Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Can Twitter teach you leadership?

I recently got in to a conversation about the Twitter phenomenon and in particular about follower numbers. My colleague wondered about why some people have many followers yet don’t seem to say anything that he thought was useful. It got me thinking about situations that you often see in the workplace where individuals within the organisation can influence the thinking of others without having any positional power or authority. These people can often be a thorn in the leaderships side and I have heard many managers complain about them or try to marginalise their influence in some way. Of course it never works and often backfires.

I saw a classic example of this once in a small chemical producer in Holland. I had been asked to look in to their I.R issues as they had a lot of strikes which caused massive disruptions to production. I spent some time with the managers of the site and every one of them told me stories about an individual who they branded as a 'trouble-maker'. When I dug in to their stories it seemed that this individual unearthed and made public things that the managers
didn’t want him to. He spoke up about things at town hall meetings (which got stopped as a result). He followed up on things that went wrong, asked questions about safety and decisions that had been taken on ‘little things’ (like spending money on production instead of working conditions). If any of the operators asked this guy anything he would always get back to them and everything he told them turned out to be true.

As I listened I liked the sound of this guy. After a day or so of stories I told a meeting of all of the middle managers that they should promote this guy. In fact they should promote him above a lot of them! Needless to say this
didn’t go down well.

I told that that this ‘trouble-maker’ was showing leadership. What he said struck a chord with the people around him. A chord that
wasn’t being struck by the managers. Managers who spent their time in meetings or in front of computers and didn’t walk about their plant to see what was going on, to listen to the troops, to feel the pulse of the organisation. He was also believable because what he said turned out to be true, in plain mans language with no spin. It might not have been sophisticated or complicated but it spoke to what the people needed in a way that they needed. Needless to say the managers didn't.

In twitter, people follow those who say something that resonates with them and they re-tweet (pass on) the things that resonate most. Its a living modern example of leadership and followership at work.

If your workplace had a table of who your people really followed or really listened to, would that table have your leadership team in it? Would you be in it?

Friday, March 05, 2010

The Road to Nowhere

I was recently talking with a senior partner of a renowned Auckland architectural firm about the things they find in their project reviews. I have been lucky to work beside some of their team at the conceptual stage when they are thinking about the cultural impact and intentions of the design (of course the culture side is my interest)

I enjoy their approach as they like to get inside their clients heads & really understand how they think about their business. That means they are very interested in the post project review because there is nothing better than looking at the actual impact of the design and comparing it to the intended impact to help them learn for the future.

In the case of one space they had designed they found that the expected working improvements had not fully materialised because people were using the new spaces the way they had in the old building. Aside from observing that this is culture in action (that's the way we always do things), I was interested in why this was the case. After all the space had been designed to create new thinking by providing opportunities to work differently.

Like all projects this one had a significant front end effort in creating the strategy and setting cultural and performance goals had. However there appeared to be a gap between the strategists strategising and the users using.

It occurred to me that this was not unusual whether it be the business strategy, marketing strategy or in this case a project strategy.

Strategy is meant to guide inform your people as they make decisions, yet in many organisations it doesn't do that as much as it should. Not because the strategy is wrong or the people ignore it but because the strategy isn't properly translated in to plans, reviewed against actual results and, certainly in the case of cultural objectives at least, communicated repetitively and regularly so that it sticks in the hearts & minds (that's where culture lives). Without understanding your intentions people will do what they think is right and that tends to be what they already know.

It's like buying an expensive map before a road trip across the breadth of the country and then navigating by road signs. It's not effective & the risk is you get sidetracked down roads that take you nowhere.

Developing good strategy takes some effort; lots of leadership time, expensive collation of data & market intelligence, weeks of analyst time and a pile of charts, slides & reports. So why waste that all by not following through in the role out as thoroughly?

So is the cost & effort involved in creation of strategy replicated in the role out, the time to explain, clarify, revisit, update, measure & publicise in your business? Your division? Your team?

And do you take a leaf out of the architects book & review the actual impact of the strategy so that you can learn and improve at least & refocus at best?

Or do you start out with a great strategic intent and take the road to nowhere?