Monday, April 9, 2018

The Perfect Case Study for Transition through Change

You don't need me to comment further on the factors - cultural ("win at all costs/god complex"), interpersonal (team cohesion/loyalty) and intrapersonal (seething rage/resentment in a natural born fighter like David Warner) that I believe catalysed the biggest scandal in Australian Sporting history since an underarm bowling action. I've done so on radio in the last week and in my latest LinkedIn post.

However, more fascinating to me now is the clear depiction by David Warner and Steve Smith navigating the four Stages of Transition in change and grief so publicly over the past three weeks.

We saw the shock, numbness, even surreal detachment of Warner in Denial before the full weight of what he'd done descended on him.

We saw the resolute Resistance to being drawn in discussion on what happened and the delayed somewhat hollow and repetitive apology for "his part" in the saga.

Then we heard the hints about an appeal as he considered his options. His age was relevant. He is 31. Would he be able to play county cricket in England? Was there any chance he could still play in India or salvage some of his remaining sponsorship deals if he didn't appeal? How would he be judged by Cricket Australia  and indeed the whole of Australia if he appealed the CA ban? We can only imagine the classic overwhelm and uncertainty he probably felt as people can do in the Exploration phase as he weighed up various options, had to decide whose advice to take (particularly after the involvement of the publicist, Roxy Jacenko backfired so badly). He would have noted the public's growing empathy for Steven Smith and their continued vitriol towards Warner for involving Bancroft in his duplicity and being the only one to "bat on" when he'd allegedly been the mastermind.

Ultimately he decide to cop it sweet and we knew he was in Commitment phase; forced to accept the full weight of his actions while he thinks about his immediate future and Cricket Australia examines how this could have happened and how they rebuild the culture in an era where just performing well is not enough if behaviour is questionable, even reprehensible.  

Friday, April 6, 2018

No Room to Field Bad Behaviour

This week we've seen it plastered across headline after headline. We've read the stories about Darren Lehmann claiming he had no idea what was going on and whilst I have to say I believe him (based primarily on his unprintable expletive-laden enquiry of Peter Handscomb when he saw the disturbing vision of Cam Bancroft) , this doesn't excuse him. We've seen Steve Smith authentically 'own' his error in judgment, take full responsibility as captain and apologise for his mistakes. We've seen Cricket Australia swiftly remind the senior coach that the ball tampering happened on his watch, run a speedy but seemingly adequate investigation and determine their version of the punishment that fits the crime.

So, what are some key learnings we can draw from the Australian Cricket Team scandal? We can determine a healthy culture from a potentially toxic one by three distinguishing features:

1. Whether or not any unethical behaviour is committed at all. Does someone do something in the organisation that others wouldn’t dream of doing in theirs? (Think allegedly widespread unethical loan practices in some major banks).

2. If someone does play up, is it 'called'? Does the organisation turn a blind eye to the behaviour, explain it away or unwittingly condone it through inaction? Are there situations where people are not able to speak up for the moral cause because it will immediately isolate them as "wooses", the vice police or worst of all, not "team players"?

3. Is what's committed ever 'consequenced'? We get the culture we deserve; we get the behaviour we are prepared to tolerate. Every example of unethical behaviour shapes culture. If enough people are condoning and enabling this within an organisation, we have a self-perpetuating system.

In view of the above, leaders need to learn quickly and with humility (particularly from mistakes - theirs or others’). They need to summon courage, glean the facts and circumstances, exhibit mental toughness or bounce back-ability and to quote my beloved "West Wing" enact the proportional response.

Leadership is like parenting. Others learn from us when we want them to. They learn from us when we don’t. People need to know what it is they are expected to do. They need a clear understanding of what the alternative way of ‘being’ actually is. And actions speak louder than words. One can say, ‘I care about the fairness of sport’ and/or 'I care about our brand'. But what are they doing about it? They can apologise for their actions but that doesn't erase the wrongdoing or explain the factors that gave rise to it in the first place? Of course, they might deeply regret what they've done and promise it will never happen again, but in a practical sense, what catalyses their next action and how do we ensure they don't regress in another high stakes moment? The Ashes against England? Reporting the company financials ahead of merger negotiations?

We are seeing more signs that high performing and professional sporting teams want to jealously guard good culture and continue to demonstrate they will not tolerate 'below the line' behaviour. They know that caring about the brand is more than on field performance. The clubs would no sooner want a pre-season sex scandal as dismal match day performance in the first three rounds. In fact, for brand impact, the scandal would be worse. Whatever the organisation’s code or set of trademark behaviours, their people need to ‘live by it’. Every organisation has their rainmaker, their number one sales person, their talented high profile star but what price is the organisation paying if it continues to tolerate or tacitly condone cheating, bullying, sexual harassment or any other form of counterproductive workplace behaviour? What message does it send to clients, suppliers, sponsors, members and “players” when the end justifies any means? As I said on radio last week, we can explain David Warner's seething rage over several weeks driving a desperation to beat South Africa and resulting in the collective ball brainfade of Smith, Warner and Bancroft. But if Warner wasn't encouraged as the resident team "attack dog", if Smith hadn't struggled to control his talented yet most maverick player, if the culture enveloping the team wasn't so "whatever it takes", I dare say all three players would be gearing up for a productive and lucrative cricket season in the IPL.

Whether it's sporting clubs, the boiler room, the boardroom or anything in-between, organisations need to create the optimal environment for success. It must know its enabling critical success factors and actively work to remove impediments to that success. Being clear, intentional and consistent about the vision and the expected behaviours to go with it are hallmarks of enlightened organisations serious about sustained success and 'premier' reputation.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Storytelling as an Influence Strategy

In the space of a work week we may find ourselves having to shift from trainer, to facilitator to keynoter to consultant; making allowance for varying paradigms of power, presence and expertise and perpetually judged by how well we do that. Yet with the challenge, the responsibility, the skills, patience, energy and empathy required comes an extraordinary privilege. Whether it is a two-hour Special Interest Group session or a certificate program, those participants entrust their learning to us. We know they are ultimately accountable for their own development. Yes, we could theoretically do a brilliant job with a closed learner and make no difference to their lives. However if we can’t establish credibility, an open safe environment, if we create confusion rather than clarity, we have abused the privilege. Thus it behooves us not to be good, but great.

Greatness in the training room is not about the quality of the materials or technological wizardry but the ability to capture interest, create relevance and insight and develop “skills for Monday” – sure signs of learning. 

One way to stimulate learning is to use story. Every participant comes with a story. Some of the most vivid stories are the ones that bring them to us cynical and dejected, even fearful of what they might learn. And if we are apathetic towards their stories we are throwing mud against the wall in the hope some of it will stick. We will use story to establish credibility. Even self-deprecating facilitator introductory stories are designed to break down barriers and demonstrate self-awareness and humility such that groups will warm to us.

Participant introductions, however unimaginative, are opportunities for them to share some small figment of their personal and professional story. Twenty participants may come from 20 organisations and that number of professional backgrounds. How we do help them find common ground and shared meaning? We can tell stories and encourage them to do the same such that they can place themselves in the stories and find inspiration and discipline to try new things. Analogy, metaphor, values through action and third person stories are subtle and indirect ways of asking people to confront fears, change attitudes and behaviours without platitudes or bullying.

How often have we done our homework on a group and told stories that packed a punch “without looking at anyone in particular”. How easily could we otherwise sell messages like: “We think your boss probably sent you because you have poor people skills” or “You are so arrogant, it’s no wonder the older experienced staff in your workplace won’t share anything with you". Far better to tell a story about some mythical person out there and weave a spell around a situation that punches participants in the stomach without any risk of an assault charge!! We don’t need them to own up to us but to themselves.

So that stories are not accompanied by a cringe factor, they must be authentic. One way to do that that is to make sure they’re our own. And if ours aren’t good enough, only use the best and acknowledge the source! By incorporating story telling into our repertoire we further the possibility of being true unlockers of (not onlookers to) human potential. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Generations or Generalisations?

I'd like to think I know something about so-called Millennials. I have four of them at home. I'd like to think I know something about Baby Boomers. Many of my clients are boomers. As for me, I like to think of myself as a Gen X trapped in a baby boomer body but that's for another time.

We constantly hear stories about Millennials as flight risks. I do a lot of work with graduate groups and they visibly bristle when someone tries to label them. They didn't know each other until they came to their employer organisation. They were hired as unique, bright, educated and enthusiastic individuals. To lump them in together is to sell them short.

At times there’s too much naming, blaming and shaming of Millennials for my liking (and mostly from Boomers). A piece with my thoughts on the Millennial Generation featured here in the Sydney Morning Herald. Yes it's true. Many of them are quite confident. They want flexibility, respect, autonomy and meaning in their work. So I ask, how different is that from what anyone else wants at work? 

Dan Pink in his book Drive explodes the myths of the carrot and stick. He provides countless examples of situations in which employers throw money at employees who leave anyway. The carrot and the stick may have worked in the olden days when people were paid to do structured and sequential tasks. But most people in workplaces these days do heuristic (innovative, non-sequential) tasks and the joy lies in the freedom and mastery, not the bonus. If anything, some of the most corrupt book-cooking behaviour we can see in workplaces comes from the compulsion to manipulate results in order to qualify for the aforementioned 

So this is where I return again to the stereotype of the generations. Willem Pruys, the former HR GM of Bunnings talks about the success they've had employing older experienced staff and valuing them, respecting them, giving them flexibility and trying to cater to the needs of the individual. Isn't that the dream job of the Millennial too until they decide they want to travel to Vietnam to teach English for a while. As long as we juggle their absence with the roster so that the grey nomads can do a longish haul in the campervan to Coober Pedy and back, we should have enough staff to get the work done.

Let's not focus on what separates the generations. Let's provide all of our employees with what Dan Pink calls the necessary three motivators: autonomy, meaning in the job and organisational purpose. I've seen the vibe in the funky Apple store in Soho and I've seen it at Bunnings in the carpentry section. Let's love and liberate, not label our people and see them flourish alongside each other for as long as each of them decides to stay.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Reminder that Black and White aren't the Only Colours

Photo by Getty

I must admit I did a double take when I learnt the news. A part of me groaned inwardly. Was it a smart decision? Do we need the grief? Will people see the ‘frame’ or just the convenient canvas? I could hear the trashy (but clever) memes. And I could see the pain of people I know and care about and the hurt and suffering they felt when it happened to them. 

And yet St Kilda Football Club has appointed Simon Lethlean, former General Manager at the AFL to head up its football department. 

At a time when the public and the media is white hot about sexual harassment and the #metoo movement, it would be easy and negligent to confuse what Lethlean admits he did in having an illicit relationship with a junior staffer and the sordid allegations tumbling forth every week since the Harvey Weinstein scandal. I am not going to reproduce my thoughts on the initial AFL saga when it unfolded but you can read the OpEd I wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald here if you choose. 

An illicit relationship between consenting adults may be morally abhorrent to many but it will never constitute sexual harassment or worse, sexual assault.

The roots of St Kilda Football Club are in the St Kilda shoreline, the fun and the outdated tackiness of Luna Park, our spiritual home at Moorabbin to Mordialloc, the posh suburbs of Brighton and Portsea. It is home to the hipsters and the homeless, the fabled and the fallible, the suave and the second chance. The Club above all else embraces inclusion.

Human fallibility is the reason St Kilda got to interview Lethlean in the first place. Would he have stayed with the AFL for a while if not for this? Of course. Is his CV outstanding? Undoubtedly. Might he make the difference to the Club to bring us closer to that elusive second flag? Quite possibly. But that on its own for me would never have been enough to hire him.

I will never advise an organisation to turn a blind eye to conduct just because someone is a star performer. Too many boards and too many companies have obfuscated, wimped out, rationalised and even condoned below the line behaviour because the perpetrator was the CEO or the darling of the media, or the best rainmaker or someone's drinking buddy or niece. I know it happens. I wrote a book on it.  But St Kilda Football Club is not a "vulture culture", not with Matt Finnis as the CEO or with Peter Summers as its President. And I'm saying that as someone who has had the privilege to get to know them both over the past three years. If Lethlean has learnt from his actions; if others much closer to him than you or I have had the capacity to forgive, might we do the same?

Gillon McLachlan hoped Lethlean would find a home again in football. It's widely publicised they are friends. Yet Gillon, whom I respect a lot, accepted Lethlean's resignation. Because life is not just black and white. It's not as simple as: “You're either with me or against me”; “I'm your friend so I can't be your boss and the custodian of culture.

Finnis has said the Club's brand is now strong enough to withstand the scrutiny and the inevitable questions and pushback. Yet any club is one tweet or one drunken night away from ignominious scandal. He knows it. We know it. St Kilda Footy Club has both brought it on itself in days past and suffered for it through no fault of its own.

Life is complicated. Some decisions are complex. My colours outside work are black and white...and red. And the red is for heart - hearts filled with empathy, compassion, forgiveness and acceptance. With the highest engagement of any AFL club despite our paucity of on field success to date, I trust the Club to have crafted a message that is authentic, balanced, sensitive and honest about the decision to hire a flawed yet competent new Executive. Having just been granted our licence to launch St Kilda's team in the AFL Women's League, the women who play for us and those who follow us with such enduring passion and loyalty deserve nothing less.