Friday, 20 November 2009

Notes from "Managing & Leading Through Challenging Times" - part 4 of 4

Fourth and final installment of my notes from the recent Chartered management Institute's conference (part 1, part 2, part 3). In here we will meet a "Future Strategist" and a "Business Guru" - both very good and compelling speakers.

First we have Charles Leadbeater who was there to talk to us about Innovation and New Leadership thinking. As an aside his surname seemed to cause a few people problems as they introduced him or referred to him later - so I offer you the handy hint that it's not the same as Margot and Jerry's.

Charles told us that he used to be a journalist at the FT and then The Independent but over 13 years ago he left to work for himself. As he rather wonderfully put it "The longer my title got the more boring my job got, and the more boring my job got the more boring I got."

He offered 3 simple rules for what to work on
  1. Don't do it unless it's interesting
  2. Stop doing it if you're not learning
  3. Build new relationships
.. do this and he suggested the money will follow.

Turning to think about Innovation he had the thought provoking definition that if you are describing something truly innovative then at least half of your audience should think you are mad :-)

To innovate you need to address three dilemmas :- Technology (will it work), Business (who will pay) & Social (will consumers incorporate it into their lives).   Successful innovations are technical, organisational and social.

He offered us the 8 C's of how to get innovation going....
  • Crisis - generates focus, urgency, sharing, and innovators respond  by seeing new ways of doing things
  • Curiosity - space to explore, where do you have your best ideas?  Don't get trapped by your desk.
  • Combination - finding new mixes and recipies often of old ideas.  eg iPod was based on a new combination of existing technologies.  
  • Connection - look sideways (even backwards) and borrow.  most ideas come from looking sideways even though we tend to think of innovation as being about looking forwards
  • Conversation - need to create settings for exchange of ideas and discussion
  • Challenge - ask "stupid" questions, value useful deviants, to get innovation need to have a climate where people are willing to challenge
  • Co-creation - innovate for but also with customers.  There are more people that know more about your business outside your company than inside it.
  • Commitment - you don't learn to swim standing by the side of the pool.  

The final talk of the day was a high energy affair and was given by "business guru" René Carayol.

His slides can be downloaded from his website where he also has a range of other materials and links to clips of him presenting - if you are interested in leadership I'd recommend watching a few of his clips on YouTube

He covered a lot of ground in his talk looking at attributes of leaders as well as the importance of a company's culture.  Here are a few of, what for me were, the highlights.

The "illiterate" of the 21st century will be the people who can't learn, unlearn, and relearn.

Management = responsibility for people
Leadership = responsibility to people

The A class (ie best) leaders surround themselves with people who are better than them....  B class leaders however surround themselves with C class players.

"Leadership is the art of achieving more than the science of management says is possible".

He was very hot on the importance of values, both personal and organisational, and suggested that in some cases companies are sacrificing their values at the alter of performance management.

He mentioned that google is one of only 2 companies (the other being Proctor & Gamble) that receive over 1 million unsolicited job applications a year.  His point was that these people are not applying because they fancy working on a search engine - no, they want to be part of the organisation and its story.

Throughout his talk he referred to many great leaders.  His final example was Rudi Giuliani and he recounted hearing him talk and stress 3 essentials for successful leadership
  • Love people - if you don't then please find a different role, don't seek to lead
  • Optimism - if you aren't optimistic how on earth are the people you lead going to be
  • Be clear what you stand for - what are your values and how do you display them
He closed the talk (spot on schedule as he had promised at the start) with a question for anyone interested in being a leader to consider........

"What do you stand for and why would anyone want to be led by you?"

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Governor day in school

For just over a year now I have been a parent governor at Henry Beaufort School in Winchester. Given my other interests and career it is perhaps not surprising that as well as being a member of the full governing body I am also on the Finance & Premises Committee and the "attached governor" for ICT.

Today all the governors were invited to come and spend a day in the school and I'm glad I took the offer up.

First up was a discussion with the Senior Leadership Team about their varied roles and the huge range of initiatives and activities that they are involved with.

Over the course of the rest of the day I got to .....

- Have a tour round the school with 2 of the year 11 "Student Leaders" including a chance to see the new all weather pitch up close.

- Spend time with the ICT teachers and see a range of lessons in progress in the various IT suites including the very swish Apple Mac equipped media suite. As part of this I got to talk with a number of the students about what they were doing.

- Have a very nice cottage pie in the Bistro

- Sit in on a vertical tutoring session

- See the Student Council in action helping to provide feedback to the staff for use at a future inset day.

- Experience the general ebb and flow of the school day

We finished the day discussing our thoughts and reflections on what we had seen and done.

I never cease to be amazed at the enormous breadth of activities that there are at the school and the ability and quality of work being produced by many of the students I saw seemed superb. What will stick with me longest though is the outstanding maturity of the discussion I heard in the Student Council meeting. The way the students were able to express their own point view, listen to others with different thoughts and collectively discuss the topic was simply amazing.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Weekend at Morston Barn

We spent last weekend at Morston Barn helping to celebrate my sister's birthday.   The building is lovely and full of character - great place to stay but not sure it would suit me as a place to live.  Minimalism is all well and good but I have a lot of stuff that would need to go somewhere :-)

Morston Barn

We were blessed with 2 days of great weather.  On the Saturday we drove along the coast to Cromer including a stop at Sheringham to have a look around.  By the sea they have a great mural celebrating the lives of fisherfolk and lifeboat crew through the ages.  I really liked the way that the pictures seemed to be of real people such as Tom "Coaly" Barnes Cooper (celebrated for being skipper of the lifeboat for 39 years).

39 - Tom "Coaly" Barnes Cooper

We had lunch at The Crown Hotel which was tucked away in Wells-Next-The-Sea. Sat Nav said she knew where it was but at the last minute as we were supposedly just about to get there she changed her mind and denied all knowledge of it ! A U-turn and a press of the recalculate route button and she remembered, taking us down a road she had previously mysteriously ignored and delivering us to the door - though finding a parking space was very much left to me.

Rest of the afternoon and evening were spent back at the barn helping to eat copious quantities of cake ... and a little Pina Colada that needed drinking up... well, it would be rude not to....

Sunday dawned clear and sunny and we headed off to the lovely Holkham Beach
Holkham Beach
where we enjoyed the sunshine and had a go a flying Bridget's kite.
Holkham Beach

A delicious late lunch (I can recommend the Roast Rib Eye beef with trimmings) at The White Horse in Brancaster Staithe and then, all too soon, it was time to hit the road and head for home.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Notes from "Managing & Leading Through Challenging Times" - part 3 of 4

Third installment of my notes from the recent Chartered management Institute's conference (part 1, part 2).  In this episode we will meet Prof Lord Eatwell, have lunch and then hear from Lord Bilimoria.

Prof Lord Eatwell is the chief economist for the CMI and is responsible, amongst other things, for the production of their "Economic Outlook".  He discussed the second edition of this publication which is based on survey responses from the CMI membership.  During Aug/Sept 15,000 members were invited to respond and the report brings together the responses from those who took part.

Couple of points of interest that I noted down.  A year ago there was a strong sense of commitment from managers to trying to preserving the workforce and retain investment in skills growth.  Twelve months later the continued recession has had an impact and managers are being forced into making redundancies and have reduced investment in skills. On the positive side, though things are bad, the perception is that we are getting through.  A year ago the responders thought that the recession would last for 2 years.  This time they are expecting it to last another year or so.

Next we had lunch which provided an opportunity to talk with other delegates.  On hearing I had worked for IBM for over 21 years one person amusingly remarked "but I didn't think people like you were supposed to exist anymore".  As ever things aren't quite as cut and dried as they may seem.  We hear a lot of attention on changes in patterns of careers with people moving between companies more than they did before but of course there are still those who will remain with one company for many years.

Lord Bilimoria (Chairman of Cobra Beer) was first up after lunch and spoke about "Leading your business through challenging times".  He spoke about the history of Cobra Beer from its creation through to where it is today working with Molson Coors.   He provided lots of examples and insights but for me the thing that shone through most was the need to be responsive to change.   He talked about some key moments where external events had impacted his business and had the potential to destroy much of what they had built.  There would have been no way to forecast these changes and so the ability of the organisation to adapt to the new circumstances was critical to their survival.  This chimed well with some of Brent Hoberman's comments in the morning.  In another nice link to an earlier talk he listed Molsen Coors' definition of what makes for an extraordinary brand :-
  1. Tell a compelling story based on an undeniable brand truth
  2. Live by & refuse to compromise on your principles
  3. Be instantly recognisable
  4. Provide a unique, relevant and consistent experience
  5. Inspire people to become loyal brand champions
  6. Deliver enduring extraordinary profits

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Notes from "Managing & Leading Through Challenging Times" - part 2 of 4

Part 2 of my notes from this year's Chartered Management Institute Conference covering talks by Rita Clifton and Brent Hoberman.  In part 1 I talked about the adresses from Sir David Howard and Ruth Spellman.

Rita Clifton is the Chariman of Interbrand and was the first of the non CMI speakers to take to the stage.   Her topic was "How to build a world class brand".

She starting out by talking about the importance of a good brand and to help convince us of this told us that Warren Buffet's investment criteria include (in increasing order of importance) a good balance sheet, the management team and the brand. (Note - since attending the conference I happened to see a TV programme on Warren Buffet and they also listed that in order for them to invest the business needed to be something they could understand and to have a sustainable competitive advantage)

She referred disparagingly to companies that were just interested in "logslogs" ie logos and slogans and not in understanding what the brand stood for and ensuring that the brand promise is delivered consistently across the organisation.  If your brand is all about excellent customer service it would be a good idea to make sure this is communicated to the people who answer the phones.  Ultimately, what makes brands work isn't the visible bit.

She offered a definition that I liked ..."A brand is a central organising principle, symbolized in a trade mark, which if used correctly creates value".

She noted that of the top 100 brands ("by value" but I'm not sure how that is assessed) 8 come from France, 11 from Germany, America racks up 51 but UK only manages 4.  ( During Q&A someone asked which ones they were and they are ... BP, HSBC, Smirnoff and Burberry).

As an IBM employee it was nice to see us get a mention as the second most valuable brand.  Significant risers up the league table in 2009 include Google, Amazon and Zara.  Fallers included Morgan Stanley, Amex, Citi, UBS (spotted a pattern yet?) and Harley Davidson.

Made the interesting comment that one of the banks that has survived better than most is Goldman Sachs which has a clear brand and she said was also the one that had Warren Buffet as an investor.

For the final part of her talk she turned to the question of how we could think of ourselves as a brand.  To do this successfully we need to get clarity of what we stand for and how this makes us different.  Next we need to ensure that we are consistent across everything that we do - internal has to match how we portray ourselves externally.  This is an interesting comment as I am sure that many people see themselves as different in their work environment to how they behave at home/with friends.  With the increased emergence of social networking sites that bring together people from different aspects of our lives into one "place" I think this issue of behaving with consistency and integrity will become more important.

After a break for coffee we had Brent Hoberman - co-founder of talk about Entrepreneurship and innovation in difficult times.  The original programme had listed Martha Lane Fox but she had been called away elsewhere.  Intriguingly the switch had happened early enough that the printed programme showed Brent as the speaker but the website still showed (and indeed still shows) Martha.

The talk was more a series of interesting thoughts than a narrative flow and some of the bits that jumped out for me were....

Don't over intellectualise - if in advance they had known how hard it was going to be to get running they could well have argued themselves into not doing it.  Sometimes you've got to "jump off cliffs and build your wings on the way down."

React as circumstance change ( a theme that was also called out by Lord Bilimoria later in the day) - He would receive basic sales data updates every 15 minutes and more detailed info every hour !  Key thing is that whilst reports are good what matters is how you react to the data.

Make each mistake once

Take decisions quickly - if you get it wrong you can change (see reacting as circumstances change...) very easy to not spot the potentially huge cost of failing to take a decision

Understand and communicate the behaviours you want from your employees

Put your smartest technical folks on the most boring and repetitive tasks - they will find ways to automate them away.

Be courageous - say what you think, take smart risks, question decisions that are inconsistent with company's values.

Constantly recruit the smartest people - means you can run company less formally, in buzz word speak .. "increase the talent density".

If you find that the company / department/ ... can only manage to handle 3 things at once don't restrict what you do to 3 but rather figure out what the inhibitors are that are stopping you from getting on with 20 things ar a time.

Keep changing ... as Benjamin Franklin put it "When you're finished changing, you're finished."