Tuesday, January 31, 2012

In business some things are just plain wrong

It turns out that something far more profound than my birth occurred in 1968.

My wife and I recently viewed a film called, Made in Dagenham. The film tells the story about 187 female machinists who went on a three week strike at the Ford factory in Dagenham, England. Initially the women were outraged that they had been classified under a wage review as 'unskilled', and became more indignant when they became acutely aware of the difference in classification and wages between themselves and men doing exactly the same work.

What I found fascinating about the film and my subsequent research was that the women, led by Eileen Pullan were not skilled negotiators. They had to defend their actions within the union movement itself (largely run by men) the factory (which employed nearly 40,000 men) and their community. Their strike quickly shut down the entire Dagenham operation 'laying off' thousands and thousands of workers.

They stuck to their principles because the behaviour of management, while generally accepted at the time, was just plain wrong. The same level of work should receive the same level of pay irrespective of gender.

Despite the enormous pressure to return to work (including from some of the women's husbands who had been laid off) the women stuck to their principles and only returned once a guarantee for equal pay had been established and brokered by Barbara Castle, then the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity. At the time the Secretary's direct intervention with the women was a breach of normal protocols.

As a result of the strike the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1970, leading the way for equal pay for women throughout the Western World.

The story and its impact highlighted for me that some business practices and/or behaviours of management are just plain wrong and need to be treated as such. The courage of the Dagenham women highlights how a single minded approach to 'righting wrongs' even in the most lopsided of 'fights' can and does result in positive change.

It would be inaccurate of me to suggest that equal pay for women is now a non issue. Quite simply it isn't. But the Dagenham Strike started the ball rolling in a positive direction.

I recommend watching the movie, not just from an entertainment perspective but from a historical one as well.

Finally, what 'wrongs' need to be 'righted' in your organisation?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Government grants enhance the affordability of culture change programs

A combination of state and federal government schemes designed to enhance the formal qualifications of Australians have the added bonus of providing the resources for corporate culture change programs.

The challenge is that many leaders aren't aware of the opportunity they have available to them and therefore don't fully leverage the culture change opportunity.

As a facilitator of such programs I help senior leaders recognise that the real benefit of the programs is the conversations about their business that the course material catalyses. In simple terms, the course material and the courses themselves create the space for staff to talk about their organisation in a safe way. In other words, they have the opportunity to have Conversations That Matter®.

In every session that I have facilitated staff have learned something about their business that they did not previously know. Often this knowledge was considered by others in the room to be "known by everyone". Yet it quickly becomes obvious that not everyone did know.

For example one organisation with whom I have been working has a bonus system in place that rewards staff for submitting ideas via their intranet that, if adopted and they produce measurable business improvements a bonus is paid to the employee. A lot of the mid-level managers in the program didn't know that the system existed.

If it wasn't for the program and the opportunity to talk about organisational systems designed to enhance idea generation, the conversation that resulted in the knowledge sharing would not have occurred. This type of conversation occurs in every session.

The opportunity to overlay the program with a specific culture change focus is both available and logical. Why not use government funding to pay for a program that enables real conversations about the organisation to be conducted that are influenced by theory! In addition, the program provides employees with a nationally recognised qualification.

In fact, it is my experience that corporate programs offer the greatest opportunity for theory to be understood and applied because the program creates the space for colleagues to apply theory to the practical operation of their business. In many cases the theory can then be applied in real time.  When properly understood and facilitated such opportunities can provide enormous benefits for everyone.

Please feel free to contact me if you are interested in how such a program can benefit your organisation and employees.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Challenge of 'Truth to Power' for Leaders

While travelling around Australia working with senior and development leaders in a corporate development program, I have been asking the following question:

"How easy is it for employees to deliver potentially unpleasant messages to more senior people in organisations?"

Their reply has been effectively unanimous.

"It's very difficult!"

"Why?" I have asked.

Reasons have varied but have included:
  • Fear of negative consequences to themselves should the message not be accepted
  • Fear of being perceived as a 'negative person' by senior managers which could negatively affect career opportunities
  • Past experiences within the same or previous companies where such messengers were treated poorly
  • Fear of being required to provide a solution for the issue
The core message is that people are reluctant to provide potentially negative messages to more senior managers.

I have then asked,"So let's flip this issue around. From the perspective of your roles as leaders, do you see this reluctance to provide messages to senior managers as an issue for you?"

Once again I have received a unanimous response.


"Okay. What can you do about this challenge?"

The conversations have been remarkable. Participants have recognised the real and genuine challenge for many employees to provide potentially 'negative' feedback to senior staff.

The issue, known as 'Truth to Power' relies on senior staff to be aware of how their reaction to 'negative' messages can have an exponential affect on whether or not employees continue to provide them. This requires the senior managers to have an acute awareness of this challenge and to to err on the side of being more supportive of people bringing forward messages rather than less supportive (or worse being defensive).

Interestingly the leaders involved in the discussions I have shared above have been honest about the fact that for many of them they naturally have a defensive response to such issues when they are raised, yet recognise the damaging affect being defensive can have on future messages being presented.

The leaders have shared that it is important to acknowledge the issue and even if it is already known, to thank the employee for having the courage to raise the issue. They have also suggested that leaders need to 'close the loop' in terms of providing feedback to the employee about what has happened with their issue, particularly if the leaders initial response was to 'look into it'.

It is totally understandable for people to have concerns regarding providing negative feedback to senior leaders. yet high performing teams and high performing organisations need to manage the Truth to Power challenge if they wish to reach their potential.

What are your experiences of 'Truth to Power' in the workplace and how have you managed this challenge from a leadership perspective?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Create your New Year Resolution

If you are in to announcing New Year resolutions, as many people are then I encourage you to create the outcome of your resolution throughout 2012.

I use the word 'create' deliberately. You see we have the ability to create the future we desire. Making an announcement on New Year's Day is only a very small part of creating your desired future.
It is critical that you you are as clear as possible about the benefits that you will receive from bringing your New Year resolution into reality.

For example, if you have made a resolution top 'get fit in 2012' then clarify the benefits that getting fit will provide you. Your list may include:
  • looking better
  • more energy
  • better sleep
  • a happier partner (if you have one!)
  • increased chances of finding a partner (if you don't have one!)
  • higher self confidence
  • less anxiety
  • improved concentration
Clearly this list could go on.

The point is, once you are clear about the benefits that the creation of your New Year resoluion will provide, the more clear you become about the 'cost' of not creating such a future.

As Swedish neurologist David Ingvar discovered, writing down these benefits also increases the clarity with which your brain pictures the future you desire. Such clarity, coupled with developing and writing down your plan, significantly increase your ability to take the required actions to create your desired future.

If you keep your picture of the future (possibily represented by images or the list of benefits that you have established above) somewhere where you will see it regularly, your capacity to continue to take the required actions to create the future you desire will continue to be enhanced.

As the year progresses you wil bring your New Year resolution into reality. After all, isn't that what we really hope for when we make a New Year resolution in the first place!

What are your New Year resolutions and how are you going to bring them into reality throughout 2012?