Gareth Southgate

I know nothing – less than nothing really – about football.  But I know a good manager when I see one.

Gareth Southgate (Wikipedia Commons)

Here are a few things I noted watching him over three matches

  • A team player
    • Clearly much sport is a team game, like much of work. However with football comes celebrity, sky-high pay, and the cult of the individual. Southgate has worked hard to focus on the team rather than the star. Managing a national team – which effectively only exists once every four years – is quite different to managing a league team which builds strength and group identity over a prolonged period. Creating a  team from a group of disparate individuals, some still young and not yet fully formed, required dedication and understanding of how to get a group to gel.
    • In our working lives we often bring task groups together from a range of existing teams. Working together across the boundaries, focusing on a common task requires the manager to create a new team with its own sense of purpose, deploying the expertise and range of skills in new and valuable ways
  • Relatively low ego
    • This man has a generous spirit. He gives the credit to the team, the staff, the fans, and the opposition. Compared to other managers who believe that the team success is down to their own efforts Southgate has no problem in giving all the glory to others. And of course this reflects back well on him, creating loyalty and support for his approach. This a sign of a true leader – they do not need to tell the world how good they are – their team proves it through their actions and (ultimate) success
  • Hugely supportive of young players, giving them a chance to grow
    • We all rely on young talent coming through in our organisations. We need to see potential before it is fully formed. Southgate picked and supported people who were still learning their trade. He took an independent view and stuck with those he believed in, reassuring and boosting their confidence to excel. This achieved good results in the tournament, although I would suggest, under his leadership, the best is yet to come.
  • Emotional intelligence and empathy
    • Quite simply he can read people and how they are feeling. He walks amongst his people, giving them what they need. He listens. He is emotionally available to them. His own experiences of missing an important goal, which obviously caused him great upset, embarrassment and led to widespread blaming, means he is very much in tune with people who face personal disappointment. When we fail, or make a mistake, we need to put our hands up and take the blame. Most normal people, such as Gareth, will beat themselves up for their own shortcomings. Unfortunately the sports world is brutal and the personal antagonism he faced was immense. He survived it and learnt from it, and used it to increase his empathy and understanding.
    • At work all of us have experienced failure. Most of us don’t even need our manager to point it out. Try to create a workplace where staff tell you what they have done badly, or when they make a mistake. Let them explain what happened, what they could have done differently, or have learnt about themselves and others. You rarely need to admonish people who are likely to be filled with remorse, guilt and personal pain. Support them when they fail, rather than kick them when they are down. This approach will not work in an office culture that is closed, defensive, always covering up weakness with positive spin or one where a blind eye is turned to failure. Discuss the mistakes, and the failures and the times you or your team fail to get to the final match, but learn, don’t attack.
  • Never narrowly partisan or nationalistic; magnanimous and generous in defeat
    • Giving credit to the opposition and sympathising with those that fail or make mistakes will show your fairness and willingness to see greatness – wherever it comes from.
    • At work make sure to acknowledge good work in your competitors and learn from them with humility.
  • Under promising and over delivering
    • This is one of the oldest tricks in the book and one I very much believe in. Don’t brag in advance. Or ever actually. Be modest and self-aware, and let others sing your praises, if you deserve them.
  • Being physical with other men in an appropriate and caring way
    • There is a time and place for physical contact, although obviously this needs careful consideration.  I could see Southgate calibrating his hugs according to the recipient. The players (average age 26) still need a lot of support, encouragement and solace. Some he just patted on the back. Others he embraced and held their heads; a few really cut-up players got bear hugs and whispered words of encouragement.
  • Boosting people up when times are hard.
    • Southgate adopts a calm and reasonable manner in the face of intense emotion – containing it effectively for his players and staff. When things go badly leaders feel hurt too. This is when their teams need them the most.
  • Setting high standards of behaviour
    • This is obvious from his appearance, manner, thoughtful way of speaking, and a gesture I noticed. When his team were sitting down, defeated physically, mentally and emotionally, he literally pulled them up. He wanted them to express pride in their achievements. He wanted them to face the fans with a sense of  hope, and gratitude.
  • Talking to the team effectively to motivate them – the ability of members of his team to express his vision and approach shows that they have listened and taken in his coaching style
    • He says:“They get on, and that’s a starting point. The next stage is that they start to pull each other, raising standards of how we train, getting hold of each other on the pitch. Just getting on isn’t enough. We’ve got to go deeper than that.”“They must not be afraid of upsetting each other. They have to be brave enough to have conversations that need to be had. It’s one of the things that makes a winning team: when you’re comfortable enough with each other so that, when you have those conversations, it is not held against you. You move on quickly….trying to get the best out of each other.”
  • Learning from experience
    • Obviously the team lost. Life is like that and this is something we live with in a work context. The English team failed because their football was not technically good enough. The team, under a good manager, must now focus on and learn from defeat, become more competent footballers and prepare for the next challenge. Their, and Southgate’s, ability to learn and improve will be tested.

The secret life of organisations

At heart this blog is about how feelings and emotions can affect an organisation just as much as the concrete issues such as the profitability of the company or its ability to open a new factory.

We can sensitise ourselves to these feelings and emotions through listening and observation, and being aware of how other people make us feel when we spend time with them, as I have touched on before. Observation of how individuals behave, how they work as a group, and how people work together are not only endlessly interesting; it can turn your company around. If you can become more aware of the group dynamics you will be able to become a more efficient and effective organisation.

A few years ago I was invited to work with a senior management team, to help them with their thinking.pexels-photo-1181403Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels

The organisation has undergone significant change, and was rebuilding its leadership team. They decided to spend some time together looking at leadership and asked me to attend an away day.

Rather than give a talk on leadership I suggested a short exercise to get them to think about what leadership is, and give them a small taste of experiential learning (which, in my view, is far more effective than book learning or chalk and talk).

Before I arrived I has for a list of participants elaborating their job roles, how long they had been in the organisation and I  asked each to say what they thought the primary purpose of the organisation was. I also asked the organiser to divide the group of 20 participants into three tables to include a balance of role, gender, age, race, location etc.

I read the note with great interest. In my own organisation I would expect, in their own words perhaps, everyone in to write down the same purpose (“we provide homes for low income Londoners”).

In this case the purpose section was extremely varied – there was no agreement on what the organisation was for. Some were similar, but all differed. The answers tended to reflect their own departmental responsibility or personal commitment. But many of them included a list of what functions the company carried out, effectively suggesting three or four fold “primary” tasks rather than one.

After seeing this I was clear on what the exercise would be. I was allocated two hours after lunch.

I had trouble getting the team to sit down after they had eaten. They had surprising difficulty in reading a list of where they were to sit. They eventually settled down and I brought the meeting to order. I introduced myself and said that the task for the next hour was to discuss, in small groups, what was the primary task of the organisation. I gave a clear definition of what was required: if you stopped doing it, would you have any reason to exist? I gave the example I had seen on the way to the venue.  Friends House (Quakers)  has a banner saying “Led by faith to create a fairer world” – an admirably succinct and accurate description of their primary task. I suggested the teams should focus on agreeing one short sentence that could be grasped and remembered.

I asked them to get on with the task on their tables.

I observed a number of  things going on. One person seemed completely removed from the debate, sitting on a table by themselves, only half listening to the discussion. A few others discussed what a ridiculous task they had been set. Some looked up their company website and read out what it says. Others disputed the very idea that there could be one primary task. Some said that because customers got different things from the organisation that it couldn’t have one task. Someone else said it didn’t matter. One senior leader made a statement of refusal and looked at pictures of dogs on her phone.

After 20 minutes I joined each group, one by one. All of them were having some difficulty with focusing on the task, but I could see that within each group some were really trying hard to do what I had asked. They were frustrated by the “bad” behaviour, which they felt was spoiling it for everyone else. Some looked to the more senior people in the room to control it, but the leaders were off duty that day.

I noticed however that most of the participants felt uncomfortable and were unwilling to work together. This was more than not being used to working together. Some of their rivalries were being dealt with by a simple refusal to cooperate. I felt powerfully that they were people much happier working with their subordinate staff than with each other.

I was also aware that although I had been invited and authorised by the CEO I was resented by most in the room. Although no criticisms were voiced I could tell from the body language and behaviour they were thinking.

  • Who is she to tell them what to do?
  • The question what are we here for implies we are not doing our job properly
  • Does she think we need help?
  • What does she think we should be doing?
  • How can she judge us?

They dealt with their discomfort and anxiety by blaming me. I felt and experienced negative feelings about me – an avoidance of eye contact, closed body language, a desire to leave the room/finish the session or to fight me. Luckily I understood why this was happening – when we feel incompetent, threatened or attacked we project our feelings on to an outsider or a different team/company/organisation. I could experience how they were projecting some of their anxieties about the task on to me.

Eventually, and it felt like an uncomfortably long time, I realised that two of the groups were beginning to achieve some clarity about what their primary task was. In slightly different ways, and in simple language, they began to specify what it was they did. I find that when this moment comes there is a sense of discovering the obvious. I proposed that these two tables work together to improve their answer, but without supervision the already fragile bond fell apart and the two groups ceased work and just started chatting.

The other table was struggling because they were trying for a list of what services they offer, trying to capture the full range of what they do (rather than what they are for). I suggested that they should consider what the other table had come up with and they felt that the simple statement was much better. One member was looking at his watch – anxious perhaps that other tables had got the job done while they were still struggling. All the things they had been trying to squeeze into one sentence actually flowed from the primary task – once defined.

As any discipline had now broken down – to the distress of the members who wanted to do the work – I pulled the meeting back together. I told them that I felt their discussion had been productive as they had the kernel of a decision on what their primary task was, and I suggested it might be worth putting more time into it.

I then gave them some feedback

  • Working together on a clear task was very challenging and as a group they were trying to avoid and disrupt the task
  • Each team and department sees their area as being the most important and this means that the leadership fails to see the whole picture, which is absolutely essential for an effective organisation
  • As a result there is no collective leadership in the organisation. All are in silos wasting effort in rivalrous behaviours
  • What impact does this have on the staff group?
  • There is no agreed idea of what we are here to do so no clear way to prioritise or deprioritise areas
  • Most did not even see it as their responsibility to give a lead, wondering if the Board or customer panels might do it instead.
  • While everyone likes certain departments they were not able to explain how their work contributed to the whole, creating a confused message

It is hard to plan you business if you are not certain of your task. Your marketing, communication etc will be unclear and your customers will not understand what you might be able to offer them. With this particular organisation the different departments beleive they are selling different things and the company is not commercially successful – this came through in the way they behaved that day. Since that event things have gone downhill further, I am sorry to say.

This experience was interesting in so many ways. If you find that things get agreed and then don’t happen; if you find meetings inconclusive and meandering; if colleagues seem unable to get along with each other and keep asking you to intervene – then you can be sure that what is happening on an emotional level is undermining your business plan.


The other week I finally launched a book (about fashion, style and making clothes). And, as you do, you thank those who helped you – spouse, family and friends. I also thanked the sewing community – the army of wonderful women who gather around each other in a shared endeavour, boosting each other up as they pursue their craft. And my teachers, coaches and helpers. I made the simple point in my short speech that “all work is team work”. Do you agree?

We are at heart social beings. In a way there is no such thing as an individual despite our (Western) cultural prejudices. In fact, from earliest infancy, we are all part of a group. We come into existence biologically and socially dependent on our mothers, and from the babies point of view the mother is part of their self. There is no such thing a baby without the mother (or carer). The dominant feature of our psychology is a desire and an impulse to form relationships. We are socially orientated just like (most) plants are orientated towards the sun. From the beginning of time, and from the start of life, a relationship grows between two people as they experience and adjust to the other’s nature. Many conversations between mothers, or between parents, focus on trying to understand their baby Jane. She is fussy, good, wakeful, irritable, easy, boisterous, timid, he feeds all the time, he won’t settle, etc. The mother will adapt to her understanding of his behaviour and her own behaviour will change as she tries to make the relationship better or even possible and bearable.

The power of a group – two of us refused to wear a green tie!

I knew a couple who devised such an elaborate method to get their child off to sleep, (involving a baby bouncer, a wig, a flannel and sometimes a car drive at 38 miles an hour) – their strange behaviour perfectly attuned to the needs and peculiarities of their infant son.

Of course this pattern of learning about others, adjusting ourselves to them as they reciprocate, is completely inbred and taken for granted. It is very important at work where relationships are everything. We do this learning/adjusting thing all the time, and it always surprises me how well it works despite the huge complexity involved. As we grow, learn and develop as individuals we will have a pool of internalised knowledge that we can rely on to understand and predict the behaviour of others and we may be better or worse at doing this. We all have our own interpretations but trying to understand the behaviour of ourselves and others is key to better relationships and outcomes in the workplace.

I believe that we all need to consider our behavior in relationships and more importantly in groups and teams at work. What happens to us when we form or are forced to join teams or groups? Have you ever wondered what forces are at play in groups which influence our behaviour? Some groups seem cliquey and we might become cliquey when we join that group. Some are hard working. When I was at University I ended up in a group that did alot of extra work together, out of hours, to understand our subject matter. Some groups are very caring and nurturing where everyone remembers each others’ birthday, checking up on each other and helping out whenever there is a need. This could be because of a dominant personality or an underlying need that comes together, but I would argue that we often go along with the group culture even when we don’t feel entirely comfortable about it.

Why is it so hard to break away from corporate culture and do what we as individuals want to do? When a group takes a view on race, or Brexit, or the importance of the bottom line, we often feel a very strong impulse to comply with the corporate culture. Why can’t we do what we want? There are a few “loners” or people who are willing to be disagreeable, occasionally, but most of us would rather become an uncomfortable version of ourselves than stand alone against the group.

Even if we are the biggest introvert on the planet, even if we are a hermit, human beings are a group-ish. Every thing that we engage in – a work, sports, in the family, even if we are engaged in a solitary task like writing a book or praying on a hill side, it is done either in a group or with a group in mind. My writing coach spoke, in my mind, whenever I was writing. When I speak at an event I respond to the faces, feelings and context of the audience and change what I say or the emotional content as a result. Groups provide us with support, security and safety. But they are also places where we can experience a lot of conflict, unhappiness and fear.


I hate my manager. What should I do?

I hate my manager. What should I do?

This question was put to me last week by someone outside my own organisation.  This is an interesting question. And one I have asked in my time.

Way back I had a bullying manager who made me miserable. He was manipulative, underhand and did his best to undermine me.

Unfortunately I really loved my job and wanted to do well. On my own criteria (objective data) I knew I was doing well. I had a great team and we all liked each other and we made excellent progress. It was basically a fun job. I had good feedback from my team and I got on well with my peers. Naively I came to my one-to-one meetings with this particular manager with evidence of my team’s achievements (KPIs) but he wasn’t very interested in performance and looked bored as I rehearsed what we had done.

There was more to this than boredom. He really disliked me and was routinely rude and unkind. I know this was a conscious strategy to get me to leave. Knowing he wanted me to disappear made me constantly anxious. I never gave him a reason to sack me but his unpleasantness soon got to me. A few weeks into the job I was looking for a way out.

senior women at Notting Hill
Good bosses

In the end it took me a couple of years to find new role. In the meantime I felt I had to put up with his behaviour. I am not recommending the “shut up and put up” approach as being miserable at work is not acceptable. I was less experienced then, bullying at work had not yet really been identified and I absolutely needed the money. But I share my experience as it may be useful. If leaving straight away is not an option here are a few techniques that may help.

  • Do you job perfectly ensuring you keep good records. No-one can really argue if you are good at your job
  • Minute your one-to-one meetings noting any accusations, remarks and undermining statements
  • Confide in a friend at work or at home to get personal support
  • I didn’t feel I could go to HR as my boss managed the HR Director who was his personal friend
  • Stay out of their way except for 1:1 meetings
  • In team meetings with your boss, be “political’ in your interventions – don’t get on your high horse, or correct him or give him any ammo.
  • Don’t fight back when provoked – do exactly as you are told and don’t rock the boat

During the two years I endured the bullying, I learnt a great deal:

  • A really bad manager who ridicules and undermines his staff is a good role model showing you what not to do
  • Fighting fire with fire burns the whole forest. Try fighting fire with water, or ice
  • Avoid gossiping or telling tales – these diminish you and will enrage the bad manager when they get passed on
  • Learn what you can. Do your job well and move on as soon as you can.

I was a lot younger when my brush with the bad boss happened. I was scared and isolated. I am not sure I would do the same again but putting up with it made by tougher and wiser.

So what would my advice be today if someone presented this situation to me?

I would try to work out why my manager was being aggressive and mean. I might have tried to understand him and ask him what I needed to do to change. Now, looking back, I think I understand better what his motivations and issues were. At the time I couldn’t see his point of view as I felt he was  unjust. However I now understand how some of the things I did really annoyed him. Trying to do the job by my own rules enraged him. He wanted and needed me to understand and support him. I really found this difficult as I didn’t really respect his approach. I thought he was a dirty fighter, unprincipled and highly political. Nowadays I would try to understand him as a complete person with lots of good qualities and abilities as well as negative and aggressive traits.

Have you ever had the boss from hell? What would you have done?

More Performance Management

Last week I wrote about Key Performance Indicators.

Now let us consider performance at work more generally. The word really implies that people do their jobs well – that they perform at work.

Let’s say a man is employed to sell flats. We can motivate and monitor him in a range of ways. Here are some popular approaches.

• Give him the brochures and a mobile phone, tell him his target – five a week say – and sack him the first week he sells four or less.
• Tell him that while the base salary is laughable he will be incentivised to sell and he will get a large bonus for each home sold. If he sells more than four he will earn more than the average wage for this kind of work. Less and he will be under the minimum wage and struggling to eat and heat.
• Put him in a team with five others. Everyone has to compete against each other. Each month the worst performer is sacked.
• Give him a long list of “prospects” – people who may have been interested in buying at one point – and make him call every single one trying to get a lead. This is especially demoralising as now the performance the employer is monitoring is not even sales, but simply phone calls.

Even though many of these approaches use money as a “reward system” all of them, which may be effective at “incentivising” certain sorts of work or behaviour,  are based on fear. I used to have a terrible boss who, whatever you had actually managed to achieve (eg cost reductions, cases resolved etc) would always reward me by setting a higher target the next year. This so called “stretch” target just felt like I was on the rack. And you will surely forgive me for deliberately underperforming just so I could prevent this ridiculous arms race. I did once have a team that falsified sales figures because they were frightened they would look incompetent if they did not sell what was expected of them. These colleagues lost their jobs for being dishonest. V0041737 A man dressed in a loincloth is tortured on the rack with a

As I was not actually doing the work myself (but rather managing a team) I used to tell him that a better approach would be to work with my team to find out what sort of level of performance would be achievable each year or quarter. At the moment, for example, selling homes in London is more challenging than it was, say before the Brexit vote. And many targets are flawed and not closely related to management or front line worker action. For example the number of insurance claims for roof damage can often be closely correlated to dramatic weather conditions.

I was once asked by a commissioner under a Private Finance Initiative scheme,  to set a target on complaints. She wanted us to have no more than say 3 complaints for every 1000 customers a year. I argued against this on the basis that staff would be incentivised to suppress or hide complaints, denying us an important opportunity to learn. Reporting breaches of health and safety, or data protection, or failures needs to be even more deeply embedded in our culture than the so called celebration of success. If we manage the failures well, and learn from them, the upside will usually take care of itself.

My approach to personal performance and achievement is to allow my colleague to set their own targets.  given their understanding of the task, the conditions, their own skills and aptitude etc. Through discussing what they feel is achievable an effective manager will get a range of insights.  Often a member of your team members will say performance cannot be improved unless they get better IT, or other departments change the systems they insist on. They may want to do certain things that are currently not done, or change a process to improve it. Some of these things may be difficult or impossible, but it would be wise the encourage them to try new approaches. This could lead to important changes, for the better, in the way things are done. It they have a fear of difficult conversations and yet the job requires it a conversation like this might bring it into the open – clarifying either their unsuitability for this type of role, or perhaps a training or support need. Performance and its management is at the heart of relationships at work and doing it well requires a great deal of creativity and listening.

While an organisation must have targets they should be set from the ground floor up. There is no point in senior managers setting unachievable targets and then getting angry or exasperated when they are not met. Let the individual or team set their targets and then work to support them in getting there. If we find that Syed lets homes far more quickly than Sara shall we pair them up so she can learn from him? What is she doing that is slowing her down? Does her superior performance on other measures show she is better at building relationships, for example? In summary those targets and indicators are just useful parts of the overall picture.

Key Performance Indicators  work if they are

• What the business actually must know and understand
• Are collected because they are needed, not reported because we already have the data
• Consistently measured and collected on an accurate and precise basis
• Used to track progress of the organisation over time. While benchmarking with others may be of use, I believe it is secondary to watching things improve in response to initiatives taken.
• Used to help focus senior management attention on problems within the business as usual (BAU) areas
• Created by and with the staff who do the work. Get your staff to set their own objectives, targets and performance indicators. Take a genuine interest in what they can tell you from their experience of doing the work.

Do please tell me what you have found works well in managing performance at work. Thank you.

Performance Indicators

What does your performance indicate?

Debo heard her boss’s Mike’s favourite book was Life of Pi. Her response was very funny.

“Life of P.I.s? I am not surprised!”

Her boss was obsessed with Performance Indicators, especially those that were “Key”, so unsurprisingly Debo imagined Mike would read about the Performance Indicators of Life for fun.

Putting the Key into Performance Indicators

KPIs have a place.

Last week at Notting Hill Genesis we spent two hours agreeing a dozen or so that the Board will look at regularly. I keep a close eye on some in particular. I care about safety so I check we are doing our inspections and remedial work; customer and staff satisfaction is very important, so I look at the survey data; and we need to sell homes to keep our operation afloat and enable us to do what we set out to do – use these profits to provide homes for low income Londoners. Other data I just flick my eye over. On my holidays I read thrillers and listen to true crime podcasts.

What are KPIs for?

KPIs are indicators, like the ones you have in your car. You can see at a glance if you are about to run out of fuel. Like the accounts they tell you how you are doing in terms of making and spending money. For the individual at work the data can help him or her manage their time and workload. They have a role and I would be surprised if there were no KPIs at all, but let’s have a look at what works, and what doesn’t.

What is the down side with KPIs?

  • They are usually dreamt up by boards, central teams or senior managers and imposed on staff
  • They are often unrealistic, reflecting a view of the world from the top, ie we strive to make our homes safe, therefore the target must be 100% compliant.
  • Often an organisation has dozens of KPI undermining any normal concept  of  Key
  • As metrics they measure one aspect only ie if there is a gas safety certificate the place must be safe (in terms of gas explosions and carbon monoxide poisoning)
  • Staff do what is measured rather than what is actually most important
  • Unfair comparisons might be made
  • At best they indicate – they rarely prove
  • Often staff and managers produce KPIs based on what information they have or can collect easily. This is then served up as key and those who are supposed to be reviewing the information and managing performance find it tenuous or unfathomable, negating its value.
  • Those tasked with scrutinising or overseeing performance sometimes struggle to see the wood for the trees.
  • They are often seen as fact that is counter posed to anecdote and sentiment.


Why are they useful?

Any organisation needs to be able to determine its health and effectiveness. It’s like a human being.  The objective tests for health include testing heartbeat, blood pressure and temperature which helps us determine if the patient is ill or not. Then we can do other tests to find out what she could be suffering from using other indicators like blood composition, bone density, etc. before we know if she is sick or well. Of course we would also ask her how she is feeling! This would be the number one indicator and should probably precede the tests. To be honest if we feel well we don’t normally visit the doctor of get tested. The “subjective” usually trumps the “scientific/objective” measure.

In determining what to measure any organisation needs to start from its primary task. If our job is to provide homes for low income Londoners an important thing for us to count is how many new homes we are able to produce each year – say 3000 homes. If we only manage 100 there is a problem! But this outcome can have arisen for so many different reasons, we will immediately have to investigate. For example

  • The delivery may be slow due to several small delays on one big site
  • We may have had to change the homes due to changes to planning law
  • Our teams may be short of staff
  • There maybe an international shortage of building materials
  • Staff may have been disillusioned, badly paid and on strike for a year

Most  indicators are just a measurement of something that has already occurred.  By the time we count the homes that we have built (at the end of the year) the teams will have known about the problems and the senior managers should have been involved in trying to avert, rectify or mitigate the problem. If they haven’t noticed until the figure is published it will be impossible to put it right.

So how do we make the most of performance information?

Five directors review performance information
Reviewing performance

Start with a simple question. If you were buying this company what are the ten key qualitative questions you would want answers to?

For example
1. How profitable is the company?
2. What is the product quality like?
3. Are customers satisfied? How many complain?
4. What is the health and safety record like?
5. It is effective at collecting money due?
6. How many weeks does it take to sell or let a home?
7. Is the business growing year on year?
8. Are the staff happy?

No more than 10 are suggested. Obviously the questions will depend on the industry and type of firm. Test the questions with your senior team and board. When you have agreed what you want to know decide which of these is important enough to be reveiwed every month – this is what makes it “key”. Then make sure the departments can produce the information you want. If they say “oh we have got data on customer satisfaction by business but we don’t collect it overall, and anyway we have different methodologies, and while the satisfaction is bad amongst leaseholders it is improving, and our older residents are very happy etc.” say ‘Stop. I would like one aggregate figure of customer satisfaction overall that we can compare over time – please find a way.”

It is very important that once the key areas of performance to be monitored are defined the teams stick to the definitions and produce reliable and consistent data that allows the senior team to get an accurate picture every month or week or quarter. Make this report your gold standard. Ensure commentary on the data is objective and not full of excuses. Encourage a culture where people tell the truth and bring the failures, bad news and complaints to your attention. Then the Board can use this information to check on the well being of the company, its staff and customers and may adjust the strategy accordingly.

This to me is what KPIs are all about.

I will continue this topic next week. Do let me know who defines the KPIs at your company and what it means for you.


Why mergers fail (part two)

Last week I started to write about why mergers, and major change projects, often fail to deliver what they set out to do. Sometimes they even take an organisation backwards.

How much change can we bear? Apparently even changing the recipe on Coke was too much for many people, and certainly when they stopped cooking MacDonalds “fries” in animal fat the taste went from nice to nasty. But change on a more significant scale can really upset us – bereavement, moving home or taking on a new job.

If the change is small and we don’t have to adapt too much  – sitting at a new desk, or having your lunch at 12 noon rather than 1pm we assimilate it fairly quickly (in about a fortnight). However, with major change, as noted by Piaget (1), we have to accommodate new knowledge, involving a more profound change in our viewpoint. When change is on a major scale managers have to plan to make the new knowledge easier for our colleagues to assimilate.

Mother helping a child to learn to write.
Learning to write

It is not easy for any of us to change our outlook. After all for decades we have been thinking and behaving in certain ways. We perceive, think and frame issues in well-established, habitual ways. For examples attitudes to women, gay or black people took decades to change: I am still arguing much the same things as I argued in 1975 when I went to university. Very few of us experience “road to Damascus” conversions.

These ways of thinking cannot and will not change by being instructed to think differently. When I have had to sit on a metal bench, bolted to the floor, and have waited four hours to be seen by someone in A&E I had plenty of time to study the “Values” of my local hospital.  I am not knocking individuals – running health services is certainly challenging. But I wondered who had put together this grandiose list of behaviours and how they expected frazzled, frightened front line staff to deliver it.

Our attitudes only change when we really want to change them; normally when we experience a strong need to change our outlook. Our motivation must come from within as much as from without.  Managers can merely provide conditions that will boost our chances that most people will make the required changes on their own volition. Our role is to create the circumstances that help our teams see things in a new light, to extend their perspectives, to consider the consequences of our actions, to questions the validity and relevance of their existing ideas, beliefs and attitudes, and then to be prepared to entertain new ideas that support the new perspective. This is somewhat different to producing a set of values and sticking them up in the lifts.

I have previously made the point that people who are scared, and are still in a black and white mindset (us and them), cannot begin to do the work of assimilating new approaches. This is the case for consciously working to contain anxiety. 

This means we have to take action to stop people falling into a blame situation, or scapegoating or denial. We need to help people feel relaxed and confident of the future, and their own role in it, so they can increase their capacity for problem solving and creativity. It is likely that there will be antagonism to the leadership, who may be blamed for getting things wrong, and the leaders need to be able to deal with these understandable feelings without fighting back.

This post takes it one step further. As we plan the integration of two (or more) separate legal entities we need to take specific actions to ensure that our colleagues are in an emotional state when they will be able to take the new information and requirements in.

We need to think of our organisations as living beings, made up of hundreds (or thousands) of social human minds and emotions. This sort of organisation is highly dynamic, unpredictable and cannot be easily captured in your giant merger project plan.

The most important thing for leaders to do is to make sure they are acting in a way that they would like everyone else to act and react. How we react and respond to what occurs throughout the process is the most important factor.

This cannot be precisely planned for as it all happens at the level of human interactions and feelings. The leadership has to be meeting and discussing continually so they can react collectively to the mood and the moment with great sensitivity and understanding. If the leadership do something stupid like react to criticism with attacks, or dismiss worries without any empathy, then trust seeps away and progress comes to an abrupt stop.

Leaders, regularly and persistently, must stay in touch with the changing emotional landscape, talking to staff, visiting offices, engaging actively. They must staying in touch with reality as they focus on developing the culture of the new organisation. Done well this approach will ensure that the clear view of the leadership comes through not just in behaviour but as they new organisation is defined – in the agreed primary task, the strategy, the structures and policy of the new organisation.

The method that works is consultation, involvement and engagement of staff in the co-creation of the new organisation.  Of course the leadership must set certain objective parameters (eg how much the new structure can cost) generally they leave empowered,  affected staff to design new structures, systems and delivery methods. This includes genuine listening and consultation, seeking views and taking them into consideration before a decision is made. Some of these views will express inevitable anxieties – the leaders will need to consider what is being expressed, beneath the surface, and decide what needs to be done to alleviate it.

So far, during our merger adventure, we have found the listening involved rather time-consuming and exhausting. But the work and the time taken is almost certainly worth it. Not doing anything, or doing token things, can be disastrous as the whole organisation looses the plot and begins to run on rumour, anger and conflict rather than rational thought and cooperation. Holding on to trust and boosting it by being honest at all times makes the process  much smoother. Although it takes more time to get there, the solutions proffered will be largely acceptable to the staff who will assimilate the changes needed to create the new, stronger organisation.



(1) “Jean Piaget – Cognitive Theory – Simply Psychology”