Most people do their best work when they know their manager trusts them. If they worry that you think they’re lazy, incapable of directing their behavior, or lack integrity, they’re unlikely to take feedback or coaching from you.
So go out of your way to gain your employees’ trust by demonstrating positive assumptions about them.
Give challenging assignments, with the clear and confident belief that your expectations will be met.
And don’t hide information, or assume people will mishandle it. Instead, promote transparency.
Try adding a “through the grapevine” agenda item to meetings as a fun, informal way for people to share company information they’ve heard, so you can either confirm or debunk the rumor. When managers demonstrate positive assumptions, employees respond in kind.
A guest post co-authored by Alan Matcham and Tim Coburn who are partners at Accelerance.co. Developing leaders who drive business performance using advanced and engaging learning principles.
The holy grail of most organisations offering executive education interventions is knowing and justifying if they really work. Reflecting on what traditionally happens this paper sets out to propose a more imaginative and relevant way of tracking the success (or not) of executive education interventions. We suggest the focus needs to be more on what is learnt not how people feel and more in tune with the means of design not just the ends.
A recent McKinsey report; “Why Leadership Development Programmes Fail”, highlighted the following research findings:
US companies spend almost $14 billion annually on leadership development.
Customised leadership development offerings from top business schools can reach $150,000 a person.
500 executives ranked their top three human-capital priorities; leadership development was included as both a current and a future priority.
Only 7 percent of senior managers polled by a UK business school think that their companies develop global leaders effectively
Around 30 percent of US companies admit they lack enough leaders with the right capabilities.
Professor Jeff Pfeffer of Stanford University in his article; “Getting beyond the BS of leadership literature”, states the US spend could actually be as much as $50bn. He goes on to say that;”Leaders aren’t doing a good job for themselves or their workplaces, and things don’t seem to be improving.”
From this evidence, a conscientious Leadership Development professional may be perfectly entitled to conclude that investing in Leadership Development Programmes and interventions is an expensive waste of time and money with questionable returns.
The counter argument is that whilst the cost of Executive Education may appear high, the cost of Executive ignorance is significantly higher. That doesn’t however negate the need for the pursuit of more helpful, relevant and accurate measures of success.
In his article; “The Corporate Leadership Landscape”, Tim Coburn highlights the complex contextual environment today’s Executives have to operate in. There is no doubt they live in a world where the shelf life of knowledge is getting shorter and shorter and the need to learn continuously is a must, not a nice to have. If Executives are to remain valuable and valued resourceful humans, they need to focus on the complex not the repetitive, the unknown not the known, and increasingly on the future not today because “today” is being standardised, outsourced, automated and digitised.
From the evidence, a conscientious Leadership Development professional may be perfectly entitled to conclude that investing in Leadership Development Programmes and interventions is an expensive waste of time and money with questionable returns.
Whichever report you choose to read there is little doubt that Executive Development is crucially important. The growing dilemma facing all those responsible for Executive Development is how do we know if our investment will provide the value and returns we seek? The answer of course is that there is no simple answer! Having said that we would like to show that there are many surrogates which can help point the way and, when taken in the round, provide strong evidence for progress.
The Purpose of Executive Education
Given the challenges faced by the leaders of today’s companies, we believe the sole purpose of executive education should be to enable executives to learn and learn how to learn, and in doing so apply that to improving themselves and their organisations.
For individual leaders, the ability to learn has already been identified as the strongest factor in determining their potential to succeed. And for organisations, the ability to adapt and change has become so obviously critical to their survival.
The Traditional Approach
The most widely used method of measuring the effectiveness of Executive Education Programmes, is the classic “Happy Sheet”, or delegate feedback form. These are designed to gather feedback on the quality of content, speakers, learning experiences, the venue and administrative support. Using a combination of closed (rating scale) and open questions, delegates are asked to evaluate and report on their experience.
The fundamental design flaw and perhaps unintended consequence of this sort of measurement mechanism is that it invariably forces Executives to make one dimensional judgements of; good/bad, yes/no, like/don’t like and not make more valuable self-reflections on their own learning experience and feelings.
If the purpose of executive education is to create people with the ability to learn how to learn then reinforcing such a judgemental approach is damaging and counterproductive to that aim.
The evaluation of a delegates learning experience is crucial but in doing so, we should be asking questions with a known correlation to an improvement of thinking and behaviour in job performance, like some of those identified by ABDI’s research:
Were the personal and collective objectives achieved? (effectiveness)
Was the content relevant to your role? (relevance)
Do you have an implementable action plan to apply your new insights? (action plan)
Were you challenged and supported in relation to your individual and collective assumptions? (insights)
Would you recommend this programme to colleagues? (willingness to recommend)
As useful as these questions are however, we believe they only go part of the way in addressing the real purpose of executive education.
A Different Perspective
Given the emphasis on learning – as well as the emphasis on improving performance – knowing if Executive Education Programmes work becomes a function of both means and ends. By means we refer to the underpinning pedagogical and design principles and processes of any intervention. The way a programme is designed will dictate whether ‘learning to learn’ and ‘improving yourself and your organisation’ actually happens.
The design principles we believe in ensure we address the purpose of executive education as we see it. In doing so, they also provide an alternative set of measurement criteria that can be used for evaluating impact. These principles include:
The importance of working on real issues – identifying real business challenges allows teams to anchor their learning in “doing” and to produce outputs that may be adopted in the business. The goal is to apply new insights and learning in the creation and delivery of well structured projects with clear measures of success that will change the business.
Measure: The number and quality of projects worked on. Also did the programme help to address and resolve real business issues effectively with imaginative solutions based on new insights?
Co creation and the involvement of senior leaders/sponsors in the design and delivery – this facilitates a significant degree of ownership and intimacy with the programme and its delegates allowing line manager and sponsors to see change in behaviour and thinking over time.
Measure: Were senior leaders engaged and involved in shaping the programme? How were their needs and perspectives considered? How were senior leaders and sponsors supporting delegates before, during and after the intervention? What changes did sponsors see in delegates?
Live testing and experimentation – the translation of insight and ideas into action under experimental conditions is not only a way of understanding if new ideas will work but also another reference point for “ends” and the number of ideas generated, experiments undertaken and new ideas implemented.
Measure: Did the programme include live testing and experimentation? How many experiments, new ideas or new ways of working were tested as a result of the programme?
Emotional engagement and reflection – Effective learning is a function of the level of both intellectual as well as emotional engagement. Facilitating interventions such as learning sets allows the delegates to connect at both an intellectual and deeply emotional level. Peer to peer interaction identifies reference points of change from the moment the learning sets start to the moment they finish. Providing ample time for reflection also allows delegates to record their thoughts, feelings, impressions and emotions before a programme starts and again at the end. This can be captured using interview techniques or video recordings.
Measure: Did the programme allow the development of learning relationships that enabled the development of thoughts and feelings as part of the learning journey? Were qualitative observations captured before, during and after the intervention to assess “shift”?
Asking and enquiring, not telling – programmes designed to actively engage delegates in the learning process and not transmit knowledge have the opportunity to both see engagement in action and also measure levels of engagement throughout the intervention.
Measure: Did the programme encourage and enable inquiry-led learning driven by participant curiosity? How did that process work (for the delegates) and how did the quality of questioning change individually and collectively over the life of the intervention and beyond? How did the proportion of time shift over the life of the intervention from “transmit” to “converse”?
Creating “thirsty learners” – programmes that help delegates learn how to learn have a greater probability of getting feedback from line managers and colleagues in both a formal or informal context. Delegates who are comfortable actively seeking feedback as part of a learning process receive more insight in regard to their own performance.
Measure: Did the programme enable the improvement of your ability to learn that you will be able to transfer and apply in your job? What was the level of active feedback seeking during and post the intervention?
Moving away from your comfort zone – delegates invariably learn more from what is unusual or unorthodox to them compared to staying with the familiar. This can be both an extremely rewarding but also very uncomfortable experience (hence the view we hold of avoiding questions which reference a good/bad experience). Learning through discovery and exploring new perspectives is one of the most powerful ways of helping leaders reframe their views.
Measure: identifying the specific insights that came from any discovery experience. How many new insights were generated? How relevant might they be to helping move forward your personal and business challenges?
The list of design principles referenced is by no means exhaustive and is only a sample of those we use to construct and deliver our work. When executive education is designed with principles like these, traditional “happy sheet” questions become less helpful when seeking to find out if a programme has achieved its real purpose. Given the importance of Executive Development to the future of every business it’s important we move away from simplistic and often misleading measurement methods and adopt a more holistic view of what can be measured based on more enlightened design principles and practices.
About the authors:
Alan Matcham – Alan’s passion is to make work fit for people and people fit for work. His experience is focused on Leadership and Management transformation and working to release the untapped potential in all employees.
Tim Coburn – Tim has a special interest in the learning process particularly the way leaders use language, conversation and stories to engage and motivate teams to improve corporate performance. His career has included global culture change roles with the BBC, Motorola, Rolls-Royce and Serco PLC.
To build a great business, companies need a purpose — one that transcends the traditional bottom line. People want to be passionate about their work, and they want to be surrounded by others who feel the same. But how can managers actually foster passion?
Here are five ways:
Let people show their emotions. If you ask your people to check their emotions at the door, you can’t tap into their passion.
Hire passionate people. One way to get passionate people into your organization is to incentivize current employees to refer people they want to work with.
Fan the flames. Find plenty of ways to celebrate joint accomplishments.
Don’t stifle your rock stars. Give your people the autonomy to do the work that interests them most.
Share context. Connect job functions to the organization’s broader mission, and remind people why they do what they do.
When your top team fails to function, it will likely paralyze the whole company.
Few teams function as well as they could. But the stakes get higher with senior-executive teams: dysfunctional ones can slow down, derail, or even paralyze a whole company. McKinsey in their work with top teams at more than 100 leading multinational companies, including surveys with 600 senior executives at 30 of them, they identified three crucial priorities for constructing and managing effective top teams. Getting these priorities right can help drive better business outcomes in areas ranging from customer satisfaction to worker productivity and many more as well.
Get the right people on the team . . . and the wrong ones off
Determining the membership of a top team is the CEO’s responsibility—and frequently the most powerful lever to shape a team’s performance. Many CEOs regret not employing this lever early enough or thoroughly enough. Still others neglect it entirely, assuming instead that factors such as titles, pay grades, or an executive’s position on the org chart are enough to warrant default membership. Little surprise, then, that more than one-third of the executives they surveyed said their top teams did not have the right people and capabilities.
The key to getting a top team’s composition right is deciding what contributions the team as a whole, and its members as individuals, must make to achieve an organization’s performance aspirations and then making the necessary changes in the team. This sounds straight-forward, but it typically requires conscious attention and courage from the CEO; otherwise, the top team can under-deliver for an extended period of time.
Make sure the top team does just the work only it can do
Many top teams struggle to find purpose and focus. Only 38 percent of the executives McKinsey surveyed said their teams focused on work that truly benefited from a top-team perspective. Only 35 percent said their top teams allocated the right amounts of time among the various topics they considered important, such as strategy and people.
Address team dynamics and processes
A final area demanding unrelenting attention from CEOs is effective team dynamics, whose absence is a frequent problem: among the top teams McKinsey studied, members reported that only about 30 percent of their time was spent in “productive collaboration”—a figure that dropped even more when teams dealt with high-stakes topics where members had differing, entrenched interests.
Correcting dysfunctional dynamics requires focused attention and interventions, preferably as soon as an ineffective pattern shows up.
Finally, most teams need to change their support systems or processes to catalyse and embed change.
Each top team is unique, and every CEO will need to address a unique combination of challenges.
Developing a highly effective top team typically requires good diagnostics, followed by a series of workshops and field work to address the dynamics of the team while it attends to hard business issues. The best top teams will begin to take collective responsibility and to develop the ability to maintain and improve their own effectiveness, creating a lasting performance edge.
As we look at things that impress us technologically we also have a certain trepidation, because we’re told that robots are going to take our jobs. “Yes, the internet is wonderful,” we may say, “but robots, I don’t want those.”
I don’t mean to make light of this because robots are going to take a lot of jobs. They’re going to take a lot of blue collar jobs, and they’re going to take a lot of white collar jobs you don’t think they can take. Already there are robots that can dispense pills at pharmacies. That’s being done in California. They have not made one mistake. You can’t say that about human pharmacists, who are now free to be up front talking to you while the robot fills the prescription.
Much of this is discussed by author Kevin Kelly in his new book The Inevitable, with the subtitle Understanding the 12 Technological Forces that Will Shape Our Future. It’s incredible what robots can do and what they will be able to do.
Automation Really Is Taking Our Jobs
To me, just the fact that one of Google’s newest computers can caption a photo perfectly — it can figure out what’s happening in the photo and give a perfect caption — is amazing. Just when you think “a machine can’t do my job,” maybe it can.
What kind of world is this we’re moving into? I understand the fear about that. But, at the same time, let’s think, first of all, about what happened in the past.
In the past, most people worked on farms, and automation took away 99 percent of those jobs. Literally 99 percent. They’re gone. People wound up with brand new jobs they could never have anticipated. And in pursuing those jobs we might even argue that we became more human. Because we diversified. Because we found a niche for ourselves that was unique to us. Automation is going to make it possible for human beings to do work that is more fulfilling.
How is that? Well, first let’s think about the kinds of jobs that automation and robots do that we couldn’t do even if we tried. Making computer chips, there’s no one in this room who could do that. We don’t have the precision and the control to do that. We can’t inspect every square millimeter of a CAT scan to look for cancer cells. These are all points Kevin Kelly is trying to make to us. We can’t inflate molten glass into the shape of a bottle.
So, there are many tasks that are done by robots, through automation that are tasks we physically could not do at all, and would not get done otherwise.
Automation Creates Luxuries We Didn’t Know Were Possible
But also automation creates jobs we didn’t even know we wanted done. Kelly gives this example:
Before we invented automobiles, air-conditioning, flat-screen video displays, and animated cartoons, no one living in ancient Rome wished they could watch pictures move while riding to Athens in climate-controlled comfort. … When robots and automation do our most basic work, making it relatively easy for us to be fed, clothed, and sheltered, then we are free to ask, “What are humans for?”
Industrialization did more than just extend the average human lifespan. It led a greater percentage of the population to decide that humans were meant to be ballerinas, full-time musicians, mathematicians, athletes, fashion designers, yoga masters, fan-fiction authors, and folks with one-of-a kind titles on their business cards.
The same is true of automation today. We will look back and be ashamed that human beings ever had to do some of the jobs they do today.
Turning Instead to Art, Science, and More
Now here’s something controversial. Kelly observes that there’s a sense in which we want jobs in which productivity is not the most important thing. When we think about productivity and efficiency, robots have that all over us. When it comes to “who can do this thing faster,” they can do it faster. So let them do jobs like that. It’s just a matter of — so to speak — robotically doing the same thing over and over again as fast as possible. We can’t compete there. Why bother?
Where can we compete? Well, we can compete in all the areas that are gloriously inefficient. Science is gloriously inefficient because of all the failures that are involved along the way. The same is true with innovation. The same is true of any kind of art. It is grotesquely inefficient from the point of view of the running of a pin factory. Being creative is inefficient because you go down a lot of dead ends. Healthcare and nursing: these things revolve around relationships and human experiences. They are not about efficiency.
So, let efficiency go to the robots. We’ll take the things that aren’t so focused on efficiency and productivity, where we excel, and we’ll focus on relationships, creativity, human contact, things that make us human. We focus on those things.
Automation Really Does Make Us Richer
Now, with extraordinary efficiency comes fantastic abundance. And with fantastic abundance comes greater purchasing power, because of the pushing down of prices through competition. So even if we earn less in nominal terms, our paychecks will stretch much further. That’s how people became wealthy during and after the Industrial Revolution. It was that we could suddenly produce so many more goods that competitive pressures put downward pressure on prices. That will continue to be the case. So, even if I have a job that pays me relatively little — in terms of how many of the incredibly abundant goods I’ll be able to acquire — it will be a salary the likes of which I can hardly imagine.
Now, I can anticipate an objection. This is an objection I’ll hear from leftists and also from some traditionalist conservatives. They’ll sniff that consumption and greater material abundance don’t improve us spiritually; they are actually impoverishing for us.
Well, for one thing, there’s actually much more materialism under socialism. When you’re barely scraping enough together to survive, you are obsessed with material things. But, second, let’s consider what we have been allowed to do by these forces. First, by industrialization alone. I’ve shared this before, but on my show I had Deirdre McCloskey once and she pointed out that in Burgundy, as recently as the 1840s, the men who worked the vineyards — after the crop was in, in the fall — they would go to bed and they would sleep huddled together, and they basically hibernated like that for months because they couldn’t afford the heat otherwise, or the food they would need to eat if they were expending energy by walking around. Now that is unhuman. And they don’t have to live that way anymore because they have these “terrible material things that are impoverishing them spiritually.”
The world average in terms of daily income has gone from $3 a day a couple hundred years ago to $33 a day. And, in the advanced countries, to $100 a day.
Yes, true, people can fritter that away on frivolous things, but there will always be frivolous people.
Meanwhile, we have the leisure to do things like participate in an American Kennel Club show, or go to an antiques show, or a square-dancing convention, or be a bird watcher, or host a book club in your home. These are things that would have been unthinkable to anyone just a few hundred years ago.
The material liberation has liberated our spirits and has allowed us to live more fulfilling lives than before. So, I don’t want to hear the “money can’t give you happiness” thing. If this doesn’t make you happy — that people are free to do these things and pursue things they love — then there ain’t no satisfying you.
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” ~ Steve Jobs.
Several years ago, a CEO was dropping me off at the airport following my speaking to his company. Like many fine CEOs, he’s what one might call a “bottom line” person. He invariably seeks to wrap up discussions on almost any topic, great or small, with the question: So… What’s the bottom line?
As his car wended its way through the airport intake, he posed the question: After all is said and done, what’s the bottom line on leadership? What’s the one thing it’s all about?
My mind was in part stimulated, in part exhausted after a long and very positive day.
Somewhat uncharacteristically, I struggled a bit in search of an apt response.
In the nick of time, as we approached my gate, it hit me. Service. Really, that’s all that those hundreds of pages and hundreds of hours of information and training are about. It’s all about service.
21st Century Leadership
That exchange helped crystallize my thinking, based on my own journey as a practitioner and student of leadership. Soon enough, events would underscore this direction. Along with many others, in the first decade of the new century I sensed the movement of tectonic plates. Leadership, including management and communication, is adjusting to the new world of the digital age.
Among the changes:
Instantaneous communication via the Internet, is much less expensive and near universally available; Information is becoming ubiquitous, and is, in many cases, free to anyone with an Internet connection; Unprecedented, radical transparency is removing the shrouds that have historically covered transactions and relationships;
The value proposition underlying familiar, centralized institutions is being altered; Relationships are supplanting transactions as the fundamental interaction—with individuals increasingly able to start or stop relationships vis-a-vis large institutions that historically were beyond their reach; Widely dispersed information and empowerment is giving rise to new demands from the range of stakeholders.
The curtain is coming down on the monomaniacal, short-term shareholder value orientation of the late 20th century; Individuals, connected in various ways, sometimes acting in concert and in networks, are gaining power and influence vis-à-vis government, private and non-governmental organizations. In the doing, traditional boundaries separating sectors are being breached.
The result: 20th century, industrial age institutions and relationships are being supplanted by an emerging 21st century leadership model.