that attitude is key. If you believe, really believe, that people will work perform well then in my experience they usually do.
  • Appreciating people lies at the heart of good performance management.  Catching people doing the right things right helps hugely.
  • Performance management should be far less about forms and far more about conversations
  • Whilst I am not of the view that you can or indeed even should try to evidence everything, evidence is critical in having those conversations
  • Performance management only works with two way respect
  • The importance of good listening cannot be over estimated.
  • Performance management centred upon self management is critical. I don't believe it is the job of a manager to be a jiminy cricket.
What are your observations?

(Please add your comments below - thanks.)

Monday, 4 January 2010

Strategic geography

‘besides keeping his men well organised and trained (a prince) must always be learning some practical geography: how the mountains slope, how the valleys open, how the plains spread out’ (Machiavelli “The Prince” – translated by George Bull – Penguin 1961)

How do you do this?

As a leader, how do you stay in touch with the hinterland that your organisation occupies?

Do you know what is over the next hill, or where that river flows?

Friday, 1 January 2010

How will you be more true to yourself this year?

Happy new year! May it be all that you hope and wish it to be - for you and those whom you care about

The golden rule for leadership appears to be that there are no golden rules.  Many of the best leaders in the world appear to defy ‘gravity’ and all the learned research on what makes a good leader.

And yet we continue to search for the magic and key ingredients. You won’t fine the ingredients here. But... you may find some of your ingredients after considering the questions and thoughts in this blog.

One of my favourite books on leadership is by Warren Bennis entitled ‘On becoming a leader’. The message that stands out from that book for me is the importance of authenticity. His view is that good leaders are true to themselves. The difficult bit is knowing who you are and then being true to that understanding.

Who are you?

As a leader - how will you be even more true to yourself this year..?