Welcome to our July Business Briefing.

Honest and timely conversations

In the run up to the start of the Olympics in London last week, the triple jumper Phillips Idowu caused consternation with the GB team coaches for not turning up at training camp amidst rumours of a medal-threatening injury.

The GB team head coach said “clearly there has been a breakdown in communication” showing surprise that so little had been heard directly from the athlete about his condition and preparedness for the competition.

It seems this sort of breakdown in communication is endemic across all walks of life. Take three other recent situations.

The Home Secretary was surprised earlier this year when it emerged that certain passport controls had been relaxed by the UK Borders Agency.

The Chief Executive of Barlcays Bank was surprised a couple of months ago by the LIBOR rate fixing that some of his traders were involved in.

And less than three weeks have passed since G4S’s Chief Executive surprised the Home Office by telling them at short notice that they couldn’t recruit enough personnel to fulfil their security contract for the Olympic Games.

What all these situations seem to lack are conversations about the state of affairs which are both timely and honest.

Why did Theresa May not get to know sooner about the border control trials?

Why did Bob Diamond not get to know sooner about the rate fixing?

Why did Nick Buckles not get to know sooner about the problems with recruitment?

Why did Charles Van Commenee not get to know sooner about the injury to Phillips Idowu?

We sometimes go to great lengths to avoid telling those who need to know, exactly how we think things are going. We are not honest with ourselves and with them. We speak up too late so that they are forced to react in haste.

Of course, our first reaction to something not being right is that we want the problem to go away. So we might ignore the symptoms for a while or devote our attention elsewhere.

Or we might transfer our anxiety that things are wrong or not working to plan onto those further down the organisational hierarchy. Let’s pass the responsibility for fixing things to the project manager, the more junior staff, the associates or whoever else can be found to sort this out.

Or we might simply not know what to do. My colleagues seem to be doing something a bit dodgy – should I speak to them or to someone else or is it not my business? And if we don’t know what to do to resolve the situation - to challenge colleagues, to fix the project, to get things on the right track again – we may be afraid of asking for help and unwilling to say “I can’t do it”.

Or we might tell ourselves that actually this is not that serious an issue, “I’m sure if we told them, they wouldn’t be that concerned”.

All of these reactions lead to delays in having the important honest and timely conversations that save a lot of grief further down the line.

What might be going on? What questions could you ask about how your organisation would react?

First, what is the level of trust between people? Between those working in the same team, across teams, and between junior and more senior managers. Patrick Lencioni’s work on dysfunctional teams emphasises the need for trust as the fundamental building block of a successful working relationship. Building trust with those that report to you should be the first task of any executive, including CEOs, team coaches and Secretaries of State.

Second, how has disruptive, negative or questionable behaviour been dealt with in the recent past? Actions speak louder than words. If people see such behaviour ignored by senior management then expect the necessary conversations not to happen. It’s even worse if the ‘stars’ of the organisation are allowed to behave any way they like and still get rewarded for their ‘performance’. The responsibility lies with leaders to set an example by holding each other to account and dealing firmly with behaviours that go against the organisation’s stated values. More and more businesses are realising that it makes sense to reward, and recruit on the basis of, behaviour (attitude) at least as much as performance (aptitude).

Third, have your people had the chance to practice responding to these sort of situations before they actually arise in reality. It may be that your organisation has never faced a big crisis. Don’t be smug! The best way to avoid these disasters is to work hard at anticipating where they might arise and then planning and rehearsing how you can avoid them. Staff need to know how to react, who they can turn to, which processes and protocols to kick start. Help them to think about the crucial conversations they will need to have before they are faced with the critical moment they have to have them.

Getting ready for the future

One of the best tools for helping people imagine future events and how they can react to them is scenario planning. It’s an approach that we have been using since the mid-90s.

Over the last six months, we’ve enjoyed working on two projects which have used scenario planning as a way of thinking about some very big issues:

Both bits of work have generated lots of resources that are freely available from the websites for you to learn from or adapt for your own strategic thinking. This includes trends presentations, strategy and planning templates and video clips.

The projects have also made use of some of the more recent developments in communicating ideas to inform and influence others. Examples here are the Prezi from the higher education work and the ‘Journey Planner’ route map that shares the vision and collective actions emerging around health and social care (click on the images to see more detail).

PreziEoF Journey Planner

If you’re thinking of doing some scenario planning work or are interested more generally in how some of its ideas can be used to support your thinking on strategy or testing of business plans, then please email who will be happy to share examples of the tools and techniques that can take advantage of.

The Suits you

A few of you will know that Phil and Ross play in a 7-piece ‘funk, soul and rock ‘n’ roll’ band called ‘The Suits’. Indeed, some of our best stories and ‘top tips’ for team working come from the experience of negotiating playlists, delegating gig set-up duties, accommodating individual playing styles and dealing with feedback – on performance and from the equipment!

Why are we telling you this? Well it’s a shameless opportunity to search for fun and interesting gigs to play at. If you know of a big event coming up that is looking for an entertaining band that will get everyone dancing, then do email us! (see some photos and music here, including the recent Harpers Wine Awards ceremony in London).

Perspective, Paris and improvement

Here are three of our recent blogs available from the idenk Blog. You can subscribe for this here. You can now also opt to receive these via Twitter.

Trying to see the other point of view…

We all see things differently – our mental maps on the world and thoughts and feelings on issues of importance clearly differ (eg from population growth to organic veg to mini breaks). However there are viewpoints that can be clumped together. Marketeers know that, and we see it in how they like to think about meaningful market segments.

TESCO understand this especially well – and in a more detailed way – and have used that insight to change some of the rules of retail (by selling from Value to Finest in the same store, and building links with customers through their reward scheme).

However, how far do you try to challenge your point of view? Regularly, on a daily basis?

Three tests…

1) How many newspapers or media sources do you turn to each week? Are they just those that support your point of view, or do you seek out those that might challenge you? Is it just The Guardian? What about the tabloids? The Daily Mail? Spiked as well as The Spectator? When you see a newspaper lying about that you don’t usually read do you look the other way, pick it up to see what you disagree with or read it fascinated to discover another angle?

2) And when it comes to road use, how many of these do you do each week: walk on a pavement, run on a track, cycle on the road, drive a car, take a bus, catch a train, fly by plane? Why the interest? Road (or pavement) rage comes, we believe, from the dominance of one mode of travel – and one perspective – in our lives…

3) If you are invited to a formal debate (as one of us was recently on “Is greed destroying Cambridge”), do you want the legal or political approach. The former is where those debating are given a brief and have to argue a case even if they don’t personally believe it. The second is where the apologist and advocate argue for something they (supposedly) believe in. Whilst both can help us refine our thinking (as does the less adversarial use of the de Bono Six Thinking Hats), we tend to think the former, legal, ‘take the brief’ approach is more interesting!

So, if we are going to try and see another perspective, we first have to understand our own orientation. The next digest picks up one common tool that helps us do this…MBTI

I’m not crazy, I am just not you

There is one tool to understand differences between people that we find clients have heard of most. That is MBTI – Myers Briggs Type Indicator. There is LOADS about this online. This summary here is what we use to refresh and introduce newcomers to the model. There are four things it covers in helping explore the preferences that contribute to who we are, and why we can find others so maddening or delightful.

As well as the reluctance to be pigeon holed, that some have against this model, there are a whole lot of ways we differ it doesn’t address too:

  • the standard sociological six: class, gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexuality
  • and some others: creativity, curiosity, energy, perseverance, propensity to take responsibility, humour, drive for ego and power and status….

Thinking of home and work examples, what do you think your preferences might be….?

Philosophical pondering about (not in) Paris

A few of us were recently looking at some buildings near the South Bank in London. One in particular reminded us of Paris and Baron Haussmann’s amazing vision, translated into reality.

However, many of the Parisian poor suffered as their communities were demolished. This raises an interesting philosophical question as to whether that suffering of thousands many years ago was justified by the long-term enjoyment that the city’s architecture has brought to millions decade after decade.


Improvement mindset?

Recently, when staying in a hotel, I went out for an early morning run on a very hot and humid day. On return, the doorman offered me a glass of water and a towel. When I expressed my gratitude and surprise, he said: “we try to find ways to improve what we do all the time.”

Do you have an inclination to seek out improvement? A mindset to try and make things in your sphere of control that bit better?

Best wishes

Phil and Ross
July 2012

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