Tag Archives: Employee engagement

Leadership is the answer

The answer is leadership development – now what’s the question?

It’s often said that there’s no one way to deliver leadership development – and our clients are certainly prime examples of that diversity.

Leadership is the answer

  • We write ‘how-to’ guides for annual review and performance conversations – where clients want scripted solutions.
  • We teach flexible ‘manager as coach’ skills where situations are more fluid and less predictable.
  • We deliver ‘Level 7 PGCertificates in leadership’ where our clients want a mixture of skills and strategic thinking.

The one constant, however, is the need to equip leaders with the behaviours and skills to deal with what’s in front of them – today.

Without breaking the bank, losing half your staff to the latest management fad, or your top talent to competitors with deeper pockets.

The world is changing fast.  I refuse to use the ‘B’ word.  But I can guarantee it affects us all.

Better, more tangible leadership will steady the ship because it impacts on all aspects of your operations – individuals, teams, departments, the organisation as a whole – and its impact on the community and society around you.

And there’s a vital shift of attitudes that underpin successful leadership development programmes away from

  • Blaming others to personal responsibility
  • Waiting for someone else to rubber stamp solutions towards taking initiative
  • Latest fads to evidence-based leadership behaviours, consistently applied.

Recently from some very busy managers told me how committed they are to applying their skills.  Despite the challenges, everyone who reported applying the skills also reported benefits: ‘a really positive experience’; ‘it really motivated and inspired me’.

It’s great when managers feel that they have invested their time well.  Such that, even when they feel time pressures, they apply their learning.

What most struck me was how managers noticed that they can become enablers.  They simply support others to solve their own problems and feel better able to sort out their own issues themselves.

This sense of personal responsibility isn’t innate in everyone.  The good news is that, like every other leadership behaviour, it can be learned and applied.

Another client reported that, in every department where our programmes have been introduced, productivity has improved; employee engagement has risen and employee costs (sickness, absenteeism, legal) have fallen.

So if your job is to improve the performance of your people and teams – whatever the challenge – start with leadership.

And if you want tangibly better leadership, get in touch. 

You’ll find us at +44 (0) 345 077 2980 option 1, or email info@thefortongroup.com.

Leadership under pressure

Five steps to leading under pressure

One of the reasons I love talking with younger people about leadership is that they’re very transparent about their expectations.  While we’re busy devising development programmes, setting learning goals and more, they’re focused on the nitty gritty of job titles, office size and company car potential.

I love that pragmatic nature, and I’m always amused by how we expect our careers to flow smoothly in an ever-upward direction, when reality shows that our lives stutter from one missed opportunity to the totally-unexpected open doors.

Designing programmes is all about that flow of the development journey, and yet a recent conversation had me thinking about all the steps that can be missed because they don’t ‘count’ in typical leadership programme design.

Step 1: Talking about leadership

The way people – young and old – talk about leadership is a clear indicator of the gaps between expectation and reality.  If our potential leaders are stuck in the ‘leader as hero’ paradigm; or have outdated assumptions about gender, age or cultural diversity, we need to shift the conversation.

Listening is vital, so that the shifts needed are clear, and can be woven into programme design.

Step 2: Seeing past symbolic leadership

It’s not just expectations about having your name on the door; a better cubicle in the office, or a fancy title.  These ambitions are natural side-effects to having career goals.  The key here is to ensure that people coming to your leadership development programmes can recognise them for what they are: symbolic gestures to indicate a level of accountability and responsibility.  A reward for the challenges they will face.

Expecting to give someone a new job title; a different position on the organisation chart and a rise is not enough, on its own.

However, working more closely with your compensations and benefits team as part of the leadership development programme helps put these elements in a leadership context, rather than making them the focus.

Step Three: Knowing what ‘leadership skills’ are

Programme participants need to know and understand the behavioural expectations you have of them as leaders.

To appreciate ‘self-leadership’ as a precursor to leading others.  How some behaviour levels can derail success, and some have transformational impacts.

And how ‘leadership’ isn’t just about performance, but about evoking inspiration, motivation, and being a role model for others.

  • About giving and receiving feedback for continuous improvement.
  • About attitudes towards accountability and responsibility, and using that intrinsic motivation to drive our behaviours.
  • About emotional intelligence and its role in evoking empathy, maintaining good humour and being resilient in the face of challenge.

Oh, and talking about failure.  And avoiding perfectionism.  How we don’t need every single competence at the highest level; just good enough for the job we’re in right now.  And having a ‘development mindset’.

Step Four: Practicing leadership behaviours

All the theory; all the models; all the ideas in the world aren’t going to make better leaders.  It’s one thing to have understanding of a subject, it’s quite another to see when, where, and how to put leadership skills into practice.

Our leadership development programmes are as much a place to practice those skills, based on the real issues that our participants bring, as they are to explore, discuss and debrief on the theory.

High on interaction, every activity is designed to have an immediate, tangible benefit.  An opportunity to give and receive feedback, and a chance to debrief on how it can be applied back in the participants’ real world.

Step Five: Delivering leadership under pressure

So few of the situations leaders find themselves in these days are predictable.  It’s become the new definition of leadership.  The predictable has been automated; or can be delegated to, and managed by, the team.

And unpredictability brings pressure.  Raised voices; uncertainty; fear.  And this is why the best leadership development programmes extend into delivery support.  Because whatever gets rehearsed in the classroom, you can bet that it’ll be different on the front line.

We provide group action learning for participants, so that they can debrief and learn from each other’s real world issues.  What works; what doesn’t work.  Tips and tricks for success.

Long gone are the days when learning was about memorising facts and regurgitating them on paper.  No ‘looking over someone’s shoulder’.  Keeping your ideas to yourself in case someone ‘stole’ them and took the credit.

Today’s leadership development is all about collaboration; ideas sharing and celebrating success.  But every step has to be in place for better leadership to be a reality.

And, while people ask us to tailor our programmes to their organisation – which we’re very happy to do – we also remind them that their biggest resource is their people, who will automatically tailor the content to get the most out of their development.

You’ll benefit from better leadership, more effective and productive teams, and higher employee engagement scores too.

At Forton we change cultures and support leadership development from bite-sized to week-long events.  And we can show you how to demonstrate return on your investment (ROI).

To experience this for yourself pick up the phone.  You’ll find us at +44 (0) 845 077 2980 option 1, or email info@thefortongroup.com.

Overcoming roadblocks in Leadership Development

Leadership development: get past the roadblocks to attracting and retaining talent

Each time I update my know-how on unconscious bias with Wikipedia, it seems like they’ve added more categories and refined the definitions further.  I’ve given up trying to remember them all…

…And now the Nobel Peace prize-winner for cognitive biases, Daniel Kahneman, has introduced a new concept, which he calls ‘noise’. 

Put simply, ‘noise’ is inconsistency in decision-making.

It’s linked to bias in that more experienced people are more prone to it.  They think they’re better at decision-taking, and consistency, than they actually are. 

It takes me back to the reason why I’m so passionate about organisational development generally, and leadership development in particular. 

My early experiences of corporate life were filled with examples of inconsistent decision-making. It disengages people – and costs an inordinate amount of time as people invest emotionally in trying to understand why a decision has gone the way it has.  

Yes, there was sexism, lack of cultural diversity and all the biases that are now better-acknowledged in society generally, and the world of work in particular.  I cringe when I glimpse those 1970’s TV revivals, as it brings back so many moments I’d rather forget. 

My belief is that a need for consistency is linked to our innate desire for ‘fairness’, which most of humanity seems to share.  If we apply a rule consistently we’re perceived as ‘fair’, even when everyone appears to ‘lose’ as a result.

Even peace negotiations have run successfully on this principle. 

Kahneman’s book (yes, called ‘Noise’, to be published October 2016) talks about the estimated costs, versus the actual costs, to an organisation of this interference.  Leaders assumed that inconsistency was costing around 5-10%, when actually the costs are more like 40-60%. 

So I’m delighted that Kahneman, and his team, have done all the heavy lifting in terms of scholarship, research and validity.  

I can see the particular relevance of ‘noise’ to talent identification and performance management. 

If we can improve the quality of our decisions around identifying, filtering and selecting talent for management and leadership roles, we’ll reduce the costs of staff turnover, improve the leadership culture, and raise employee engagement levels too.

What’s particularly interesting to me is that the solutions are simple.  Just identify the practical variables and find a way to apply them systematically.  And that’s it.

Don’t wait for outcome data.  Don’t apply weight to one practical variable over another. 

The implications of this approach are issues such as:

  • Train Managers and Leaders to identify talent consistently
  • Develop HR team to filter and select professionally
  • Provide checklists for the systematic application of judgement
  • Automate, such as by using consistent assessment tools 

At Forton we support clients to identify the relevant variables to their talent pool selection, and performance management processes.  Then we provide the training and skills support to create a culture of fairness.  

And we don’t stop there; our 4D model includes the practical support leaders and managers need to apply these skills, consistently. 

This delivers more effective and productive teams,and higher employee engagement scores too. 

At Forton we change cultures and support leadership development through bite-sized, half-day and week-long events.  And if you need to demonstrate return on investment (ROI) evidence, we can show you how. 

To experience this for yourself pick up the phone.  You’ll find us at +44 (0) 845 077 2980 option 1, or email info@thefortongroup.com

Where do the best ideas come from?

We are fortunate to live in a lovely village in the heart of England, close to the centre of the UK motor industry. Not so much a mass-manufacturing area these days, instead there are specialist ‘advanced engineering’ firms.  They support projects like the Formula 1 teams in nearby Silverstone.  Our neighbours in the village include several engineers, some retired.

There’s an admirable perfectionism about these people, though it makes for a very competitive environment sometimes. They also demonstrate very well the notion of transferable skills. Continue reading

The best leaders have a hinterland

“Hinterland?”  You’re probably wondering what on earth I’m talking about. Denis Healey, a retired politician from the UK, and his wife Edna, first used the word about Margaret Thatcher. Their view was that she lacked a real connection with people because she had no interests outside of politics.

Denis and Edna firmly believed that people had to have a breadth and depth of knowledge on other matters, be that sport, religion, art, culture or learning – Denis was a keen photographer. Continue reading

What can leaders learn from dogs barking at a postal carrier?

I had the great pleasure of running one of our Leadership Coaching Programs in Toronto last month.  Sunshine; great location; good company – what more could I want?

I was staying with our friends and colleagues, Cyndi and Ross, who have two delightful Golden Labradors. This has to be one of the friendliest breeds of dog. They love being around people, and are very enthusiastic and expressive. Continue reading

Leadership and listening beyond the words

Last week, we launched our flagship leadership coach training product, Ignite, in Italy. I had the great pleasure of spending time with our partners in Rome.  They ran the course for a dozen leaders and coaches keen to learn our model.  My job was to listen, observe and support – and my biggest challenge was the listening.

I think it would be fair to say that learning new languages has never been one of my strengths – although I’m happy to be convinced this is merely a belief, and look forward to some offers of great coaching on this topic! Over the years, about the furthest I have got is to learn how to order a beer and ask for the bill. I’m proud to say I can now do this in eight different languages.

However, this limited vocabulary was going to be of little use to me as I observed my colleagues run the program. I had also promised to say a few words to kick the thing off, and thought it might be a bit early in the day for a beer, so I added another phrase to my vocabulary – “Mi dispiace, non parlo italiano” which ( I hope) means “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Italian”.

They were very tolerant of me and, after I’d finished, I sat quietly at the back of the room and watched the experts get on with running the course. As I was listening, I saw what a great practical example this was of what we always knew about learning – that it is about more than just the words.

It is often said that only 7% of the success of our communications is down to the words we use. Albert Mehrabian published research in 1981 where the 7-38-55 rule first appeared – 7% of the message is conveyed by words, 38% by tone of voice, and 55% by body language. In fact, his research was much narrower, about how we convey and interpret feelings – the rule determines how much we like someone when they’re talking about their feelings. It’s been incorrectly applied more widely over the years.

However, other studies have come up with a range of different ratios showing the importance of words versus the non-verbal elements and there clearly is a contribution to the success of our communication from both. When we deliver our leadership coach training programme, we are always flexing our style between trainer, facilitator and coach. My inability to understand Italian became less important as I could clearly see my colleagues using these different styles.

It was a great reminder about some core lessons about listening. It’s a vital skill for coaches to have and, of course, for leaders too. There are many reasons why this is so. For example, how often do we hear about major disasters that have ruined the reputation of companies where somebody in the organisation could see it was going to happen but nobody listened to them.

Also, when you think back to the great bosses, that you have had, my guess is that one quality they all share was that you felt listened to, and that builds loyalty and engagement.

The good news is that it’s possible to build this muscle – and the bad news is it needs constant practice. If you’d like to look at slightly different approach to improving your listening, then I’d recommend  “The Listening Book” by W.A. Mathieu.

I’d be really interested to hear your tips on building the skill of listening; how it impacts on your leadership, and any books you’d recommend. Buon ascolto!”

Employee engagement – the key to organisational success

One of my coaching clients works for possibly one of the worst bosses in the world.  Their colleagues spend all day playing computer games.   The physical environment of the office isn’t great.  Yet despite all that, this client loves their work; they keep putting the hours in, they keep churning work out, they remain sanguine about the surroundings and just exude positivity.   They are a real pleasure to be with.    Whatever they have, I wish I could bottle it; because their behaviour under those circumstances is rare. Continue reading