By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator: Errol Amerasekera

When we view the corporate landscape through the lens of performance and sustainability, there is little doubt that we are living in challenging times. At no point in our history has there been such a pressure on outcomes and performance. Simultaneously we are also challenged to ensure the long-term viability of our organisations, the wellness and fulfilment of those who work for them, while also working to mitigate the ecological issues facing our planet.

Understandably many organisations are becoming progressively more performance driven; forever increasing emphasis and value on measurable outcomes, at the expense of culture, relationships, connection and dare I say it – humanity. There is no doubt that organisations need to have a firm focus on operational excellence and meeting their KPI’s and milestones, but somewhere along the way, the strategies for achieving these outcomes sacrificed the things that matter most.

The irony is that most of the leaders of these organisations believe in the value of creating a positive culture. They see the benefit of building long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationships and they genuinely respect and value their people. How then do we explain the increasing prioritisation of outcomes, at the expense of culture and relationships? This dichotomous behaviour is often the result of one single flawed assumption; that building a care-based culture is mutually exclusive with delivering high performance.

We’ll blow that assumption out of the water in a moment, but first, what is a care-based culture?

A care-based culture places a premium on culture, relationships and humanity. It views and treats a team member as a whole person, not just as their organisational role and function. A care-based culture reminds us that people come with their own hopes, dreams and aspirations as well as their insecurities and fears.

This does somewhat complicate the management function. Managing someone’s hopes, dreams and fears, as well as their role based performance, is far more challenging than simply focusing on the results they deliver as part of their role.

But what if managers really saw the value in building a care-based culture and set about developing the additional skills needed to manage their people in a more holistic way?  Instead of trying to compartmentalise their lives by drawing boundaries between their work self and non-work self, team members would be supported to bring their whole selves to work, and can thereby gift all their talents to the tasks at hand.

Think of the benefits! Care-based cultures lead to greater levels of staff motivation and engagement – and people work harder and smarter when they are engaged in the task. When teams are able to see and support the humanity of each of their members, tighter bonds are formed and a culture of shared accountability created. This culture of care and humanity then flows into the manner in which team members deal with customers, clients and other key stakeholders – and it doesn’t take a genius to work out how this would be received.  When people turn up to work as their whole selves, it also enables them to be more creative and innovative by using more of their life experience, feelings and intuition in order to resolve complex challenges.

Finally perhaps most importantly, organisations that place a strategic emphasis on building a care-based culture not only perform at the very highest levels, the efficiency of the process by which that performance is driven makes it significantly more long-lasting and sustainable than being performance driven for the sake of performance itself.

For most of us, including myself, this is a radical paradigm shift. Until recently I have always advocated that leaders reinforce the boundaries pertaining to an individual’s organisational role, and support those individuals to manage the aspects of their lives that fall outside that role themselves. But in recent times I have been repeatedly astounded by the unexpected high performance that flows, almost as a side effect, from building a care-based culture.


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator: Errol Amerasekera

Operational Excellence means that organisations have the capability to deliver a particular project or task to the required specifications and standards, on time and on budget. Whether or not an organisation achieves operational excellence by meeting its KPI’s is important. However, what is more important is how an organisation approaches the challenge of moving towards operational excellence. So, in building a healthier organisation, the old business adage of the process being more important than the outcome, is definitely true. In this case, the how relates primarily to the efficiency by which an organisation achieves a particular set of results.

Efficiency can be defined as the amount of resources that a business consumes to produce a particular outcome relative to the benefit of that outcome. In an organisational context, there are three key categories of resources — money, time and people. Obviously, these three categories of resources have significant overlap. The more staff on a particular project, the more money it costs the business in wages, but hopefully, the less time it takes. While all three resource categories are important, I believe the most valuable one is time. This is because if money is misspent or lost, it can be made again. Staff members can leave their roles and be replaced, and staff that have a reduced motivation or disengage from a particular task can be re-engaged. Therefore, as important as money and staff are in terms of the resources a business has access to, they can be considered renewable resources. In contrast, time is a non-renewable resource. Once time is spent, that minute, that hour, that day cannot be renewed or recreated. Unfortunately, there are no Mulligans (a golf term used when the golfer is given a second chance to play their shot) or Groundhog days (in reference to the cult movie with Bill Murray) for spent time. Thus, the efficiency at which organisations use their time is probably the most important ingredient in delivering operational excellence and therby showing how healthy that organisation is.

The True North Learning Organisational Health model is designed to do one thing — increase the efficiency which an organisation utilises its resources — time, money and staff, but especially time.

For example, we have worked with clients at their strategic planning days where a list of ten actionable items has been developed; each one of which has the potential to improve the business and its effectiveness in some aspect. Three months later, only a small minority, if any, of these strategies have been actioned in accordance with the implementation plan formulated at the strategic planning meeting. Hence, the one day those eight senior managers took and the associated resources have been effectively wasted. If we do the sums, 8 managers on an eight hour strategic planning day, the cost of transport, venue hire, catering, etc, probably thousands of dollars all for just about zero return. Those managers may well have taken that time and money and gone to the pub — at least they would have had a good time. The return on investment of those resources would effectively have been the same. I know this sounds a bit harsh, and I do admit that I am being a little tongue in cheek in order to make a point.  Most of us have been in teams or worked in organisations where creative and talented minds come up with amazing strategies, but because of a lack of capacity somewhere in the organisational system, these strategies never come to fruition. Therefore, the strategies do not provide a benefit to the organisation (or a return on investment on the resources that it took to create them). In fact, one could argue that not only does this have a minimal return on investment, but it actually also has a negative impact on organisational effectiveness. This is because when senior managers invest their time, ideas, passion and experience into developing a strategic plan only to repeatedly experience those items not coming to fruition, it builds the degree of hopelessness and cynicism in the effectiveness of their organisation. This then affects the extent to which those managers are prepared to invest themselves at future strategic planning days.

 

 


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator: Errol Amerasekera

It is hard to imagine that a conversation can build more effective organisations. However, what we observe time and time again is that individuals and organisations that take the time and develop the capacity to have strategic and reflective conversations actually outperform those competitors who place less of a strategic emphasis on this skill.

To be honest, and also slightly more transparent, I am not talking about an average ‘chatting around the water cooler’ kind of conversation. What I am talking about is when and how we have strategic and reflective conversations. In some management literature, these are referred to as ‘difficult’ or ‘robust’ conversations, but I think these terms underestimate the potential benefit these conversations hold.

The ability to have strategic and reflective conversations is one of the most effective ways to engage stakeholders, give role-based feedback and align team members to performance and behavioural expectations. In short, it is probably the most effective way to build a culture of shared accountability within a team or organisation.

However, what we commonly observe is team members, especially managers, running away from these conversations as fast as they possibly can. There are numerous reasons for this behaviour, but most of them fall under one or more of three categories.

Firstly, most people have some degree of conflict aversion. Let’s face it, any normal and sane person, when faced with a choice, is going to choose the option with the least potential for conflict. At the risk of being too psychological, this aversion sometimes originates back in our formative years. It occurs when individuals grow up in a highly conflictual environment which over time reduces their tolerance for further conflict. Paradoxically, it can also occur in individuals who grow up in relatively harmonious environments. This is because, despite the idyllic-ness of a happy and harmonious household, it does not build skills and capacity in having these more challenging conversations.

Secondly, many managers feel under-skilled in the area of conflict management, and it is often for the reasons in the previous paragraph that this area of their development has been avoided or neglected. However, dealing with conflict and having a strategic and reflective conversation are simply skills. And, like any skill, the more you do it, the more you practice it, and the more coaching and support you get on it, the better and more comfortable with it you become.

Thirdly, and finally, some managers feel they do not have the time to have these conversations. I view most things in business from a cost versus benefit standpoint. However, one difference in my version of cost versus benefit is that I believe in viewing an organisation as a holistic system. In other words, we cannot just examine cost versus benefit from a profit or performance viewpoint. We also have to include more intangible costs and benefits. These include such things as levels of trust and engagement of key staff and stakeholders, the morale of team members, the well-being of the individuals within the organisation, the environment and perhaps the planet as a whole. It is only when we can appreciate the cost or benefit to these more intangible and less measurable aspects of our organisation that we can begin to ascertain the real benefit of these conversations.

For example, we have observed on numerous occasions that a one-hour strategic and reflective conversation have a benefit (or return on investment of resources — time, money, personnel) in terms of engagement, role clarity, motivation, performance and ethical behaviour, that far supersedes that initial one hour ‘investment’. Conversely, we have also observed numerous examples, unfortunately in greater numbers than my previous sentence, where the lack of a strategic and reflective conversation has deleterious and sometimes disastrous consequences for an organisation.

The irony is, in our experience, most managers are astute enough to know when one of these conversations needs to occur. The real question is: are they prepared to endure short-term discomfort for the long-term benefit of the organisation?

In summary, to build organisational capacity to have strategic and reflective conversations:

  • Support managers and staff to work on their own psychology around their individual conflict aversion and lead by example.
  • Invest in training and skills development programs so that members feel equipped with the required skill set in order to have these conversations.
  • Be disciplined. Develop the discipline to realise that a one-hour conversation, as difficult and challenging as it may be, could potentially save you and/or the organisation a far less desirable outcome.

 

 


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator: Errol Amerasekera

What is the current health status of your organisation?

Naturally, the answer to that question is dependent on how we define “health”. As I shall discuss later, there is a big difference between a healthy organisation and one that is simply performing well. That is not to say that performance is not somewhat based on the health of the organisation, but from an organisational health perspective, what’s more important is the efficiency of how organisations achieve that performance, and the cost or toll to the organisational system itself.

What we have observed with our own clients, which is confirmed by much of the literature, is that there are some trends which are of concern in terms of the long-term viability of organisations and the sustainability of the people that lead them. The three key things we are noticing are firstly, the survival rate of organisations themselves; secondly, the increasing demands and expectations of leadership; and finally, but by no means least, the rising incidence of burnout, stress disorders and mental health issues amongst executives.

Organisational Survival Rates

In 1996, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras wrote an iconic business book, Built to Last. In this book, they studied 18 of America’s most iconic and successful companies. They attempted to break down and decipher a code or the key elements which make those businesses highly successful and consistently outperform their competitors over a period of time.

In 2006, just 10 years after the book was written, and two years before the GFC of 2008, 20% of those beacons of the corporate landscape no longer existed, 46% were struggling and no longer outperforming their competitors, and only 34% were able to maintain their success and competitive advantage[1].

So, it appears that  having a robust recipe for performance, even in comparison to one’s competitors, gives an organisation no guarantee that it will continue to be in existence, let alone successful, into the future.

The Demands on Leadership

These days, when we ask managers and leaders how they are doing, the answer almost invariably comes back as some version of “we are ridiculously busy.” I am often curious if I asked a similar cross-section of managers that same question 10 years ago, would the answer they came back with be any different? It certainly does appear and feel like the pace of business is accelerating at a rapid rate and, as a result, managers feel there are more demands being placed on the limited time that they have to perform effectively in their role.

A survey conducted by McKinsey and Company on Leading in the 21st Century[2], had similar findings to what we are observing with our clients. They summarised their findings as follows:

When we meet with the men and women who run the world’s largest organizations, what we hear with increasing frequency is how different everything feels from just a decade ago. Leaders tell us they are operating in a bewildering new environment in which little is certain, the tempo is quicker, and the dynamics are more complex. They worry that it is impossible for chief executives to stay on top of all the things they need to know to do their job. Some admit they feel overwhelmed.

Executive Burnout and Well-being

The incidence of executive stress, burnout and mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety is at an all-time high. And what is even more frightening is that the incidence is actually rising at an alarming rate.

A 2006 study, conducted by The Australian Safety and Compensation Council[3] and sponsored by the Australian Government, found that, in 2002, mental stress claims comprised 5% of all workers’ compensation claims in Australia. This mechanism of injury/disease recorded the highest median claims cost ($9,700) and the second highest average cost ($16,400) as a result of the very high median and average time lost for this mechanism. Almost two-thirds (64%) of adults were classified to low levels of psychological distress, 23% to moderate levels, 9% to high levels and 3.6% to very high levels. In other words, 99% of people within the workplace experience some level of psychological distress, with 35% experiencing moderate to very high levels. This costs the Australian economy an estimated $20 billion a year[4].

What is Organisational Health?

I believe the solution to these challenges is a focus on organisational health.

An organisational health approach means that the need for short-term performance and long-term sustainability don’t need to be mutually exclusive. In fact, in our experience, including an organisational health approach to business in conjunction with traditional performance-based initiatives delivers both short-term performance as well as long-term viability.

Organisational health is the ability for organisations to outperform their competitors in short- to medium-term performance based metrics whilst not impacting on the long term viability of the organisation. In short, organisational health is all about performing at a high level, but also in a manner that is so adaptive[5], efficient and aligned that it enhances the longevity of an organisation rather than detracting from it.

The fundamental differentiator of healthy organisations in contrast to their less healthy counterparts is their philosophical approach to business. Healthy organisations have a systemic and holistic approach to organisational development, change and challenges. This means that healthy organisations have developed the thinking and behavioural capabilities to examine the challenges they encounter through a multi-focal and long-term approach. In other words, they appreciate that inefficiencies within the organisation rarely have one simple cause; they are usually multi-factorial. Hence, their thinking allows them to achieve operational excellence by addressing multiple causative factors within the various levels of the organisational system.

At True North Learning, we have found that when you distil organisational challenges down to the bare bones, and start to examine the underlying dynamics and behavioural processes which gave rise to the original problem, the vast majority are symptomatic of a lack of capacity and effectiveness in one or (usually) more of eight key elements within the organisational system. We have observed the substantial impact of the lack of aptitude in these eight key elements and how they adversely affect the performance and sustainability of organisations across various sectors of business, and also throughout different types of organisations, e.g. private and public sector, non-profit and social enterprise.

What we are effectively saying is that even though there is a range and complexity to the various types of challenges that organisations are confronted with, there are only a finite number of fundamental elements that give rise to those problems. This is simply because if you take those eight key capabilities and arrange them; there is an almost infinite amount of permutations and combinations of them, each of which contributes to manifesting as a particular set of symptoms within the organisational system.

The beauty and power of working to build capacity in these eight elements is that it addresses the underlying dynamics which give rise to organisational problems, rather than simply providing symptomatic relief. This means that building capacity in these “eight pillars” of organisational health actually supports short-term performance as well as the long-term viability of an organisation. This is organisational health.

Over the following months I shall discuss and explore, one at a time, each of the key elements that we consider to be “The Eight Pillars of Organisational Health”.

So please stay tuned and enjoy …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Cranier, S. and Dearlove, D. Excellence Revisited Business Strategy Review, March 2002, updated to 2006

[2] Barton, D., Grant, A., Horn, M. Leading in the 21st Century, McKinsey Quarterly, June 2012

[3] Work-related Mental Disorders in Australia, The Australian Safety and Compensation Council, April 2006

[4] http://www.news.com.au/business/executive-lounge/meltdown-exec-burnout-costing-billions/story-fng3e17m-1226508470134

[5] Based on definition of “Adaptive” according to Heifetz, R. et al The Practice of Adaptive Leadership  Harvard Business Press 2009,BostonMA


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator: Errol Amerasekera

As we kick start the New Year, there is a tendency for people to make resolutions. While I like the idea of some time for reflection and goal setting, my approach is slightly different. My question is where are my/our thinking and behavioural patterns outdated and therefore no longer in service of our purpose and the outcomes we want to achieve?

In my opinion, one of the key paradigm shifts that will improve our outcomes is developing our capacity to collaborate. Whether we’re talking about national or international politics, companies within the same or similar sectors, or individuals as part of the couple, it appears that humans, as a species, are often challenged around our ability to collaborate. In fact, I would go so far as to say that we are hard wired to be highly competitive and defend vigorously what we perceive to be ours, but appear less  inclined to be collaborative or to even entertain the idea of collaboration.

Here are my 5 keys to building a mindset that is more open, and has a greater capacity, to be collaborative. 

1. Build skills at Facilitative Leadership

Whilst many people see that there is a value in being more collaborative, many also see collaboration as being time consuming and ineffective. And, in most cases, they are right. Collaborative decision making can be highly ineffective. For the collaborative decision making process to be effective, it needs to be well led and well facilitated. In this case, the facilitative leadership skills may support a more effective outcome. In fact, the facilitative leader in these situations might act more like a moderator. They control the flow of the conversation, keep people on topic and ensure the quieter and more introverted members are not drowned out by those more extroverted personalities. They also support members to clarify what they are saying. In doing this, the members themselves often gain more clarity as well as deepen their own thoughts and perspectives.

2. Hold the tension of difference (don’t collapse diversity too quickly)

Inevitably, when teams are being more collaborative, a greater diversity of viewpoints and ideas are able to be expressed and heard. Leaders and managers can sometimes have an ‘or’ mindset, which assumes that it must be plan A or plan B that is the most appropriate. A collaborative mindset looks for the ‘and’ solution. In other words, it assumes that there is some wisdom or ‘rightness’ in both plan A and plan B. By clarifying and deepening each viewpoint, it aims to find hidden treasure or wisdom in each of them and therefore develop an even better plan C. This, however, is not an easy thing to do. It means managers and teams have to sit in the tension of the unknown and have faith that at some point in time a ‘plan C’ will emerge from within the tension between the original opposing viewpoints. However, all too often, the tension gets unbearable and teams jump to either A or B simply to relieve the strain of  the unknown, but in doing so, we leap to an outcome before plan C has had the chance to emerge organically.

3. Be Deeply Democratic

Deep Democracy is a concept developed by Arnold Mindell[1]. He is a Jungian analyst and the founder of process oriented psychology or Process Work. Deep Democracy involves helping the various parts of a group to come forward and interact with each other, including those parts that have been silenced or seen as disturbing[2]. Compared with conventional democracy, where the majority ‘wins’, Deep Democracy allows the voices of those within the minority to also be heard and valued. In this way, even if an individual’s own idea or suggestion is not the one implemented, they still feel that they have been heard and valued and that any wisdom or innovation contained within their idea is extracted and used.

4. Manage unhealthy competition or Territorialism

For organisations to be successful, it is essential that they foster and develop a strong competitive nature. This allows them to compete successfully in the marketplace and carve out their niche of market share.  However, when this competitive culture is not channelled in the right direction or turns in on itself and becomes ‘cannibalistic’, it can reduce the organisation’s ability to be collaborative.

Another way to look at competition is to support it and also find ways to maximise its usefulness. Rather than compete against each other, if individuals and teams compete against their own limitations in how they think, behave and relate to each other, it will create better outcomes. Furthermore, the underlying (subconscious) function of competition is often to experience or reach some level of mastery or excellence. In other words, when individuals and teams are not supported and provided a context within which they can strive towards mastery and excellence in a particular endeavour, that need or drive can morph into behaviours of ‘unhealthy’ competition. 

5. Demonstrate trust over time

What can often impair one’s ability or desire to collaborate is a lack of trust or a general skepticism about the good intentions of others. Collaboration is our ability to work together towards a common outcome or goal; it requires individuals to have a win-win approach to the relationship and intent to act in a way that not only serves their own best interests but also the best interests of others.

Building trust requires two things. Firstly, it requires disclosure. This means that you reveal your real intentions and make known the outcomes and what you are thinking in terms of the collaborative relationship. Secondly, trust requires contract. This is simply doing what you say you are going to do and keeping the agreements that you have made. This is true whether those agreements pertain to small or large matters. At the end of the day, trust is earned and built by making and keeping small agreements. If trust is not present in smaller agreements, it means that having trust in more important matters is much less likely. By acting in a trustworthy manner (disclosure and contract) over a period of time, it starts to demonstrate that you are safe to collaborate with. This slow and steady building of trust is important. This is because the process of breaking down those barriers that people have about collaboration, and changing the thinking patterns, belief systems and assumptions that they have about collaboration, can be slow as well.

 

[1] Mindell, A. 1995, Sitting in the Fire: Large group transformation through Diversity and Conflict. Lao Tse Press,Portland,OR,USA

 

[2] Diamond, J. and Jones L.S. 2004, A Path Made by Walking, Process Work in Practice Lao Tse Press,Portland,OR,USA

 


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator: Errol Amerasekera

Great leaders: are they born or made? It’s a question that has been vigorously debated since the dawn of time, well, at least since the dawn of capitalism.

But before we can answer that question, we first need to define what leadership is.

At True North Learning we see leadership as having 2 functions. The first function of  leadership is to capture the hearts and minds of those they lead and then align them toward the goals, vision and purpose of the organisation. The second function of leadership is to manage the team they lead, the individuals within that team, and finally the task at hand.

However, the role of leadership that we are noticing in many organisations looks very different to the above. We are noticing that individuals are getting promoted into leadership roles based predominantly on their technical expertise. In other words, if they are a talented engineer or IT consultant or teacher, there is an assumption that they will also be capable of leading a team of engineers, IT consultants or teachers respectively. This thinking fails to recognise that the skill set required to be an engineer is very different to the skill set required to lead a team of engineers. It’s like saying because I am good at cricket, I am also good at football because they are both ball sports. As a result we see and work with many leaders who feel over whelmed, stressed-out and under skilled in their roles, primarily because they have been placed in roles that they may not be suited to or have the necessary skill set to be effective in.

Often we find the more skilled and specialised someone is at the technical aspects of their role, the harder they find it to make the transition into a leadership role. This is because the method of developing technical skills compared to leadership skills is vastly different. Technical skills are usually acquired through traditional education ie reading, taking notes, classes, university courses, apprenticeships etc. Also, they are generally specific to that role or job and cannot be transferred to another role.

Leadership skills on the other hand, whilst somewhat based on theory, are primarily a behavioural skills set. Leadership skills can be transferred to a different role ie if you can lead a team of engineers, in theory you should be able to lead a team of teachers. But the key difference is in how leadership skills are acquired. Because they are behavioural, leadership skills cannot be developed by knowledge alone. It is well documented that knowledge alone does not change behaviours.

Behavioural skills such as leadership skills are developed by “doing”. “Doing” is a 3 step process. Firstly you need to do an activity or task which places you in a leadership role. Second, is the opportunity to reflect on how you performed during that activity.  In reflecting you can see where you were effective and find ways to maximise or leverage that.  You can also explore where you were not so effective, and find ways to manage or develop those aspects. And then thirdly, as athletes do, practice, practice, practice until those desired behaviours become second nature. This is where Experiential Learning is a powerful and outcome-driven methodology for supporting effective behaviours and building individual and team capacity.

Therefore when organisations fill roles, especially leadership roles, with the intention of creating a high performance workplace or team, it is essential to have a clear understanding of whether the performance gap (between current function and optimal function) is of a technical nature or of a leadership/behavioural nature. This then allows organisations to screen/ seek the most appropriate people for the role and/or put in place the most suitable training and development strategy ie not pursue technical training for a behavioural issue.

So back to our original question-are great leaders born or made? If we see the 2 functions of leadership as firstly capturing the hearts and minds of those they lead and secondly to manage team, individual and task, then the answer to the question is BOTH. In other words, great leaders are both born and made.

This is because development of a leaders’ ability to manage team, individual and task is very teachable. This developmental process is optimised when the training methodology  used  focuses on the behavioural aspects of leadership (as opposed to being purely knowledge based).

However, we believe that there is an aspect of the ability to win hearts and minds that is not teachable. This is because this capability comes from a certain charisma and capacity to motivate people. It’s an ability to relate to, deeply understand, build rapport with, and inspire people from a diversity of backgrounds. This ability can be developed to an extent, but if its not a strong part of your intrinsic make up, then training and development can only go so far (no matter how hard, or how much I train, I am never going to run like Usain Bolt)

This does not, however, mean that leaders should not focus on their own development in the 2 elements of effective leadership. We believe that an openness and commitment to their own personal and professional growth is one of the ethical responsibilities of leadership. And besides, even though we all can’t be the Usain Bolt of the leadership world, there is something very noble and profound in the quest.

Let us know what you think: Are great leaders born or made?


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator: Errol Amerasekera

In recent times I have noticed my growing frustration with our politicians- from both sides of the political divide. On further reflection, the aspect of their behaviour which fuels my frustration, is their ongoing tendency to appear to take no responsibility for their  actions, and to use so-called policy as a political football in the blame-game.

This reminded me of one of the models that we introduce many of our Experiential Learning training programs with. It’s called the “Above the Line” model. We introduce the concept by stating that when things don’t go so well, or don’t go to plan, individuals and teams behave in one of two ways-either “Above the Line (ATL)” or “Below the Line (BTL)”.  We have found that individuals and teams that are more effective, tend to exhibit more behaviours that are ATL.  Whilst less effective teams and individuals are prone to demonstrate more BTL behaviours.

Some BTL behaviours are Justifying eg “ I didn’t think that it was that that important”, Blaming eg “It was Fred who miscalculated the profit margin.”, Defending eg “Now you’re just picking on me” and Denial eg “It wasn’t my fault”. ATL behaviours, on the other hand, are to take responsibility, accountability and ownership of individual and team outcomes. It’s the “buck stops at me” mentality, as opposed to “pass-the-buckism”.

Upon presenting this to one of our clients a few weeks ago in the debrief after an Experiential learning activity, I was accused by the group of being BTL by pointing out their BTL behaviour. I have been wrestling with this issue ever since.

In other words, when we observe BTL behaviour that is not in service of the organisation’s outcomes or  its Purpose, how do we point that out without ourselves being BTL? Unfortunately, in this context, two sets of BTL behaviours don’t make an ATL behaviour, so as leaders and managers it’s imperative to model the very behaviour that we want to encourage more of in our teams.

Here is my view and I would be curious to hear the views of others.

Whether or not our intervention, upon seeing the BTL behaviour in our team or team-mates, was ATL or BTL can only be ascertained in hindsight. In other words, there is no recipe for what we should say when we observe BTL behaviour, nor is there a fixed way of how we should say it. Whether or not our intervention was ATL or BTL is dependent on the outcome of what we did. If what we did or said had a positive outcome and empowered or provided an insight which enabled the individual or team to transform their behaviour to be more ATL, then our intervention itself was ATL. If however, the outcome of what we did serves to produce more BTL behaviour, and actually moves the individual or team away from effective functioning, then our intervention was possibly BTL.

This way of leading teams challenges managers to take ultimate responsibility for the outcome of interactions between themselves and their reports. While this may be a heavy burden to carry, some would argue that it is the responsibility of leadership. I would also suggest that it is the responsibility of the authority conferred upon you by your leadership role within the organisation, which means the buck stops at you to a much greater extent than those you are leading.

So if we go full circle, is my frustration at pointing out our politician’s BTL behaviours, BTL in itself? Well the impact remains to be seen, but I suspect that not many people feel empowered or inspired to change by having their “faults” point out by a frustrated onlooker. I guess that means its back to the drawing board for me (read the therapist’s couch) to figure out ATL ways to think about our current political situation.

Please share your thoughts about how to address BTL behaviours in your teams, whilst at the same time remaining ATL yourself?

Dr Errol Amerasekera

 

For more on Below the line behaviours visit our ‘Beating Obstructive Behaviours’ program at http://truenorthlearning.com.au/problem-solvers/bob.php

 

 


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator Errol Amerasekera

The face of leadership is changing. At True North Learning, as we work with our clients, we are noticing a changing of the guard. It seems to us that the days of the iconic heroic leader are drawing to a close. And those leaders that are able to facilitate their teams and organisations through complex business challenges are rising to the fore and building High Performance Workplaces (HPWs).

So why is this happening?

Perhaps because business is more complex these days. Not so long ago a CEO’s role was simple – to improve the bottom line and boost shareholder value. This single bottom line allowed them to pour all their energy, focus and resources into achieving one outcome.

Oh how times have changed!

Now business leaders have to report on triple bottom lines, taking into account people and planet as well as profit. In some circles, businesses are also reporting on a quadruple bottom line, where the spiritual well being and emotional development of their employees needs to be taken into account as well.

Given this, True North Learning believes that one of the most significant challenges of corporate leadership going forward is to come to terms with the competing demands of multiple bottom lines.

No longer can leaders be single minded in their approach to business. They need to address questions like: How do we drive profit and still create environmentally sustainable policies? How do we look after our people and their well being and still run lean in challenging economic times? How do we boost shareholder value and still contribute to the communities we work in and society at large?

These are complex challenges that test leaders. They require a style of leadership that can take into account multiple factors and outcomes. We have found that one of the most effective ways to navigate these dilemmas is to develop ones Facilitative Leadership ability.

Facilitative Leadership is taking the mindset and skills that are utilised by facilitators and then applying them to a leadership context.

We believe there are 5 key skills to effective Facilitative Leadership:

1. Noticing

Facilitative Leaders notice subtle shifts in their teams and organisations and approach them with curiosity and open-mindedness. But in order to do this, they need to step out of the daily grind and the “doing” of business and place their awareness and attention on the process of the business. This is not just about business processes and systems, but also about the “feeling” within their business, the levels of motivation, the potential conflicts and power struggles, the degree of alignment with the organisational purpose and goals etc. The more leaders step out of the “doing”, the more they are able to notice to the underlying dynamics that are giving rise to the organisation’s outcomes – both good and bad.

2. Framing

Framing is putting what you ‘Notice’ out in the open – in a curious, open-minded and non judgmental way. An example of the framing within the context of a meeting might be: “I notice that every time we start talking about the ABC project our levels of engagement and enthusiasm drop…” Or framing a personal interaction: “Jack, I noticed that when Jill asked you about that report, it looked like you tuned out a little…”

Framing doesn’t necessarily mean you have to know how or why what you notice is happening. The heroic model of leadership has the adage: “Don’t bring me a problem without the solution!” The problem with this approach is that it assumes there is only one solution to a problem. It also assumes that the individual who notices the problem has the responsibility and ability to find the solution.

3. Believing that all the required wisdom lies within the group/team

Facilitative Leaders believe that the power and wisdom of an organisation lies within the group, as opposed to its individual leaders.

Facilitative Leaders have the courage, faith and skill to sit in the unknown until solutions occur organically. They resist the temptation to jump to a premature solution simply to avoid the tension of the unknown. Throughout this process they welcome a diversity of voices and opinions which address any challenge from these multiple views points and contexts (ie rational, emotional and strategic).

4. Reflection

Facilitative Leaders see the value of reflection. Reflection in this context means taking a step back from the task, reflecting on and studying the process. Reflection asks: “How are we feeling?”, “How well is this working for us?” “What are we assuming in the way we do things, and how can these assumptions be tested or challenged?” “What if we did it this way?” Often simply asking the right questions will open the space for creative and innovative thoughts and solutions. Leaders in HPWs place a value on reflection. This value means they are very adept at managing the tension between task and process.

5. There is a trust in the process

At the heart of effective facilitation lies the belief that if one can follow the group closely, notice and frame those times where the conversation needs to deepen, be open to a diverse set of view points, and hold the group on its learning edges (those places that represent the limits of a group’s knowledge, thinking or ability), new and innovative solutions to complex problems can occur. This trust is not, for most, easily obtained, but rather built over time from being witness to groups growing, changing and evolving though effective facilitation.

Please share with us what you think on how the face of Leadership is changing. And do you think are some of the key skills needed by Leaders to effectively facilitate and manage their teams?

To find out more about  True North Learning’s Leadership Development Programs visit us at http://truenorthlearning.com.au/leadership-development/leadership-development.php


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator Errol Amerasekera

More often than not, at the heart of conflict lies our perceptions and feelings about power. It is often one’s sense of power (or powerlessness) that compels us to go to war, or to escalate an already existing conflict.

My learning in this area came whilst working in Sri-Lanka in 2007 as a conflict resolution facilitator. I was there with the aim to be a part of the peace process that would end the civil war that had ravaged the country for decades.

As we travelled around the country facilitating various workshops, forums and meetings, I started to see some recurrent themes. Both sides of the conflict, in this case the Government-backed Sinhalese and Tamil Tigers, believed the other side had more power. The Tamils felt oppressed by the socio-economic divide within the country and their lack of political influence. This led them to feel hopeless that the situation would ever change. The Sinhalese lived in fear that a bomb or terrorist attack could occur any place, or at any time. They felt bound by bureaucracy and of having to take actions that were seen to be ethical and legal, whereas the Tamil Tigers could resort to any means eg terrorism to exert their influence.

What became clear in facilitating these forums was that both sides felt powerless relative to the other. Both sides felt marginalised and oppressed by the power of the other. Yet both sides put a brave face on, summoned up the “power” they felt  they did have, and then used that power against the other. In the case of the Sinhalese it was the continuation of a political system that could be viewed as unjust. And in the case of the Tamil Tigers, it was to resort to the unpredictable and fear-inducing tactic of terrorism.

Some of the turning points at these forums, those moments when there was a temporary resolution to the violence, and both sides were on the same page, occurred when we were able to facilitate individuals or group to acknowledge that they were suffering. There is something about the authenticity of suffering, the raw element of human vulnerability, which makes it very difficult to escalate violence. Perhaps it is because in admitting and showing that we are hurting, we make the other side more aware of the impact that their power has on us. And in realising that power, they have less need to exert more power or escalate a conflict. Or perhaps it is because in revealing our vulnerability, we remind the other of their vulnerability, and in that moment we are both the same in that suffering.

So what does this mean for business? One of the best mechanisms to resolve and manage conflict within the workplace is to acknowledge (at least to yourself) the impact that the conflict is having on you. If you can acknowledge it to the party that you’re in conflict with, all the better. In doing this we allow the other side to see that their actions are having an impact and that they have some power. If they continue to feel powerless it is then that they seek additional ways to exert their power and influence such as forming anti-management coalitions, under performing and reducing morale, or in extreme cases litigation (where the intention is to align themselves with a very powerful force – the legal system).

I realise that this flies in the face of most corporate cultures, especially the Australian corporate culture with its sometimes harsh exterior and “She’ll be right mate” attitude. However as leaders and managers perhaps part of our personal and professional development is to find ways to lead that are more authentic and real. And in doing that, be more transparent about how things like workplace conflict impacts us and affects us.

To find out more about how True North Learning works with conflict in organisations visit us at http://truenorthlearning.com.au/cultural-alignment/conflict-management.php

 

 

 

 

 


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator Errol Amerasekera

Within conflict lies the potential for growth, transformation and learning.

Workplace conflict is a symptom of the need for a change in how people communicate, the values which drive them, or the business model that is used to operate from.

Yet all too often as managers, our own past experience of conflict, a feeling of confusion or lack of skills prevent us from intervening and managing conflict in an effective manner.

The costs of conflict to a team or organisation can be significant.

There are the tangible costs to unaddressed workplace conflict. It is estimated that it costs 65% of a staff member’s annual income to replace them if they leave in a way which is unplanned. The average cost of WorkCover claims associated with grievances is $80,000.

Then there are all of the intangible impacts of unaddressed or poorly handled conflict: low team morale; high staff turnover; workplace bullying and harassment; poor productivity; lack of ownership of outcomes; and, cliques in the workplace. All these jeopardise the current and future profitability and sustainability of the business.

Yet, with a few strategies and skills, conflict can be managed so it provides a powerful impetus for change, learning and innovation. Here are 5 key strategies to effectively address workplace conflict:

  1. Attempt to address conflict as early as possible: There are usually a number of steps and escalation signs before conflict becomes overt, eg a bad mood or “vibe”, poor productivity, office gossip. Generally, the earlier we address the issues the less complicated and destructive the conflict is and the easier it is to manage.
  2. Create a safe and confidential forum for workplace conflict to be resolved: What can undermine the resolution of conflict is if those parties having the conflict don’t feel safe or fear being labelled or scape-goated. Creating a safe and confidential forum and reminding both them and ourselves that their view points and experiences are valid (no matter how diverse it may be) supports the resolution process.
  3. Be aware of the power dynamics within the workplace: One of the biggest causes of workplace conflict is a lack of awareness of power dynamics; for example, the power differential between a manager and staff member. This might make it more difficult for the staff member to speak up in disagreement. If this disagreement “festers” for long enough it can create conflict. The solution is not about making the power differential equal, but more about being aware of it and its potential implications.
  4. Think systemically: While there is usually a personal aspect to workplace conflict there is often a systemic or cultural aspect as well. Think about how open the team or organisational culture is to having honest and direct conversations. Do the leaders model and encourage these behaviours? Is there a formal feedback structure in place to create role clarity and clear expectations? The more we address these cultural and systemic issues the more we reduce the “fertile ground” for conflict to occur.
  5. Build your own capacity to deal with conflict: Most of us hate dealing with conflict, and for most of us this aversion to conflict comes from childhood conditioning and the way conflict was handled (or not handled) by our parents and adult role models. The more we can work with our own issues and find the “talents” that we developed or were forced to develop while growing up, the more capacity we have to address conflict in a proactive and effective manner.

 

To find out more about how True North Learning works with conflict in organisations visit us at http://truenorthlearning.com.au/cultural-alignment/conflict-management.php


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator Errol Amerasekera

Very few people feel comfortable in the face conflict! There is something about the intensity of conflict and its unpredictable nature that makes us want to run and hide, and hope that by the time we come out, all will be well in the world again.

Ironically, this is possibly the least favourable strategy when it comes to effectively resolving and managing conflict, but more about this later.

For me personally, my baptism of fire in terms of conflict resolution training was spending time in Sri-Lanka (the land of my heritage) in 2007 working with the ongoing civil war between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri-Lankan government. Conflict work in a war zone is very challenging, especially when the conflict has been so protracted. In a long term conflict there is a high degree of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and this trauma can lead to people being dissociated or detached from their emotions. When individuals are not connected to their fear, anger, grief, sense of revenge etc, a simple disagreement can turn into a shooting very quickly.

So from a facilitation standpoint there are 2 things you need to do to keep yourself safe as well as get a good outcome. Firstly, you need to notice and then
bring people’s awareness to any signals or signs of escalation. A raised voice, a rolling of the eyes, an accusation that’s just followed by a counter accusation can all be signs that things are about to get out of control. By noticing, framing and bringing the awareness of the conflicted parties to these signals, they don’t go undetected. Hence, people start to build their capacity and skills in noticing the impact and effect their behaviours have on “the other”

Secondly, as we frame these signals, we need to support and encourage the parties to talk about the feelings, beliefs and stories which underlie these
escalation signals. Talking about these signals deepens the understanding of what they mean and why they are there. This is important for both the signal sender as well as the signal receiver.

If conflict has a purpose or a reason for existence, then that reason is perhaps simple. More often than not, conflict is a symptom of the need for a greater and deeper dialogue between the conflicting parties. By supporting this process we are actually addressing the conflict at it causal level.

So back to why hiding in the corner and hoping it will go away is not a preferred strategy when it comes to conflict resolution. This just avoids or prolongs the dialogue. Like any symptom, when the underlying cause is not being addressed it gets exacerbated. But facing conflict in a more direct and proactive manner is way beyond the comfort zone of most people. For me personally, having spent time in a war zone, where if I mess up someone (including me) could get shot, gives me some perspective. This perspective allows me to perceive some yelling, screaming and perhaps even “storming off” as not so frightening. It allows me to stay centred and clear thinking in the midst of heated situations. And this is exactly what is needed in most conflicted situations- someone with a clear and centred head to facilitate and deepen the dialogue between the parties by noticing and bringing to their awareness the subtle feelings, desires, hurts and escalation events, that for the most part, they themselves ignore.

 


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator Errol Amerasekera
 
Contrary to some general opinion, financial compensation is only one of many reasons that keeps talented people within an organisation or draws them to it. While focusing on financial arrangements may be one of the simplest solutions to staff retention / attraction challenges it can take the manager’s focus off other – more important and more complicated – reasons why people choose to come, stay or go.Here is a list of what we believe to be seven fundamental reasons why talented people leave organisations or are attracted to them:
  1. Clarity of the organisation’s purpose and how an individual’s role and behaviour is aligned to that purpose.
  2. A structured and formal feedback process and regular performance review.
  3. Clear career development pathways with opportunities to pursue roles and projects that are aligned to their personal purpose, Values and goals.
  4. Strong systems, culture and skills to manage conflict in proactive and effective ways.
  5. Leadership that sets clear expectations and then coaches, mentors and supports team members in their achievement.
  6. A culture of responsibility and accountability (as opposed to “pass-the-buckism”), where talent, initiative, hard work and high performance is supported and recognised at every level of the organisation.
  7. Ensuring that the role an individual is placed in is appropriate to their personality and behavioural tendencies and also is aligned to their personal beliefs, goals and purpose.

To find out more about True North Learning’s 7 Steps to Attracting and Keeping Employees program click here: http://truenorthlearning.com.au/cultural-alignment/retaining-and-attracting-employees.php


ON INNOVATION…..

From the data at hand it looks like we are coming out of the GFC. There are some sectors that appear to be doing well, the obvious ones being resources and finance. And there are other sectors that are still struggling a bit. Either way one of the big challenges that we all face is to be innovative. The term innovation is linked to creativity and hence it can have connotations of something a bit arty or airy-fairy. For us, when you boil it all down, the essence of innovation is simple- doing more with less.

Doing more with less builds efficiency within a business. Doing more with less allows us to both streamline our business or expand knowing that we have some margin of error.  Doing more with less creates new and exciting work environments and minimises the stress its members feel. This leads to a better work life balance, which is one of the big focuses of organisations these days.

In an increasingly competitive market place and as the pace of change only accelerates, the  businesses that survive, let alone thrive into the future are the ones that develop a strong ability to learn fast, adapt to market changes and facilitate the challenge of multiple and often competing demands.

Yet given all this, how do we be more innovative. We have found that being innovative is not some magical gift that some teams have and other don’t. Being innovative is a skill. And like any other skill, it can be learned, developed and fine tuned. For this to happen we need to place an inherent value on innovation and creativity. We need to set time and resources aside to invest in this skill development, perhaps even get some coaching around it. And we need to trust that if invest wisely in our ability to be innovative then the return on that investment will add value not only to our people and our products and services, but also to the mark our organisation leaves on the corporate landscape.

To find out more about True North’s THINC innovation program visit this link:  http://truenorthlearning.com.au/problem-solvers/thinc.php


On managing underperformance…. 

Here is an unfortunate fact of life. Almost every team we work with has 1 or 2 of “those” people in it. By those people we mean the people that nobody really wants to work with, in fact, they will go out of their way to avoid working with them. They are the people who lower the overall tone and morale of the team and make underperformance almost acceptable. They appear to have no motivation and are not in any hurry to change. In our work we affectionately use the pseudonym “Bob” for these people. By the way, Bob is gender neutral, but you can call them Bobette if you prefer. :-)

We want to talk about managing Bob from 2 perspectives. These perspectives are not “or” perspectives meaning its one or the other. These are “and” perspectives- meaning we need to employ both of them to get the best outcome.

The first perspective is the personal and team based one. How do we performance manage Bob? How do we make sure they are in the right role and one that is aligned to their own purpose, values, goals and interests? How does Bob’s manager manage them in terms of role-based feedback, coaching, motivation and career development? And really trying to understand the underlying drivers of his lack of motivation. And finally, how does Bobs team build a high performance culture of accountability and ownership, so that under performance is simply not acceptable. When this happens, the team culture itself serves as a managing influence on Bob? These are all important questions and need to be addressed adequately.

The second perspective is them systemic one. In our work we talk a lot about temperature checking, By that we mean taking time out and checking whether we are cooking at the correct temperature in terms of our communication, our strategy, outcomes or leadership or all of the above. So let me ask a question…..if we are boiling at too higher temperature, do we blame the water or the setting of the flame? Yes exactly!! (nod) In the same way how much of Bobs behaviour is representative of the overall operating system we are using as opposed to only a personal behavioural deficiency.

Think of it like this. You’re still using Windows XP, when the rest of the world is using Windows 7. There are going to be some software incompatibilities. We see Bobs behaviour as highlighting the fact that your operating system is out of date. This is unintentional on Bobs behalf, of course, but it doesn’t dilute the validity of the message.

What is interesting is that we often find the skills, attitudes and mindset that Bobs manager and team need to change and develop in order to manage Bob more effectively are the very same ones needed to update and then work effectively within the new operating system.

So firstly, welcome and thank your Bobs; they are here to teach you something that is potentially of great benefit to your business. And secondly use the discomfort and frustration created by Bob to find better ways to doing business.

 

To find out more about True North Learning’s Managing Under Performance Program click here: http://truenorthlearning.com.au/problem-solvers/bob.php


Conflict strikes most individuals, teams and organisations at some time. For most it brings about feelings of stress, anger, frustration and so on.  It often results in blocked communication, lack of ability to understand others perspectives and relationship breakdowns. But can conflict be useful? Can it be a solution as well as a problem? The more we can understand the types of conflicts, stages they are at and even underlying causes, the greater our ability to see the benefit in conflict.
Seeing the benefits of conflict can be in part attributed to our ability to manage it. These five tips may give you the ability to manage a conflicting situation enough to see the good that can come out of it.
  1. Attempt to address conflict as early as possible: there are usually a number of steps and escalation signs before conflict becomes overt eg a bad mood or “vibe”, poor productivity, office gossip. Generally the earlier we address the issues the less complicated and destructive conflict is and the easier it is to manage.
  2. Create a safe and confidential forum for workplace conflict to be resolved: what can undermine the resolution of conflict is if those parties having the conflict don’t feel safe or fear being labelled or scape-goated. Creating a safe and confidential forum, and reminding both them and ourselves that their view points and experiences are valid (not matter how diverse it may be) supports the resolution process.
  3. Be aware of the power dynamics within the workplace: one of the biggest causes of workplace conflict is a lack of awareness of power dynamics. For example the power differential between a manager and staff member. This might make it more difficult for the staff member to speak up in disagreement. If this disagreement “festers” for long enough it can create conflict. The solution is not about making the power differential equal, but more about being aware of it and its potential implications.
  4. Think systemically: while there is usually a personal aspect to workplace conflict there is often a systemic or cultural aspect as well. Think about how open the team or organisational culture is to having honest and direct conversations. Does the leadership model and encourage these behaviours? Is there are formal feedback structure in place to create role clarity and clear expectations? The more we address these cultural and systemic issues the more we reduce the “fertile ground” for conflict to occur.
  5. Build your own capacity to deal with conflict: most of us hate dealing with conflict. And for most of us this aversion to conflict comes from childhood conditioning and the way conflict was handled (or not handled) by our parents and adult role models. The more we can work with our own issues and find the “talents” that we developed or were force to develop whilst growing up, the more capacity we have to address conflict in a proactive and effective manner.
To find out more about True North Learning’s conflict management and conflict resolution services click here: http://truenorthlearning.com.au/cultural-alignment/conflict-management.php