An introvert’s guide to innovation and collaboration workshops

You are maybe awash with extrovert Ted talk types in your innovation and collaboration teams but every group needs an introvert to get it done.

Every group of people from a nursery to an old age home will have a division of introverts and extroverts. You can walk into a pre-school and see a range of children either swinging from the wall fittings or quietly sitting reading a book. At some point these kids point themselves at jobs which more or less suit their personalities and off they go.

Historically, you can line up the expected jobs with the personalities of the children and make a good guess of what they might like doing. The same type of people bunch around the same kind of job and therein is created a circle of reinforcement. A fascinating by-product of the digital age is that the types of job and the types of personality for those jobs is changing and the front-line for this fight is in collaboration and innovation.

An extrovert’s world

In most organisations, the lead of ‘innovation’ or the lead facilitator tends to always be an extrovert with an innate extroversion and imagination.  The core concepts of trying new things or being imaginative are naturally suited to people for whom these things come easily. The thing I hate most in the whole world of workshop delivery is the process where people are asked to come up with loads of ideas, put them on post-its and then make an arbitrary ranking of said ideas.  There is a major presumption on this that everyone can easily come up with those ideas, at speed, with other people there, with a facilitator driving speed….. This is fundamentally not for everyone.

There is also the frequent discussion that you have with clients who say a variant of ‘let’s get Jill from operations, she’ll ‘be great at this’.’ This is usually code for “Jill is pretty outspoken and likes to talk a lot’. Aggregated, you get a group of people who typically have a good conversation but you always question whether they are the most representative of the organisation.

This translates even to the concept of bringing in ‘diverse thinkers’ from outside the organisation. It is always the intent to get ‘an artist’ or a ‘musician’ (not noted introverts) and it is rare that the suggestion is made to bring in ‘an accountant’ for some new thinking. There is an implicit bias towards the extrovert type.

How you set-up your teams always tends to include people in this mould for which their experience in ‘having good ideas’ or being ‘creative’ trumps experience or expertise in grinding out results or delivering outcomes. There are typically few completer finishers in these areas and even fewer with the aspiration to get involved.

An Introvert’s world

However, putting introverts in charge of collaboration and innovation is probably exactly what you need. At the stage most companies are at, it’s about building out a new model for working with new methods and approaches. This means that the structures, the PMO and the operating model are at least as important as pretty graphics, a lovely design centre and ‘hipster ideas circles’.  It is easy to hide behind Agile and Design Thinking say as an application of a ‘method’ where the principles and the approach alone are seemingly enough to make a difference. They are not.


For your innovation and collaboration teams please consider;

1)   Picking deliberately the most introverted competent person you find and unleash them on the ‘special ideas’ people. The imagination lot will probably hate it but they need them. Ideas however great, uncontrolled and unrealised are not very helpful. The idea is not reward enough itself. (much as this pains me to say)

2)   Pick your workshop groups and attendees like a jury– make sure you have a real cross section and plan accordingly. The defence lawyer (introverts) should probably be allowed a few vetoes. When you have picked the teams, make sure the assignments you set, match the people best. A session on ‘blue sky thinking’ is almost never a good idea and categorically not for everyone. Time for personal reflection, some specificity and time to investigate things properly might actually be better.

3)   Think end to end– improving the innovation journey from idea to execution is exactly where companies need to invest. This brings together the ideas people with the design people, with the data people, and the engineering people and the dev people.  These are all people who at their own personal job crossroads went their separate ways and have now been thrust together. You can make your own judgement but there is a spectrum of personality there which might not be always best served by focussing on the Shoreditch latte brigade.

4)   Be boring– the fun bit isn’t always the most important bit, having some rigour in how set up the function, how you design, plan and run events and even how you select people for the team is well served by thinking of the boring bits. Having a solid PMO and resource and finance management approach might not set the heather on fire, but it might make the difference between a flash-in-the-pan and a sustainable solution which works.

The beauty of collaboration and the explicit goal of innovation is to do new things you haven’t done before. The power of diversity is not in a range of extroverts outdoing each other with crazy new things, it is in harnessing the value of everyone – especially the introverts.

Cultural Determinism – A guide to Corporate predestination from the Scotland and England football teams

If you are unaware, there is a particularly joyless thread of religion known as Calvinism where everyone’s future status in the afterlife is predestined and essentially, regardless of what you do you will be end up in the same state.

For a lot of corporations, the history of culture, leadership and approach means that there is an inbuilt expectation of what will happen based on past experience and behaviours will reinforce this expectation. The best way to think about it is to consider what happens when someone new joins your own organisation. They will typically look to create new things based on their previous experience but will eventually ‘go native’ and slow down as the unspoken power of cultural predestination wears them down.

The living embodiment of this was borne out over the past few weeks in the football world cup where not only did Scotland snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, England managed to lose on penalties, in a semi-final. Again.

As a Scot myself, watching as Scotland were smashing Argentina all over the field as we took our lead to 3-0 with 15 minutes to play gave me an unusual feeling.  Watching the referee give a penalty to England with 5 minutes to go was a similarly novel experience. Fortunately for the cosmic order of things, normal service was very quickly resumed as Scotland lost 3 quick goals (including a retake of a saved penalty) and England missed their 3rdpenalty out of 4 in the tournament to ultimately stagger and fall just short of the line.

Now, if you are aware of the history of the Scotland football team, we have historically been the living embodiment of glorious failure. For example, we remain the only team to have gone out the world cup on a coin toss!! The emotional journey of watching England is no less consistent; expectation raised to fever pitch, emotional outpourings of how the tournament ‘has brought the country together’, singing of songs regarding how they were going to win the tournament. Then…a missed penalty leading to national outpouring of grief.

However, for Scotland in particular there was a big difference this time.

1)   It was the Scotland women playing in their first world cup (with no history to live up (or down) to)

2)   They are a great team who beat Brazil and drew with world champions US in the build-up to the tournament and who won their qualifying group (a recent record of success)

3)   Their players play for teams like Arsenal and Man City (no issue with quality of resource

They nonetheless managed to collapse as they got close to a great achievement. When the possibility for something different was there, they found a way to do exactly what you would have expected them too.

Which brings me to considering the corporate world.

Your culture ‘muscle memory’– what you’ve done in the past has the power to override any changes in personal, any training or any strategy you might put in place. You might be known for a particular style or approach that the company takes which continues to influence how everyone approaches change. You might try and introduce new ways of working like agile or design thinking but having a mindset that says ‘we’ve tried this in past and it hasn’t worked’ however unspoken or implied, will tend to strangle the idea of change before it gets a chance. 

You need to consider how you get a few wins first to change the dynamic a little. 

Overcompensation – you see a lot of organisations who are known for a particular style or approach try to go completely in the other direction. They recognise what challenges they have so they try too hard. They have a reputation of being a bit old fashioned and boring so they ‘buy a Ferrari’ at which point they are just look a bit sad and end up driving the car like a 1992 Ford Sierra. You can’t outspend a culture problem. You might hire a team of expert designers and a brand new innovation centre (and then use them to make documents pretty and invite clients in to show them some very fancy videos).

You need to think about the mechanism you us to get from old to new and it doesn’t have to be big-bang all the time.

It’s the hope that kills you – to mis-quote John Cleese. The failure you can cope with, it’s the hope that kills you. Setting a target and an expectation for change is great only if it is achieved. If you promise people something which isn’t delivered then the next time you try, that inbuild hope and expectation is eroded to a point where the buy-in and commitment to change isn’t there. Even then at a point of achieving something great, the memory of failure is enough to introduce doubtwhich then brings the whole thing down.

You need to not send grandiose targets which you don’t end up meeting, or even worse set some new principles with nothing behind them.

So what

Scotland were brilliant even to get to the world cup and they should be proud, England were even better and very almost made it to the final. However, was there a big hand of predestiny on their shoulders when it came to the crunch?When a new strategy appears in your inbox about changing ways of working or improving the culture. Do you work through to the natural conclusion that it’s no different from any other time?

When the Scotland goalkeeper was standing on her line waiting for her saved penalty to be retaken, she barely moved an inch to save the second attempt. It’s possible that she simply didn’t know what to do to please the ref but it’s also possible; that unable to escape the natural fate of things, she came to embrace her destiny and simply watched the ball sail past her to seal another preordained exit.

When the promise of something better comes up, do you yourself sit on the line expecting the goal to go in?

Bring me my wine: a guide to being French at work and why that’s a good thing.

The modern corporate environment is changing rapidly and whilst we are all scrambling to adapt, there is one nationality who act in a way already suited perfectly to 2018. You might be surprised, but right now, best practice is French.

I have been fortunate to work with a number of French people in my career. I worked for years for a French company, lived there for a couple of years, have a degree in the language and to this day look for the Stade Toulousain scores in the paper (Allez le Stade). This is my disclaimer to say that I’m a massive Francophile and always will be.

I write this so I can be entitled to say how mind blowingly frustrating and time consuming it can be to be involved in a French person heavy team. Every decision is a 20 minute discussion (or what an anglo-saxon would call an argument), every piece of information needs to be backed up with a barrage of verbalised evidence, everything takes ages but that’s okay because they are happy to work all hours and if they disagree with you, they are likely to ignore you anyway. Managing conflict is an emotional rollercoaster with tears, phones being hung up and sulks which can last days (after which all is forgiven and forgotten). But that’s not the whole story, they are also brilliant.

When you break down some of the main skills being required of successful business people in 2018, I’ve come to realise that the future is French. Namely:

·      The ability to adapt to new processes and ways of working.

·      The need to be analytical and thoughtful in looking at problems and information.

·      Playing a role which requires independence and thinking differently.

·      Having the confidence to try and fail.

For a French person, all of this is no problem.

Adherence to structure and process – in the corporate world, what you will find is that most French people have very similar backgrounds. They almost all went to a top business school or at a push, an engineering school. You very rarely encounter a French person with a degree in Geology who now works in consulting (very unlike the Brits). Even more so, they have a very consistent curriculum and learn methodologies which they all follow religiously.

Ask 10 French people to conduct an analysis of a company and you are almost guaranteed to get all of them following the same process to produce documents which look pretty much the same. Over structured you might think? However, I think it represents a respect for following well thought out and reasoned models and structure. A new approach say ‘Design Thinking’ is very easily taken up and applied by French people who then do not cut corners in its application.

Driving change amongst French workers is easy as long as you can show the evidence to support the approach. Where speed is required in delivering projects and change is constantly adding new ways of doing things. You need this ability to adapt and follow.

Questioning and analytical process – entirely in contradiction with the above, whilst French people are great with the process, what comes out of the process is subject to incredible debate and discussion. There is a fundamental ethos to French learning and culture which is to challenge anything and everything with a view towards stimulating debate and discussion. Playing Devils Advocate is a core facet of French life to the point where two French people in complete agreement will naturally allocate one person to disagree just for the fun of it.

One of my favourite colleagues I’ve ever had would typically arrive late to meetings claiming he was astoundingly busy and could only stay for 15 minutes. He would then proceed to argue furiously for at least 45mins after which I would discover he agreed with me all along. I would however, have generated 25 new things to think about, alter slightly or remove completely.

This is exactly what we need in 2018 to challenge ideas, promote discussion and encourage new ways of looking at things. It is an endemic skill to being French which is not the case for many cultures.

Combine the two above and you use the time saved from the process bit to augment the thinking bit. Perfect.

Independence and Rebellion – you will be well aware of the French love of rebellion. This is not just an aspect of their history but a deep rooted ethos. It is also linked to an incredible sense of ‘the people’ e.g. the community and the greater good.

A great example is the one where they tried to introduce wheel clamps into France. Apparently, if you put superglue in the lock of a wheel clamp, it makes it almost impossible to get off without completely destroying the whole apparatus which means you have to completely rebuild it (at considerable cost). When clamps started appearing in France, people would routinely carry superglue in their pockets to put it in the locks of every machine they saw. For the person who owned the car, this meant a huge inconvenience but eventually, the cost of constantly rebuilding the clamps led to France dropping the whole scheme. Individual sacrifice to the benefit of the group. If you tried that in the UK, you’d get a very different outcome.

The application of this at a corporate level is that French people are very aware of the group dynamic, are reluctant to accept leadership without question and importantly, are always looking for things to improve. Can this be frustrating….yes indeed, but there is a perpetual and unquenching enthusiasm to identify and act upon opportunities.

Accept failure and move on – the stereotype would suggest that French people do not lack in confidence but more than anything, the ability to successfully accept failure and move on from it is predicated on confidence that the next go will be better.

Having confidence that you did your best and any failure was down to bad luck, the circumstances or the cosmos is more a mindset than anything else and this is a skill in abundance amongst the French working population. The ‘start-up’ culture is increasingly an objective for almost all businesses so that ability is only going to be of value.

The US is also renowned for not having a confidence problem and the rates of entrepreneurship in that country are extremely high vs most other nations. It’s worth considering who came up with the word though; ‘entrepreneur’. No prizes for guessing.

So what

Diversity always brings value to any business or team and there’s a rapidly changing environment of how you have to approach projects/work, build a new culture and deliver changes to mindset. Each culture has some built in traits and working styles which contribute to creating the way you work and anyone who has worked in different countries will appreciate the differences. With mixed cultural teams, it’s even more pronounced. Learning from each other, blending the strengths inherent in each person and adapting the team to get the best out of everyone is the best you can aim for but…..

Trust me though, if you have the choice and the opportunity to think French. It’s well worth a go.

First or Worst: a lesson in risk taking from the Scottish Rugby Team

I was fortunate enough to be in attendance at the weekend when the unfancied Scotland bettered their rugby playing counterparts from the south by 25 points to 13. This is a result worth noting because 1) it’s the first time Scotland have beaten England in 10 years, 2) it was the biggest winning margin for Scotland in 147 years, 3) essentially no-one expected them to win.

Now, rather than talk about the rugby (other than to say it was just great) it’s better to comment on the rich lessons for the corporate world. Namely;

You’d rather be first or worst; there are typically no silver medals in business. If you finish 2nd in a bid or a job interview etc. you are not unfortunately allowed to take a place on the podium beside the winner. In 15 years I have been involved in 57 losing bids each of which has taken long hours of my time and the emotional commitment of a whole team. Of those 57, we’ve finished 2nd about 30 times and on almost each occasion, you have the delight of sitting with the client for them to explain why you were runner up. I liken this to having your boyfriend/girlfriend end it with you over the phone and then shortly after meet up with you to explain why their new partner is better than you.

The Scottish rugby team have long inhabited a world where they come second. They get close to the other team but lose gallantly in the last 10 minutes. This has happened frequently enough so as to enter the lexicon e.g. it looks like we are going to get the contract as long as we don’t do a Scotland.

However, for the past year the team has added a new dimension to how they play noticeable for a much higher amount of risk. Sometimes it goes really well and sometimes it does not. Scotland beat Australia in Sydney and then lost the next game against Fiji, they started this year with an absolute ‘gubbing’ in Wales and then beat England.

In corporate terms, it’s like winning 2 big contracts and getting laughed at by the other two. This is nonetheless better than three second place finishes and a small win.

The application of this idea would perhaps allow you to consider an alternative view of what success looks like. From a customer perspective, being consistently good doesn’t necessarily mean that you get the most sales. You can risk one area to be very good in another. Customers don’t always buy the best product on average, they buy when they like something specific that’s important to them. Think about your partner, I’d be surprised if you love them for being a ‘good all rounder’.

Mercurial, maverick, maestros

One of Scotland’s best players is absolutely brilliant. He also makes mistakes sometimes which make you want to throw things at the television. Some of the time, this is because his brain is faster than everyone else which means people aren’t playing to his level but sometimes, he just makes a complete mess of it.

In the first game of the season, he had a bit of a nightmare which led to a lot of people shouting for his replacement. Fortunately, at the weekend he was the man of the match and was instrumental in Scotland’s win. Were he to have been replaced by someone more solid or dependable, it might be more consistent or predictable but it would have been unlikely to have been enough. When the competition is so good, do you risk being middle of the pack?

However, it’s often how we run performance reviews and assess people. You can be judged more for the depth of your mistakes rather than the heights of your successes. Discussions around promotions are commonly about giving reasons why someone ‘can’t be promoted’ rather than considering taking the risk. You will typically judge someone on their weakest point. I’ve been in sessions where someone who was really excellent was marked down on the basis of her admin as a Project Manager being ‘a bit loose’.

For your own careers, there is always a choice between middle of the road and maverick and all assessment tools in order to cover everybody usually end up forcing you towards the median. This is the difference between Finn Russell (the above mentioned player) being dropped after the first game and allowing Finn Russell to play and then win the game for the team on Saturday.

Even more interestingly, England’s best player (a young rascal called Owen Farrell) is getting a huge amount of criticism for his performance in missing tackles. In defeat, the discussion for England has focussed on what he did wrong. In the next game, does he play to avoid mistakes or does he play how he does best?

The danger of overcoaching; England are a great team with near unlimited resources to try new and innovative things. As an example, they flew the entire team from Georgia to England so that they could practice one aspect of the game in preparation for Scotland. They are hugely skilful, incredibly well trained and professional, and everyone knows exactly what they should be doing. They are in essence like an American football team where your role in the team is to follow orders according to the prepared move (and that’s it).

Scotland are a good team but they are not as good as England. What they were great at, was being flexible to changes. If something worked they did it again, if it didn’t they were quick to change. They had much smaller players than England so they tried to run around them rather than through them. They were a series of independent minds within the team who had the license to be more creative and imaginative than their English equivalents.

You can perhaps see where I am going with this. Scotland were an Agile business up against a large well structured incumbent. Even with the resources and skills, the fundamental culture and approach requires business in 2018 to be able to adapt to changes quickly and to take decisions independently. The coaching of the Scotland team isn’t to train them how to think necessarily, it’s to develop the system which allows the players to put that into practice. L&D needs to be focussed not just on what you do but how you do it, both individually and as a team.

In summary

  • Risks can be good if you can accept you might lose a few.
  • You need the mavericks in your team as much as the solid workers to get the best out the team.
  • You need to enable a culture where people are empowered to take those risks, and to be the mavericks.

Now, Scotland may well lose massively against Ireland in their next game. They might win the World Cup or go out in the first round against Japan. I will however be talking about the game on Saturday for years to come regardless of what happens next.

You can ask yourselves whether people will speak of you in the same way.

PS For any foreign readers, you are welcome to seek the match highlights to see the full glory of victory but here are some equivalents to help you out.

It would be like the Cleveland Browns scoring 3 touchdowns in the first quarter against the New England Patriots following three Tom Brady fumbles/interceptions

It would be like the Gold Coast Suns beating Richmond at the MCG by 50 points

It would be like Leicester City winning the Premier League (oh wait)

Recruitment in 2017: The Digital Diversity Dilemma

Digital is disrupting everything and this includes the recruitment process. Some corporates are going so far as to remove the academic requirements as entry criteria to rely more thoroughly on their own tools to assess talent. What are the unintended consequences though? And how do we find the value amidst the noise?—ey-transforms-its-recruitment-selection-process-for-graduates-undergraduates-and-school-leavers

Back in 2003 when I was applying for one particular graduate role, I had a conversation with the HR lead about psychometric tests where I gave my opinion; 1) that you could learn them and most companies used a small range of suppliers (after a few, my marks were awesome, mostly because I’d seen them before) and 2) they are ignoring a range of skills and abilities that you can’t test with a online paper with some people who fail, who might be great.

Her response at the time was something I hadn’t thought of namely; we get enough applicants so that we could take a random 10%, interview them and get enough quality people for the job. The psychometric tests were there to apply some marginal value to whittling down to a manageable number. Having made it though to the last round myself following 4 tests, 3 interviews and a 3 day assessment centre, I discovered they had a quota of 8 people from the 10 that had made it that far.  This was of scant consolation given my finishing position of 9th.

In the subsequent years, the process I don’t believe has become more personal. There are interviews conducted online using webcams, various assessment centres, interviews and a range of new tests. Digital has enabled much more to be done in the process with less human intervention. From engaging quite closely with the graduate process in particular for a consulting firm, I arrived at the end of the process for the assessment centres and the interviews. Over the years, I’ve not noticed any obvious change in the type of candidate.

Except one.

I think there has been a decrease in graduate candidates from  poorer backgrounds and I have seen a definite trend towards private schooled and very polished graduates. This is no disrespect to some of the excellent grads I’ve worked with but I wonder whether we’d profit from looking at a better social mix.  Now, I don’t want to speak to wider socio-economic trends or education  but as regards just the process itself.

Here are some things to think about;

1)     The digital process – Digital allows for a range of new tests, tools and processes to be delivered/off shored and analysed to bring some analytics to the overall process. This now includes recorded webcam interviews, Skype interviews etc.  The polish which looks good in that process is actually taught in private schools. These kids arrive at University already better prepared for the type of interview process which is increasingly prevalent. I am guilty myself of being impressed by graduates who deliver a nice presentation but even before the grads get to the interview stage, many have been removed from the process. In the early 2000’s there was a trend towards removing dates of birth and photos on CVs to make for a supposedly fairer judgement. The new process essentially doubles down on the original problem by bringing how people look right to the start.

 2)     Academic scores – can actually be a leveller. Your exams are the same for everyone so there is some balance in the scoring. It’s easy to say that exams are not the only thing and that all the extra work is important but the hierarchy of needs for less well-off students is that they spend 25 hrs a week working at a shop and then the rest on their studies.  Is this recognised in the same way as 5 hours of charity work a week would be? For students working every summer full time to save a bit of money vs 3 months on a volunteer charity program in Africa; is there a fair assessment of value? If you remove the scores as a main driver of selection, do you actually make it less fair for some?

 3)     EQ vs IQ –  I’ve written before about the rise of EQ as a core skill vs IQ as the main marker of value. The combination of this plus Digital is why I think companies are looking to remove academics as the gatekeeper of selection. You could essential allow every university student in the country to apply for 1 job if you have enough intelligence and analysis going into the process. A big AI engine could run through the applications and pick out the best people. However, your fit with the culture, your opinions and way of presenting them, and your approach to innovation and creativity are increasingly important. How ready are the tools and the AI to be able to apply those criteria? And even more so, if we are explicitly looking for more diversity of thought. How can that be built into the tool?

 All in all, recruitment faces the same challenges as with anything in Digital Transformation which is to make sure that Digital supports and enables in the first instance and as the technology progresses, you give away more of the qualitative measuring to the AI.

As soon as you measure something, people will find a way to try and game the system. Private schools know that employers like charity work so the pupils are obliged as part of their lives to do charity work (and are assisted in the process). Google constantly change their algorithms not necessary to make them better but because people work out how to get their positioning higher.

The highest position in the search always goes to the people paying the most, the richest not necessarily the best. We need to make sure that’s not the future for recruitment.

PS as a bonus,  if you consider recruitment as a CRM process here’s where it might be going.

No touch recruitment –  AI searches online information Social Media, LinkedIn etc and just selects the candidates without anything process at all. You get an IM on LinkedIn offering you a job on a 3 month probation – it doesn’t work out, no harm no foul.

The High School Draft  – ignore university all together, pick candidates out of high school NBA style, sponsor training for them as university modules across a range of universities and training centres. Get the best candidates before anyone else.

The Odd Couple – Getting Designers and Consultants to get along

One’s boring old fashioned, clean and tidy and wears a nice suit, the other’s messy, shaggy haired and goes to burning man. How will they ever get along? Simple answer; it’s the business model and the culture.

Throughout the years, each of the consulting firms has had a stereotype. I’ll show some tact and not describe them specifically but there was a particular clone army who used to arrive at careers’ fairs en masse; everyone in chinos and well ironed semi-casual shirts. They were very open about looking for a certain type of person to join their team and typically, you could pick the likely candidates without anyone opening their mouths. There was another company where the wearing of shoes other than black would be considered a disciplinary matter.

To varying extents, all the consulting companies up until the past few years pursued a similar approach. I knew a number of people who left my own organisation with commentary thereafter that ‘they were an _____ person anyway’. However, with the world of consulting changing so has the approach to hiring and acquisition.

Buying design

The aforementioned chino brigade like the others have bought a design agency and are integrating that into their business.  Everyone else has done something similar but the legacy company won’t suddenly change overnight. Strangely given what consultants do for a living, not everyone is managing the change perfectly. So if you are designer at a consulting firm, here’s a quick lesson in transformation with a view towards what might happen. Here are example 4 integration models. (there are many, many more)

Option 1) The Trojan horse – you set up a new team in the middle of the business with a new name or new job titles. It’s ostensibly part of the same structure and is integrated into the P&L. All the operations work the same and the design people are treated like every other consultant. A slow gradual change of bringing in the skills, starting to get projects and building the team. The team starts to grow and subsume other bits of the business until eventually, it’s no longer the small bit rather the main bit. The change to the business is to blend the skills and capabilities towards the design elements and you transform the business from within.

Problem; is getting through the first couple of years. The designers don’t want to be like everyone else and the performance management is difficult to compare oranges and apples. The culture is a big shock for the new people so they retreat into their own team a little. The rest of the team resents them for ‘getting special treatment’ and some of the designers leave. The experiment is considered a failure and the team is rolled into an existing team.

Option 2) The Mercenary force – you recognise that the skills and culture is so different to the existing business that you keep them separate. Different office, different structure and management. You integrate the services into the business with a service catalogue where you buy in resource from the ‘mercs’. You spend weeks trying to work out how to price it and end up with a compromise. The value is seen in the delivery, the people and the brand is protected and the services can be integrated into the business. The symbiotic relationship works for everyone and everyone is happy.

Problem: is the project managers in the main business who see that they get less margin from using the mercenaries rather than their own people. They see the credit for the good work go elsewhere so they start to try and resource the projects from their own teams. They’ve seen it done before so they repurpose people to do something similar. However, they don’t do as well so the quality drops. The new business gets less money and looks to sell things themselves and even competing with the main business. Either way, someone loses out in some revenue and after a power struggle, eventually moves are made to take it in-house.

Option 3) The club mascot – the business builds something shiny which looks great and has a small team. A huge force of marketing is put into the endeavour both external and internal. The new people feel special and existing staff aspire to join the special team. (needs to have an especially cool name).

Problem; is that it’s likely to be a cost centre and for it’s nice for a while whilst you invest lots in the venture. Eventually thoough someone asks what the business is getting as value and chances are that it slowly loses traction, funding and eventually people. You then go back to square 1.

Option 4)  The melting pot – you create nothing new and hire people into existing teams. The new people align with existing structures, process and performance management. The skills become embedded skills as with anything else and slowly the whole business starts to acquire the ability through training and engagement. The functions delivered are morphed to represent the new way of working.

Problem is; getting any people to join the team and stay with the team when they are likely to go through a tough time before their real value starts to be visible and rewarded. The whole business take a while to adapt to the new way of working and the pain of transition tends to lose some people.

So what

As with anything, Culture is the magic bullet for dealing with transformation so everybody needs to start there.

For the boring, old fashioned consultants. There needs to be a realisation the investment is a medium term plan and unless you change the whole business then ultimately, it won’t work. You maybe don’t share a flat with your new designer friend immediately but you have trips to their house and start to adapt your own for when they move in. You also have to realise that these skills are going to be absolutely core for your own future learning.

For the trendy new designers, you have to realise that it won’t be great as soon as you move in. It can be a long process to get used to something different and even longer before you are recognised for the value. In the long run though, you’ll get the real benefit so don’t jump ship immediately when you realise there’s no in-house barista made Turmeric Lattes.

I see a lot of commentary from designers extolling how corporates are ‘finally seeing the value of design’ and it’s true but you have to appreciate how becoming the mainstream changes the dynamic of what you have to do. You can look to your consultant colleagues and realise that whilst you’ve been talking about ‘service design’ for about 3 years, they’ve been building customer centric operating models for 10 years. The value of the two together is greater than the sum of its parts.

Leadership in 2017: The end of corporate leadership and the Machiavelli matrix.

The changing dynamics of how and where we work, are changing what people need in a leader.  Leaders used to inspire, inform and create an atmosphere. Do they do so now, and do you even need them to?

At some point as you go through your career, you have to make a decision about what type of a worker and what type of a leader you are going to be. The learning process is to understand more about people and different cultures, and to work out how you get the best out of those people. There are a million books and random motivational messages to support you in the process but that is all nonsense unless you can apply what they say.

As Machiavelli said you can choose to be ‘loved’, collaborative and engaging or ‘feared’ directive and imposing. Everyone ends up on that spectrum but if you are at the extreme, you won’t be effective or happy. I.e. everyone takes advantage of you or everyone hates you. (see any leadership textbook anywhere for 500 pages on variants of this).

This has not generally changed but the context around it has. To summarise the change; consider a view of distance to people. Not just emotional but physical. You can be close to your team sat in the trenches under fire from the enemy (insane client requests and visiting leadership) or you can be sat behind the lines sending instructions from headquarters.

Machiavelli matrix

Line yourself up against the model being honest about who you are and what you enjoy the most.

Me, I love being in trenches close to the people and applying the iron fist in the velvet glove approach. It’s all smiles and laughs until a line is breached and then it is fire and brimstone (not for long, then it’s back to the laughs). I’ve trained myself over the years to adapt my approach and my mindset to be good at doing that and I’m pretty happy with where I am.

Big, massive however…….

If you look at where things are going at corporates. The fundamental dynamics of people working together are changing which means that the role of leaders I think is changing too.

Change from experience to efficiency – most if not all corporates are moving towards some type of activity based working with the addition of collaborative spaces. In addition, there are multitude of articles and surveys showing the changing preference towards working from home.

The foundation for all of this is built around people becoming more efficient, better use of space, and more effective allocation of resource.  To me, this goes against a core principle that I have worked to, namely you want to enjoy yourself at work. It’s not a question of the time spent but a value judgement about what you can create in the team. I’ve got more value in the osmosis from being next to people than I ever would have getting my work done an hour earlier and going home. The 30 minute coffee discussions, the Wednesday afternoon cake competitions, the side conversations have all contributed to knowing people better,

I grew up in consulting where you would often work away from home; breakfast in the hotel, you would leave as a group in taxis to go to the office, you would leave as group and commonly all go for dinner. It was a 14 hr a day engagement with the same group of people. I probably worked for 7 of those hours but I learned more in the other 7.

The role of a leader in that context was to create an atmosphere over the whole day where everyone could contribute to more than just the work. Think about graduates in particular, if you only see them in the course of their work during the day, you miss the opportunity to see their richness of knowledge and way of thinking in other ways. I know more about the people I worked with 10 years ago than I do about the ones I did last year.

Ask yourself now in the workplace in 2017 why so many people have large noise cancelling headphones? How much time do your leaders spend engaging you outside of core working? This is a skill and an environment which is disappearing. I can completely understand the opposing argument but we haven’t replaced that old fashioned approach which an equivalent and so the skills are becoming redundant.

Information and insight – it is the same for the tools and methods which enable collaborative working. The potential is huge to improve engagement and alignment in co-production of documents or in the sharing of information.  However, the increase in volume in information does not always equate to equivalent quality and value. Look even at Linkedin and consider how much original content you see produced vs content shared. I know a huge range of people who I’ve never seen write a single thing themselves. Spend a week reading and liking only an article that was written by the poster and see how you behaviour changes.

Sharing a link to the Harvard Business Review with no comment or insight is not entirely valuable. Should I get any credit for knowing something because I’ve shared it. This is translated into corporates too. Leaders now with access to a huge range of material don’t have to produce anything or promote their own thought leadership. Even more than this, because everyone has access to all of the information, younger people no longer are turning to leaders to see what they think in the same way.

Consider, when was the last time you were asked by a junior person what you thought about something or when was the last time you shared something that you did yourself to a colleague?

Inspiration –   a role of a leader was always to inspire the people that worked for them. It was a ethos that anyone would be happy with what they were doing if they felt inspired by the leadership. There’s a great but possibly apocryphal story of someone asking a janitor in 1967 what their job was with the response being ‘I’m putting a man on the moon’. The role to inspire was essential to building that connection with the organisation.

Now with twitter and LinkedIn etc . you can connect with very important global leaders and experts. You can listen to Richard Branson’s thought of the day or assess Justin Trudeau’s utterings on foreign trade. A bit closer to home, you can see the CEO of your own companies account, what she thinks, is reading or is listening to. Younger people in particular therefore, don’t need the inspiration as much from the lower tiers of management because they think they’ve got what they need elsewhere. I don’t need to know what Keith Logan thinks about AI because I can read what Mark Zuckerberg thinks all, of, the, time.

Ask the junior people in your organisation who their business role model is. 10 years ago who would have been given a name in your organisation. Now, it’s likely to be a global CEO or a superstar TEDx er.

So then, the fundamentals for how we work have changed and we are perhaps becoming a industry of managers. So, have a think about your own organisation and look at your leaders. What is being valued and rewarded higher up and even more importantly, think about what’s important to you in a leader and think about the leader you want to be?

Harry Potter and the Organisation Design of Destiny; we are increasingly segmenting customers by behaviour but why not your own people? What you need is a sorting hat.

Consultants are now designers, designers are now consultants, an operating model is now a service design, are you a technologist or a CX delivery consultant? It’s all getting wonderfully mixed up so maybe it’s time to recognise that putting people in teams based on what they do might be yesterday’s thing. What would they do at Hogwarts?

Once you’ve been discovered as a wizard (HR recruitment process) and you’ve bought your wand (your area of SME), you arrive at Hogwarts (induction week). The first thing that happens is that you are allocated into your House (service line). Hogwarts has the benefit of a mystical Sorting Hat who allocates you based on what’s in your heart.  It’s nothing about how much you know and even what you know, it’s about who you are.  How about a corporate equivalent?

harry potter

Imagine a scenario; everyone you work with leaves the company tomorrow and goes to a new one. Do you choose to stay with the company or do you go with your colleagues? It takes an incredibly strong brand or corporate culture or level of success to ensure that you stay. Much more likely is that you would choose to go with your colleagues. People power is absolute in maintaining the culture, the performance and ultimately to get the best out of the individuals.

So pick your heads of house; if you don’t have a blend of leadership personalities and approaches then you have bigger problems so assuming that you do. Select people to be the marquee personality types to align people with. They don’t have to be the smartest or most successful but they don’t need to be, they need to be people you can look up to and see yourself in them. Maybe a Slytherin type; all confidence, cunning and black magic or a Ravenclaw type; thoughtful, intelligent and balanced.

You then allocate people based on suitability with these people; personality types, approaches, ideas and connections.

You all still go to classes together; as with the pupils at Hogwarts, you still go the same classes with each other. Your knowledge is separated from the House you are in. There are experts in Potions in every house who end up together, but they go back to their common rooms to get support and build their personality.

The work you do and the projects you are in can be kept away to your house and managed in a more procedural numbers driven way. When skills are becoming increasingly connected, it’s already a challenge to distinguish teams and the structures are becoming increasingly arbitrary anyway.

Create a house competition; it’s human nature that you are not going to like everyone in your organisation (there will also be people who don’t like you). Rather than try to fix the unfixable, embrace the competition between different teams. Gamification often hits a wall when it’s kept in a small group of people or where it’s not visible enough. Perhaps the Slytherin team needs a strong individual competitive environment with league tables etc whilst the Hufflepuff gang would hate that. Perhaps they would prefer collective incentives. To give you an example; ask yourself, would you rather have a competition in your team where everyone gets a $1000 bar tab if your team hits a target or the top two performers get a $1000 Michelin star 12 course degustation menu?

You can build the right incentives for individuals within the teams because people are fundamentally driven by different things.

Sounds magic right but it’ll never work

It’s already happening, have a think about the current graduate recruitment process where experience and content is loosest. There are lots of conversations about bringing together grads into a single group or having them rotate. Even the process tends to pick the grads first and then you allocate them into teams. This is a very small step from Hogwarts.

How about performance reviews, we are always trying to connect qualitative and quantitative measures. Why not separate them completely? You get you exam marks from your classes (quant) and you get a report from your house master (qual) and the overall success of the business is measured by the house competitions (your numbers).

Disruption is everywhere for clients but we’ve not necessarily changed enough about how we structure ourselves to deliver that disruption. Tacking on a design bit, blending tech teams with non tech, carving out bits and pieces. Why not something new?

PS As regards enabling services, I am wary of making to suggestion but how about ‘house elves’. Effective, efficient, loyal and actually much more magically proficient than most of the wizards and witches. Comments about remuneration are also worthy of discussion………

Darth Vader’s approach to a two speed Digital corporate culture

‎Say what you like about Darth Vader, he ran a tight ship. He was consistently results driven and he delivered feedback (usually fatal) in a timely manner rather than wait for the Death Star half yearly appraisals. I also never saw him punish a stormtrooper, not one single lower level employee, Darth reserved his ire for the senior members of the team, make changes quickly to improve performance and always, always promoted from within. I’m sure he was seen as a wonderfully charismatic figure by the rank and file and he was always diligent in applying the wishes of the Emperor. He is therefore, a fine example of a CXO in modern corporate business.

‎He is a strong symbol externally to the market, he works his leadership hard but never seeks to micro-manage. It is also impossible to challenge the remarkable political and technological achievements made by the ‘Empire’. The creation of a seriously killer app (literally) and the subvention of the entire system of government without military intervention.,

‎This year perhaps more than in the past 10 years; conversations about moving corporate culture have been more prevalent. There is a general realisation in the power of the force (culture) being required to adapt to a digital, customer centric world as a pathway to Digital Transformation. If you add the technology of the empire and the scale of managing the galaxy without getting the people right. You’ll never defeat the rebellion.

‎However, with all the will in world you aren’t going to change everyone to the right culture in the time available before the next wave of innovation and progress arrives; so do we have to take advice from Darth?

Your clone army

‎You need to respect your clones – the basis of the stormtroopers was a clone army which was superior to the robot equivalent as the power to think creatively was preferred. These clones are easy to manage due to training, repeated performance and a strict adherence to orders. All due respect to them, they aren’t going to progress up the ranks and actually, you don’t need them to. You need to keep them focussed on tasks, reward them well for performance (shore leave on Naiboo maybe). You want them to focussed on details, rigorous and engaged. Success is commonly it’s own reward and pride at every level in the organisation’s performance is hugely powerful.

Your leaders and your leading edge

‎You also need some charisma and some fun as you live your values – All of the lead bad guys in Star Wars are gloriously compelling – gravel voiced with masks, red spiky faces and cool double lightsabres, giant worm things or Christopher Lee. They all have their gimmicks, their specialist skills and they all have charisma and people willing to fight for them. Perhaps even more importantly, the top, top guys all have a messianic pursuit of a single corporate value – the force. Every action is set and measured against the instinct and the strength which comes from this single unifying spirit.

‎Allow Darth and the bosses to lead the way but where you need to put the money is in the culture is in the ideas people? The person with the crazy idea for the Death Star would have had some challenging early steering group meetings in the concept phase. How much steel? How much power? How many special explosive crystal things? How long? There needed to be the culture in place to allow for such an idea to be brought up in the first place and then to get the support behind the project…… There is also the remarkable autonomy given to the lead engineers so that such a creation could be made even when it has a major design flaw (single shot to the exhaust vent blows it up – even though it’s probably not, and goes into Beta testing when it’s not finished (Return of the Jedi – geeky reference this one).

‎So, perhaps it’s time to accept that a balanced utopia in the your corporate culture is not what you need in the first instance. You need to create a 2 speed culture which allows one group to focus on what they are good at and another group to be the (Death) Star team. In time perhaps you can move everyone, but success brings it’s own challenges. Don’t believe me – look at how Google has split their business into the money making bit and the ideas bit and their corporate motto was just one word away from the Empire’s – Do(n’t) be evil!