Super Chickens – A rather different look at long term team development.

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As one of my New year’s resolutions I have decided that I am going to try to walk to work more often.  The 2 mile stroll will give me time to focus, centre and listen to all the podcasts and TED talks that I’ve not had time to listen to.  This week I came across a great talk by Margaret Heffernan about an experiment by William Muir.

Muir, an eminent Biologist conducted an experiment where he created 2 groups of chickens and watched them for 6 generations, monitoring their egg production and interactions.  One group was left to their own devices and the other group was selectively bred for maximum egg production.  At the end of the experiment the ‘control’ group production had increased over time and the ‘selectively’ bred group had only 3 survivors; the missing having been pecked to death by their comrades in the war for supremacy!

Traditionally this has been quoted by business minds as a lesson in the dangers of high achievers and how a team of highly functioning people can be more destructive than constructive.  In my opinion, I see another lesson here also; the group left to their own devices actually increased their own production over time, surpassing the ‘super’ group – maybe the correct support  could have increased production even more.

This brings me back to teamwork in general and how (as I’ve blogged about previously) that diverse teams, whatever that diversity looks/feels/sounds like are the most successful.

So, should we carefully manage talent, treat it as a destructive force, with no longevity and a quick burnout?  No, talent isn’t a cardboard cut-out, 1 size fits all, it doesn’t come with a flashing neon sign (well not always). Talent comes in a variety of forms and strengths – individual, and team talent are vital for success.  Appropriate leadership and support of all talent (whether inherently visible or yet to shine) is the way forward for all organisations.  Come on let’s not forget on our less obvious talent that is keeping us moving whilst the ‘high achievers’ are pecking each other to death.

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Thank you for reading and please do let me know your thoughts. Natalie

*Guest post for Ashley Kate HR*: When coaching and mentoring programmes stagnate; how to reinvigorate the learning culture.

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Full article as published on Ashley Kate HR Guest Blog – December 2016

Coaching and mentoring is not a new idea.  Companies large and small run coaching and mentoring programmes whether formally or informally and have done since the practice was first recorded in Ancient Greece.  We know that people learn best using a variety of mediums and that they work best when motivated, engaged and most importantly valued.  Academics and practitioners alike identify that coaching and mentoring help to encourage these.

You had a great idea, you launched a mentoring scheme using senior managers and you trained your line managers to act as coaches to those who report to them.  For a while it all worked well; attrition was down, working relationships were improved and great conversations were taking place regarding long term career planning.  So HR sprung into action, sent out a survey and everyone patted themselves on the back for building another successful intervention to develop people.  

Let’s take a leap a few years into the future….. The magic mentoring programme is failing, matched pairs are not seeing out the full programme and feedback is not good.  Senior manages are not mentoring anymore, middle managers are still coaching their reports but the learning and growing culture that you tried so desperately to reinforce is dwindling.  Why?

A common mistake that I have come across is the belief that training and development budgets can be slashed if ‘we just nail this mentoring and coaching lark’, so schemes are used as a cost-cutting exercise.  I have seen well thought out schemes fall flat on their face because they were thought to be the ‘magic cure all’.  The most extreme of these was in an organisation who believed that they could eliminate all other management training by using Mentoring.  This fell apart rapidly.  Senior management became overwrought with extra responsibility, head count had been reduced and now there was an expectation that they would mentor leaders of the future with no support, at a time when trust in the organisation was at an all time low. The company values were displayed loudly and proudly, but the interventions that they were putting in place were overshadowed by those that they took away.  

How do you rescue a scheme when this happens?

When any organisational incentive stops showing a benefit, it is time to reconsider.  

  • What exactly does this organisation and the people need?  
  • Where is our mentoring talent?  
  • How does mentoring and coaching fit within our existing development offering?  
  • How does this link to our company’s values and goals?
  • How do we embed this learning culture into our organisation?

It may not be your most senior leaders that make up all your leader mentors.   Your middle leaders may be better placed and more knowledgeable about the organisation to make a more positive impact, especially on those at the start of their career.  Most importantly good design and a clear vision of the purpose of the scheme is paramount.  A robust mentoring programme must be:

  1. Focused on the learning and development of the Mentee.
  2. Structured – have goals, a vision of the purpose of the relationship, follow an agreed time structure (even if that is ongoing)
  3. Built on mutual trust – learning means taking risks, sometimes failing.
  4. Considered in matching of mentoring pairs – personality fit and ease of interaction is vital.
  5. Measured on the success of the learning; not all mentoring pairs can be measured against the same markers.
  6. Another example of development that embodies the values of the organisation, not a stand-alone development activity.
  7. Championed as an intrinsic part of leader development with the necessary skills being prerequisites of the Mentors that take part.
  8. Supervised by HR to ensure that the programme remains effective and is valued by the Mentees.  Mentors must be provided with the necessary support and access to learning opportunities to help them be the most effective mentors that they can be.
  9. Made available to all those who would benefit.

To build trust and consequent engagement with the programme an organisation will need to stop, re-think, re-design, re-brand and re-start a mentoring programme.  In order for coaching and mentoring to be a widespread success across an organisation it needs to be a part of the ‘norms’, an activity that all employees can access at different points of their career.  Shouldn’t this fit within the culture of the staffroom as well as the boardroom and be equally valued in both?

Please feel free to comment and let me know of your experiences. Best wishes Natalie.

Intrapreneurs & fostering creative thinking… Big business with start up agility.

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Business moves fast, trends come and go and we are all looking for that magic spell to help us to move with our markets as fast as our competitors.  Agility as individuals, I believe, will be the only way that we can survive in the ever changing workplace going forward but we also have to explore how we can improve business agility for all.  I have long been interested in how large companies diversify and having worked in large corporations and very small businesses alike I have seen first hand how hard this is to call, and have also been there when it was too late and we all packed up and went home.  This made me ponder whether the agility of mind of individuals throughout the hierarchy was the key to the overall agility of the business.

Building a business with 5 one-man-bands

The start-up, agile, pivot if it doesn’t work mentality of the eventually successful entraprenuer seemed a good place to start.  I came across the  ‘intrapreneurialism’ research from the CIPD (below) and was intrigued as to how this could work in practice. They state; ‘Intrapreneurs’ usually work in larger organisations, where they are tasked with developing new ideas and concepts in a similar way that an entrepreneur would in a start-up company’. (What Big Business can learn from Entrepreneurs – CIPD 2013)

The UK’s economic growth could be boosted if large firms adopt the entrepreneurial spirit that drives success in start-ups and small firms, CIPD research has found and by encouraging a culture of ‘intrapreneurialism’, big businesses could help their employees adopt entrepreneurial behaviours that foster innovation and growth, (CIPD).

They also discovered that nearly four in ten employees would welcome the opportunity to take on an intrapreneurial role within their company, but that just 12% of organisations encourage and facilitate such behaviour (CIPD 2013)

Of course the father of ‘Intrapreneurialism’ is Gifford Pinchot who comments that he has seen a resurgence of the intraprenuer in recent years and cites millenials as the most visible group.  Pinchot says that they are searching for meaning in their work from the moment they leave university and want to make a difference.  This isn’t surprising though, after all this is the generation that has lived their whole adult lives with the awesome power of the internet and it’s heroes, Google, Facebook, etc. and are looking to emulate that working life.

Another great attribute that intraprenuers/entrpreneurs are seen to exhibit is adaptive persistence, this allows people in existing organizations to anticipate disruptions to the market and to recognise opportunity (Bloomberg 2008 )

Howard Schultz of Starbucks fame had adaptive persistence.  On Shultz’s travels to Italy he had seen the power of the barista and wanted to bring that coffee shop experience to America.  He presented his idea to Starbucks who rejected it on more than one occasion.  He finally got approval to try it out in a few branches.  He went to raise equity for this and was working without a salary for a while!  His wife was pregnant and although he thought he was ready to give up, he didn’t.  Schultz was able to leverage his network to stave off threats  and stuck with it.  We all know how this plan worked out!

The data appears to stack up that we need diverse teams (Is there an ‘i’ in Team?) and intrapreneurs are diverse thinkers; agile, intelligent and energised.  The key is to know how to attract, select, develop and retain these people.  Clear and strategic programmes to recognise existing intrapreneurs within the business are also vital – to attract and keep out of the box thinkers you need an out of the box programme!

Thank you for reading my initial thoughts on Intraprenuerialism.  Please do like, share and let me know your thoughts. Best Wishes Natalie

 

 

Diversity in the Staffroom….

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Diversity is a well discussed issue amongst HR professionals, a hot topic and something we love to shout about when we get it right.  We understand and embrace that that a culturally diverse team is more creative than a homogenous team (Collett 1999)  and we all acknowledge that diversity encompasses not just differences in race and gender but also disability, educational background, sexual orientation and demographics.  I could also go on to discuss diversity relating to values and opportunity.  In short, surely we could conclude that with so many factors ‘diversifying’ us that we are none of us the same?

We are very used to examining the business case for diversity in private and public enterprise but does this differ in education?  The supplier-client relationship still exists, the customers are the children who are in turn the leaders, entrepreneurs and parents of the future. Surely the message we send to the leaders of tomorrow is as important as that which industry sends to the customers of today.  How can we change attitudes if our education system doesn’t lead the way?

Research carried out by MIT suggests that teams operating in a homogenous environment may lead those employees to assume that their surroundings are more predictable and controllable than they really are.  This surely can equate to children’s learning experience where a homogenous environment lulls them into a false sense of security. We want our children to become resilient, problem solving individuals with drive who learn by their successes and failures, rounded individuals that strive to understand the world and their role within it and we want them to start this journey at school.

The STAR experiment in Tennessee found that the achievement of ALL students in a class was raised if the teaching body represented the diversity of the student body, not just the attainment levels of children in the minority groups.  We also understand that acceptance is fostered more easily during childhood and as the global workplace gets progressively closer, thanks to information technology, we need to equip our children accordingly for today as well as tomorrow.

OK so we know that a truly diverse teaching body benefits our children and their learning and also the learning of all staff and leaders alike.  Exposure to a more diverse face of teaching helps challenge preconceptions, promotes empathy and encourages curiosity.  So should we ask; is our teaching body not already a diverse group of individuals?

The diverse nature of the staffroom is usually dependant on the surrounding area and generally reflects the surrounding community, however this is less reflective in the independent sector in the UK, as far as race is concerned anyway.  Of great interest however, is that the diversity of pupils in the independent school classroom is actually increasing!  According to the Independent Schools Council (ISC) 29% of its pupils are from a minority background – far higher than the 14% of BAME (Black and minority ethnic) citizens in British society as a whole.

The range of staffroom diversity in the independent sector is increasing slowly but major disparity can still be seen in senior leadership positions.  School workforce data continues to show an under-representation of women and individuals from black and minority ethnic backgrounds in school leadership positions. The latest available figures show that just 2.4% of head teachers are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and only 36% of secondary school heads are currently women.

The government are taking steps in order to address this in the public sector.  Schools are invited to bid for grants of up to £30,000 from the government’s Leadership, Equality and Diversity Fund to support local, school-led initiatives that will help boost the diversity of their senior leadership teams. Anecdotally, however, there are only a handful of black or ethnic minority head teachers in the independent sector.

Could it be also that the nature of an independent school system is a barrier to a diverse teaching body?  Then we must also look to promote the changing face of the independent school and build employer brand to attract a diverse array of talent and to develop and nurture that talent in the longer term.  Schools must design far reaching recruitment campaigns and could look to improve CSR strategies and state-independent collaboration to dissolve stigma and perceived class barriers.

There is a huge responsibility for school teachers and leaders to act as role models to empower all of their pupils to aim high and to challenge themselves, a set of values that the independent sector professes to instil in their pupils.  How better to illustrate this than by showing an increasingly diverse group of children an equally diverse set of leaders to aspire to.

I look forward to hearing any of your thoughts or experiences encouraging diversity.  Thanks. Natalie