I learned about leading from…that sign on the lorry

Recently, on my travels around the lovely M25(!) I keep seeing the same sign on the back and side of lorries “Blind Spot – take care”….and every time I see it I smile as it seems to me to be a great warning to all of us in leadership roles if not in life!  You see, every single one of us has “blind spots” that exist for a variety of reasons, be it..

  • Lack of experience
  • Lack of training
  • Too focused on our own beliefs and ideals to listen to others point of view

blind-spotAt iTS Leadership we know that the number one skill to success as a leader is our listening.  The truth of the matter is that thinking and listening are mutually exclusive – we CANNOT think and listen at the same time – and when we are so entrenched in our own thoughts and opinions about things, we switch off our listening to others perspectives as we start to create our counter arguments as soon as we hear what we don’t agree with…thus our “thinking” kicks in and our listening switches off.  This very human behaviour creates real blind spots for all of us, but we can overcome this with awareness of just how busy our thinking is, especially when we are trying to listen to our teams, colleagues and customers.

So when you next see the sign “Blind Spot – Take Care” let this be a reminder to keep your noisy “thinking” in check and allow your “listening” to be clear and then, notice the deeper connection you get with others and the greater impact you achieve.

After all, iTS Leadership!

~Author: Antony Tinker

I learned about leading from: that Bale’s post-match comments

540px-Gareth_Bale_2015_(9)What a Champions League final Gareth Bale had.  He scored an amazing goal to open, quickly followed it with a second, had an incredible impact, and earned his 4thChampions League Winners medal.  What followed were wonderful comments and accolades from all commentators, he found himself in the centre of the spotlight on the biggest stage, and yet Gareth Bale states almost immediately after the game that he would be having talks with his agent about his future and since then the sports press has been filled with articles about him moving back to the Premier League or to the Bundesliga in Germany.  This is clearly not about hygiene factors such as money, it appears to be about his desire to play.

It would seem that in spite of everything that Gareth Bale has at Real Madrid, his deepest and central motivation, playing as much football as he can is not being met and he is prepared to move elsewhere to find it.  Now, let’s be honest, Gareth Bale exercises his freedom to choose from a position of security that many of us will never know and he is hardly likely to find himself without any suitors but his comments did get me thinking about leaders looking after their team and their team members.

3 ELEMENTSAs you know, we at iTS-Leadership Ltd emphasise the importance of understanding and then balancing the relationship between Me (the individual), Us (the Team) and It (the culture, vision and outputs).  It is represented as a Venn diagram and if you have everything in balance, you find yourself in the sweet spot in the centre and all will run effortlessly.  It is not about pandering to egos (that takes you too far into the Me circle) nor is it being too task focused (as that drags you into the ‘It’ circle) and nor is it over emphasising the team element.  It is about balance.  There will be times when you have to be task focused, or, you have to ask an individual to “take one for the team” and so on – that is what you as a leader must do but, and here is the trick, it is important that you recognise when you are always asking them to take one for the team, or, always pandering to their individual needs, the relationship gets out of balance. You overinvest in one circle by overdrawing in the others and if you do restore the credit balance in those that you have ignored (possibly for good reason) then your organisation loses its shape and performance dips or your best players leave.

By leaving Bale on the bench for the past few weeks and especially at the start of this Champions League Final, Zidane has overdrawn on Bale’s Me account to feed the Us account to such an extent that Bale believes that the balance will not be restored.  As leaders, we need to remain aware of where we are spending our Me, Us and It credits and continually restore the balance. So, stop your best players from talking to their agents by balancing the three occasionally competing but always complementary demands.  After all, iTS Leadership.

~Author: Tim Sandiford

presenters

I learned about leading from: that presentation

A couple of weeks ago I had the wonderful experience of attending a great executive programme at a rather famous business school.  I was blown away by the quality of many of the delegates with all they had achieved with their businesses and I felt quite humble in their presence.  The discussions and insights we got were great and very helpful, but two of the academic teaching team had a massive impact on us all…

“We want to learn how to have IMPACT”

This is one of the most common things we hear from so many of the individuals and teams that we work with.  They want to learn how to be heard, how to get their message across in a way that resonates and sticks.  If you are one of those, then read on…..

The first of these two waltzed in with an air of familiarity about her being.  She started her lecture in a way I can only describe as “here we go again”.  In her opening she said “I know a few of you here are business owners” to which we all looked at each other, as the qualification to attend this course was that you owned your own business!  Then she started using slides and the programme title on the bottom of each slide was for a programme (for another organisation) the previous week!!  The session continued with her going about her talk without really listening to any answers to her questions, answering every question she was posed with “I’ll come to that later” (and then didn’t) and with a level of complacency we really were not expecting.  She had indeed created an impact as the subsequent delegate scores and feedback demonstrated, but sadly these memories will forever tarnish some potentially useful lessons in what she spoke about.

The very next Professor started in a different way.  He was in the lecture theatre early and greeted each delegate with a big smile and handshake and introduced himself on first name terms as we entered after coffee.  He gave us a huge welcome, told us what he was going to talk about and how it would be relevant to running our own businesses.  Then he did something I’ve not seen before…

  • “who are the two people that run car dealerships?”
  • “where are the three jewellers?”
  • “and the 5 from family businesses?” etc…

It was clear that this guy had done his homework.  He had looked through all our bio’s and understood his audience.  Throughout his double session he extracted learnings relevant to our positions and to different businesses and geographies present in the room.  He had us captivated.  We all made so many notes and the discussions for the rest of the week almost always included his insights.  He too had made an impact and his scores were very different.

…know your audience and…speak in THEIR language

This experience got me thinking that one important lesson in having positive impact is to really know your audience and remember to speak in THEIR language and make things relevant to them.  These days my kids speak to one another and sometimes to me in a language I do not understand.  I also have failed to comprehend the lyrics to some of their favourite songs!  If I was to do a session with a group of them it might be good for me to swat up on some of these phrases and incorporate them.  The point is, when we simply make it easy for our audience to understand and use the information we are giving them then they will thank us for it.  This is especially true when we are talking about things that we often talk about to different groups…be mindful of complacency and check the slides!

Good luck and have some great impact!  After all, iTS Leadership!

~Author: Antony Tinker
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WHAT A WEEKEND!

Last weekend!  An absolute scorcher, the hottest Bank Holiday weekend since records began and like so many others, I made sure that I enjoyed the sunshine, had some time with the family and generally relaxed.  Well, generally relaxed, except for the 90 minutes during which my football team, Stoke City, managed to get themselves relegated from the Premiership.  They moved from a position of providing hope of survival (false hope as it turned out) to a position where not only did they become the first team to be relegated but also planted themselves firmly at the foot of the table.

This day has been coming for a while and now that relegation is confirmed a few things that many supporters had suspected are being openly discussed.  One area that two players have now spoken about is how many players were farmed out overseas on loan in spite of the large transfer fees they had commanded and that the Premier League 25 man squad contained players who were not making a meaningful contribution.  One of them declared that 4 or 5 players had been “getting away with murder for a long time” and further added that some were “conning themselves, their teammates and the club.”  The Chairman and Board members have also released a fulsome and heartfelt statement in which they noted that:

“we lost some of the core values that have served us so well [and] we need to regain our identity and focus over the summer.”

And there you have it – a perfect illustration of the importance of the three elements of great team-working and performance that we at iTS-Leadership are so passionate about.

We summarise them as ME, US and IT :

  • ME – Knowing our own truth and being honest with ourselves as a means to finding greater clarity, sharper focus and more control.  The 20% of Stoke’s players who were conning themselves clearly did not know their own truth.
  • US – Teams are built on a foundation of trust that comes from credibility, reliability and honesty within a safe and secure environment and is often destroyed by self-interest or ego.  If players were “getting away with murder” and “conning their teammates and the club”, trust and selflessness could not truly exist.  Self-interest was winning the day.
  • IT – Success in execution comes from the traction that is found in clarity, alignment and a unifying culture that is lived by everybody at all times.  By losing sight of their core values, and their focus and identity, Stoke City lost the ingredients that had made them a team and had served them so well when facing difficult and challenging times in the past.

If only they had called me!!

Oh well, I suppose I now have the excitement of a promotion push to entertain me.  C’mon Stoke!!!

If you are drifting towards relegation or beginning to lose your way, feel free to contact one of us to see what we can do for you.  After all, iTS Leadership

~Author: Tim Sandiford

Creating a new and inspirational learning culture through the introduction of AAR

BACKGROUND

iTS_Logo_Black_Pant376Our client, the UKI affiliate of a multi-national healthcare organisation, wanted to create a new culture of continuous learning which they realised was needed to address customer needs in todays ever changing  healthcare market. Against a backdrop of increasing complexity and downward cost pressures, new ways of working were certainly required in order to be successful and the best way to achieve this was to embed continuous and versatile learning to create much greater agility and responsiveness that would make them THE respected, trusted and chosen partner of their customers.

This organisation is a strong matrix corporation with global business units (verticals) supported by functions (horizontals) on a local and regional basis. They adopted the After Action Review (AAR) as a means to ensure that they learned from both their regional experiences in one business unit or function, as well as sharing this learning across the whole organisation for greater application and utility.

AAR is a simple process used by teams to capture the lessons learned from past successes and failures, with the goal of improving future performance. The attraction of AAR to this Company was the simplicity of the process and the speed with which the transfer of learning could be achieved.

An AAR requires a trained facilitator, ideally one not involved in the event under review, who takes the group through the process and very importantly, holds the group to account for several ground rules.  Often the most challenging is to ensure that the focus of the review is about learning within a safe environment where there is no blame laid at anyone’s door nor any comeback if something has fallen short of expectations.  To overcome this, the Company ensured that the UK Leadership Team were among those first trained as facilitators, both improving their understanding and demonstrating their commitment to the process.

ACTION

In order to truly embed this powerful learning tool across the Company, they decided to conduct AAR cascade training across the local organisation.  In addition to the 32 facilitators that were trained, a further less intensive employee programme was developed so that each employee should be an AAR ambassador and able to conduct an AAR simply and informally as part of their everyday business.  If an event or project was more complex or significant, then one of the trained facilitators could be called upon.  It was important that people knew not only how to call for an AAR but also when to call one and how to behave during one.

In total over 250 people have been trained in the AAR process so far in the UK, within this Company.

RESULT

This Company now has a Sharepoint that all UK employees can access which records the key learnings of AAR’s.  Learnings are kept succinct and so are quickly and easily identifiable.  All major projects have an AAR after every key milestone and at the end of the project.   The AAR process has now attracted attention from Europe and UK facilitators have already been asked to run sessions outside the UK as it is deemed such a great process and supports several of the global core values and competencies.

Employees who have participated in AAR’s report that they are encouraged by how effective AAR is.  They know they can be honest without fear of blame and recognise that the purpose is for this Company to learn from events that went well and those that went less well.  They see how the process makes them more effective as an organisation as a whole and move faster to implement beneficial changes.  It is still early days in the implementation of AAR but they see its potential having a really positive impact on their customers and the level of service and partnership they provide.  They also see it brings opportunities to employees for their own personal development, particularly around constructive challenge and a continuous improvement mindset.  Rather than walking away from problems, their culture is now to walk towards them.

I learned about leading from: Those NAAFI breaks

Break

NAAFI Break 1941

I vividly recall that many years ago, I was allowed to accompany my father to work.  It was a time when we had a different attitude towards risk assessments, liability, litigation and common sense and after being shown around the vehicle park, I was dropped off with one of the Plant Operators and allowed to climb on, over and generally explore how several JCB’s and other mechanical plant vehicles worked – this included driving them around the car park and so on.  I also clearly remember how at 9.55am, I was told to park the vehicle, turn it off because “It’s NAAFI break at 10am.”  The NAAFI was the Navy, Army, Air Force Institute established in 1921 to provide canteens and recreational support to the Forces and during the Second World War had over 7,000 canteens across the world providing a not for profit service to servicemen and women.  Although it changed over time, it became synonymous amongst other things with the provision of a canteen and tea and cakes and NAAFI became shorthand for all things associated with a tea break.

My instructor and I then strode purposefully to the canteen area and I was handed a mug of tea and invited to sit on one of the many sofas and comfy chairs that were arranged in circles around the room and for the next 30 minutes the room was full of talking, laughter, reminders, catch-ups and tales of what had gone before.

Wind forward some 15 years or so and I joined my Regiment to discover that every day had a NAAFI break programmed.  The Officers would go to their Mess for coffee, the Warrant Officers, Colour Sergeants and Sergeants would go to their Mess for tea and toast, and the remainder of the Battalion would go to their Company clubs or the NAAFI building for whatever took their fancy (a brew or can of pop and something to eat (sweet or otherwise)).  Even if we were on the vehicle park and too far away from the Messes to go, we would down tools, stop work for half an hour and have a brew together whenever the mobile shop (known as the NAAFI wagon) came around.

Everywhere that I have worked since, we have tried to ensure that we have a daily NAAFI break.  When, I was lucky enough to command my Regiment, my Regimental Sergeant Major would come in to the office at about 9.50am and ask me if I was going for coffee.  It was a rather loaded question and his expectation that I should was clear.  We even managed to stop for tea when on operations, including when we were living out of our vehicles in the desert.

So, why am I telling you about how many brews I have drunk over my lifetime (and it is a lot)?  Because those NAAFI breaks were a fantastic blend of so many things that Dan Coyle highlights as key to the culture that underpins high performing teams:  it allows “collisions” (defined as serendipitous personal encounters) to take place, it enables back-channel and side channel conversations, it enables high levels of mixing (the senior and junior members of a various departments meet very regularly), people sit in circles, pouring and collecting drinks enable small attentive courtesies, allows for close physical proximity, unstructured agenda free conversations, and so on, and without realising its power, we had institutionalised it.  I genuinely believe that when we have all been “too busy” to give up the 30 – 40 minutes that it takes, we have suffered, we have been less situationally aware, taken longer to do stuff because it has taken e-mails or conferences to address issues, and above all, have been less connected.

teabreakSo, I challenge you, I dare you even!  If only just for a week to see what happens, get your team together for a NAAFI break!  Have regular collision breaks and get the team involved but don’t turn them into agenda led meetings over a coffee, just let them flow, – it’s much more productive and much better for the team than trying to connect by conference call and e-mail alone. I recognise that it can be difficult in these times of remote working, flexible hours and geographically spread teams but all of these excuses and “obstacles” are exactly why we need to do it.

Remember, leaders look after the health of their team, so you are the people who can make it happen.  Do it and you will enjoy profit and smiles. After all, iTS Leadership.

~Author: Tim Sandiford

I learned about leading from: That family walk

Antony family walkThis Easter weekend I managed to drag my three teenage(+) boys out of bed to do a lovely long country walk in the Kent countryside.  When we arrived at the village start point, I parked the car, turned and handed the walking book to one of them: “why do I have to do it?” was the rather typical moody response I received, to which I replied that he didn’t but between them they could lead the way today.

The next 20 minutes was hilarious to be honest

  • They all had a look at the book and looked perplexed
  • They couldn’t work out where we were and therefore which direction to head
  • They kept trying to hand the book back
  • We walked up and down the road a couple of times
  • My wife got a little stressed and pleaded with me to take-over
  • The eldest then took authority and we headed off in a certain direction

One of the first instructions was “100 meters north of the intersection of road x with road y, there is a playing field with a way-marker for Green Sands Way, take this across the field to a gap in the hedge”

Antony famil walk2We headed north and after a very few steps there was a footpath indicated to the left.  “This is probably it” said the lead.  It was pointed out that this may not be 100m, that just in front of us was a “caution children” sign and “Recreation Ground” written underneath, that “maybe this might be a clue?”  ….but heads and hearts were determined to follow the signed footpath.

What followed continued to be amusing.  It was determined this wasn’t a recreation ground, that we should take another path north and so ended up in a housing estate and then doing a complete circuit to about 80m north of where we left the main road to a sign post saying…….. Green Sand Way!!!  Which pointed across a recreation ground and to a gap in the hedge!!  Off we trotted and for the remainder of the 7 miles we kept pretty much on track.

So, what’s the point and what has THIS got to do with leadership?

In this day and age I am always stuck by how everyone wants a “quick fix”.  Our kids have grown up with computer and TV programmes which give instant acknowledgement and gratification: “well done!”  People seek the magic bullet fitness or fat loss pill.  Wannabe stars would rather head for X Factor, The Voice or Britain’s Got Talent for an instant success rather than working their way up.  People seek to win their fortunes on the Lottery or sadly even, through litigation.  Sometimes it appears that if results are not instantly obvious we should look elsewhere.

Sadly, we hear this behaviour creeping into corporate cultures also.  Plans are written, milestones outlined and measurements put in place to track progress.  The pressure from above to deliver over and above expectation can be quite overwhelming and sometimes when we see “a result” the temptation under such pressure can be to interpret that as “the result” and in doing so we may then head in the wrong direction.

“We headed for “a footpath” even though it wasn’t labelled correctly”

Antony family walk3In our walk we headed for “a footpath” even though it wasn’t labelled correctly nor matched the description of “the footpath”…and the time and effort we wasted following that could never be regained.

The leadership challenge I therefore see is; how often is it actually better to sit tight and continue in the direction we are heading, comfortable in the knowledge that we will know for sure when we need to change direction and try something new?  How confident are we and should we be, when challenged by others, to calm things down and keep on ahead?

Under pressure from others we can let our THINKING overrule our WISDOM, when the noise in our head is more overpowering than the feeling in our gut.  Look back at your own performance, when have you been right?

After all….iTS Leadership!

~Author: Antony Tinker

AAR: Does it work?

I would like to finish my current run on AAR blogs with a short story which I hope will show you how powerful it is and the benefits of both applying the system and embedding it throughout your organisation.  It is one of the many times that AAR has been of demonstrable benefit to me and my team.

camera phoneMy Regiment was on operations in Iraq and some camera phone video footage came into our possession.  It was the sort of stuff that can be found on the internet and quite openly on social media if you are so inclined to look for it but this was slightly different as we knew that it had come from somebody who had been engaged in attacks against us.  It showed how this person and his team were setting themselves up for and then executing their plans.  The footage came to us in the senior leadership team, we played it through, looked round and agreed that it didn’t tell us anything that we didn’t already know.  I did however say “Let the rest of the team look at it anyway” and it was duly distributed further.

We had been guilty of looking at that footage through a single lens, one based on our current understanding and we allowed what we saw to reinforce what we believed.  Fortunately, one of the more junior members of the Regiment came at it from a different angle.  He decided that his team should conduct an AAR on why we had been attacked in that instance.  He started with the premise that we had not gone out to be attacked and so being attacked was an event worthy of an AAR.

Two hours later, he came in with his commander and shared his conclusions:  we were employing a technique that whilst designed to protect us, made us vulnerable to this type of attack because it made certain crew members easy to target.  And, because he had followed the AAR process, he had also come up with a solution.  We considered it there and then and within 3 hours, the message had been passed across every unit in the Brigade (some 5000+ people) and remedial action was implemented immediately.  Did it save lives?  I can’t be absolutely certain but I’m pretty sure that it did.  If we had all relied on a casual and unstructured “What does this tell us?” approach, the outcomes might have been very different.

Reflecting on this example reminded me:

  • that the bosses don’t have all the answers,
  • what a powerful tool the AAR can be,
  • how important it is to learn how to use it,
  • how important it is to have the discipline to use it, and
  • how important it is to embed across the whole of the organisation.

If you want to know more about AAR, please contact one of the team at iTS-Leadership.

~Author: Tim Sandiford

AAR CALLING IT

Army AARYou may have read in the past that I spent about 6 weeks on exercise in Canada with my Regiment (described in my blog: “I Learned about leading from: that Rock Star”).  There is a very structured approach to the timetabling on such an exercise: the participants complete large live firing exercises and then undertake several mission sets during the TESEX (giant LaserQuest).  Each segment concludes with an After Action Review (AAR) during which they seek to learn lessons and then apply them during the next mission. It is a pressurised environment as at the end of the cycle, each Regiment receives a statement of technical competence and of their readiness to move onto mission specific training.  Who wants to be found wanting then?

We had completed the first mission and AAR cycle and at 0600hrs we moved out to begin our second mission set.  The first mission had been pretty good, plenty to learn but we were making appropriate progress.  Some 8 hours after the mission began, we were stuck, our combat power was dwindling fast and we ended up attacking an empty space.  This small pocket of “enemy” activity was meant to have been a sideshow, something that we would sweep aside by 0900hrs after which we would press on to the take main objective at last light and then defeat a counter attack the next morning.  It just wasn’t happening!  I asked my Second in Command to take over and then called my Commander and the Head of the Training Establishment and asked them to suspend training and conduct an AAR.  This was certainly unusual and given where we were in the training cycle and its proximity to earning our statement of competence, drawing attention to our failure might have been considered a high risk move. But for me, that was what AAR was all about:  we clearly had something to learn and 20 hours later would be too late.  They facilitated the AAR for us and I remember standing in front of my team before it started, telling them that I had called it and that I was hurting and confused because I didn’t understand why, in spite of our best efforts, we had had such a bad day: was it my plan, was it my decisions or direction during the “battle”, was it a lack of clarity or poor execution by the individual crews?  I wasn’t out to apportion blame, I was out to understand.

Did it pay off?  Well, we were much better over the next few days, received our statement of competence, deployed and had a successful operational tour and nobody sacked me!

In The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, Dan Coyle says:

“…being vulnerable together is the only way a team can become invulnerable.”

meeting circle 3AAR facilitates that invulnerability but sometimes you have to be courageous enough to call one and then be willing to be vulnerable when you have.  In my experience, it’s always worth it and its never as bad as it seems!  That AAR taught me much but most of all, how important it is that the leaders believe in it and act upon it.  Improving your team isn’t someone else’s responsibility, it is yours and AAR is a fantastic way to do it and by having somebody else to lead the AAR, you as the leader can continue to set the tone that encourages vulnerability, openness and honest engagement and also truly immerse yourself in the learning process.

If you want to know more about AAR, please contact one of the team at iTS-Leadership.

~Author: Tim Sandiford

iTS AAR: The Journey

AAR - The JourneyI was so pleased to hear that BD were Highly Commended at the PF awards for the way in which they have both embraced and embedded After Action Review (AAR) into their organisational learning and continuous improvement culture.

One of the reasons that I was so pleased was that the words After Action Review got me introduced to Antony and the team at iTS-Leadership and so the next chapter in my life journey began.

I love AAR.  I know its power and the energy that it generates and of course I am grateful for what it has done for me (now), in the past and for those that I have worked with.  It has saved lives on operations, made us more effective, protected us against complacency, allowed to respond to rapidly changing environments and so on.  In short, it has made us better.

I was a relatively junior officer when the AAR was introduced into the Army and for many years found myself in roles and appointments where I was charged with championing and embedding the concept and facilitating AARs.  When it was first introduced, AAR was regarded with uncertainty and suspicion based on a range of fears and insecurities.  Those fears revolved around concerns that those being subject to an AAR would be judged, would be subject to criticism and that leaders would be shown to be ineffective in front of their teams, that people would look bad and would be publicly criticised.  There was also a touch of arrogance in there based on a belief that we did not need a process to help us to learn lessons, we were all intelligent enough to identify them for ourselves!

AAR is not about blame or competence, it is about learning and becoming better

Army AARSuch fears and concerns are natural particularly when the concept of AAR seems to be linked with events that have gone wrong.  It has been both fascinating to watch and be part of the journey that has seen the Army collectively come to understand that those fears were unfounded, AAR is not about blame or competence, it is about learning and becoming better:  who doesn’t want a boss who has the humility and courage to learn with the team?  Over time, it has become truly embedded in the Army’s culture and to very great effect and now rather than trying to persuade people of the value of AAR, the challenge is facilitating AARs for all of the teams who want them during training events.  In his most recent book, The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, Dan Coyle highlights how AAR allows US Special Forces SEAL Teams to work at the intensity and level that they do.

My biggest learning since joining iTS-Leadership has been to see how effective the approach is when applied to business teams.  The intent is the same but the delivery is different, borne of and reflecting the different cultures and the relative infancy of the concept with those teams but what is constant is the incredible shifts that it can bring. You would struggle to find an article or TED talk that doesn’t highlight that the most effective teams have continuous learning and improvement at their heart.  Traditional process-based learning committees, top down reviews and the like do not always deliver on that count because they often allow us to remain in our silo, hear what we want to hear, are based on hierarchy and do not challenge us appropriately. AAR does not fall foul of those traits and it truly enables some great learning at all levels as a result.

If you want to know more, please contact one of the team at iTS-Leadership.

~Author: Tim Sandiford