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Leadership and decision-making

Earlier this winter I had the good fortune to spend 2 days with a group involved in development and education on Leadership as part of the professional certification offered by the Supply Chain Management Association of Canada. Any discussion of Leadership brings forward a philosophy, whether spoken or unspoken, and the approach in this context was “leadership can come from anywhere in the organization.” This orientation is fitting because this program includes people at many different career stages. Through the program, we spend time gaining a better understanding of characteristics of leadership and, as a follow-up assignment, participants determine the characteristics that are most important to them, and use these to build a personal development plan.

Grading can be one of the more tedious activities for any educator, but these are often extremely interesting and insightful. Some commonalities in these papers struck me. Many selected “communication” as a core component of leadership and went on to identify that as an area for improvement. As a rule, I think we often admire the gifts of speech making and communication exhibited by leadership role models who speak eloquently, exude confidence, and excel at getting ‘buy-in” from important constituencies. Another grouping of characteristic that garnered attention were those attached to “honesty,” “integrity,” and “authenticity.” By contrast, none chose this as an area of development and several offered this up as a personal strength. (In addition to causing me to ponder, I had a laugh-out-loud as one paper listed “humility” among key attributes, going on to self assess this at 10/10.)

I will confess to having difficulty with the stark distinction between making the decision (with integrity, etc.) and communicating that decision. A disingenuous leadership metaphor would be “putting lipstick on a pig,” but is it not equally disingenuous to allow a bad situation to continue because we are “picking out battles” or “not rocking the boat” or in some other way rationalizing a decision to let something slide?

This is not my areas of expertise, but the realms of critical thinking and ethics would, I believe, provide some guidance as to how to make decisions. Many situations faced by leaders are ambiguous and they may not even know what to believe. Outwardly, they must convey confidence, but determining if that confidence is warranted is a different issue. I will lay a great deal of responsibility in this area on leadership to not only communicate, but also engage in the thinking that deserves trust.

As a further comment on the connection between “the decision” and “the support of that decision,” I spoke with a colleague of mine regarding the subjectivity of some business courses (e.g. mine in management) compared to others (e.g hers in corporate finance). We concluded that Finance’s rigourous and specific tools bring a common language to “make the case” to various constituencies so as to predict future scenarios and be ready with contingencies if things fail to go as planned. We must have faith in leadership (or decision makers) that the original decision is indeed sound. I can’t help but think that this misses a very important moment in leadership when you decide what you are going to do, especially if you have (1) the authority, (2) the personal communication gifts to sell anything and (3) a team of financial experts ready to make your case.

Using “No” to shape your culture

When it comes to a corporate culture, a simple “No” can be defining. Descriptors of a culture can range from “awesome” to “toxic” on the “what is it like?” continuum (public examples of the former would include the “culture of fear” reported at Toronto’s school board). From my experiences, I think you could make an argument for another continuum from “distinctive” to “yet to settle in.”

Like the famous “I know it when I see it” description of obscenity by US Supreme Court Justice Potter, a desired workplace culture can be difficult to describe. Cultures define how people act, and a more cohesive culture has people acting in similar ways, especially around the important issues. This can be a good thing, but can also be disastrous.

If you have not seen the movie Lars and the Real Girl, it is worth a watch. One memorable scene takes place in a church basement, where a community group wrestles with a complicated problem. (Note: going into more detail would risk spoiling your viewing experience, so I will stop there.) As the discussion reaches a point where some action is imminent, the priest starts to answer the unspoken question of “what do we do now?” He begins stating that “the question” is always the same. Pausing dramatically, he continues, predictably, to state that question: “What would Jesus do?

The moment of his pause is well worth considering. Many times, I have been in situations where someone tries to provide an overarching consideration for a complicated situation. In management speak, this is may be termed “framing the problem.” Such questions could include:

  • what is our duty as… Board members? Executives? Managers? Corporate Citizens?
  • what works best for… our customers? our suppliers? our employees? our investors? us?
  • where do we stand to be… most competitive? most profitable? most innovative?

In a less charitable light, one might assume that the pause-breaking question be:

  • What can we reasonably get away with?
  • What is going to make this problem go away?
  • How can we avoid short-term conflicts?

Such questions may be useful, but a shortcut to cultural insights comes through clarifying “what we can’t” or “what we won’t do.” Saying “No” seems to be more active than not saying “No,” which tends to imply that something is OK (e.g. silence is consent). These “Nos” and “Don’ts” are very telling in clarifying unstated criteria that drive action and inaction. Hiding things from leadership (or having leadership turn a blind eye) is a sure path toward the “toxic” work environment. Progression down this path will vary, but in the journey that lead to the TDSB’s current woes, we likely will find significant doses of both deception of leadership and willful ignorance by them.

So to set (or reset) a positive cultural path, consider saying “No” more publicly and maybe more often.  Such “Nos” shine a special light on what is really important.

  • A culture that pays attention to employee retention, will say “No” to a client who routinely bullies their account managers. (We don’t have to fire the client, but there will be action to stop the behaviour.)
  • A culture that is serious about innovation and risk-taking, will say “No” to attempts to punish failure and mistakes. (This is not to say that we encourage recklessness, but we will take time to discuss and understand risks, as well as plan to mitigate the consequences of attempts that fail.)
  • A culture that embraces work-life balance will say “No” to initiatives the needlessly restrict work-from-home initiatives. (This may mean that we look to different means of accountability than simply “hours worked” or time in the office.)

If you are a leader in your environment, your “No” will speak volumes. Others can bring items to leaderships attention, and ask them to make such calls, which are part of their role in leading, shaping and clarifying a positive culture.

Aligning for Performance – Where to start

The Lululemon stories coming out this week illustrate, if nothing else, that running a successful business is a complicated endeavour. There are a number of interests to balance, and something always has to give. Determining what exactly what should “give” and how exactly to implement that decision introduces an interplay between three dimensions of an organization:

  1. Overall Direction
  2. Measures and Metrics
  3. Rules and Norms

To have a serious look at “performance,” each of these is necessary though no one dimension logically prevails. The result of the interplay is very tangible to those operating in and around the environment. Employees actually live it, and investors, suppliers and other stakeholders are deeply affected by it.

From an organizational development perspective, these dimensions offer distinctly different lenses through which to analyze and evaluate performance. They can also inform opportunities for on-course corrections that can pre-empt a larger “realignment” or “change project.” Here is a quick explanation of what you could see through each lens.

Dimension #1 – Overall Direction (balancing inspiration with reality; clarity with rigidity)

Done well
  • There is alignment toward an overarching purpose.
  • We all know why we are here.
  • We have an obvious shared interest and our conflict is about how to get there not where to go.
Overdone 
  • Attachment to “core values” grows rigid such that an unrealistic zeal drives activity.
  • People are quick to become indignant when others suggest that we would ever compromise or question the direction that has been set.
  • There is talk of “sacred cows.”
Underdone
  • Lack of consistent focus makes it hard for people to assign priority.
  • Lower levels of management feel compelled to check with upper levels.
  • Management shows reluctance to exercise judgement because decision-making criteria is unclear.
Dimension #2 – Measures and Metrics (balancing art and science; means and ends)
Done well
  • There are appropriate and trackable indicators of performance at individual, team and organizational levels.
  • Discussions around performance, including performance reviews, have some objective and tangible criteria.
  • With negative changes in measures and metrics, discussions turn to “what can we do to affect this outcome?”
Overdone 
  • Emphasis on “making the numbers” leads to situations akin to “the operation was a success, but the patient died.”
  • Rampant gaming of the system to make “my numbers,” with complete disregard for overall impact.
  • No concept of “taking one for the team” because there is no opportunity to provide a context or expectation of reciprocity.
Underdone
  • There is no meaningful indication of results and outcomes.
  • Well-intentioned people often feel that although much gets done, little may have been accomplished.
  • There is little perceived connection to and control over end-results (positive or negative)


Dimension #3 – Rules and norms (balancing constraints with restrictions; formal with informal)
Done well
  • There are a few key parameters that people maintain (and don’t need to look at the website for guidance).
  • These are supported in formal policy (e.g. vision, mission and values).
  • There is a “spirit” of the rules not fully captured by the “letter” of the formal statements
Overdone 
  • Decision-making may be stifled because everything is prescribed and no judgment is required.
  • Rationale for doing something is often replaced with explanation of rules, guidelines and norms that prescribe behaviour (more “we/you can’t” than “why couldn’t we?”)
  • People look for air-cover from a policy or from “so-and-so said we have to do it this way” to justify actions/decisions.
Underdone
  • The walls of the office have signs like: “DO NOT LEAVE FOOD IN THE OFFICE FRIDGE OVERNIGHT.“ & “DO NOT LET THIS DOOR SLAM.”
  • The funnel of “policies in progress” is always full.
  • Existing policies are routinely reworked to be clearer. (e.g. Coffee cream is exempt from “Food left in Fridge” policy.)
What now/what next?

An analysis of this nature has to sift through competing perceptions of the situation. If the goal is to improve performance, the first step should be to better understand it. The interplay of these dimensions is similar to the combination of individual life philosophy, personal goals, and code of conduct that form a human being. Some degree of misalignment is inevitable, but very often it is manageable. Large misalignments and inconsistencies will become obvious over time and become more difficult to manage and to hide.

Using these dimensions as a periodic diagnostic within an organization can bring insight to where to focus time and energy to proactively affect future performance. This can also help to prevent large crises that require swift and sudden change.

 

The good news is: I understand your thinking…

Yesterday, I caught a very brief segment on talk radio where a well-intentioned gentleman was explaining a solution that reduced energy consumption by turning off more lights at night. As a good interviewer does, Jerry Agar asked questions about the rationale for this endeavour. I was impressed at how quickly the guest (who I could not find on the site!) explained the connections that he was making, The train of thought is this:

  • If people trust each other, they are more comfortable in the dark.
  • One way to know that it is dark is that you can see stars (He actually said “the milky way.”)
  • So, the ability to see the milky way is a great indicator of how much people trust each other.
  • Let’s turn off the lights and start trusting!

Making connections between indicators and such fuzzy concepts as “degree of trust,” is a worthwhile, yet very difficult task. The impressive part of his explanation was not the logical connections, but the comfort that he had in telling another person how he had put it together.

My professional network contains some experts in philosophy who I will consult for a more technical critique of this reasoning than “Huh?!” In my humble opinion, this gentleman made a horrible argument, but I can’t stress enough the effectiveness of his clarity and willingness to reveal his thinking. A clearly explained whacky argument is easier for everyone to address than an obfuscated description that you have to untangle. The former, we know to ignore or, if we like the guy, give some very blunt critique. The latter takes much more time and energy before we get anywhere.

So, full marks for clarity. Let’s work on the logic,

Collaborating for Automobile Safety

It has been almost 3 years since Toyota embarked on a collaborative partnership to address automobile safety. The Collaborative Safety Research Center in Ann Arbour Michigan has grown to include dozens of academic and social sector organizations united to improve the world of automobile safety. In the rearview mirror this is a rich collaborative exercise pursuing a noble cause. A web search for “Toyota” and “safety” in March 2014 will provide very important context to the venture as you sift through accounts of the $1.2B admission of wrongdoing that resulted in human deaths and in harsh criticism of the automakers modus operandi.

Often revered for its dogged focus on quality, the culture at Toyota contributed greatly to the Total Quality Management (TQM) movement and to many quality principles used pervasively today, not just in manufacturing, but in a variety of disciplines. It appears that “safety” somehow got uncoupled from “quality” with devastating results. When external perceptions don’t match the internal realities, the company has a PR problem. When an internal flaw has been exposed because of dire consequences to customers, the problem is different and much deeper.

Steven Berlin Johnson starts off his book Future Perfect discussing how progress in airplane safety has far outstripped progress in any other aspect of air travel. Statistics routinely tout air travel as safer than driving, and this is no mean achievement. (Note: Presumably science and tech innovation could not have prevented the yet unclear result of Malaysia Air’s recent tragedy.) Similarly, the Engineering and Technical institutions involved in the work with Toyota will no doubt achieve great results in moving the needle on automobile safety. Even with this progress, at some level, all drivers appreciate the myriad of risks involved in heading out on any road in any vehicle.

For Toyota’s part in this, the bigger question is: “how was driver safely allowed to slip on the priority scale in so many aspects of the business?” The CSRC will no doubt get more attention in the aftermath of the recent US legal decision. Potentially these events will result in the world being a safer and better place with increased attention on vehicle safety. This will be consolation only to the most philosophical of those directly affected by the shortcomings. Practices at Toyota may indeed change so that “safety” plays a clearer role. If so, the claims in its vision statement won’t ring as hollow as they do today.

 

Galen: Could Loblaws buy Heinz’s discarded Leamington plant?

Pre-reading NOTE: Work has taken me to SW Ontario a great deal this year, so Heinz announcing the closure of its Leamington, Ontario, operations stuck in my head. Another warning, I am gearing up the for winter semester and back in MBA “shared value creation” mode.

Apparently, Heinz’s announcement to close a Canadian plant fits into a cost-cutting strategy that will bring more production capacity (and jobs!) to its U.S. operations. I am sure the “business case” is rock solid and we can’t expect a profit-motivated U.S. corporation to care about tomato farmers in Canada, can we?

But can we expect a profit-motivated Canadian corporation to care?

What if Loblaws bought the plant? They could in-source the production of it’s store-brand ketchup, which is a logically defensible business move. I am sure that someone could create a business case, but I wonder how they would account for:

  1. Goodwill created for Canadian consumers by creating jobs in Canada
  2. Enhancement to the Weston family legacy at home and abroad
  3. Role-modelling examples of the possibilities of creating shared value (Can I call “dibs” on writing up the case?)
  4. Any other off shoots that create value for a distinct group.

It would take a good deal of analysis to look at how this could work and there may be some obvious things that I am missing due to lack of expertise. One thing that hangs up such ideas is how to account for the various kinds of value it creates.

I would welcome thoughts and insights on how/why this could or couldn’t work. (Get into small groups and discuss.)

What to do when enough is clearly enough

When I have taught MBAs Negotiations, some of the richest conversations about “how it really works” vs. how it is supposed to work. There are always references to specific individuals in the organization who seem to inhabit different worlds. Part of the education is to build skills in understanding and empathizing with other world views with the mantra that “reasonable people can reasonably disagree” about just about anything. The opportunity is to find an intersecting interest, which can be fulfilled despite differing underlying biased perceptions. This can be quite a psychological dance, and takes skill, perseverance, humility and patience in the real world.

I found myself recently looking up an article that had shown up in a previous course reading list: “Negotiating with Disordered People” by Elizabeth Jeglic and Alexander Jeglic. The article describes, from a clinical perspective, some of the common mental health issues in society. Such conditions may not only go untreated, but may even enable people’s corporate upward mobility. The Jeglics stop short of prescribing actions and strategies suggesting that is beyond the scope of the reading.

The net-net of the reading, from my perspective, is that when encountering a difference of opinion, there is some room between “Let me try to understand your perspective on this,” and “Wow! Are you serious?” I experience the latter when listening to Toronto’s Mayor, Rob Ford, and his city councillor brother Doug this week. What do you do when you are dealing with someone whose world is such that because something happened in the past, it is no longer relevant. (What doesn’t happen in the past?)

I really liked Chris Selley’s advice from the National Post earlier this week. (Note: this was before the infamous “Crack Tuesday”) Selley says to ignore them and withdraw the attention that appears to be the pair’s lifeblood. That is difficult to do, but it is a reasoned strategy called “avoid.” Cornered people can be dangerous; the response from a marginalized person tends to be much less dramatic simply because the audience is thinner. (As a distinct action in that direction, I just un-followed Rob Ford on Twitter.)

Business Ethics Professor, Chris MacDonald discusses the ethical implications of working for such an individual. This is a worthwhile discussion because as information seeps out, those closer to the situation always get an early look as the worm turns on such scandals.

For more junior employees, he says that “keeping your job” is one of the relevant considerations in determining how to address such a boss. In the spirit of freedom of choice, one would expect anyone working under such a leader to start looking for an exit strategy. Selfishly, given the “small world” nature of many industries, there is a downside to being seen as an enabler: beware of being tainted by an association that went on too long.

He goes on to say that for those further up the authority ladder, the loyalty should lie with the company’s mission, not with the leader. The more clarity the organizations have regarding the good they are trying to accomplish (including for whom), the easier it will be to make a reasoned appeal to others to move away from an unhinged leader and toward a greater good. As a preventative measure, clarity on the specific nature of value makes it easier to see when slight or sudden veers off track. This clarity allows a reasonable person to say “It is not that I am ganging up on you; it’s just that what you are doing is limiting our ability to (insert clear mission).”

In short, do what you can, which may include leaving, developing political workarounds, colluding, confronting or any number of other actions. Once enough is clearly enough, there is a shared responsibility to act.

Profits and purpose: what really matters? (Survey Insights part 4)

The BBC published an article on Abraham Maslow this week describing the impact of the hierarchy of needs that bears his name. Any social psychology or organizational behaviour course will touch on this in trying to explain the motivators and needs that have people do what they do.

Like many such frameworks, their utility in explaining/predicting the actions of others tends to fall short. It becomes an endless guessing game of rationalizing conscious decisions and analyzing subconscious yearnings. We are going to move the focus to: “me, and what I want” not “them, and what they want.”

In our Summer Survey, we asked:

“If individuals were looking for a sense of purpose from their professional life, to what degree does your organization provide that?”

NOTE: If you don’t subscribe to the “purpose need” theory, you debunk this whole line of thought. People want money; pay them and they work. Pay them more and they work harder. We will address this later.

The results were not unexpected. At the leadership level of the organization, the “purpose need” appears to be fulfilled: one third report that the purpose is “obvious” and more than half say people could find it in different ways.

Further down the organization, the results are opposite. The number of people who report being “here to work” (e.g. absence of purpose beyond Maslovian survival) grows to one-third at the middle-tier level, and to more than half at the lowest levels of the organization.

One explanation for employees not taking the opportunity to be more invested, involved, and engaged with their work is that the organization is not being clear or consistent enough about how their work matters.

For a moment, let’s put the onus on leadership to declare a preference for the kind of success they will pursue. Yes, we want to be profitable, but our self-imposed constraints (e.g. constraints we select not restrictions/rules to which we comply) reveal what matters most and may embody one’s sense of purpose.

So this could give you:

  • a bank that is committed to keeping jobs in the local economy
  • an oil-and-gas company committed to reducing the effects of carbon emissions
  • a fast-food company committed to educating consumers on nutrition

Do any of these “commitments” sound familiar?

The internal audiences will be most attuned to inconsistency because they will see (or suspect) what really drives decisions and what lines a being stretched or crossed. Inconsistency is a breeding ground for cynicism and could be a reason for disengagement such that you report being “here to work.” The rubber hits the road when an organization takes a decision consistent with a “commitment” and appears to forego profit maximization in the short-term.

  • If your organization is poised-to grow, would investors or shareholders support such a commitment?
  • If you are competing for talent, would good employees reward you with loyalty?
  • If you are competing for funding dollars, could this build your credibility with foundations and with public sector funders?

In all cases, there will be some important parties who don’t agree or don’t care.  The better question is “Would you get enough support for you to succeed?” and “What could you do to gain the support of those who need to see results?” Selecting the right measures and delivering results will be fundamental to your success.

Stay tuned for the next post where we shift the focus to the rank-and-file responsibilities.

On the same page, are we? (Survey Insights Part 3)

This article appears in the August 2013 newsletter for the Canadian Supply Chain Sector Council (supplychaincanada.org).

You will see in an earlier newsletter article a survey to capture some firsthand insights on how organizations tend to align actions and intent. The three broad areas that we explored were:

  1. To what degree do people in the organization pursue the same objective(s)
  2. To what extent do people share the same measures/metrics to gauge their performance
  3. How does collaboration work in the organization

Below, we share some of the insights and will continue to release findings on this website. Our underlying thinking is that performance-driven collaboration has a great chance of happening naturally when the parties (1) share a view of what they want to achieve and (2) agree upon the indicators of whether or not they are making progress.

It is pretty simple, but as Warren Buffett claims of investing, “it is simple, not easy.” In other news, the recipe for losing weight is simple: consume fewer calories, exercise more, or do both. As many can attest, execution is not easy, and can beg a number of deeper questions:

  1. If I don’t have time to exercise, what do I need to change to free up that time? (Looking at connections in the wider system.)
  2. Am I healthy/happy enough, even though I am a bit over weight? (Questioning weight as the best measure.)
  3. Why do I want to be healthy anyway? (Staring into the abyss of life.)

Note: Our consulting approach can help you navigate Questions 1 and 2. For Question 3, we are happy to hear you out, but soul searching is often an individual endeavour.

Here are some of the highlights of our Summer Alignment Survey:

1 – It’s clearer from the top

We asked people to report the degree to which they thought the overall direction was clear to them and others. The clarity rises as you get further up the org chart.

But, you knew that. It is simple.

The not so easy part is how can you acknowledge some ambiguity in the overall direction, but make it clear enough that people can maintain congruent priorities.

Have a look at two different reasonable explanations here .

2 – Authoritative decision making, without clear criteria, breeds conflict

The survey gathered information on how decision-making fits in with collaboration, and the interplay between the level of engagement with the organization and providing clear direction.

Another simple insight emerged: When the perceived leadership style veered toward the top-down approach, people reported having conflicting inter-departmental priorities and succumbing to pressures to protect information.

Again, the challenge here for leadership is to be able to provide compelling rationale for decisions, even in the face of reasoned disagreement. This necessitates clarity on the kind of performance the organization is pursuing and how that performance is being measured.

3 – Here’s one that pertains specifically to supply chain

We asked a question in regard to the extent to which colleagues were on the same page. One third of respondents were evenly split between “I don’t know” and “priorities conflict.” The uncanny symmetry repeats with the remaining two-thirds equally split between “my immediate team concurs” and “we all concur”.

From anecdotal experience, having conversations about performance always involves revealing the connections that individuals believe are most important in achieving success. These beliefs are as much art as science, such as:

  • We need profitability to drive innovation.
  • A focus on employee safety firms up our value to clients, unions and funders.
  • Efficiency means the right product in the right place at the right time.
  • Close relationships ensure long-term success.
  • Cash flow is king.

What you believe starts the story and sets up whether you are in conflict, in cahoots or out-of-touch with colleagues and collaborators. It can be worthwhile to check in on how aligned personal views are with organizational direction.

So…

  • For the one-third that is sure that everyone is aligned: Good for you!
  • For the one-third that is sure at least their group is aligned: Clarifying the fit with other groups and the wider effort will help align actions and reduce friction.
  • For the one-third that is in conflict or unsure: Confirming the conflict can expose a strategic decision that can shape a shared view of performance.

It is as simple as asking, but it is not easy to get good answers from the inside.

The Leadership Blackbox (Survey Insights Part 2)

There is an understanding that with authority comes the responsibility to make decisions. Personal style, organizational structure and corporate culture can encourage varying degrees of consensus building and collaboration, but the buck always stops somewhere. In our earlier survey we explored the extent to which such collaboration factored into decision making.

Note: For the moment, we will ignore the very real issue of authority figures who simply refuse to make the tough decisions!

A number of respondents felt that, in their organization, those in authority tend to make the decisions where important issues are concerned. This could mean adherence to a traditional top-down structure, but there are different ways to convey a decision from above. A savvy leader can walk into a meeting with their decision already made but create the feeling among others that the experience was very collaborative. A more straightforward leader (or leadership team) may adopt the tell-and-sell approach whereby they demonstrate the rationale that went into picking one side of a trade-off situation.

From our survey results, a “blackbox” may be a more fitting metaphor for some such top-down organizations because priorities tend to conflict and information tends to be closely guarded. Based on our survey, of those who perceived a top-down decision structure, 2 out of 3 believed there were “conflicting priorities” and more than half also indicated that “information protection” was the communication norm.

Insight #2 Chart 2bInsight #2 Chart 1You can see how these connections can emerge: Department A operates under the marching orders that anything goes as long as we achieve Priority A. Department B feels the same way about Priority B. There is no clear guidance for either group (from leadership) about the impact on the overall desired performance. When a stalemate occurs, the boardroom fills up, the doors close and after some time a verdict appears.

From outside the boardroom, this would resemble waiting for an instant replay decision to come down from the booth. That people communicate on a “need to know” basis is understood; it is akin to court proceeding where anything you say could be used against you. This is how the walls of the metaphoric silos emerge and thicken.

As with our earlier piece, we isolated some implications from such a “black box” leadership environment:

For Collaboration with External Stakeholders:

External parties can get roped in to the drama resulting from internal efforts to curry favour with upper management. Suppliers, customers and partners may be sympathetic to the plights of their contact having to work in such a political environment, but revealing this level of in-fighting to an external party rarely paints the organization in a favourable light.

For Internal Collaboration:

Often times the task at hand is difficult enough to begin with, so why burden yourself with the additional strife from the internal squabbling or playing to the judges? “Pitch the idea to authority to gain compliance from others” is not a workable definition of collaboration in environments that need to take performance seriously. Training can make it worse (see below).

For Poised-for-Growth Organizations:

The approach for newer organizations with respect to this particular problem may well be preventative. One of the characteristics of growth is the creation of different “departments” that must operate with a degree of autonomy. There is an opportunity early on to paint the connections within the wider organization so all departments are focussed on the same priorities and silos don’t develop as rigidly.

We have found that requests for training in such areas as “making business cases” and “influencing” stem from an environment where a common understanding has not been allowed to take hold. Building communication skills in warring factions can deteriorate into a cold war of building persuasiveness. There may be an opportunity to build a common understanding by fleshing out the potential links between actions and desired results.

(Note: The semantics of the words “influence” and “persuasion” where explained to me very well by my friend Mark Bowden. Using influence means understanding the logic of the other party and weaving your wants and desires into that logic. Persuasion, on the other hand, is getting a person to trust you to the extent that they are happy to abandon their own logic if you say, “Trust me. It’ll be OK.” We would prefer a focus on the former.)