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:
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.
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, 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 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.
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, 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 …
 Cranier, S. and Dearlove, D. Excellence Revisited Business Strategy Review, March 2002, updated to 2006
 Barton, D., Grant, A., Horn, M. Leading in the 21st Century, McKinsey Quarterly, June 2012
 Work-related Mental Disorders in Australia, The Australian Safety and Compensation Council, April 2006
 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
I have just finished watching (again) one of my all-time favourite movies: “Remember the Titans”. In the movie, Denzel Washington plays coach Herman Boone. He is the newly appointed coach of the TC Williams High School football team. The movie is set in 1971, in the era when America was de-segregating the education system and for the first time allowing black and white students to attend the same high school. As such, the football team, much like society at the time, was deeply divided along the lines of race. Black and white players were more concerned with their place on the team, defending what they believed was theirs and reducing the accountability of members of their own race so that they would maintain their place on the team. Needless to say, this created a dysfunctional and conflictual culture and one that would have been highly ineffective on a football field.
While this occurs within the context of a Hollywood movie, unfortunately, this kind of division, divisiveness and territorialism is not that uncommon within the teams we work with. And whilst the severity of this dysfunction is rarely as obvious as within the movie, elements of these dynamics still play out on a regular basis.
From the start of their off-season training camp, coach Boone sets the tone for the team; he makes the purpose of the team clear and explicit – the purpose is to be “perfect” in every aspect of the game. He also sets the culture by holding team members and even fellow coaches accountable to “perfect” culture, as well as personally demonstrating the very culture he is trying to create within his team.
In the final stages of the movie, when the team is behind at half time in the State Championship game, he tells the team that in his eyes they are already perfect, and if they win or lose that game is immaterial. One of the team leaders then speaks on behalf of the team and reminds coach Boone as well as his team mates of the original purpose and goal with which they commenced the season – to be “perfect”. He says that as individuals they are not perfect, but as a team they are still perfect as they are still undefeated and intend to stay that way. At this point, it is clear that the original goal and purpose of the coach, has now become the purpose of the players themselves. As one would expect, the team goes on to win the game and the somewhat predictable Hollywood ending ensues.
But what lessons can we learn from this movie which we can apply to our own teams and organisations?
Firstly, for teams to be effective the purpose must be clearly stated. Also the team leaders need to model and embody that purpose themselves.
Secondly, there needs to be process whereby individuals within the team are aligned to that purpose; they need to buy-in to the purpose so that it becomes their own. Team members will usually not go above and beyond the call, they will not strive for excellence and they will not be able to create high performance workplaces if they are working towards someone else’s purpose or a purpose that they don’t identify with. It is once that purpose becomes their own that truly exceptional teams are created.
Thirdly, there needs to be a strong culture of accountability so that individuals within the team act, think, behave and communicate, etc in a way that’s in service of that purpose. Building individual and team capacity to have “difficult conversations” allows managers and team members to hold themselves, and each other, accountable when actions are not in service and aligned to the stated purpose.
How can you use the lessons from the movie to create/review the purpose of your organisation or team so that it inspires and moves team members towards the creation of a high performance workplace?
For more infomation about True North Learning’s Vision and Purpose Development programs visit http://truenorthlearning.com.au/cultural-alignment/vision-and-purpose.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:
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.
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).
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
On the Changing face of Leadership….
The face of leadership is changing everywhere we look. If we start on a global context we have seen the overthrowing of many world leaders who ruled mostly by means of a dictatorship or tyranny. To bring it closer to home, with the work we do with our clients, we are starting to also see a turning of the tide as well. It seems like the days of the iconic heroic leader are drawing to a close.
Why is this happening? Perhaps because business just seems more complex these days. In the 80s and 90s in the halcyon days of people like Jack Welsh, a CEO’s role was simple- improve the bottom line and boost shareholder value. Notice I said “the” bottom line- as in only 1 bottom line. This allowed them to pour all their energy, focus and resources into achieving a single, tangible outcome.
Oh how times have changed!
Now business leaders have to report on a triple bottom lines taking into account people and planet as well as profit. Lately quadruple bottom lines have come into vogue, where there is also a value and reporting placed on the spiritual well being of organisational members.
Given this, we see one of the most significant challenges of corporate leadership as we move forward is to come to terms with the competing demands of multiple bottom lines. No longer can we focus on a single outcome and therefore be single minded in our approach to business. And what if one of those bottom lines appear to detract from each other? How do we drive profit and still create environmentally sustainable policies? How do we look after our people and their well being and at the same run lean in challenging economic times? And even more frightening, how do we as an individual leader or an organisation contribute to someone’s spiritual well being and development?
These are indeed complex problems and if there was an obvious and easy solution, everyone would be doing it. But from a leadership perspective, the thing that we have found most effective is to develop our facilitative leadership ability.
Facilitative Leadership sees that there is an underlying process to these challenges, as well as solutions. It understands the limitations of how we think, and also realises if we can sit in the tension of the unknown long enough, magical and innovative solutions form organically. The key questions then becomes how do we as leaders generate buy in from our team members, make space for a diversity of views and advocate reflection in order to increase our capacity to grapple with and find solutions for these complex challenges? This is the art and science of facilitative leadership.
To find out more about True North Learnings ‘Supercharge our Superstars leadership program click here: http://truenorthlearning.com.au/problem-solvers/sos.php