The Winter Solstice has always been a very testing time of year for people in the Northern hemisphere, where most of the mythology surrounding the period originates.

You don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate that, as the light dwindles and the days draw shorter and increasingly colder, it becomes increasingly tougher for everyone physically and emotionally. This is why people cleverly invented many of the traditions we now associate with the time like twinkling lights; the giving of gifts; indulgent behaviour and yes, the focus on goodwill towards one another. Yes, Indeed, it should be a time when people put aside their differences and group together to help one another through into the new year and the green shoots of Spring and renewal.

 

2023 seems to have been an especially tough year, for many, certainly judging by our cross-sector experience. It has often been made worse by unpredictability and the prevalence of identity politics and the exaggeration of difference to create otherness and perpetuate division in the interests of greed. But decent people know there’s always another, more hopeful and positive way.

 

The Mosaic proposition and approach to leadership development is based on the understanding that sustainable organisation cultures stem from unity of vision and common purpose. Yet they also thrive on embracing difference and inclusion. And that’s how we should view the unique and important rites, norms and rituals that shine like totems and beacons to steer us through the tough times and changing demands we all face.

 

2024 will probably not be any easier as the many forces that surround us all remain disappointingly chaotic and unstable. We may not be able to manage them all, but we can all change the way we react to them and, whatever happens, can continue to listen, learn and adapt.

 

Something else that we can all control is the way we apply our personal agency and energy. Regardless of how different others are and how they bring their traits and habits, norms and preferences to our “table”, if we respond from a place of positivity, respect, kindness and a willingness to try to improve together, we’re half way to overcoming the worst that life can throw at us and will be more receptive to spot the opportunities, the magical moments of lights and inspiration that we’re all capable of.

So our festive message to you, whether you’re reading this as a client, partner, colleague or someone we’ve yet to meet is simple: whatever your culture, belief system, background or aspirations for the future, the team at Mosaic would like to wish you a happy, peaceful, and fulfilling season and we hope that the new year is filled with opportunities to tap into your full potential, whatever role you play.

 

Here’s to you and your leadership journey and we look forward to sharing stories with you in the weeks and months ahead.

 

All the very best from Kate, Ian and the Mosaic team.

Times are tough, right?

So what’s the point of reviewing performance?

Any business founder or forward- thinking CEO will tell you that cultivating, expanding and then sustaining a business brings many challenges.

 

These are amplified during periods of perpetual pressure.

But why does the simple act of plugging employees into the core goals of the business present as a dark and troublesome chore, just when you need your team to step up?

 

It’s tricky assigning goals to people for many reasons. With five generations working together, many employees resent alignment, authority and accountability and especially don’t like to be told what to do. Yet decent performance has very little to do with a good “telling to” .

 

The golden thread connecting business goals to individual objectives really should be what entices employees to go the extra mile, the stuff that could make the critical difference to the business. But why do employees hate appraisals?

And why does the very concept of a performance review or process give so many managers sleepless nights?

 

Well, the simple answer is: they’re not skilled or confident enough to operate the process properly.

 

The competencies required are seldom cultivated or taught and the process becomes laden with negativity, especially when employees don’t have the same skin in the game as their line managers looking to set their goals.

As recently as last year, a major global consultancy firm claimed that over half the business leaders they consulted were considering abandoning their performance review process completely.

 

  1. When pushed, they gave reasons like:
    1. “It’s not worth the time needed to fill out the forms”
    2. “The process leads to divisive and negative conversations that undermine morale”
    3. “ Younger employees especially, struggle with any hint of authority”

As a consequence, some high-profile organisations are experimenting with letting performance reviews slide.

While it may be trendy to bash appraisals, is it fair or even wise to undermine the process?
In my view, it’s madness, especially now.

 

So let me (briefly) debunk the excuses:

1. Time: It’s no surprise to me that the same leaders who blame process and can’t find the time often complain how hard it is to attract and retain employees or to cultivate a performance culture. Their behaviour is clearly the challenge, not the forms. What is more important than focus and encouragement, improvement and adjustment?
Their leaders need to re-frame the process; ensure every employee has clear and evolving goals and objectives and that they review them regularly with their line manager in short, focused sessions rather than treating it as an annual chore.

 

2. Negativity: Feedback and coaching skills don’t come naturally to most. If your process is driving cynicism, you’re not doing it right. Consider training or leadership coaching based on simple principles.

 

3. Authority: Again, positioning is key and this reaction suggests that your line managers need some development support. Accountability is a non-negotiable for all employees and if communicated appropriately, it should be a source of recognition and appreciation, a positive that bonds and inspires.

 

It’s a shocking realisation for some, I know, but companies really don’t exist solely for the benefits of their employees. Their purpose is to deliver the vision and objectives of the organisation. Hopefully their goals are balanced enough to include social and colleague metrics and will predominantly be linked to all-important customer and shareholder satisfaction. Even third-sector institutions get how important balance is.

 

The needs of colleagues, owners, customers and other stakeholders shouldn’t be mutually exclusive and won’t be seen that way, if the leaders are doing their job well.

 

The performance management system is a critical people process. It should help create and then cultivate the golden thread between corporate vision and employee contracts to drive performance, recognition and reward.

So it’s not only unwise to ignore PM.

It’s dangerously irresponsible.

 

We’ve recently helped one of the region’s largest building organisations re-construct their leadership development programme on the back of their approach to performance management. They’ve won awards for the resulting process. Their directors credit the resulting behaviour as the primary reason for their counter-cyclical positive performance as a business.

So if you’re tempted by the dark lure of the cynical chatter, try concentrating on re-engineering the way your leaders engage with others about their performance instead.

As their highly-rated HRD is fond of saying:
“it ain’t what you do but the way that you do it”.

                              How are your results?

 

Ian Buckingham is Mosaic’s Strategy Partner and Consultancy lead. and the CIPD’s former #HRFixer.

 

This article was originally commissioned by our client Bradley Hall for  Portfolio North magazine. Do connect with them on Linkedin for property and business updates from across the North and North East.

 

Decisiveness and the quality of decision-making is, not surprisingly, in the top half of Mosaic’s annual poll of Future Fit Leadership traits.

After all, it’s an unavoidable part of the role of any leader, to somehow make sense of the storm that includes: situation, context, circumstances, options and inputs and to come to a conclusion about a course of action that remains true to the official trajectory that the leader has subscribed to.

 

Yet it’s especially difficult, messy and lonely when that leader happens to work in the people professions, as many of our clients do.

 

The Mosaic team is drawn from practitioners who have all, at some stage, trodden similar paths to our clients, whether in the agency worlds or other sectors. But we recognise that, as objective third parties or consultants, the nature of the decisions we make, or influence, come with different levels of accountability. Our influencing relationship is different and the nature of the invitation is markedly different to that between a salaried Director and their Board.

 

With this in mind, we have again called upon the perspectives of a long-standing friend; someone with a legendary international networking presence; an HR pop star Steve Browne, to share his practical perspectives on this tricky topic, from the other side of the pond.

 

“I’ve worked in HR, here in the States, for oodles of years. My heritage pre-dates enlightened terms like “people-centered” and even “engaged employees”. To be blunt, workplace culture used to be sniggered at when terms like “satisfaction” or worse still, “employee happiness” were used.

 

Even as a junior staffer, I knew that something was wrong and that issues being experienced by colleagues downstream were the result of what was happening in the “water” above
(quite the metaphor for anyone who’s been camping).

 

My first “real” HR role was in a manufacturing company where the notion of process was strong. There were few bridges between HR and colleagues. So I took it upon myself to make the brave decision to get out of the office and to walk the floor, to go to where the bulk of the people were. Tom Peters calls this “managing by walking about, MBWA”. It just made decent horse sense to me.

 

Senior peers and managers said I was crazy and that I would be plagued by moaning or confronted by angry staff. But, within a relatively short time, the number of complaints and “tickets” raised dropped significantly. Why? Because I was accessible, people had a relationship with me and could come to me informally to address challenges before they snowballed. It worked.

 

My gut was right. My decision was vindicated.

 

I’ve always tried to present as an approachable, friendly person. It’s how I was raised and it is a natural part of my leadership style in a profession where others choose distance and many boundaries. Friends and contacts tell me that’s why I have nearly 50,000 international contacts, because I work on the social aspects of social media, a lot. I’ll take that. But it isn’t easy cultivating networks or leading change.

 

When I joined my current company, 17 years ago, my predecessor was known for his focus on due process; rigidity and hierarchy. Rules and systems took priority. Theory X was his leadership style.

 

I took a different view of our environment and felt strongly that integration and working across teams was the way forward, consulting and facilitating, coaching and influencing. To my mind HR should be seen as a partner and not a back office support function. It wasn’t always a popular view. But I held the line, despite strong opposition at times.

 

I have to admit that it’s taken longer than I’d hoped and has been a rocky road some weeks. But we’re now getting there. I’m proud of how HR is now woven into the fabric and that we’ve mentored and nurtured people-centric skills. It did test my belief in my convictions, however, and like many HR peers, I seldom get a lot of thanks.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had my share of setbacks during my career and there have been times where I’ve questioned why I didn’t adopt a more straightforward profession or approach with cleaner and clearer deliverables and outcomes.

 

There are HR professionals who set boundaries rigidly and come to work to focus on task. Perhaps they sleep better at night? But I’ve learned the hard way that there’s often an inverse relationship between organisations that claim, loudly, that people are “their greatest asset” and the sub-prime amount of time and attention as well as resources they actually dedicate to the people professions.

 

I’ve joined organisations where the reactionary and inflexible nature of the more traditional management strictures has been doggedly persistent. Here, my approach has been criticised as idealism and I’ve been constantly under attack. Sometimes, the adage “you have to work within the culture to influence it” is all too painfully true. And there have been situations and roles where I’ve had to admit defeat and give in to the status quo.

 

Where I have left the arena on my shield, I know that I’ve at least managed to cultivate enlightened sparks in at least some progressive eyes, through example. But rigid structures are hard to re-shape, even when they’re faced with a changing commercial landscape. Not surprisingly, however, one of those organisations was recently taken over by an acquisition they couldn’t defend.

 

In terms of lessons, I see leadership as something that has to change and evolve organically in line with changing pressures and norms and opportunities. I feel I’ve learned from mistakes. Not least that we all make them. But what’s important is that I’ve consistently made decisions that are true to my core values and beliefs; I’ve stuck to them; despite a lot of pressure and ultimately I’ve left most roles better for having been there. And that matters.

 

I’d have it no other way.”

 

We know that the community members who read these posts are interested in the power of the people professions to influence and enable effective business outcomes. Steve’s journey and examples highlight the importance of taking and sticking with values-based decisions at key moments. As an agency, we attract our fair share of cynicism and are often called idealists.

 

Well, long may that last.

 

Here’s to Steve and the fellow Don Quixotes, tilting at giants.  He’s an author, speaker and prolific HR networker on a mission to connect with HR professionals worldwide. Soi f you’re not connected with him on Twitter, look up @sbrownehr or contact us at @PartnersMosaic and we’ll join the dots for you.

The biggest frustration when working in the people and transformation space is the incredibly stubborn resistance to using evidence-based data to inform decisions.

 

You will all have heard at least one of these classics:

“Our work is not a science, it’s more of an art so can’t be measured”
“People are unpredictable and we can’t just reduce their outputs to numbers”
“A leap of faith is more inspiring than a decision based on logic”

Or our absolute favourite:

“It’s about the feelings not the facts”

These are all tropes from the people profession. Yet part of the reason why “people people” and HR departments are often disliked and not trusted is that the people who decry data are the same people who will consider nothing but “facts” over emotion come a recruitment, performance management issue, disciplinary, tough decision or even a tribunal. Employees certainly notice how swiftly the soft and emotional wrapping are discarded then.

 

There is, of course, a better, middle way that even we squishy people types can stomach.

 

Anyone who’s run a team or been accountable for a budget will tell you just how acutely aware they are of the adage: “what gets measured gets done as it’s what the leaders signal is important”.

 

The fact is that NOBODY is above the need for hard evidence. If you doubt us, then you won’t have been on the sharp end of an organisation re-size; planning cycle; budget bid or resource competition. And if you haven’t been involved in any of the above norms of operational reality, then you’re probably not doing “people stuff” right.

 

Kate: 

“Despite being a strong believer in the power of the people stuff, I wrote my MBA thesis on the ways to quantify the impact of learning and development. It wasn’t a simple thesis, but it had to be done. I have rarely been involved in a transformation project in the last ten years that hasn’t called for some form of evaluation. That may well have been a consequence of my influence. Rarely, however, without objective input, does the measurement process make the link to the golden thread that ties people initiatives to the organisation’s business plan and bottom line. However, when it does, (as we’ve seen with all of the leadership programmes we’ve developed and run over the last three years), the impact is adrenalizing and the engagement factor is multiplied.”

Ian: 

“Absolutely. Having been a senior leader within an agency and a corporate environment, I always insist on finding people metrics to sit alongside process management goals which in turn drive stakeholder outcomes as well as financial.

 

Taking a balanced approach to measurement is really important for HR functions to justify return on investment to gain share of purse. It’s also critical for line managers to ensure that their performance reviews with their teams are comprehensive and joined up. Having led large teams of big-brained consultants, performance indicators like billable hours or return on investment are vital both for demonstrating added value and giving appropriate recognition and performance management.

 

Failure to devolve responsibility for hard engagement; culture or employee development goals quite clearly leads to dissatisfaction; loss of recognition and morale and ultimately to employee churn, especially of the most capable colleagues. The ones leaders can’t afford to lose. And it’s actually not that difficult to come up with three or four meaningful metrics tied to the leadership strategy and business plan. Just don’t overdo it..”

We were recently struck by how one of the most successful members of a client’s leadership team proudly announced that he had increased his income by around 25% year on year since the turn of the decade. He’s a robust sort but hadn’t achieved success through schmoozing the right senior people or pulling the wool over the eyes of line managers or the people function, playing games with their processes.

 

The key to his success had been knowing his personal worth. In the context of billing. To this day, he creates a balanced scorecard or dashboard for every project he undertakes and grosses these up to what he calls a personal contribution matrix.

 

Quite simply, he writes down his three key goals under:

 

  • finances
  • sales and customer satisfaction
  • processes and efficiency
  • team satisfaction, engagement and contribution.

 

He then creates a narrative around the relative contribution of the enablers to the outcomes, shows how they have improved and quantifies (roughly) how he’s grown the organisation’s bottom line as a team leader.

 

There’s no rocket science involved and he uses existing metrics available within the group. The difference is that he proactively uses the data to negotiate more favourable terms. He doesn’t sit around waiting to be recognised.

 

He knows his worth and he secures recognition.

 

Ian:

“After running a small business, I learned the very raw lesson of taking money out of the hands of my children and placing it in the pockets of others. It is sobering or, indeed, motivational if you view it appropriately. I took this sort of thinking back to larger corporate roles and, regardless of the reactionary noise, every people initiative worth its salt should and could have a quantifiable business case and should be tested accordingly.”

Hopefully these reflections on our latest future fit leadership trait ring a bell or two with you and have prompted some fruitful ideas and things to try. Be interesting to hear what you have to say about this topic and whether it justifies its ranking in our top five future fit leadership traits. Begrudgingly, I’m sure even the most benevolent of you may have to concede that data and measurement are about to have their day, even in HR and won’t be going away.

 

We wouldn’t advise ditching the performance management process, especially if you work in HR, if we were you! Quite the opposite, actually.

 

Just think laterally about your performance indicators and the true areas in which you add value to the bottom line, soft skills and all.

“Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand they listen with the intent to reply.”

Stephen Covey

 

We all know the powerful effect of truly being listened to and heard. Think about the last time you were treated that way.

 

Remember how it felt?

 

Amongst other things, it’s engaging, encouraging, and empowering; flattering; respectful and validating.

 

But if we’re honest with ourselves, as senior executives, when in a conversation, most of our time listening is spent waiting for our opening to make the points we want to make rather than listening to understand. In fact, you’re probably reading this, waiting for affirmation of your belief system rather than challenge as it’s simply easier when life feels increasingly tough. Gotcha!

 

If we’re not self-aware enough, this tendency to seek echoes gets worse as we move up the organisational hierarchy, and the compulsion to “have answers” increases. And it’s dangerous.

 

Leadership can feel a lot like having to distil solutions AND make decisions, much of the time. Resources (including patience) are short, tolerance is finite, and the burden is bulky. But how many of today’s problems require solutions from our store of yesterday’s answers? Some, yes. But an increasing number call for fresh thinking.

 

We all think we can communicate well. Yet effective communication is about much more than receiving or downloading information, and effective communication skills are central to leadership. It is a leadership skill requiring ongoing development.

 

Excellent communication is about creating a productive environment for a truly positive exchange, selecting appropriate channels and skills, and then following through on what we receive by committing to an action. Most people forget about that last bit. It’s largely about doing something with what we learn, even if that something ends up being a conscious decision to do nothing.

 

So it makes good sense to listen well.

 

Yet therein lies the challenge. If we only listen to respond without being truly open to alternative perspectives that could influence and improve our personal viewpoints, then not only are we potentially missing out on the richness that comes with additional perspective, but we also remain locked in that snug echo chamber of our own making. And in that chamber of broken records and cracked mirrors, we run the risk of duplicating the same patterns, including mistakes. In a world that is changing fast, this can be the very definition of stupidity, from a leadership perspective at least.

 

So, no surprise that the latest trait to feature in our Leadership Reflections blog, taken from our Future Fit Leadership poll 2022/23, is Listening, given that Future Fit leaders listen effectively to understand and then adapt, where necessary.

 

This month, it’s more than apt that our five-minute blog is a collaboration with one of our most trusted partners and affiliates, the much-lauded Michelle Reid. Rated as one of HR’s Most Influential (2022) People & Operations Directors, Michelle currently leads the people function at the Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM). She is very much an evolutionary HR head, taking responsibility for her own developmental journey to inspire the evolution of her organisation.

 

Here’s what Michelle had to say about listening as a leadership skill, shared in the hope that there are some points of practical use for you:

 

“You don’t have to work in the people specialisms or to be a senior leader to tell when someone is really listening to you versus listening to respond. It’s really all in the body language and interaction, right? They say communication is 7% words, 33% tone, and 55% body language. The same is true for listening. When someone makes eye contact, they mirror your stance, they gesture or react during what you are saying with verbal cues or expressions, and most of all, when you are finished, they make an effort to clarify their understanding by repeating back or paraphrasing. They don’t rush to judge, respond, or defend. They take the time to understand, reflect, and ask what’s needed or what’s next. The same courtesies should apply when in a pressurised environment like a senior meeting, as they do when in a more informal 1:1 but scaled for the occasion.

 

Active listening is a skill we all have, to a greater or lesser degree. But it’s something we can all work on continuously. There is nothing worse than being with someone who is distracted, jumps in, scrolls their phone, or seems in a hurry. Totally switches me off; it’s clear they aren’t there in the moment with you, so why should you bother? It’s often a sign they’re abdicating or going through the motions, and that’s especially galling when you work in a support function where it feels like they’re dumping and running.

 

It’s so important because people have an innate need to be seen and heard. Listening with intent provides that for them. A safe space where they can talk, share, present, vent, cry, or even just be, enables people to feel valued and that they matter. This isn’t just an HR thing. When people feel this, they are engaged, motivated, and perform better, even in tough times. I know this from hard data at work. Excellence is all about the environment and conditions our people work in, and that can be explored, improved, and optimised purely by listening with intent.

 

Perhaps most importantly, people have the knowledge and answers in an organisation. It’s why we don’t work alone. They are usually at the front line, so listening with intent can give you massive insight and intelligence that can help drive success.

 

HR departments can help in many ways. There are the usual go-to suspects, training, coaching, and mentoring. We can act as the facilitators of improvement feedback and make the link to leadership performance contracts. But also, data capture is important (pulse surveys and such). Ensuring that soft skills are included as enablers in dashboards and KPIs, etc. We can also help by leading by example and demonstrating the skill themselves so our colleagues follow suit. This may well be our most important step to creating a listening culture.”

 

Thanks to Michelle. Lots of food for thought, and if you like what you’ve heard and would like to dig deeper or continue the conversation, please take a look at the resources on our site or drop us a line. We’re always listening.

How infectious is your leadership practice?

A tale of how to change through listening and adapting….and how not to.

This calendar year in this spotlight series, we’ve so-far covered off leading with humanity as well as inclusive and sustainable leadership from our top ten Future Fit Leadership traits shortlist.

 

The first two certainly resonate with the more people-centric sentiments that emerged from the lockdown period, a rare time, when people were forced to work remotely and it’s fair to say, generally missed the subtleties of in-person contact in all social settings, including work. It’s also fair to say that some of the novelty associated with that unique epoch in the leadership cannon has not lingered as long as many predicted. The ingrained reflex to push and pull people back to the commute and the 9-5 office ritual has proven powerful and we’ve certainly seen a strong compulsion to return to “business as usual”, whatever that may mean. Sadly, this has often resulted in plummeting engagement rates, culture development challenges and leadership coaching needs across sectors. There are exceptions, of course.

 

It’s been a busy quarter. Leaders have had a lot to cope with in this volatile socio-economic matrix. With five generations working together, the solutions to daily dilemmas aren’t always straightforward and are testing leadership lore.

Time’s precious, so we’re combining two themes into one blog this month. This time we unpack what influencing; listening, understanding and adapting looks like as future fit leadership practice. Because it’s important.

 

Influence is becoming an increasingly potent leadership skill as the mix of stakeholders that leaders have to manage expands at the pace of the growth of communication challenges and the demands of innovative thinking.

When it comes to managing change, the semantics are dominated by terms like: nudge; evolve; agile; cascade and waterfall. They, all emphasise incremental change at scale. So it’s no surprise (and pretty ironic) that the parlance of post-pandemic change includes the term viral to describe its subtle pervasiveness.

 

Come to think of it, the root of the word influence is similar to the origins of the most infamous virus: influenza, originally coined to describe the virus as “the influence of the stars” as a way of describing the way the illness spread through the air in an unenlightened age.

 

Well-intentioned influencing skills clearly aren’t malevolent…always. But the term aptly describes the associated traits. Influence is the antithesis of hierarchical power or control. It’s a far more subtle art suited to these psychological safety-obsessed, inclusion and wellbeing-conscious days.

 

In Brand Engagement, Ian describes effective communication as “a message transmitted from one person to another in such a way that it results in the action intended”. It’s a simple definition but note the viral nature and the fact that it is neatly both channel and mode neutral. This description implies that a number of qualities need to be present on both the transmitting and receiving side of the equation in order for the messaging to be successful, including willingness to engage and listening for understanding rather than listening in order to respond.

 

Future Fit Leaders always have an eye on the horizon. But they are constantly attuned to the needs, feelings, and sentiments of their colleagues as they not only need feedback on their strategy and plan, but need their creative input and contributions to the processes that will ensure that they meet their collective goals and milestones. In short, they listen much more than they speak. Think about the great leaders you’ve worked with. I bet this infectious and compelling style was a defining characteristic, however charismatic they were, especially when they shifted to high promoting and motivating mode, as all leaders have to at some point.

 

To illustrate the importance of influencing skills, here are two extended and very practical examples, from the same sector. They both stem from predominantly passive aggressive cultures. But they highlight two very different responses to the same overwhelming external stimulus and bring the blessing of lessons aplenty.

 

Organisation A: deliberately shadowed the government’s response to the global pandemic, doing the bare minimum in advance of lockdown (and hoping to avoid it0. However, we were advising their leaders on communication and engagement at the time. So, ignoring out-moded policy, with the support of a handful of forward-looking leaders behind the scenes who were convinced by our business case, we created a preparatory shadow crisis communications strategy in the first two weeks of the emerging problem.

 

We then worked with the first line managers and divided the colleague population into two “crews”:

 

  • most “at risk” who were asked to setup and work from home immediately
  • their counterparts who were prepared to “hold the fort” at the office.

 

Despite the reactive response of a few key members of the senior leadership team, this approach ensured that the organisation both complied with the official line and prepared a deeper, more avant-garde approach for when the crisis erupted.

 

It ultimately served them well. It was subtle and viral in nature, a regular, dependable rhythm during unpredictable days. It was, short and sharp. Communication drops and engagement sessions set out “what if” scenarios and were hungry for questions. There were a few internal complaints and grumblings about doing more than expected, but they soon tapered off when the true scale of the collective challenge became clear.

 

Unfortunately, the reactionary approach of the senior leadership team wasn’t just confined to the original approach to strategy. Before the engagement axis could influence them, several key players ran for the hills during the onset of the pandemic, one notably opting to strand themselves abroad during the most important initial phase of the crisis. This undoubtedly increased the intense burden on the communications, HR and IT functions. Interestingly all were led by interim and temporary senior executives at the time, all familiar with the true nature of change and willing to hold the line.

 

Fortunately, the proactive strategy included a range of variable scenarios and prioritised listening and engagement above “push” communication. This mechanism ensured that line managers at all levels were not only fully briefed and coordinated, regardless of cynicism and fear, but were also able to feed-back best practices and act as an emotional barometer during the most challenging of times.

 

As a result, it soon became very clear who the true leaders were. Many emerged at middle manager level and it will come as little surprise that, despite navigating the pandemic well, the organisation continues to wrestle with their internal culture and a “back to the future” compulsion now that the interim Execs have left.

 

Following a steady slew of Glassdoor negativity, they recently appointed another director to head the change process that started five years ago. Sadly, in this case, the positive influence ran its course and business as usual eventually retained control. Unfortunately their corporate reputation continues to suffer as a result with a dire net-promoter score and lots of negative examples.

 

Now, for the flipside.

 

When we called time on the aforementioned partnership after seeing the client safely through the eye of the crisis, we answered the call from an influential part of a major healthcare provider who were understandably struggling under the relentless pressure. Once again, we focused on expanding their communication and engagement strategy to encompass all priority stakeholders. But this time we started with the board and senior leaders and insisted on collective responsibility; engagement and commitment. Leveraging and flipping some pretty dire feedback, we were able to re-create the focus and energy of the pre-pandemic period, engineering a sense of unity, compulsion and inspiration to see them safely and effectively through the final stages and into the future. We created a sense of certainty and hope by looking far beyond the darkness and we consulted and involved as many people as we could.

 

Bridging communication to organisation development and change, we convinced the leaders to role-model people-centred practice, embracing their key influential roles despite being confined to the online environment. The format brought opportunities for vulnerability and authenticity and we made the most of it. That meant facing up to tough news, consulting with colleagues relentlessly; doing twice as much listening as talking and forever focusing one step up on the engagement channel matrix. So instead of calling they held face to face sessions and despite the depth of feeling they always focused on the positives. Coaching the top team, we created a communications calendar based on appreciative principles, viral change, subtle influencing and sharing best practices rather than dwelling on critique, problems and issues. And it worked.

 

Within a quarter, stakeholder engagement statistics had started to climb out of their nose-dive. On the back of the example set by the leaders, podcasts and listening groups leadership roles were quickly filled and secondment places were in demand. This helped foster a sense of community and joint-problem-solving, and even the recruitment of three new senior leaders was embraced as an opportunity rather than a loss to the transformation drive. Each spent their first 100 days consulting widely, listening to gain influence and then implementing strategies clearly related to what they had gleaned rather than taking a “new broom” approach. Honouring the past while learning from it to create a compelling and evolved future became a catch phrase that helped the senior leaders pivot to face the future with confidence.

 

They have just sailed through a tricky audit, secured their future funding, and have since been shortlisted for several industry and Marcomms awards for their engagement and campaign work. This is all testimony to the enlightened approach of all concerned, especially stars like the Chairman and CEO and their conviction to adopt the subtle arts rather than mass broadcasts and constant cascades.

 

Regardless of whether you’re reading this as a client, partner, or part of our wider community of practice, you probably recognise parts of both these scenarios from your current leadership frame of reference. Hopefully you haven’t witnessed too many examples of “phantom leadership”, but sadly, I suspect, the “back to the future” approach to presenteeism most likely rings too true too often. You can and should influence and reinvent this narrative.

 

The reason why we have decided to sponsor the annual Mosaic Future Fit Leadership review and resulting academy is partly to track the evolution of leadership thinking during this time of relentless pressure, in an attempt to promote more future fit leadership behaviour. But it’s also our aim to identify and share emerging best practices that we then fold into our coaching and leadership development practice. As consultants and coaches we practice what we preach.

 

Do drop us a line if you want to know more.

Growth is a welcome word in most businesses as it implies progress and greater demand for the stuff they sell. But it comes with its challenges too. There are the more obvious ones, like ensuring profitability and not just revenue. Then there are the less anticipated impacts of growth, like adapting your leadership style to embrace the fact that with every new colleague, the further the business expands from owner/manager control until soon, remembering names becomes an issue let alone traits, values and preferences, all that good stuff that oils the wheels of relationships.

 

We encounter this challenge a lot as consultants in the people space. We’ve facilitated growth development programmes for business schools, TECs and Business Links in the past, helping groups of SMEs thrive rather than strive as they grow. We also encounter these challenges when we’re brought in to help owner-managed organisations, or divisions and units of corporations that have grown rapidly or exponentially, trying not to become victims of their own success and desperately wanting to stay true to their roots.

 

The first step on the journey of evolving to meet the demands of growth often begins with clarifying the organisation’s core organisation development DNA: their values, employer brand, employee journey and leadership culture. We then shine the spotlight on their attitude and approach to diversity, difference and, most importantly inclusion.

 

It’s an odd word, inclusion. It’s somehow been hijacked by the political correctness lobby, yet it is, has and always will make good business sense.

 

Inclusive leadership is, quite simply, an approach to leadership and management that has a belief in the importance of diversity and equality at its core. It moves beyond the business case for inclusion (better ideas, better understanding of customers, better employee engagement etc) and proactively pursues inclusion as a core pillar of leadership philosophy, ideology and practice. In short, inclusive leaders actively cultivate the contribution of diverse individuals and teams believing it isn’t just fair and right, but is a more effective leadership strategy.

 

Cliques and close groups bonded around convergence and similar traits can, of course, be effective. But they have their limitations in fast-changing and evolving markets and environments. The ideal is to engage, bond and empower diverse teams of diverse individuals unified around common values, goals, objectives and ways of working.

 

We know from long experience that many managers consider the prospect of inclusive leadership as something akin to “herding cats”. As someone said recently, “Much easier to stick to what and who you know!” But if you encounter an inclusion Grinch, try sharing this story.

 

We were working with an uber-conservative, financial services and legal organisation based in the rainbow city of Brighton, UK. Their core culture clashed with the bohemian demographic and they were finding it hard to attract, recruit, engage and retain sparky, innovative and engaging leaders.

 

We suggested an exercise called “A day in my shoes” as part of their upcoming leadership conference in which the future of the organisation, its aspirations and goals were being showcased at a major arena to hundreds of stakeholders. As preparation for this exercise, we enlisted the heads of their diversity networks (LGBTQ; Disability; Gender; Race; Neuro) as well as a junior colleague who encapsulated the opposite of their core leader demographic, to help devise and facilitate the process.

 

Volunteers from each group wrote very personal scripts about a typical day in their lives. They then worked with a senior leader to enact that script at a workshop attended by prominent conference attendees to role model isolation and the impact that small acts of inclusive kindness have on their frame of mind, motivation and performance.

 

There was a great deal of nervousness about the exercise, yet the CEO, HRD and team put on their big person pants and gave it a go.

 

The workshop was an unprecedented success. All evaluations were top of the shop and the workshop took the participants to emotional ranges they had never experienced at work.

 

This ground-breaking activity paved the way for much more inclusive relations between the diversity groups and it well and truly landed the concept of inclusive leadership with the senior team who adapted their core processes and behaviours as a result. Since then, recruitment and retention and engagement has improved. “It’s just much easier to talk openly now. I feel seen” said one of the leaders who shared their own difficult journey to being themselves at work.

 

Of course, Inclusive Leadership isn’t just about embracing diversity. It’s largely about involving and liberating the contributions of team members rather than adopting the command and contol, DIY my way approach. But it’s really important for leaders who need to leverage their fellow leaders and managers in order to grow and it’s a great source of alternative approaches in pursuit of the same goals.

 

If it’s something you would like to explore, give one of us a nudge via the new website. Do check out what’s new. We have plenty more stories to share.

A recent article* by one of our client and academic partners, Newcastle University, sets out what has become the contemporary view of sustainable leadership. Not surprisingly it aligns contemporary leadership practice with environmental and social conscience. It’s a gradual shift that is resulting from mounting social pressure: as the world becomes increasingly aware of the impact businesses have on the triple bottom line, also known as the three P’s – people, planet and profit.

 

Dr Joanne James, Director of Executive Education and Dr Jenny Davidson, Executive MBA Degree Program Director at Newcastle University Business School set out what sustainable leadership looks like:

Dr Davidson: Sustainable leadership is all about adopting a responsible approach to the way that we lead, stopping to think about the wider impact of our actions on society and the environment. This might mean considering our wider stakeholder group, the natural systems within which we are operating and their limits.

 

It’s crucial to begin by exploring and understanding how our individual roles might contribute to tackling global challenges such as climate change and gender inequality and in doing so to recognize the value that our individual actions might bring. Responsible leaders are always looking up and out beyond their role, organization and sector.

 

Dr James: Leadership education for the future of work recognizes that we are working in volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous contexts (VUCA). Leadership is not a position or an individual person but a series of practices that enables collaborative action towards a common mission. Continuous learning and collaboration with others is central to these practices. As a result, the educational journey for every individual is unique depending upon their context.

 

Our aim is to reflect our regional ecosystem within our cohort so that all sectors and business types are represented creating a robust network of regional leaders who can collaborate beyond the boundaries of the program.

This is all very laudable, in and of itself and the sentiments are hard to take issue with. But however much of a priority the environmental agenda is or should be, for us, the Sustainable Leadership discussion is at its most impactful when it transcends even the ethical and environmental considerations that too many hard-wired capitalists may too readily discard as uber-liberalism, in this age of polemical arguments. And, in order to obtain the critical mass that the change movement needs, converts are needed from all sides of the political spectrum. To that end, we see and have always seen sustainability through a wider lens that includes and is rooted in performance. In short, the most sustainable leadership practices are those that deliver bottom line results for key stakeholders, because what gets rewarded gets done.

 

The term sustainable refers to an act or series of actions that not only can be but actually bear repeating; and nothing succeeds like success. If you take a system’s approach to the people processes, including leadership development, you soon understand that success is the result of a series of inter-connected actions or activities that become self-fulfilling because they reward the efforts of the sponsors and initiators. Viewed in this light, sustainable leadership is leadership practice that is about more than greenwash or the flash in the pan act of conscience, the rare act of charisma or benevolence, the isolated action of an enlightened individual, department, unit or group. It’s the product of a leadership system that is clear, outcomes-focused, measured, evaluated, replicated and which becomes common to such an extent that it becomes a leadership culture. It is, in effect, self-sustaining.

One of the primary contributing factors, in our experience, is the enlightened application of a balanced approach to stakeholder satisfaction based upon the use of a matrix of stakeholder satisfaction indices. If you measure shareholder, customer, employee, community and partner satisfaction simultaneously and manage the balancing act of ensuring that your vision, strategy and plans get buy in from all of those groups, plugging your leaders into the same success criteria, then there’s a fair chance that the choices you make together are going to be good for the community, your colleagues, customers and the environment.

 

In recent years, we’ve worked with leaders in sectors as varied as heavy industry, utilities and public sector to help develop leadership competencies and evaluation systems that not only embrace environmental considerations and ethics, with values at their core, but which take a multiple-stakeholder satisfaction stance. Gone are the days of driving shareholder value “uber ales”and at the expense of community and employee satisfaction. But the wise CEO doesn’t treat those communities as mutually exclusive either and ensures that their leadership team acts accordingly and has the will and skill to play the balancing act.

 

So, while this month’s theme is very much concerned with the ethics of leadership, we never lose sight of the truism that the greatest leaders aren’t martyrs. Sustainability focused, future fit leadership is about sustaining the good works and cultivating a self-perpetuating culture in the leader’s wake. And the surest way to ensure longevity is by being successful and earning the right to sustained influence.

 

It far transcends great PR and glib talk. It isn’t easy but it can be done, it must be done and increasingly, it’s being done and long may this trend continue.

 

https://www.topuniversities.com/courses/business-management/what-sustainable-leadership

The pandemic was probably the most chastening social experience since the world wars. Especially for those in frontline leadership roles. If it wasn’t, for you, then you may have an empathy challenge and should probably take a break until the fog clears. Honestly!

 

Shock and disruption aside, we’ll probably never know the true human tragedy directly attributable to the disease, but it’s staggering. Worse still, we’ll never get to fully understand the hidden toll from the economic pandemic that shortly followed global lockdown’s tail. So, if you remain oddly unfazed by the human catastrophe, you should at least be able to recognise the devastation caused by the disruption to global trading and the subtler impact that Covid-19 and the prolonged contingency working has had on your key workers. And you should be striving to find a way to boost their coping mechanisms….and your own.

 

From what we’ve seen as consultants, most organisations leaned very heavily on the 20-40% of their colleagues who generate 80% of their outputs, while much of the rest went knowingly AWOL for an extended time, fighting their own insecurities, doubts and fears. Problem is, the same 20-40% have had to pivot several times now to deal with many conflicting demands that have arisen since,  as most businesses settle back into old ways of working complete with commute, office and command and control structures. The fact is, the old system is no longer fully serving them.

 

They’ve also become accustomed to a lot more balance in their lives, have started to question where they get their self-actualisation from, and may have begun to look at alternatives to resuming the old normal. The same, however, can’t be said for the “working dead” who are marking down the days to retirement or redundancy, while making the most of the resources at work I exaggerate to emphasise the point but, I know you know what I mean.

 

The leadership paradigm has shifted, as has the old-style employer/employee psychological contract. Have you adapted in the same vein?

There’s been a lot of talk about human or humane leadership traits now that the dust has settled. It seems that people grew accustomed to seeing their managers in their natural habitats and quite liked the fact that they could all be themselves a little more, when all faced with a common enemy, an invisible threat that doesn’t discriminate on the grounds of status.

We have had increasing enquiries from leaders and managers concerned about the sustained pressure that their people have been under and asking for fresh approaches to coaching and mentoring that is a little more ethical, responsive and, dare we say, sustainable in this complex new world.

 

Now, some of you will snort, with scepticism at this point, especially those who recall how certain high profile business schools suddenly started talking about ethics and morality again after the banking thoroughbreds bolted from their golden stables at the turn of the century and almost collapsed global economies. Of course, very little changed other than a few more values and behaviours workshops, equality and diversity management roles, expensive ad campaigns and some re-arranging of top jobs. But this time, things are different. Because this time, the burning platforms has at least singed us all. And this time, there are no “off the shelf” workarounds and platitudes to resort to.

 

This time, both the leaders and their teams need to change and it isn’t sector specific. To illustrate my point, last month we announced the first of our annual Mosaic Top Ten Future Fit Leadership Traits rankings. As we announced, this will become an annual event, in conjunction with a leading business school (watch this space). We’ve just completed a deep diagnostic of a client’s leadership and management teams and, without any form of consultation, their leaders AND managers, as separate groups, both ordered the top five leadership traits exactly the same with Human, Ethical and Sustainable all near the top. The key point here is that these traits aren’t the pandering, politically correct stuff of the pipe dreams of the past which are feasted upon by the dogs of commercial war and competition, they ARE the traits that will enable future fit leaders to adapt and lead by listening and with empathy, responding and becoming comfortable with increasing ambiguity. Do you really doubt that the world of work isn’t going to become an increasingly complex place? Think leaders will survive by adhering steadfastly to models that applied to simpler times? Are you even the same person you were pre-pandemic? How did you use the time to reflect and dream and change? Intend to stick by those resolutions or, like a stress ball, are you resuming the old shape?

 

You may be interested to know that alongside Leadership Reflections thought pieces like this one, the team at Mosaic will be launching a podcast as well as running at least four Masterclass Workshops on key themes, this year. The first will be in Spring and will be packed with best practices, on these topics, for the HR, line management and general leadership communities. So, if you, or a friend or colleague would benefit from discussing the challenges you all face in more detail, picking up a few pragmatic tips and techniques or just wants to vent with like minds, do point your contacts towards our blog where news of the events will appear shortly.

 

Until we next meet, here’s hoping that your planning for the year ahead is going well. Best wishes for 2023 and beyond from the team at Mosaic. It promises to be a time of continued challenge and opportunity, calling for open minds and fresh thinking.

 

We look forward to continuing the conversation…

This is not only being fuelled by the pace at which technology is merging the physical and digital worlds, demanding more and more functionality from the same biological constructs, people, but it’s also being driven by the rapidly changing and constantly shifting socioeconomic conditions that bring daily influence to bear on organisations and by association us as people.

 

It’s tough enough rowing in a small boat in this perfect storm with no real sign of land. Imagine being in charge of the flotilla, morally and contractually obliged to steer a course through without losing anyone and emerging ready for the next set of challenges.

 

If you’re reading this blog, then I suspect you don’t need to imagine. It’s most likely your daily lived reality and we know, because our team has either spent significant time in-house helping to steer as internal change agents or they have been coaching and partnering on leadership programmes as external consultants. We see and hear what leaders across sectors are going through and it’s a time of huge demand and challenge, yet also full of opportunity.

 

Lewin famously speaks of unfreezing and then re- freezing corporate cultures to ensure that behaviour change sticks. Well, it’s especially tough when the water’s this salty and raging. So leadership skills are evolving. It may be tough to look ahead and through the storm clouds. But that’s part of the job, to remain future fit while doing the day job based on known paradigms…then being prepared to evolve them. That’s how we ensure the organisations, people and communities that we serve remain future fit and ready to sail through whatever conditions might be coming up next.

 

One of the ways in which we’re trying to help, as leadership coaches, is to keep stock of the forces at play and reflecting on the top leadership qualities required to meet the challenges of the time. We do this partly through critically exploring the hundreds of leadership coaching sessions we have across sectors at the highest of levels, every year. But also by reviewing what some of the more respected consultancy and other thinking houses suggest are future fit leadership traits.

 

This year, post lockdowns, leading into the current financial, identity, governance, establishment, and environmental influenced epoch, we suggest the following ten critical future fit leadership traits stand out as essential:

 

  • Human, empathic and authentic
  • Ethical and sustainable behaviour
  • Inclusive coaching style
  • Influencing skills
  • Listening and adapting
  • Evidence and data driven
  • Decisive
  • Handles complexity well
  • Visionary, strategic and commercial focus
  • Maintains focus regardless

 

Interestingly, in our research, maintaining focus was ranked just above visionary and strategic, a reflection of how the best leaders, through times that have uniquely tested everyone at once, have thrived rather than simply survived. And the teams that have been the most resilient have been working for leaders who have clear, balanced, inspirational goals with short as well as longer term deliverables. These leaders have been able to not only ensure the wellbeing of their colleagues in the face of immediate risk but have also taken advantage of down time and confusion to look to the longer term, post crisis and offer hope, purpose, opportunity, and a mission the other side of uncertainty.

 

There’s certainly some food for thought here for you and your HR teams especially to reflect upon as we enter the last few days of 2022.

 

We will be repeating this exercise annually and revealing the revised Future Focused Leadership Traits poll around the same time next year when we’re hoping to co-deliver a workshop, as part of our series of live sessions, with academics from a leading University. So watch this space and please circulate this blog to any colleagues and contacts who may be interested.In the meantime, if you have any thoughts, reflections or questions about this or any of our core topics, do drop us a line or get yourself onto our Newsletter mailing list. We publish thought pieces and case studies monthly and will be happy to welcome you to the Mosaic community.