#SmallChange: We’ve had Thatcherism and other “isms”. Is it over the top for you, as a business leader, to claim an “ism”?

leader

I am writing a book. It’s called Small Change: how to work, lead and follow in the 21st. Century. I am blogging draft synopses of sections of the book as I write it. I would be grateful for comments, questions and feedback as I proceed.

Below is a draft section. You can see an Introduction and other draft sections on my blog or on LinkedIn Pulse.

Your “ism”

Not long after Theresa May became Prime Minister of The United Kingdom, The Observer newspaper ran a piece encouraging her to define “Mayism” lest she fall into the trap of being defined by others.

I was pleased to see that a high-quality newspaper was ready to believe, not only that she could have an “ism” but that she could have it at the start of her term of office despite the arbitrary rules of “ism”.

Margaret Thatcher famously said, of her successor John Major, that there “isn’t such a thing as Majorism”. Leaving aside the arch nature of the comment it raises the question of who decides who should have an “ism”.

I’m interested because for some time I have used the concept as part of my work with leaders. If I’m working with Joe Bloggs, I say: “what is Bloggs-ism?”. They say: “what do you mean?”.

I say “there is only one you and, even though you may be similar to other leaders, nobody can lead the way you can. So what defines your leadership?”. Usually, they start by saying and I paraphrase: “I don’t know and, frankly, I don’t see myself as very unique”.

I counter this with a point of grammar which may appear pedantic but isn’t: you can’t qualify the word unique. You’re unique, or you’re not. You can’t be very unique. And since everyone is unique then, er, you’re unique.

“So what?” they ask. I answer: “If you’re unique then your leadership is unique, whether you like it or not. Therefore, you have a choice: to lead consciously or unconsciously.

By leading unconsciously, I mean that you do not give the matter much thought. You feel that anything else is an exercise in management speak or mumbo jumbo. You just get on with it.

But what if you knew that you would have better personal and organisational outcomes by consciously accessing your unique leadership behaviour? Would it not be worthwhile to use it? Conversely would it not be an opportunity cost to avoid it?

So what is your “ism”? It’s about your objectives and the principles you use to achieve them. If you take the time to clarify these and apply them, daily, you and those around you will notice the difference. Start by making small changes in how you do what you do and see what happens.

Your “ism” is like a personal Target Operating Model or TOM. Most businesses have a TOM. It usually has three elements: a market need; strategic resources and processes by which the resources are applied to meet the market need.

Likewise, your TOM is about your needs, the resources you have at your disposal and the processes you use to deploy those resources to meet your needs.

But what if you don’t know what you need; are drifting or are driven by unclear drivers, some from your formative years?

In which case, it might be useful to you to figure out what you need, not what you want. There’s a difference. You may need to change your job because you drifted or were driven into it, but you may not want to do so.

I acknowledge that all this “ism” and TOM stuff sounds like hard work. It does because it is. Even the small changes required to shift your needle in a better direction is challenging. But the return on the effort invested is worthwhile.

The reason Thatcherism went into history and Majorism didn’t was not because his leadership behaviour was worse than hers. It was because she, rightly or wrongly, was clear about what she wanted to achieve and she articulated these objectives continually. I can’t remember what Majorism was because he didn’t.

That doesn’t mean there was no Majorism. It was he, not she, who was integral to the Irish Peace Process. It was also Thatcher’s outstanding behavioural weakness at work that brought her down. She was a bully. She bullied once too often. Thatcherism and bullying were synonymous. Her Target Operating Model included thuggery as an essential process in the execution of her plans.

I use the word thuggery deliberately. It means being cruel or vicious. She was, at times, very cruel and vicious. Many of her lieutenants were afraid of her. This occurs in business as well as politics. How many senior leaders are terrified of their bosses? I meet them regularly. But leadership by fear lasts only for a short time. Sooner or later the terrified will find a way of fighting back.

That said, Margaret Thatcher and all those given to bullying do so because they see no other way of behaving. For them, there is no midpoint between bullying and being bullied. Often they were bullied at home and or at school.

What if Margaret Thatcher had found a way of leading without bullying? I believe she could have achieved greatness beyond her marmite reputation had she done so. Some of her social policies might even have changed, unbelievable as that might sound.

In The Fenton Model®, our behavioural weakness is a “lid” on our hidden talent. Start making small changes in your behavioural weakness and you will begin to reveal your hidden potential. Then tell everyone where you are now and why, where you are going and how you’re going to get there. Then you can claim your “ism’ with as much right as Thatcher.

Ciaran Fenton

August 2016

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#SmallChange: You are a unique business; start behaving like one

USP

I am writing a book. It’s called Small Change: how to work, lead and follow in the 21st. Century. I am blogging draft synopses of sections of the book as I write it. I would be grateful for comments, questions and feedback as I proceed.

Below is a draft of Chapter 1, Part 3. You can see an Introduction and other drafts on my blog or LinkedIn Pulse.

Chapter 1: Have you ever seen a CEO with a Human Capital Asset barcode?

Part 3: Small change: You are a unique business; start behaving like one

If you work, you sell your skills for money. In business, they call it revenue. Whether you’re an employee or self-employed, you will have overheads. The difference is profit.

You have financial assets and liabilities. And you may have shares or options with a future value. Together these constitute your financial net worth.

You have strengths, which are intangible assets and weaknesses which are intangible liabilities. The difference between these is a sort of intangible net worth. If you didn’t, no one would hire you.

You receive intangible benefits from your work. These are the feelings you need to make the effort worthwhile. This effort, including the management of relationships, are intangible costs. The difference between these is a soft surplus or a deficit.

A significant number of people I meet have a soft gap. The official happiness statistics bear this out. This book is, in part, about how to close that gap as much as possible.

Your personal history is unique. No one on the planet shares your precise history. There isn’t another you amongst the 7 billion or so people in the world. Therefore, you are 1/7 billion regarding your uniqueness. This reality gives you a unique selling point – a USP as they call it in business.

Many companies claim falsely, a USP. Few, if any, have a unique anything. Businesses are, as Professors Barwise, and Meehan pointed out in Simply Better, “simply better or not than their competition across a range of category benefits”.

The irony is that only individuals can honestly claim a USP. Usually, they don’t because it’s scary to do so. The entire canon of organisational theory is, unconsciously, designed to discourage your ownership of your unique value. Why? Because leading and managing unique individuals is perceived as impossible.

So the language and labels used in business reflect this perception: human capital assets, resources, hires, direct reports and leavers. You couldn’t find more dehumanising words if you tried.

The inconvenient truth is that you are a professional services firm, on legs. All the art and science of business can be applied to you as easily as it can to a huge corporation. The only difference is the number of zeroes in the size of your revenues and the complexity of running the business of being you.

My clients are underwhelmed, at first, when I outline this view of the world. They believe that the asymmetrical power relationship between employee or contractor and boss or client negates my proposition. They might say “I can be as unique as I like but that won’t cut any ice with my boss if he or she wants to be difficult.”

It’s a reasonable point. But I disagree with the premise that nothing can be done about the power differential and that “put up or shut up” is the only option. I believe that there is a midpoint between accepting the status quo and getting fired.

It’s about making small changes in your own behaviour first. Then stand back and witness how the organisation changes its behaviour with you.

And if many people were to change their behaviour at work, fundamentally, there might even be a revolution in how we work in the 21st. Century.

Why not? Organisations are merely coalitions, joint ventures, and contracts between unique people businesses for brief periods. What if the nature of these were to change?

Ciaran Fenton

August 2016

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#SmallChange: Have you ever seen a CEO with a Human Capital Asset barcode?

human barcode

I am writing a book. It’s called Small Change: how to work, lead and follow in the 21st. Century. I will be publishing sections as blogs as I write it. I would be grateful for comments, questions and feedback as I proceed.  Below is a draft of Chapter 1, Part 1. You can see earlier drafts on my blog or LinkedIn Pulse.

Chapter 1: Have you ever seen a CEO with a Human Capital Asset barcode?

Part 1: Know, for sure, that Human Capital Assets don’t exist

People don’t see themselves as human capital assets. They just don’t. No amount of management theory will change that fact. Working people don’t buy into this concept. And if businesses continue to treat people as if they own them, they shouldn’t be surprised that they are not getting the best from them.

The concept also has no basis in reality. You can’t put people on a balance sheet. They’re not even intangible assets, like Goodwill. Ask any accountant when they last scanned the barcode (sic) of a CEO or any employee, for valuation purposes. Never.

I once asked a seminar full of human resources directors, many of them from FTSE 100 companies, to “up hands if they loved being human capital assets”. No hands. In all of my thirty or so years in business, I never heard a CEO describe himself or herself as a human capital asset, or resource for that matter.

But I have heard them describe their workforce as such. Whether I like it or not, these concepts have stuck, albeit uncomfortably. It is unrealistic to suggest that somehow, overnight, all the art and science of Human Resources and Human Capital Asset Management can and or should be transformed or eliminated.

HR and HCM practitioners and writers have made an enormously positive contribution to business. Unfairly maligned, they are not the problem. They are victims of “a fudge”. I know that in the USA this expression has a different meaning. I’m using it in the English sense. The fudge is that many CEOs fail to confront the awesomely difficult task of creating an environment in which people thrive.

Some CEOs are not up to that task. And they know it. I have sympathy with them. But instead of confronting their difficulties, they shift this responsibility to HR, who are then held accountable but not given full power to tackle issues that should rest with the CEO, who is the de facto Director of People, whether they like it or not.

CEO s should focus on three issues, according to most commentators:

  • Creating an environment in which people thrive
  • Growing the business
  • Ensuring customers are happy

So what should HR now do? I have devised a 3 Step Plan to Transform HR to support these objectives. CEOs and Boards could implement these relatively quickly by announcing the following:

  1. That the CEO, not HR, is responsible for creating an environment in which the people working in the organisation can thrive.
  2. That the Human Resources Director will be retitled Chief of Staff to support and advise the CEO on the measurable improvement in emotional intelligence across the business.
  3. That all transactional HR matters – health, safety, employment issues, etc. – are now the responsibility Legal or Finance where appropriate.

That’s it. It could happen today.

But what if you agree with my view, but feel there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of these changes happening in your organisation?

My answer: act as if it is happening, and watch small change happen.

Ciaran Fenton

August 2016

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Small Change: how to work, lead or follow in the 21st Century

small changes

I am writing a book. I will be publishing sections as blogs as I write it. I would be grateful for comments, questions and feedback as I proceed.  Below is a draft introduction.

Draft Introduction

Everything in the world of work seems to be changing; yet sometimes it feels like nothing at all has changed.

Career decisions are not getting any easier; securing work experience is challenging, and job finding is still a lottery. Investment in personal training and development remains patchy; bullying is still rife and is often institutional. The concepts of human capital assets and resources are still at the heart of organisational theory even though most people don’t believe they apply to them.

For business leaders, contextual stresses have worsened: their first hundred days in a new role, starting a new business, delivering rapid growth, managing complex change or restructure, being bought out, redundancy and finding non-executive directorships – are all fraught with risk.

Nevertheless, the opportunities to have fulfilling and rewarding careers have never been better. Social changes, economic development and, latterly, social media have made this possible. Everyone can now, in theory, be what they can or, with apologies to Maslow, should be.

So why isn’t it all much easier than it was? My belief is that that organisational practice and theory have failed to keep pace with reality. Many schools, universities, and organisations still cleave to behaviour and methods that are outdated.

This failure is understandable. The pace of change in the last twenty-five years or so has been unprecedented. It didn’t come with instructions. In fact, the temptation to revert to old comfortable ways in the face of complexity has, for some, been irresistible.

Writers and commentators are wrestling with these issues in books, blogs and podcasts.  I want to add this book as my contribution to the debate and to share my experiences of working with scores of leaders and organisations over many years. I have also developed a model based on these case studies.

The title of the book is Small change: how to work, lead or follow in the 21st. Century. My core message is that changing just ten actions out of every hundred is only 10% change. That’s small change.

But because we are unique individuals – literally 1/7 billion regarding our uniqueness on the planet – these small changes can have a unique and much bigger impact on ourselves and on those around us than we imagine.

People at work are unique career businesses. Organisations are joint ventures of these for brief periods. This book is about the interdependence between individual purpose and organisational purpose and how small changes in behaviour supports it.

Chapter 1 sets out how the world of work has changed and how you and organisations might best respond to these changes. For example, I propose that CEOs take on the role of human resource directors who in turn should become Chiefs of Staff. I also set out a model for ensuring that personal and organisational purposes remain healthily interdependent.

Chapter 2 is about the seven things everyone should know about business and sometimes don’t; Chapter 3 is about turning the job finding process from a lottery to a certainty, one way or another.  Chapter 4 is about your First 100 Days in a new leadership role and how to follow a leader and manage upwards. Chapter 5 is about how best, as a leader, to manage relationships across and down. Chapter 6 is about managing your Last 100 Days to ensure a good exit. Chapter 7 is about life after work and addresses what I call The 7 Deadly Sins of Nascent NEDS – i.e. non-executive directors. There are Appendices including one on the special role, purpose and difficulties facing General Counsel.

I hope that leaders, followers and commentators find Small Change useful.

Ciaran Fenton

August 2016

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Want to talk leadership? Contact me through my LinkedIn profile or call me on +44 (0) 207 754 0335

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