Empowerment: What does it mean?

Nov 23rd

Empowerment, like communication, often stands as a proxy for what the organisation is unhappy about. Feedback and staff surveys scoring low on empowerment or communication are a serious matter for the business, because they point to disengagement in the workforce.  And disengagement means people not giving their best efforts to achieve the aims of the business: bad news. But it’s only by digging beneath these findings that the business can discover what they actually mean, what’s really going on that is damaging performance and reducing the capability of the business to achieve results –and by understanding what’s going on,


This article is filed under: Empowerment, organisational performance

Why carrots and sticks don’t always work

Nov 23rd

I’ve witnessed many board level discussions about performance management systems – they all seem to focus on the technicalities, and to take place against an underlying belief that somehow a perfect cascade of objectives from strategic plan to lowliest employee will make for perfect corporate performance. And the debate then goes into the complex rules that attend theses systems, the rewards that get tacked onto them, and the rafts of performance indicators that are meant to give ever more objective measure of accountability.

Onora O’Neill’s Reith lectures (2002) on a ‘Question of Trust’ gave a


This article is filed under: employee motivation


What are the risks of working with leaders?

Nov 17th

A client asked me this very good question in a discussion about leadership capability. You’ve talked about the risk for us as leaders of the organisation, he said, but what are the risks for you as leadership practitioners? What keeps you awake at night?

This is the answer I came up with:

Being spat out. If leaders don’t like what we have to offer, they are in the driving seat and they can simply reject it by disagreeing with it or devaluing it. That’s why we work so hard to tailor leadership work to the real needs of the business, and make


This article is filed under: leadership development


Conversations as a leadership intervention

Oct 18th

We hear a lot about the art of giving feedback, but less about the skills involved in receiving feedback. The way you respond when you perceive a critical message sends a powerful signal about what leaders care about. That makes it one of the most important factors that shape the culture – usually not something best done off the top of your head.

You can send a positive signal in response to even the most negative or clumsily-phrased message. I once saw a Chief Executive turn the mood of 500 people around just by the way he listened to and acknowledged


This article is filed under: communication, leadership


Keep strategy simple (KSS)

Sep 14th

It’s one of the lesser joys of being an organisational consultant when the client hands you their latest strategy study. It’s invariably long and full of great analysis. All very clever stuff you are tempted to say, but does anyone really understand it? Most good strategy comes down to a few simple ideas which you can often express as simple ‘shifts’. These capture the essence of what is going to be different in the future, for example:

‘Moving from being a regional player to being a global player’
‘Moving from being a set of disconnected businesses to being one firm’
‘Moving from a


This article is filed under: strategy process

Leaders must step up to avoid excessive risk taking in financial institutions

Aug 23rd

Bank reforms will not stop banks from taking excessive risks in the future according to an academic report by Professor Simon Ashby (i), released today.  He says that, without a cultural change, excessive risk appetite will continue.

Twenty senior risk professionals from the banking industry took part in the study.  They placed much less emphasis than external experts (who have predominantly reported before)  on economic and market factors, such as low interest rates or the growth in securitisation, and much more on human and social aspects of the crisis within the institutions and the regulatory machinery. Instead, they saw inappropriate risk


This article is filed under: communication, financial risk, organisational culture, organisational risk


The real value of customer service

Aug 08th

We’ve all heard and experienced a lot of claptrap about customer service. Which company doesn’t put their customer first? Or rather which company really does? Of course there is good theory (e.g. ‘the Customer value chain’ showing that higher customer service leads to higher profits₁)

I’ve been working recently with two companies which really do go that extra mile and see customer service as major competitive advantage. They’re both in very different markets – one high end luxury consumer brand, the other a commodity supplier, essentially business-to-business. Both are in ‘challenger’ market positions, with some much bigger and more powerful brands


This article is filed under: employee motivation, , organisational culture


Leaders or leadership?

Jul 12th

Companies have to move fast these days in order to stay ahead of the game.

Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple puts it like this: “There’s an old Wayne Gretzky quote that I love. ‘I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.’ And we’ve always tried to do that at Apple.”
We know that the quickest way to shift gears is through a shift in leadership behaviour.  In most cases, people think about leaders as individuals.  Heifetz and Linsky, however, point out that leaders tend to be people who are placed in positions of authority, and


This article is filed under: leadership, leadership development