Getting You onto the Front Foot

Getting on an early train this morning, with the dawn seeming a long way away, it's encouraging to know that we do have a choice in how we choose to look at things.

Like many people, I'm not a big fan of the shorter, damper, colder days of winter. But since one of my hobbies is gardening, I know how important this time of year is. From an emotional point of view, it provides its own moments of delight - the therapeutic cleaning of the greenhouse, the exquisite plant sculptures emerging after a strong frost, the break from the constantly assault of weeds.

For practical reasons too, winter is invaluable, indeed essential. Many seeds need very low temperatures before they will germinate, the cold kills off harmful bacteria and viruses and the garden laid bare gives the perfect opportunity to plan changes for making next year. And perhaps not least, the cloudiest, greyest days help us better to anticipate and then enjoy the sunnier months ahead.

Are You in a FFO (Front Foot Organisation)

It struck us recently that there are fundamentally two kinds of organisations to work in - those which are "on the front foot" and those which are "on the back foot".

I think you'll know what these phrases mean - most people do when we mention them - though their origins are not that clear. They may be taken from fencing or combat sports (boxing perhaps), where being on the front foot has connotations of being on the attack, moving forward. Being on the back foot implies you stepping away from your opponent, pushed towards the ropes. Or they may come from cricket. When a batsman can get onto the front foot because the bowler is slow or the pitch is easy to play on, he can generally score shots more easily. Someone bowling fast at 90mph and bouncing the ball towards your head generally gets you onto the back foot.

Which type of organisation are you in? One on the front foot - proactive, spotting opportunities, celebrating success, hopeful, encouraging each other, confident with customers, staff and stakeholders? Or on the back foot - reactive, worried about failure, spotting problems, under attack, lacking confidence, not getting on with each other?

In our experience, it's almost certainly more fun and fulfilling to work in a FFO (front foot organisation). Let us know if you disagree!

What can you do if your organisation is on the back foot?

  • Option 1: If you're a leader, start to focus on the positive rather than the negative. Have a look at this: Try to emphasise the 6Fs of the FFO - being fast, focused, forthright, fun, forgiving and feeding back.
  • Option 2: See what you can do to become a FFI (front foot individual) by looking at things differently and changing what you say and what you do.
  • Option 3: Find a FFO to go and work for.

FFO Principles into Practice: Lessons from an idenk Colleague

David Dowe joined The European Division of one of the world's best know  consumer electronics companies in 2001. He took leadership of a team that was operating on the back foot - there was a downturn in the market, the group had not been winning much new business for a number of years - the knives were out! Within the group a culture of blame had been allowed to develop - it was characterised by continual reference to old conflicts. Interestingly the group had been reorganised many times to try and fix the structural difficulties, new processes had been invented designed to help people work better together, but adherence to these was minimal and indeed they became the focus of much of the angst.

Amongst all this David saw a huge amount of individual talent - many people had been with the company for more than 10 years - they knew how to do their jobs well. The culture change that he and others on the management team led was not effected overnight - it took a year to start to see real differences, two years before the majority would accept that things really were different. It was based not on loudly preaching a positive mantra (to which most would have reacted with negativity), but subtly and consistently turning people's attention to positive things going on around them. Individuals were supported in moving to the front foot, not by being micro managed against objectives, but by being allowed to design their own targets - perhaps a counterintuitive measure in such a tough market. The customer viewpoint was made central to all meetings - externalising the challenges everyone faced. Management continually talked to staff about their colleagues!  Not in the negative and divisive way which is so common but by mentioning things they had done well and highlighting great skills they had. At no point was anyone told that 'they should be more positive' - there was just a shift of attention towards things that were helpful. No behaviours were banned - poor behaviour was simply ignored where possible. When the team were operating on the front foot, they didn't care so much about many of the old tensions and divisions. People became more accepting of each other, decisions were made more quickly, confidence increased and over time performance improved.

Lexicon of Leadership

So F is for the Front Foot Organisation in our Lexicon of Leadership. The others we have outlined in our recent business briefings are Satisfaction, Knowledge, Connectedness, Reactions, and Getting Things Done. Contact Phil ( for the slides - and story - we find communicates the essence of the FFO simply and powerfully.  Also, for those who are missing 'Matrix of the Month' ask Phil for a 2x2 of the options outlined above!

Credit Crunch Campaign Room - Getting on the Front Foot in Recessionary Times

The credit crunch has left many individuals and organisations feeling on the back foot. You've already cut back on non-essential spending, redoubled your sales effort and perhaps embarked on a programme of reducing headcount. You may well feel that the organisation is in survival mode - individuals are worried, anxious and fearful about what the future might hold. Perhaps you're finding that many are waiting to see what happens next - keeping their heads down until the storm blows over - these are classic responses in an uncertain environment.

As one chief executive we heard from recently put it; "the ground has dropped away from under our feet; we thought we knew where we were going, but to be honest we now lack the confidence to take the next steps. I'm just hoping we get through this".

How can you get the company breathing again, positive that whatever the future holds, everyone feels well-equipped to capitalise on the opportunities, the workforce motivated, ready for the challenge, engaged in the uncertainty?

idenk has created an environment to encourage and support a pro-active response - nicknamed the credit crunch campaign room - it brings together groups of staff to capture the uncertainty, develop alternative views of the future and then analyse the opportunities and risks they hold for the organisation.

The environment is designed to be energetic, innovative and inclusive. Participants emerge feeling more enthusiastic, confident and engaged - whilst understanding the challenges ahead in more depth. Developing shared visions of the future can also lead to a greater sense of shared ownership for the future of the organisation.

As one executive put it: "Constantly reviewing the budget and turning the screw on sales is exhausting - this gives us the opportunity to take a really positive approach to the current difficulties".

For advice on creating a campaign room in your organisation, please contact

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