If it walks like a duck

The connection between self belief and outcomes can be one of the most powerful drivers of performance. When an individual or team truly believe in something, they can often deliver results greater than the sum of the parts. That’s why we often seen teams deliver incredible, unexpected outcomes – “against the odds”.

At the same time, the connection can also be one of the biggest inhibitors when we fail to see or listen to the feedback that surrounds us. Not all of our efforts will bear fruit and the ability to realise this, see where we are falling short or can improve and recorrect is critical.

That’s one the beautiful things about creating a team that operates as an open system. Open systems listen to the feedback in the external environment and respond and develop accordingly. They are, to some extents, the epitome of selfless, ego less organisations. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t the need for process or procedure, but that these are constantly developing in relation to the external environment in which they operate.

In the book “Black Box Thinking”, Matthew Syed gives a number of examples of open systems, but the one that struck me the most was the airline industry, where feedback and information is shared across companies and used to deliver improvements industry wide on all aspects of safety. When someone shares something they’ve learnt because of an incident or a near miss, you don’t hear anyone respond, “but that’s not how we do things here” or “we’ve always done it that way”, they listen and learn.

It begs the question, in our organisations how much do we really listen to the feedback that is around us and how willing are we to adapt and respond as a result? Too often we talk about the reasons why things are as they are, or why they’re too hard to change. But wouldn’t a more engaging, energetic and profitable way be to listen and address?

If we see the work that we do it and the way that we do it as an ongoing journey of improvement rather than a fixed deliverable, we can use the feedback that we hear and see as a positive means of continuing on that journey, rather than as a means to critique what we’ve just done. And from that, we will only ever see better results for everyone involved.

Be a high performing team

Over the years, I’ve seen a number of really exceptional teams working in different organisations and in different functions. I’ve been part of some great teams and also some that were really quite dysfunctional. If you’re struggling, or interested in making your team perform better, here are the areas that I’ve seen make a real and sustainable difference.

What are your drivers of strategic value?
Not every organisation is trying to achieve the same and therefore, their demands on your function aren’t going to be the same. Understanding the organisational strategy and the value that you can contribute to delivering that is key to aligning your activities and resource. Keep it simple, keep it focused, keep it understandable.

How well are you currently performing?
This requires a massive dose of self-restraint, the commitment not to justify and a genuine willingness to improve. I’m talking about getting beyond the noise of “they didn’t let me do xy&z” and really examining the performance of the function – seeking feedback from even the biggest critics. Would you pay for the service that you are delivering if you had a choice? Can you clearly articulate the organisational value?

What’s getting in the way and how can you change it?
Most teams will tell you that they’re ridiculously busy and most of them will be telling you the truth. At the same time, most day-to-day activity, process and protocol hasn’t really been looked at for years. If you’re spending too much time and energy on activities that don’t drive strategic value, you’re going to have to stop. That means permission to rip up the rule book and do things differently.

Can you create the right attitude?
You’re going to need to create the right attitude to deliver your agenda – remembering it won’t always be the same approach, depending on the scenario. Too many people confuse an attitude with personality and often you see teams which look like an identikit version of their leader. The best teams, the highest performing teams recognise difference, but they all share the same attitude and appetite to succeed. If you’re going to be successful, you need everyone on board.

Be relentless in your pursuit of the end game
One of the biggest reasons that teams fail to deliver high performance is inconsistency of focus and approach. Consistency, perseverance and relentless drive to deliver against your goals is key. Success doesn’t happen overnight, there will be challenges and moments of doubt. But ultimately, if you’ve got your direction aligned with your organisation, reduced the things that got in the way and have made sure everyone is pointing in the same direction, you’ll see performance start to improve.

There is much to take from The Taylor Review

Last week saw the publication of the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices. Inevitably it made headlines and drew attention to a number of high-profile ongoing debates – not least the “gig economy” and the challenge of flexibility. Perhaps unsurprisingly it also managed to draw criticism from both the trade unions and some within the business community – I generally think anything that fails to appease two potentially opposing groups must have something interesting and progressive about it.

The debate about work, the future of work and the working practices that we want to encourage in the UK is one that weaves a tricky path between those that argue for deep legislative protection for employees and those that argue for total liberalisation of the employment market. The answer almost certainly lies somewhere in the middle and navigating the world of compromise and pragmatic outcomes is always harder than taking a simplistic, dogmatic position. It is always much easier to highlight the issues that aren’t solved, than to look at the solutions that are actually proposed.

The report is over 100 pages and yet most of the reporting focused on relatively small sections and all in all there is much to be commended in the review. It provides one of the most balanced, thoughtful and helpful assessments of the challenges of developing an economy whilst maintaining good work and working lives – particularly in a world post membership of the European Union.

The definition and scoping of “good work” aims to take the debate beyond simple wage growth or contractual status – but without suggesting that they’re not important. Like the political manifestos of all major parties, it recognises the importance of employee voice and participation within the workplace and discusses the importance of work life balance and working conditions.

The section on learning and skills and employability is one that has had perhaps the least attention but is perhaps one of the strongest. Let me give you three direct excerpts:

On education policy: “Government should use its convening power to bring together employers and the education sector to develop a consistent strategic approach to employability and lifelong learning. This should cover formal vocational training, ‘on the job’ learning and development, lifelong learning and informal learning outside work. It could be linked to the longer-term development of life-time digital individual learning records. As part of this, the Government should seek to develop a uni ed framework of employability skills and encourage stakeholders to use this framework.”

On careers education: “In developing a national careers strategy, the Government should pay particular attention to how those in low paid and atypical work are supported to progress. It should take a well-rounded approach, promoting the role of high-quality work experience and encounters at different education stages.”

On unpaid internships: “The Government should ensure that exploitative unpaid internships, which damage social mobility in the UK, are stamped out. The Government should do this by clarifying the interpretation of the law and encouraging enforcement action taken by HMRC in this area.”

The Taylor Review doesn’t answer every question on the future of work, but it provides an incredibly helpful, thoughtful and balanced starting point. It is beholden on all of us associated with and interested in the UK economy, productivity and good work to take the outputs of the review and to build on them to develop our country’s approach to work. There is much good within the review and much to consider, we mustn’t lose this amongst the faff and nonsense of special interest groups concerned with looking after their own, increasingly dated agendas.

Are you proud of your work?

How many of us can truly say that we’re proud of the work we do on an ongoing basis? I’m not suggesting that the work isn’t worthwhile or valuable. But do your efforts make you proud?

I wonder in a world of increasing complexity at work, whether we are making more jobs that remove the concept of personal pride. The simple linear relationship between actions and outcomes that allow us, at the end of the day, to feel that our contribution not only added value but gave us a sense of pride. If we are dealing with the fragmentation of task and the complex interrelationships that exist in many modern workplaces, is it possible to have that simple reaction to our work?

I immediately think of the challenges that teachers, nurses and those in the services and forces talk about. How the “stuff” gets in the way of their personal pride and drive. Whilst this is perhaps the most simple and obvious examples, is a similar issue occurring in workplaces across the world? Can we help retail employees, call centre operatives, warehouse workers and office staff simply feel a greater sense of personal pride?

“I’m proud of the work I do and the contribution that it makes”.

That feels like a pretty powerful statement and one that would potentially help us understand the level of connection an individual has with the work that they’re doing and the organisation that they work for. Far better than asking whether they’re proud to work for the company – as is often seen on employee and staff surveys. If one could create an organisation where everyone felt proud of their work and their contribution, would that almost undoubtedly lead to higher performance?

How proud are you of the work you do?