#CEOs, #CXOs and #NEDs: consider three New Year #smallchange resolutions, especially as the UK will trigger #Art50 in Q1

The “Phoney War” will end in Q2

I don’t buy The Times leading article argument (Jan 2) that “the triggering of Article 50 will be followed by more phoney war” because Brussels’ attention will divert to the elections in France and Germany and the Brexit negotiations.

On the contrary, I believe the mood in the UK will change, icily, on April 1st, 2017, the day after the UK legally commits to Brexit. Once you agree to another’s deadline in a negotiation, you are as we say in Ireland, fecked. People will feel this reality acutely on April Fool’s Day, especially in business.

Brussels will play out the negotiation up to and past the deadline in 2019. Why would they do anything else, unless they are incentivised to do so? Either way, since the UK is selling, not buying the UK, not Brussels, will have to make the bigger concessions.

Meanwhile on January 20th. 2017 Mr Trump will become President of The United States of America and its Commander in Chief. I don’t concur with those who say our worst fears regarding his Presidency will prove groundless. They will prove conservative.

It’s against this grim background that CEOs, boards and non-executive directors return to work this week and prepare for their January board meetings. Any time is a good time for them to consider changing their behaviour to reduce risks and maximise opportunities.

But this is an especially good time for them to do so even if only 50% of my gloom is warranted and even if you are one of those who believes (and you may well be right) that there will be short term pain and long term gain by these changes.

I, therefore, propose Boards adopt three resolutions at their January meeting:

Resolution §1: The Board prioritises behaviour over performance

The default behaviour of most boards under stress is to cleave to “the numbers” which measure performance against plan. The problem with this approach is that it ignores the fact that behaviour drives performance not the other way around.

Performance is an outcome, behaviour the route to that outcome. It follows that behaviour trumps performance as a priority. Therefore the Board should map the behaviour required of everyone which is most likely to maximise the probability of success and minimise risks.

Resolution §2: The Board expects continuous behavioural change

In every human endeavour, constant improvement is key to success. This truth is most obvious in sports where the link between behaviour and performance is painfully evident.

Last week Manchester City lost 1-0 to Liverpool after a run of three wins. City’s coach Pep Guardiola made no attempt to hide his pain in the post match interview. All excuses aside, it was individual behaviour which led to their loss and Liverpool’s win.

Andy Murray’s open and tortured relationship with his behaviour is further proof, if proof needed, that our main competitor is ourselves.

Yet Boards rarely put out a message saying that it will do all that it can to help the people who work in their organisation to be what they can be by helping them to change continuously.

Resolution §3: The CEO, CXOs and NEDs will model continuous behavioural change

Many CEOs, Boards and NEDs believe that behavioural change must start beneath them. They forget that even small change by them as individuals, with each other and in their role as leaders has an exponential impact on those who work for them.

By small change, I mean changing a minimum of ten actions in every hundred from default behaviour, just 10% change. That’s small change.

• If, as CEO, you have a tendency to speak over colleagues at board meetings, try doing it ten times less.
• If, as CXO, you have a habit of pointing, not fixing – notice your behaviour and then try to make a small change.
• If as a NED you sometimes fail to call out issues you know you should, notice why you don’t and then try to do so ten times more often.

If the CEO, CXOs and NEDs all change ten interactions out of every hundred, the aggregate impact within the Board and throughout the business will be bigger than the sum of the changes. But small change is hard. That’s why it’s worthwhile in sport, business and at home.

It may even reduce your risks and maximise your opportunities and fulfillment in 2017.

Ciaran Fenton

January 2017

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

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

UPCOMING EVENTS – RESERVE YOUR PLACE TODAY

For CEOs /CFOs and Legal Leadership…

#LegalWithTheBusiness – A One Day 50/50 Workshop for GCs and “The Business”…

For aspiring Non-Executive Directors

The 7 Deadly Sins of Nascent NEDs – A One Day Workshop at the IOD, London

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

UPCOMING EVENTS – RESERVE YOUR PLACE TODAY

For CEOs /CFOs and Legal Leadership…

#LegalWithTheBusiness – A One Day 50/50 Workshop for GCs and “The Business”…

For aspiring Non-Executive Directors

The 7 Deadly Sins of Nascent NEDs – A One Day Workshop at the IOD, London