Category Archives: Leadership

4 Lessons From Captain Spock That We Can Apply To Our Working Lives

Like many people, especially fellow Star Trek fans, I was very sad to hear of the death of Leonard 00441047Nimoy last week. A talented
actor, director and writer, Nimoy will forever be remembered for his portrayal of Captain Spock in the classic sci-fi TV and film series, Star Trek. For many of us, he was an inspirational figure.

I came across this Twitter quote from the sci-fi author John Scalzi which says it all:

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However, while Nimoy has sadly boldly gone where many have gone before, the character he brought to life remains immortal. A towering figure in pop culture, Captain Spock epitomised the struggle between human emotion and the power of logical reasoning – something we can all relate to on a daily basis.

There are many fascinating elements to Spock’s character but I wanted to share with you four things that he demonstrated which I think are relevant to all of our working lives. Four things you should consider that will help you to establish yourself as a top performer within your organisation.

1. CONSIDER THE WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF YOUR ACTIONS

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So often, our main focus at work is on our immediate concerns or needs. It is very easy to think only of what affects or benefits ourselves. However, we are part of a wider system – a cog in a machine, if you like. Our actions on a daily basis affect our colleagues and most importantly, our customers. How often do you consider the implications of your actions on a wider level? Do you assess how your contribution is benefitting your organisation?

What Spock demonstrated was the importance of considering the wider implications of one’s actions, ahead of personal impulses. His willingness to do what was necessary for the benefit of the many won him respect and admiration from his colleagues, making him an authority figure within the Enterprise crew. Follow his example and you will quickly establish yourself as a respected and admired colleague within your organisation.

2. SEPARATE EMOTIONS FROM WORK

emotions

Do you have a colleague who reacts dramatically to every little development in the office? If so, you have probably seen how destructive these emotional outbursts are to the rest of the team.

We all fall into the trap of allowing our emotions to get in the way of work. Certain things happen that irritate or worry us and we vent that through small emotional explosions. The problem with this is that our thinking capacity is dramatically reduced as our brain is overloaded with emotion. In this state we produce lower quality work and damage our own emotional health, as well as that of others.

What Spock demonstrated was the benefit of keeping one’s emotions in check in order to be able to make clear, logical decisions about the job at hand. You can accomplish this too by becoming aware of your emotional triggers and managing your response to them. Don’t let your emotions about your work impair the quality of your work. Follow his example and you will establish yourself as a natural leader – the one person who can remain in control while others fall apart.

3. ALWAYS CONSIDER ALL OF THE RELEVANT FACTS

FACTS

Have you ever noticed that many decisions at work are made on the basis of very few facts? Often, decisions are based on the impulses or desires of the people involved, not the objective facts of the situation. The result of this is arbitrary decisions that don’t hold up under scrutiny.

This is a trap we all fall into from time to time and it seriously harms our performance at work.

What Spock demonstrated was the benefit of performing a thorough analysis of ALL the relevant facts before making a decision. The solid logical arguments we admire in Spock can be replicated by any of us so long as we ensure we thoroughly understand the relevant facts before making a decision. Follow his example and you will be able to construct and articulate robust business cases that will establish you as one of the most influential players within your organisation.

4. USE COMPUTERS TO SERVE YOUR PURPOSE, NOT DEFINE IT

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Computers now dominate the workplace. Most of us are used to wrestling with various software packages (including the dreaded Microsoft Windows) on a daily basis in order to accomplish our tasks. The problem is that many people rely on computers to get the job done, in some cases to the point that they cannot function without them. Also, organisations are designing processes that cannot operate at all without technology.

What Spock illustrated was the danger of allowing computers to define one’s purpose, rather than serve it. We have become too reliant on IT within our workplaces. Think about your working day and consider how much you are relying on your computer for tasks such as communication. Ask yourself if software is telling you what to do in your job. Follow his example – challenge the stranglehold of computers and take back control of your job.

And finally, I leave you with Leonard Nimoy’s last tweet:

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Rest in peace, Leonard. I have been, and always shall be, your fan.

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“On What Basis?”: The Dirty Question You Must Never Use at Work – How To Cut The Crap In Meetings

Being something of a serial Apple purchaser (I know, I know), about six months ago I decided I would rather like a brand new Mac Pro. As I am a frustrated musician, I could see this being the perfect purchase for my home studio. “It’s the choice of professional studios”, I said to myself. “It has limitless expandability”, I reasoned. “And it’s really cool”, I fantasised.

I went as far as to look at prices, even attempting to work out how I could fund one of Imagethese almighty beasts. Various web pages describing the Mac Pro were salivated at and numerous YouTube videos were watched with a sense of wonder and glee. This process continued in earnest until one day I happened to mention to my wife that I was considering buying one. Her question cut straight through several weeks of mental machinations – “On what basis do you want one of those? You already have a top of the range iMac”.

Perspective was suddenly achieved. I had everything I needed for my home studio setup in my existing kit. Why was I even considering replacing it with something way more powerful than I needed?

Alarmingly, I had never once asked myself that simple question – “On what basis?”.

In the business environment, we so often sit through meetings exploring various plans and ideas in great detail. What is absolutely staggering is that very rarely does anyone ask “On what basis are we doing this?”. If someone does dare to try out the question, they are often greeted with the same kind of response you get when you secretly build a brick wall across your neighbour’s front door during the night and they work out who did it the following morning. It’s not a popular question to ask in the middle of an intense meeting.

Why is this? Why do we so dislike being confronted with such a useful question in a business situation? Why don’t we use it more?

A key reason is that old human trait – attachment. It is common to all of us – when we have an idea of what we want to see happen, we often attach ourselves to a specific outcome. We emotionally invest in that outcome, it becomes meaningful to us and once that happens, attachment rules our behaviour.

You can test this. Find the guy in the office who is really excited about his potential purchase of a new BMW 3-Series and tell him there are better options in the market. You may get a similar look to what you experience when you pick up someone’s cup of coffee and pour it out of the window. He won’t thank you for it.

He is of course attached to the specific outcome he’s decided he wants – that particular model of car.

In the business environment, people often put forward ideas to which they have become attached. After all, it’s their idea, right? This is the result of an emotional decision-making process rather than a logical one. For more information on the background of how people use emotion in making decisions, take a look at my other blog post – “Why Batman is Relevant to Your Business”

So people in business decide on a particular outcome they want, they pick the means by which it will be achieved and they become attached to it. As a result they don’t question their own logic.

So what happens if you ask the question “On what basis?”. Well, it turns out that this question is one of those lovely phrases that is inherently logical. There is absolutely nothing emotional about it. If you introduce a logical phrase to the brain it resets your mind into a thinking state rather than a feeling state. Now, you may get an initial emotional reaction from someone who’s attached if you put this question to them, but once you get them engaged in processing the question they will quickly switch into logical thinking mode. This is where you want them, because at this point they are separated from their emotional attachment and engaged in solving the problem logically.

By doing this during meetings at work, you can quickly make a big impact on the quality of decision-making and corporate planning.

If you are in any doubt about the impact of a simple phrase, consider this. Would history have been different if someone at Decca Records in 1961 had asked “on what basis do you think guitar groups are on the way out?” after the decision to reject The Beatles? Could a lot of unnecessary cost and bad publicity have been avoided if back in 1985, someone at Coca-Cola had asked “on what basis do you think we need to change the flavour of our most popular drink?”. Would IBM’s fortunes be better today if back in the late 1980’s, someone had asked “on what basis do we think it’s a good idea to give all the rights to our PC operating software to Microsoft?”.

So why not try this out – ask yourself this question when you are planning to do something and also ask your colleagues. It may be a little tricky at first, but I am confident that the benefits will outweigh any short term discomfort.

And by the way, I still have my iMac.

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John Hackett

Managing Director – Franklin-Hackett Ltd.

There’s no Silver Bullet for Organisational Change – How To Avoid Methodology Madness

In a previous existence, I spent a good portion of my career as a business analyst. And like many business analysts or change managers, I was always on the hunt for the silver bullet – the single “right” approach to making change within an organisation.

silver-bulletIt’s a bit like trying to fix my rather lovely but very temperamental Jaguar S-Type. I’m forever trying to convince myself that the next major repair will magically cure the problematic little bastard once and for all. It never does of course.

Anyway, like many of my colleagues, I always thought that there would be one approach that would sort it all out – a single methodology that once applied, would deliver the kind of improvements that would cause anyone interested in organisational change to dance around the office in delight.

So naturally, along with the organisations I worked for, I had a go with all of the popular change methodologies. Business Process Re-engineering, SPRINT, PRINCE2, Lean, Systems Thinking, Kaizen – the list goes on. And on each occasion, the various approaches delivered good results in particular areas while at the same time leaving other aspects unchanged. So the pattern would be this – try an approach, get some good results, realise that it didn’t work for certain areas and move on to the next approach. Then repeat.

Along the way, the organisation involved would experience a process similar to a failed romantic relationship. It would start with attraction – the organisation would learn of this approach, perhaps from another organisation that had tried it and become curious. That would be followed by romance – the organisation would fall in love with the exciting new approach and focus immense effort on spreading the word to employees. The approach would be tried out and often applied to any situation that would arise. Once issues began to appear, the organisation would move to the doubt stage. Questions would be asked – “is this the right approach?”. Previous users of the approach would come out of the closet and reveal that all was not rosy. Horror stories would begin to appear. Then, this would finally bring the organisation to the divorce stage. The approach would be discredited and thrown out, and the hunt for a new one would begin.

If you’ve ever attempted to make change in an organisation, you will no doubt relate to this. You may have also experienced the frustration and disenchantment that comes from the constant hunt for a single way of making change. You may still be hoping to find that elusive change method, the one, true silver bullet. Well it’s a bit like trying to push a piano up a back staircase – it can’t really be done.

So my advice is simple. Stop looking for that silver bullet.

You will never find one method that will solve all of your organisation’s problems. And the reason is that organisational problems are too complex and too varied.

Many traditional approaches to organisational change are very effective at working on specific elements of your organisation. And yet, your organisation’s culture and therefore its performance is made up of two distinct elements. The condition of these elements affects the way your organisation works.

The two elements can be described as Systems and People.

Systems and People affect your organisation as follows:

✦ Systems – The design of your organisation’s processes is a direct consequence of the way managers view the design and management of work.

✦ People – The day-to-day behaviours and experiences within your organisation are a direct result of the way people think. Their view of the world governs how they react to work situations, how they relate to colleagues, suppliers and partners and how they manage their personal development.

Your organisation’s culture is the product of the relationship between these two elements.

If you want to improve the performance of your organisation, you must address both of these elements. With this in mind, it must be true that a traditional change methodology would work well for specific portions of specific elements, but would fail to address all of them.

So what can you do differently to avoid falling into the trap of swapping approaches every 6 months?

I like to describe it in this way. You may be familiar with the ancient art of alchemy – the belief that any base element could be turned into gold by the application of a particular process. The word “alchemy” has come to be defined as the process of taking something ordinary and turning it into something extraordinary, sometimes in a way that cannot be explained.

Think about a typical situation within your organisation – say an area where you want to make improvement. You will find that there are multiple elements in place. These could be things such as:-

• A business process that is riddled with waste and inefficiency
• A lack of knowledge and skill within the team
• Several employees who have low self-esteem and consequently shy away from any involvement in making change
• A manager who validates his identity by imposing strict rules and restrictions on the team
• An outdated IT system that is no longer fit for purpose

Is a single “kill-all” approach such as Lean going to sort all of this out? No. Each of these elements requires specific attention and a unique approach to be changed.

Working through a business process reengineering project might sort out the waste and inefficiency in the work design but will it resolve the people issues such as the employees with low self-esteem or the dictatorial manager? Implementing a programme of training may improve knowledge and skill levels but will that be of any benefit while the work design is sub-optimal?

If you want to change this situation, you have to look at it systemically. You have to apply the most appropriate process to each of the issues – you have to change each of the base elements to really change the way things work.

It’s the same with my moody Jag. The car is an incredibly complex labyrinth of mechanical and electrical systems that all have to talk to each other and work together to deliver that special Jaguar driving experience. Fixing it involves paying attention to what is going on systemically, otherwise you can never resolve most of the problems that occur.

Damn thing.

So to conclude this blog, I want to leave you with this thought. Stop searching for a single approach to organisational change. Embrace your curiosity and identify all of the elements in the situation you are working on, then apply the most appropriate process to each of the elements to bring about the change you want. You may be surprised at just how much change you are able to make.

Oh, and no offence to Jaguar Land Rover intended. They make fabulous products and I recommend you check them out.

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John Hackett

Managing Director – Franklin-Hackett Ltd.

Why Batman is Relevant to your Business – Better Decision Making

Every single day, you and your colleagues make decisions within your business. The quality of these decisions is what influences your future direction and success. So let me frighten the living daylights out of you by suggesting that the way we all make decisions is fundamentally flawed.

But before I get to that, let’s talk about Batman.Business handshake to seal a deal

Some of you on here may have seen The Dark Knight. If you haven’t, I suggest you check it out. It’s a fantastic film.

For those who don’t know, the basic idea behind the film is the moral dilemma faced by Batman.

There are two main characters in the film – Batman and the Joker. Batman is the altar-ego of Bruce Wayne. Wayne lost his parents when he was a child because they were murdered in cold blood by a criminal. Wayne assumed the identity of Batman in order to go out into Gotham city and bring criminals to justice. At the same time, he made a rule that he would never kill anybody. He did this on the basis that he believed killing was wrong, most likely because of what happened to his parents.

In the film, we see the arrival of the Joker in Gotham city. The Joker has no rules. He is prepared to do anything he likes and kill as many people as he likes purely for his own pleasure. It is clear from an early stage in the film that the Joker is unstoppable.

This presents Batman with a dilemma. As he refuses to kill anybody he’s powerless to stop the Joker. As the film progresses, Batman’s inaction results in the Joker killing numerous people in the city and also several close friends of Batman.

Ultimately, the Joker wins because Batman has rules, whereas the Joker has none.

What’s relevant about this to you is that the cause of the problem in the film is Batman’s strong right and wrong functioning.

We all make decisions in our businesses based on right and wrong functioning to some degree. You may well have experienced moments where you have felt you have made a wrong decision. Equally, you may have experienced times when you feel you have made the right decision. On both occasions, you will have experienced some emotion associated with this. If it’s a wrong decision, you may have felt unhappy. If it was a right decision, you may well have felt good about yourself.

If you listen to the language people use in meetings, you will hear people referring to making the right decision on a regular basis. So like Batman, we all operate to a set of rules and have strong right and wrong functioning in our decision-making.

But curiously, the world is not a binary place. Situations are generally far more complicated and have far more outcomes than the rather simplistic right or wrong options we normally use. Our right and wrong decision making reduces every situation to a binary set of outcomes. Is business really like this?

Right and wrong decision making is based on a number of very rickety elements. Personal values, moral views, emotional states, social pressure and assumptions to name but a few. How consistent are these between different people? How objective are they? Are they always reliable?

Right and wrong decision making blinds us to all the available options we have when making a decision. And we are all brought up with right and wrong functioning hard-wired into our thinking.

Every decision has multiple different options and multiple different outcomes. Every single option is relevant. If we look at all options with no desire to make a right or wrong decision we are left with a choice of which option is the most appropriate to the facts of the situation we find ourselves in. In other words, we are freed from all the emotional baggage that we normally associate with decision-making and are able to make a business led choice.

Next time you come to make a decision, do the following:

  • Assess the facts of the situation; what’s really going on?
  • Consider ALL possible courses of action, even those that seem unpalatable
  • Consider the effects and implications of these actions; what will happen if you follow them?
  • Assess which course of action best fits the facts of the situation based on its cause, effects and implications. There’s your decision!

So maybe it’s useful to be aware that one of the options in reducing our company debt is to sack half of the staff. Maybe it’s okay to consider the possibility that we don’t do that amazing merger deal with another organisation. After all, it’s all just options!

Now think about poor Batman. If he was able to see that the most appropriate option to deal with the situation with the Joker at the beginning of The Dark Knight was to kill the Joker, he would have avoided the one thing that he feared most. Loss of life.

Next time you’re faced with a decision where you find yourself desperately trying to come to the right solution, remember to kill the Joker. It’s not wrong, it’s just an option.

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John Hackett

Managing Director – Franklin-Hackett Ltd.