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November 2011


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is enabling people to look afresh at people, processes and ideas to see that actually their mental model may be out of date or not-aligned with current reality.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

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