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29 June 2012Culture change required!

Martin Ledigo

by Martin Ledigo

On the news bulletin on the Today programme this morning, the expression "culture change required" was used twice. If that can't prompt a blog from a culture change consultant then nothing can!

The news was dominated by discussion of banking, prompted by the coming to light of the issue of traders manipulating interest rates (as a side point why are people surprised about that – I heard about it 20 years ago when traders would bet the price of a cup of coffee on moving rates by a basis point). There was also the issue within the NHS of a departing Trust chief executive who signed a compromise agreement and was then not able to talk about patient safety issues. 

Many organisations say (and genuinely believe) that they want culture change. Achieving it is something quite different and extremely challenging. Firstly while we use the expression culture change you don't directly change culture – without this being a semantic issue we see culture as an outcome not an input. We would seek to help an organisation define a new set of behaviours that over time and with changes in processes, leadership style style, performance management, communications etc etc over would result in a new culture.

But the real challenge is that the old culture is very good at rejecting the new one. One client wanted to use an acquisition to change the culture within its own organisation to one that was more entrepreneurial and nimble. And I believe they truly wanted that to happen but the reality was that once the new boys started being entrepreneurial (and different) they were told in some many words "That's not how we do things around here". The acquisition failed to deliver the change required despite the best of intentions of all parties.

I once received an ITT that had been sent to most of the major consulting firms from the head of laboratories of a global pharma company that wanted to transforming the culture. It was the most detailed ITT I had ever seen that set out everything that you would ever want to ask and even specified exactly how they wanted the work done. At our pitch meeting where a group of us met to discuss how we could respond, my suggestion was to tear it up and send it back to them with a message "if you want to change your culture don't start here". This was in part to try and differentiate us from the other 50 firms who would respond but mainly because they were already well on their way to recreating the existing culture. Maybe with some new aspirations and new words but at the end of the day it was New Culture 0 Old Culture 3.

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Categories: behaviourculture

30 November 2011HOW MENTAL MODELS KEEP US IN THE DARK AGES

Matthew de Lange

by Matthew de Lange

One of the issues at the centre of our work is Mental Models – pictures we all carry around in our heads of “how things are”.  They can be models about people and what they think of us, or processes such as the “right” way to do things. One of the hardest things in changing behaviour is enabling people to look afresh at people, processes and ideas to see that actually their mental model may be out of date or not-aligned with current reality.

I was reminded of the power of mental models when I recently wrote to my local MP about the campaign to change the clocks so we have lighter evenings.  I won’t go over all the arguments which appear to me absolutely compelling – particularly huge savings in energy and CO2 emissions, greatly improved health for kids and adults- with no obvious downside. But whether you agree with the idea or not what really struck me in his response was that although he replied courteously and at great length he did not comment on any of the potential benefits. Instead his answer came deep from his mental models citing

·         “ it is better to have hours of light evenly balanced...12 noon is not called “midday” by accident”

·         A road traffic accident involving the death of children walking to school  in the dark in the 1960s.

In the 1960s almost all children walked to school now it is rare. In the 1960s global warming was not a major issue, nor was obesity. He has got the mental model that changing the clocks is a bad idea and simply replays the arguments linked in his head to the mental model without challenging them or being able to hold them up for inspection.

Invariably in our change workshops we encounter people who carry similarly “blocked” models in their heads holding them back from seeing themselves and their potential in a new light. The toughest part of our work is helping people to find a way of holding these mental models up for inspection. Only when they are able to say “ actually maybe I need to look at this differently” can you begin to get personal change.

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Categories: behaviour

27 November 2011England Rugby Part 3

Martin Ledigo

by Martin Ledigo

I hesitate to comment further on English rugby having needed to eat ground glass (from my crystal ball) following an earlier blog. In that I said that I felt Martin Johnson was right in his initial decision to trust the players to behave themselves rather than lock them away without WAGS during the football World Cup as Capello had done. What became clear was that some of the players clearly had failed to take the responsibility they needed and Johnson hadn't reacted quickly enough.

What has sadly emerged in the press and particularly through the leaking of the confidential reports was that there was no trust and no openness in this team, in fact no team at all. Two of the quotes from the reports were particularly enlightening "It was not a place where you felt you could be yourself or talk candidly. It was a depressing set-up to be part of" and "We had meetings where values were discussed but they just felt like empty words". In how many organisations would both of these be true?

We believe that the hallmarks of an engaged organisation are:

– authenticity, where people can be themselves and bring their whole selves to work

– alignment, where people's needs are aligned with the organisation's so that people do the right thing out of belief not compliance

– empowerment, where people are able to take responsibility for action and exercise discretion.

This is very challenging to do and explains why for many companies there are slogans and lists of values on wallboards and plastic cards but they are really an aspiration not reality.

If you can make them real there is a dramatic impact on performance – just look at the Welsh team who clearly got their teamwork spot on.

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Categories: behaviourpersonal responsibility

17 November 2011Talent over compliance

Martin Ledigo

by Martin Ledigo

A bit of culture this morning… if someone asked me what I know about Wagner (the opera one rather than the one from last year's X Factor) my word association would be German, Ride of the Valkyries, Apocalypse Now, dubious politics, very long and heavy-going operas.

I had never had the chance to enjoy or endure one of his operas so was excited to see a performance of Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg. It was 4 hours and 50 minutes and I was sure that I was going to be snoozing through parts of it. I was very pleasantly surprised. It was really enjoyable and the time just flew by.

The plot revolved around a German guild of male singers (The Mastersingers) that existed in Nuremburg from the 1500s to the 1800s. Admission to this elite group was via a series of auditions which were assessed by someone called the “Marker” and the marking was based on a series of arcane rules. In other words you had to tick all the boxes to be admitted. The opera tells the tale of a very talented singer who, in Act 1, fails the test and, without giving the game away too much, the rest of the opera is about his gaining membership but without compromising on his personal style. In the end talent triumphs over compliance.

I was chatting to a fellow attender after the performance who knew the opera and quite a lot about Wagner. He said that this opera was a statement by Wagner that reflected his own situation – whereby his music was being judged in relation to the musical principles of the day which sought to constrain him rather than encourage him to develop his own style and let his obvious talent flourish. This sounds a lot like the initial rejection of the Impressionists by the Paris Salon who were judging impressionist landscapes by the standards of the classical.

In organisations there is a place for rules – for clarity and certainty. But all too often they control and constrain. I once spent a day visiting several PC World stores and on entering was greeted with the phrase “What brings you to PC World today?”. Why do you need that rule? Why not instead ask staff to greet customers and allow them to find their own way to do it. And everyone will be different – and real.

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Categories: behaviourpersonal responsibilitycompliance

1 November 2011What gets measured...

Martin Ledigo

by Martin Ledigo

..gets done, or so say they said during the heyday of New Labour public sector target setting. In Metafore we have changed this to "What gets measured gets manipulated".

Look at school league tables. They were intended to drive up school performance and I am sure they have helped considerably by focusing the attention of teachers and making performance information more widely available, notably to parents. But we heard stories of pupils being forced out of schools or not being allowed to sit exams as they were deemed likely to fail which would then impact on the school's position in the league tables. Not really what we want school to do.

This morning I heard on the news about the increasing prevalence of the police to encourage criminals to confess to other crimes (that often heard phrase "the defendant asked for 20 other cases to be taken into consideration"). These then count as solved cases and so the detection rate increases which contributes to the overall view of police success in solving crimes. They said that in Yorkshire, 1 in 6 times are "solved" in this way. They also mentioned that there had been 3 police internal investigations into this practice – the first two of which resulted in disciplinary action against officers and the third is underway.

This is not meant as a criticism of the police or the Labour Government or head teachers – it is more a comment on human behaviour. Targets are helpful but only as part of a balanced view of organisation performance. In a former career Matthew and I ran a consulting business where we decided not to use the most widely used measure in consulting – namely staff utilisation. This is the percentage of time that a person spends on work that can be charged to a client. It is not that we were not interested in people being highly utilised and we knew that unless for the whole team it was above 70% then we were not profitable. But when you measure and publish this for individuals it drives all kinds of dysfunctional behaviour. Notably people don't share work out to the extent that consultants do work that they are less qualified to do when a more qualified person is "on the bench".

Targets can be very helpful but be aware of the law of unintended consequences!

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Categories: behaviour

27 October 201125 years of Big Bang

Martin Ledigo

by Martin Ledigo

Big Bang – the deregulation of the City of London – took place 25 years ago today and there has been a transformation and revolution in the whole financial industry. I am sure much good has come from it for London and the UK and in terms of support for business. However, in life for every benefit there is a cost and clearly Big Bang started us on the road to the Credit Crunch and the problems in the Eurozone that dominate the news today. I am no expert on the financial markets but it is interesting to look at the cultural impacts of the change that, if they were recognised at the time, don't seem to have been addressed. When I started in business the City had two major players in the Stock Market – the jobbers who were the market makers and the brokers who were the intermediaries between client and jobber, advising clients on investments and then buying them from the jobbers. Most of these organisations were partnerships with unlimited liability. Today these functions are both carried out by global investment banks.

 

To me the pre Big Bank approach provided a good balance in the market. First, no conflicts of interest (as seemed to be the case when a leading investment bank was recently prosecuted for advising their clients to buy the dodgy investments that they were selling). Second, there is less sense of personal responsibility today. Back in the early 80s the jobbers were putting their own personal capital on the line – with the corollary being that they could lose everything. You would expect that would result in less speculation and more sensible behaviour. Today, traders use their banks' capital and if they lose a lot of money it seems the worst that happens is they get sacked and then go and find a job somewhere else.

 

Bankers will say there are numerous benefits to deregulation around availability and cost of capital, market efficiency etc but I don't think the industry (or the regulations) has really dealt with this issue of responsibility and accountability. I don't underestimate the scale of industry and indeed societal change that is needed but until we start on that road I think we will continue to live the unintended consequences of Big Bang with Governments and regulators playing catch up and forever closing stable doors a little too late.

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Categories: behaviourpersonal responsibilitycompliance

25 October 2011The 3 line whip

Martin Ledigo

by Martin Ledigo

"Belief not compliance" is a phrase we use frequently in our business. In short people will do wonderful things in an organisation if they doing it because they believe in it rather than being told to do it or even paid to do it. Working through belief creates authenticity which many organisations say they want to create. Sadly all too often the approach taken is one of complying with a set of rules. Who hasn't been on the phone to a call centre and had to bear the standard scripts the agents are required to say rather than allowing them and trusting them to say the right things?

I have been reflecting today on David Cameron's decision to impose a 3 line whip in the House of Commons last night on a motion to require a referendum on the UK's membership of the EU. Politics is the antithesis of a high performing organisation; belief and authenticity seem to be in short supply. The politicians would doubtless argue that you would never get decisions made if you had a more consensual approach and I am sure it would not be easy. But looking at last night's vote, MPs in the Conservative party were told that they had to vote against the amendment i.e. with the Government and there was a pretty overt threat that if they didn't then their future career prospects would be limited. If that happened in normal employment I think discrimation cases would already be underway.

What about the 80 or so Conservative MPs who decided to vote against the Government. You might think they were acting out of belief, not out of compliance. I hoped that they felt they what they were doing was right and principled and that they were representing the views of their constituents. Maybe some were but listening to Nick Robinson (the BBC political chief) on Radio 4 left you in no doubt that a good many of the MPs were concerned about the forthcoming boundary changes that threaten many of their seats and that it was really important that the were seen by the local party to be representing the members. That would curry great favour with the constituency leaders.

Maybe I am being a bit cynical but it does seem strange that Government champions business yet fails to show any kind of leadership in the way it organises its own affairs. What was it Gandhi said? – "You have to be the change you want to see in the world".

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