More Returns on Investment from 121s

Tom Peters encourages managers to obsess on R.O.I.R – the Return on Investment in Relationships.

ROIR through 121s comes in many forms:

  1. increased staff retention
  2. improved productivity
  3. recognition and acknowledgement of progress
  4. appreciation of those who are performing well
  5. identification of under performance and early resolution
  6. promotion of behaviours that reinforce strategic goals and values
  7. increased tempo of coaching to develop potential and performance
  8. deeper professional relationships
  9. increased trust
  10. increased influence
  11. increased responsiveness
  12. better support of team members in their work
  13. conduit for ideas from the front line to be heard and acted upon
  14. management support for every member of the team – every week
  15. improved communication and focus on what matters
  16. progress made and recognised on a weekly basis
  17. increased sense of urgency in the team
  18. encourage individuals to think through their contribution to team or organisational objectives
  19. increased initiative and enterprise
  20. planning remains flexible and dynamic
  21. documentation makes performance reviews simpler and less contentious
  22. barriers to high performance are removed
  23. factors contributing to poor performance are identified and resolved
  24. formal opportunities for delegation
  25. feedback – both given and received
  26. increased employee engagement
  27. improved knowledge management and knowledge sharing
  28. better talent management and development
  29. increased creativity
  30. more responsibility taken voluntarily by more people
  31. reduced absenteeism
  32. more diversity as 121s recognise that ‘one size fits one’

121s: Giving People What They Want?

Most people are looking (consciously or not) for a number of things from their work. These include:

  • self determination – the freedom to decide what they should do, when they should do it
  • control over their own future
  • to be able to plan, act and succeed
  • to improve things – to make them better
  • to expect success
  • to enjoy responsibility – to enjoy it – to seek it
  • to be active rather than passive – to have an orientation towards action – rather than reaction – to the instructions and orders of others
  • to be a person rather than a human resource – a cog in a machine
  • to be creative and autonomous
  • to be acknowledged, recognised and valued by others.

In this situation managers can use 121s to establish dynamic relationships with team members that helps them to look for and find these things in the workplace. People develop, talent flourishes, relationships improve and performance excels. This group of people usually respond very well to the introduction of 121s as they offer a vehicle for accelerating progress.

However some people are not looking for any of this. They do not want freedom, or responsibility. They want instructions, structure and clarity. They want other people to do the thinking and the creativity. They want to be the foot soldiers – doing an honest days work for an honest days pay. They do not see work as a vehicle either for their own self development or creative expression. They are not looking for self-actualisation but security and control. This group can be very resistant to 121s, seeing them as an intrusion. They are likely to resist development in their roles and accept delegation and change grudgingly, if at all.

There are several things to consider here:

  • the first type of response is ‘healthy’ – both for the organisation and the individual. In these circumstances it is likely that the organisation – and the people in it will thrive. The relationship between the individual and the organisation will be synergistic – what is good for the individual is likely to be good for the organisation and vice versa.
  • the second type of response is not ‘healthy’. It is a defensive mechanism. It leads to staleness, frustration and at best mediocrity. It is characterised by a loss of synergy – the perception being that what is good for the organisation will not be good for the individual and vice versa.
  • the type of response that we find in the workplace depends, in large part, on our management style. Some of it may be driven by personality or by experiences from the past or from outside the work context – but in most cases the response we get tells us much about our own management.

Go to the people

Live with them

Learn from them

Love them

Start with what they know

Build with what they have

But with the best leaders

When the work is done

The task accomplished

The people will say

“We have done this ourselves.”

Lao Tsu (700 BC)

Progressive Managers – Progressive Ideas

“It is not the brains that matter most, but that which guides them – the character, the heart, generous qualities, progressive ideas.”


This is a great quote that reminds us that management, especially progressive management, is not so much about techniques and tools but about our basic stance in relation to those we manage.

Certainly in sports management the role of the manager is to help each individual to perform to the maximum of their potential. In business I think it is a minority of managers who see this as their job. Instead they see it as about keeping people working in boxes on organisation charts – sometimes supressing their development order to retain them.


Understanding Your Organisation – Part 2 – Strains

In my first post in Understanding your Organisation I presented a really simple image that helps to understand the relationship between strategy (concerned with future well-being), operations (concerned with the delivery of service/product to current customers) and management as the function that integrates strategy and operations. Scarily simple – but I have found it to be a powerful framework for understanding organisations of all sorts – and for quickly spotting the root cause of under-performance.

Customers, Operations, Strategy and Management

I have found several different types of problem using this simple model. Firstly we have what I call the ‘Destruction of Management’. This is caused by the different priorities and drives of operations and strategy. The Ops folks are focused on systems and processes that are designed to service current customers efficiently and effectively. They are fiercely ‘customer facing’ and push management for time and other resources to improve current operations to meet customer needs. All well and good. Just as it should be. Their perspective can be described as predominantly looking ‘inward’ (how do we improve what we have got) and down – towards the front-line.

Now the strategy folks have a different set of interests. They are interested in the art of possibility.

  • Who could we be serving?
  • What could we be making?

Their eyes are set on the technology and markets of the future. They are fiercely ‘future’ and ‘change’ oriented. Their perspective can be described as outward (what is happening ‘out there’ – technology, market demographics, prices etc) and forward looking (how do we get what we need in terms of knowledge, technology and processes to compete in the future?). They pressure management to dedicate resources to bringing this new future a step closer.

So management is caught between operations pulling ‘inward and down’ and strategy pulling ‘forward and out’.


Destruction of Management

Most management finds it difficult to resolve these tensions between strategy and operations.

In some organisations the strategy folks win (they usually have more positional power in the organisation) and the ops teams become jaded and cynical as they are asked to engage with strategic initiative after strategic initiative – continually engaging in change that rarely seems to make things better in the ‘here and now’ – and often pulls them away from doing good work at the front-line. They start to seriously doubt whether anyone in the boardroom really knows what the business is about.

In other organisations the strategy side is very weak and the organisation becomes myopically focused on the ‘here and now’.

In other organisations (and in my experience this is the most common situation) both strategy and operations are relatively powerful forces in the organisation and management is just not strong enough to hold the forces together. Neither great operational improvements nor insightful strategy gets executed as ‘weak’ management uses the opposing forces to negotiate a mediocre status quo.

  • How do these strains play out in your organisation?
  • What steps can you take to ensure that progress is made both operationally and strategically?

Managing the Moon Walking Bear

It is true that we don’t see with our eyes as much as with our brain. Sure the eyes capture the photons – but it is in the brain that we actually do the seeing – largely based on what we are looking for.

If you need proof, try this.  NB you will need to hear the soundtrack!

Our ‘findings really do follow our seekings’, and our brain only lets us see what makes sense in the context.

This is especially important when we start to form opinions about people or projects. If we believe that they are good – then all we will see is the good stuff (as our subconscious filters about what does not fit in with our pre-conceived ideas). If on the other hand we think that people are bad or lazy then all we will tend to see is the behaviour that serves to confirm our beliefs.

Learning to observe and feedback on a range of work behaviours in a non judgemental, non-evaluative way is a key skill for the effective manager.  BTW there is some evidence that women in general tend to be more open to ‘peripheral’ stuff, to pick up on the background and make more sense of it than men.  I wonder if there are gender differences in spotting the dancing bear!

Alien versus Predator:NCVO takes on Added Value

Last week I attended my first ever Performance Hub event at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations in London.  The event was jointly run by NCVO and the New Economics Foundation and played to a full house.

In essence the message was:

  1. the third sector doesn’t understand ‘added value’
  2. ‘added value’ is therefore a concept that is passed it ‘sell by’ date
  3. luckily we have developed a concept that can take its place – called ‘full value’
  4. even more luckily we have managed to reduce this to a 2×2 matrix that can be explained easily.

Now the origins of ‘added value’ are pretty old and extremely well respected.  Like any models or concepts they have their uses and their limitations – but this concept has done much to drive economic development, competitiveness and strategy over the last 3 decades.  Michael Porter, Harvard Professor and father of the ‘value chain’ has just celebrated 30 years of world leading consulting developing the competitiveness agenda using the concepts of value added, the value chain and the 5 forces model.

No doubt he will be devastated at the judgements passed down on his work by the NCVO.

While I admire the nerve of the Third Sector to challenge the business orthodoxy I can’t help but think that sometimes it shoots itself in the foot.  Surely if the idea is still good enough for the Institute for Strategy and Leadership at Harvard Business School we should not be too quick to dismiss it out of hand and replace it with a dinky 2×2 matrix?

Perhaps we just need to work a little harder to help our client group understand the concept and reflect on how it maybe used to add value to our work in making our communities better places to live and work.

My bet is that Michael Porters ideas might just outlive the neat little 2×2 that NCVO suggest should be used to replace it.  I will certainly be a little more circumspect before I hop on a train to London to receive the wisdom of NCVO.

Not that the day was bad!

I met some wonderful people.  We were all reminded of the importance of the unforeseen benefits of our work as well as the hard outcomes that we were paid to achieve.

The Challenge of Becoming a Better Manager

Dark Arches
(Image supplied by Deborah Benbrook – a great ‘Leeds’ photographer – click the image to see some more of her work)
I work with managers who are trying to get better at their craft. Much better. They want to be the kind of manager who supports a team to do amazing work. To help others to really deliver to the best of their potential, both individually and as a team.
We use a set of management tools and techniques that could be described as ‘enlightened’. They are certainly based on an assumption that people are intrinsically good and want to perform well and develop their potential. However this means facing a dark truth – especially when talking about managing under-performers. No-one knowingly recruits an under-performer. And very few new recruits start off that way. There is something about the work context, something about what we as managers do that influences some people (sometimes the majority) to settle for less than their best. And it can be easy for managers to collude with them especially if that is the ‘culture’ of the organisation.
There are several reasons why making a transition to being a significantly better manager can be so difficult.
  • Firstly you have to be prepared to be obsessed by high performance, improvement and making the most of potential. Organisational rhetoric will always advocate this. However, in practice the rhetoric of excellence is dropped in favour of more pragmatic and easily achieved compromises.
  • Secondly, enlightened management practices can feel very uncomfortable especially to begin with. They are not our default management style. Our spontaneous management style is an expression of our deeply held, often subconscious, values and beliefs. And sometimes these are driven by more more traditional management concepts of power and control and more of a focus on the task than on developing the potential of the team to deliver excellence. So we wrap ourselves in the tools and techniques of enlightened management but underneath there is always a little voice saying ‘Just give a few orders, crack a few heads and get things done’. Only if we persist will we recognise that relationships are improving, more initiative is being shown, teams are performing better and genuine progress is being made. Only then will the nagging voice encouraging us to revert to the old fashioned ways start to fade away. And this is a process of substantial personal development. It is the process of becoming a different person with different attitudes and beliefs about what ‘excellence in management’ is all about. Now the tools and techniques of ‘enlightened management’ feel much more congruous with who we are as a person.
  • The third difficulty is the response of your team and the wider organisation to your changing management style. You start to use regular 121s, you give and seek feedback – frequently. Furthermore you expect it to be acted upon. You start coaching – everyone in your team – and expecting things to get better on a weekly basis. And you delegate consistently and well – not from a place that says ‘I can get some of my work done by others’ – but from a place that says ‘giving people the opportunity to take on these challenges will help them to develop and keep them interested an fulfilled in their work’. And what response do you get? Often it is a combination of surprise, discomfort, antagonism and disbelief. Usually there is a hope that if we can just keep things quiet for a while you will get over whatever training programme you have been on and things will get back to the mediocrity that passes for normal.
So the challenge of becoming a better manager is not an easy one. However it is not about mastering tools and techniques or acquiring new skillsets (although there maybe a little of this stuff). It is actually about recognising that there is a better way to manage and having the commitment and the discipline to pass through the discomfort of putting it into practice.

Maslow on Management


Maslow on Management

First published back in the 1960s Eupsychian Management made neither the best sellers list nor the bookshelves in airports and railway stations. In fact it barely sold its first modest print run. No doubt this was in part because the business book industry had yet to take off, and in part because of his obscure choice of title. Re-published as ‘Maslow on Management‘ almost 40 years later it seems to be creating a bit more of a stir.

Maslow was one of the the fathers of ‘Third Force’ or ‘Humanistic Growth’ psychology. (First force psychology was that of the Freudians and Jungians; second force was that of the behaviourists – Skinner and his pigeons.) Third force or human growth psychology was developed by Freud, Rogers, Fromm, Adler and Maslow as a serious attempt to understand human potential and how it can best be realised.

In the early 1960s Maslow spent a summer observing life in a business and maintained a journal that reflected his observations and thoughts on  the practice of management and the relevance of third force psychology to the world of commerce – and vice versa. This journal became ‘Maslow on Management‘.

Maslow was a contemporary of Drucker and one of the things he found was that much of what Drucker had written about effective and efficient management as a theorist and consultant with no psychological training was aligned with Maslow’s own thinking. Management theory and Third Force Psychology converged on a set of ‘truths’ about management and the realisation of human potential – individual, team organisational and social. Wow!

As Maslow said:

…this is not about new management tricks or gimmicks or superficial techniques that can be used to manipulate human beings more efficiently. Rather it is a clear confrontation of one basic set of orthodox values by another newer system of values that claims to be both more efficient and more true. It draws on some of the truly revolutionary consequences of the discovery that human nature has been sold short.