Developing People and Gardening

Michael McKinney over at Leading Blog has found some great stuff on developing people from Lord Sharman.

“To some degree, developing people in an organization is impossible. You can’t develop them; they develop themselves, and so your job is like that of a head gardener. You figure out what the various microclimates are around the place, and then you figure out the qualities of the plants that you need to go into those microclimates. Similarly, you select the people based on their strengths and place them in those jobs.”

Key point: If you have someone who is under-performing ask yourself “is this person in a microclimate, a context, in which it is possible for them to thrive?” If not – then move them. A cactus won’t thrive in a bog.

“I’ve seen notes of appraisal interviews, which say that two-thirds of the interview is spent talking about what the guy’s not good at. Now, that’s great—I can’t imagine anybody coming out of an interview like that feeling anything other than very depressed.”

The Gardener

“What you want to do is spend time talking about what the person is good at and how he’s going to develop that. Sure, see whether you can do something about the weaknesses, but to my way of thinking, appraisal interviews should be two-thirds about what the person is good at and how those great assets can be used within the organization.”

Key point: accentuate the positive – and get locked into a virtuous spiral rather than a death-roll of negativity and decline. Have you caught someone doing something well today?

“You’ll always have people that find it much easier to be critical than to be encouraging… If you start criticizing your colleagues about what they’re bad at all the time rather than encouraging them, that’s sure as hell going to get down through the organization very quickly.”

Key point: Learning to recognise, encourage and promote the positive is a surprisingly hard habit to acquire. In many organisations it is almost counter-cultural! I know this is something that I always have to keep working on personally.

How Top Companies Breed Stars

Geoff Colvin, Fortune Senior editor at large has just done a great piece for Fortune Magazine on how the best companies go about developing leaders. It is a long piece – but here are the headlines:

“You couldn’t be blamed for rolling your eyes when American Express chief Ken Chenault says, “People are our greatest asset.” CEOs always say that. They almost never mean it. Most companies maintain their office copiers better than they build the capabilities of their people…”

“A close look at the companies on our list reveals a set of best practices that seem to work in any environment… These companies operate in every kind of industry and are based all over the world. But what’s most striking are traits they share – specifically, nine practices that combine to create world-class leadership development.”

  1. Invest time and money
  2. Identify promising leaders early
  3. Choose assignments strategically
  4. Develop leaders within their current jobs
  5. Be passionate about feedback and support
  6. Develop teams, not just individuals
  7. Exert leadership through inspiration
  8. Encourage leaders to be active in their communities
  9. Make leadership development part of the culture

Great to see that much of this resonates with what we teach in the Progressive Managers Network! Delegation, coaching, feedback all come through strongly in this research.

Bob Geldof on Time Management


This morning on Radio 4 they did a piece on the role of the internet in modern society.

Bob Geldof offered a wonderful piece of time management advice.  I understood him to say that that none of the companies that he was ‘involved with’ were allowed to receive e-mails before 2.00pm.  He went on to say that he ‘would like to think’ that this improved productivity.

I am sure it does.  The whole morning is available without e-mail distraction to do high value work.  This stops people easing their way into the day by ‘doing’ e-mails only to find half the day gone and they have got nothing (of real consequence) done.

I only download e-mails every three hours – a thought which horrifies most people.  But once they recognise that there really is no such thing as an urgent e-mail – and that I  enjoy the benefits of long periods at work un-interrupted by e-mail most start to see the point.

Another good reason for Bob’s ‘no e-mail till 2’ rule is that doing e-mail is a pretty low level activity.  Much of it can be done on auto-pilot – so do it after lunch – when we take a bit of a performance hit anyway.

Managing People With Passion


My working life has been spent working with a wide variety of organisations. But they all have one thing in common. Each is trying to make the world a better place. Whether operating in the private, public or third sector they have all been about making things better.

People join these organisations because they:

  1. Want to make a positive difference in the world
  2. Develop their own potential and capacity in making this difference
  3. Want to provide food, warmth and shelter for themselves and their loved ones.

They want to belong in an organisation where they can grow, make a difference and earn a living.

They need respectful and nurturing management. The salary to them is important – but in the long run it is personal growth and making a difference that they really value. They need management that focuses on helping them to make their contribution.

Many of the organisations I have worked with have struggled in this area. People lose their sense of purpose and identity as they become consumed by delivering ‘the service’ or ‘the contract’. They become more technically proficient at what they do – but their optimism and belief slowly fades away and performance slowly degrades.

This process is driven by an orthodox approach to management that focuses on tasks and fails to engage with dreams and aspirations. The noble goals are transformed into routine. There is a famous story about the floor sweeper at NASA who proudly told visitors that he was working to help put men on the moon. Well, in many organisations this process of ennobling a job is completely reversed. People doing great work, contributing to great goals, become reduced to ‘marketing co-ordinators’, ‘database administrators’ or ‘account managers’. They get absorbed into management systems, balanced scorecards, customer service standards and the other paraphernalia of modern management and they lose sight of what they are all about.

Managing people with passion has to be done differently. It has to keep the sense of purpose ‘up front’.

It has to keep the passion burning.

Diversity and the Art of Delegation

  • How do you get other people to do what needs to be done?
  • How do you make time and space in your diary to do the things that only you can do?
  • How do you manage to escape doing those aspects of the job that you don’t like or find hard?

Delegation of course.

But what if your team, the pool of people available to delegate to, is just like you?  Similar personalities and temperaments.  Similar preferences and skills.

If you fall into this trap then those things that you want to delegate – they are likely to want to delegate too.  The jobs that you hate – they will hate too.  delegation becomes a difficult, risky and painful process.

If on the other hand you have a diverse team with a wide variety of skills and preferences then it is likely that you will find someone to delegate to who will enjoy the new work.

By recruiting a team with diverse skills and preferences you will make delegation much more straightforward.

Hungry for It!

This is a great post that I think says a lot about manager/employee relations in much of UK management.

Personal Assistants and secretaries marching in the streets to demand the opportunity to

  • unleash their potential at work;
  • make progress not coffee;
  • be recognised as ‘career girls not cover girls’ and as ‘office heroes’.

It captures what the Progressive Managers Network is all about – developing managers that provide these iopportunites all of the time toevery one on the team.

All power to their elbow!

Love, Hate and Indifference

Stope Hate UK

For a while now I have used a Honda advert in my work with clients – the one with the fluffy bunnies and the dirty diesel engine that becomes clean and environmentally friendly.    It has a wonderfully catchy tune with the lyrics  ‘Hate something, change something, make something better…’

It helps people to understand that both love and hate provide the fuel for change; the energy, inspiration and motivation required to make something happen.  The power to make things better.   ‘Love’ and ‘Hate’ are full of opportunity and potential.

It is indifference that is the problem.  Indifference never made anything happen.

Often the people that hate things the most are the ones that you need to talk with to make things better.  Passion fuels progress.  That is why I love hate – and encourage managers to love it too.  Find out what people hate – and help them to change it.

Today though I met an organisation based here  in Leeds called ‘Stop Hate UK’.  Their purpose is to stop hate crime, and their unique contribution is to make reporting of hate crime easier and to provide practical and relevant help to those who suffer it.  Wow!  No problem getting up in the morning to go and work on that!

In organisational life it is usually the object of hatred (the unethical practice, the flaky printer, the fussy customer) that provides the opportunity for change.  But perhaps there are times when it is the hater that provides the real opportunity for progress rather then the hated?

If you would like to know about the work of STOP HATE UK then just click on the graphic to visit their website.  And if you are a victim of a hate crime then give them a call.

Appreciation, Affirming Feedback and Retention!

According to the Department of Labor in the USA, 64% of working Americans leave their jobs because they don’t feel appreciated, while Gallup research shows that 70% of working Americans say they receive no praise or recognition on the job.

Is there any reason to suspect that things may be different or better here in the UK? I doubt it. We have a long history of management by exception (managers leaving the good stuff alone and focussing on the problems). Often work is designed so that managers really don’t get to see or hear the good stuff that goes on.

I have played my part in this.

I once helped a call centre to install a piece of software that allowed callers to rate the quality of service provided by the agent. Low scores generated e-mails to team leaders with attached MP3 recordings of the call and invited them to provide coaching to the agent involved where appropriate.

This helped to quickly reduce the number of problem calls.  But it also had the unwanted effect of damaging the perceptions that team leaders had of many of their agents – because the only stuff they saw and heard was bad. Likewise agents started to perceive team leaders as critical, picky and failing to appreciate the good work that was done. No wonder employee retention in the call centre business is low.

Once we changed the software so that team leaders got e-mailed about the great calls as well as the bad ones things in this call centre rapidly got better.

  • Is your job designed to help you to see, appreciate and feedback on the good stuff that your team members do?
  • Have you been trained in how to do this well?
  • Do you spend enough time and effort on it?

Things To Do To Develop Teamwork

I have recently been doing a some work with managers to help them learn how to coach their staff to improve performance. One of the most common topics for coaching was team working. Several managers came up with variations of “I wish I could help so-and-so to be more of a team player.” But few have any idea where to start – other then perhaps providing some team building training. Typically they have started to talk about the need to be more of a team player – but with few positive results.

In helping managers to work out how to coach someone to be a better team player I have found that the first step is to help them to define exactly what behaviours they see (or don’t see) that lead them to draw the inference that so-and-so is not a team-player. I ask them;

“What is it that you see this person do that makes you think they are not a team player?”

This usually releases a whole list of things such as:

  • They often interrupt others in meetings
  • They often don’t listen to other peoples suggestions
  • They say they will do something and then they don’t deliver
  • If they don’t get their way then they don’t get behind the decision.

Making this step from a label (poor team player) to a set of behaviours is the essential key to making progress. They can use feedback around specific behaviours to discourage behaviours that aren’t working – and to encourage those that are.

They can develop SMART goals for coaching that will help them to learn new behaviours and habits that are more conducive to team working. We can coach them to behave differently in key team working contexts. An examples of a SMART goal that I have used in coaching people around this topic is:

“Within 6 weeks at least 2 different managers will mention to me your effectiveness in supporting the work of the team.”

Then, by using coaching and feedback to influence specific behaviours it is possible to significantly improve team working within weeks.

Interruption as the Biggest Enemy of Productivity?

Mark Howell over at Strategy Central writes:

Do you know what the biggest enemy of productivity is? Can you guess?

According to Jason Fried, founder of 37signals, “proximity is an invitation to interruption and interruption is the biggest enemy of productivity.”

Interruptions maybe a problem – but proximity is not the cause.

I work with colleagues all over the world – and I often wish we shared an office – especially when we have a telephone conference. Proximity improves communication and understanding, deepens relationships and provides some lubricant to getting things done!

The problem may be:

  1. a lack of protocols and agreements about an ‘open door policy’ and what it means. Especially when there aren’t any doors!
  2. no formal planned times for 121 communication to take place. If there were then 99% of the non-urgent stuff could wait for the planned time.
  3. a lack of assertiveness in handling inappropriate requests or contact
  4. people are just so dis-engaged with the work that they just don’t care.

Whatever the problem – it is not proximity.