Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Going for Gold: What can our Aussie Athletes teach us about leading and sustaining high performing teams?

Image from Getty

Yes we’ve seen the Aussies dominate in the pool; Cate Campbell making a comeback since Rio and her sister Bronte deservingly having her time in the spotlight as she took out the 100m freestyle title. We’ve seen the Boomers swish their way to the top, and gymnasts Alex Eade and Christopher Remkes execute gold-medal winning routines. And we’ve been witness to the heartbreak and the sheer display of resilience and embodiment of sportsmanship as we watched the disqualification of Claire Tallent whilst leading the 20km women’s walk, to collapse to the ground in tears, and minutes later, to make her way to the finish line and cheer on fellow Aussie Jemima Montag.

After 11 days of competition involving 71 nations across 25 events (including para events), the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games offers a fascinating workplace parallel into how we lead and sustain high performing teams:

1. Organisations must have a clear vision. Organisations need to start with the vision of goals including desired culture at the forefront. Whether it's winning a championship, maximising profitability or developing talent to become the future leaders of the organisation, people need to 'get it'; not just intellectually but how it is to be embodied behaviourally.

2. Organisations must remember to inspire their people about their purpose and successfully attach a social or moral cause to its strategic goals. People have to connect emotionally with the why behind what they do. That is, they need to be ‘moved by it’ and inspired to lead and drive action. Too often organisations dwell on what has to happen i.e. business results and forget to emphasise why it matters. When athletes are selected to represent their country, the 'cause' is self evident. How many spoke about the incredible support competing 'at home' as a driver for our best success ever.

3. Whatever the organisation’s code, their people need to 'live by it'. Once the organisation's vision and purpose has been established, leaders need to be clear about the expected behaviours to follow. How does your organisation continue to demonstrate that it will not tolerate 'below the line' behaviour? Traditional management techniques are great if you want compliance. If you want engagement, self-direction and employees who show initiative, tangible and intangible 'tools' to succeed in their role, work better. Create a supportive culture in which giving and receiving feedback is the norm and employees feel safe enough to have the tough and courageous conversations. Invest in leadership development, in attracting and retaining talent, building resilience, emotional intelligence and the desire for innovation within leaders (all of which are prized commodities being talked around right now). However, all of this doesn't mean a high performance culture has to be built from scratch. Nick Kyrgios and the Australian Swim team are vivid examples of how underperforming individuals and teams demonstrating 'below the line' and counterproductive workplace behaviours can change.

4. Break past habits, challenge 'old world' thinking, be bold. As the old saying goes, where there's a will, there's a way! Inspire the team (and its audiences) through appreciation and accommodation of difference. How inspiring and infinitely do-able was it to integrate other-abled and para events? Certainly easier that producing a compelling and heart-warming closing ceremony it would appear, judging by the backlash!

5. Organisations need to develop a growth mindset and foster resilience. We may have a 'default' mindset but we can choose to develop it. Carol Dweck’s research on Mindset has shown that adopting a growth mindset (believing that your abilities aren’t ‘fixed’ and can improve) is a key element to achieving success. We saw Cate Campbell crumble under the pressure of a fear to fail at the Rio Olympics. This was a different Cate just now. How the organisation defines and rewards this success can shape how employees respond to failure and mistakes; that is what is praised and reinforced develops or impedes the growth of resilience and willingness to innovate/try new things especially when there's no guarantee of success or worse, there is fear of failure.

Being resilient requires us to work through challenges and adversity. Studies have shown that the specific personality trait of hope is a key predictor for resilience. Mentally tough or hardy individuals seem to:

a) Believe they can. This is not arrogance but high self-belief.

b) Have high confidence in their ability to navigate obstacles that arise whilst working towards achieving goals. This is high self-efficacy.

c) When a crisis strikes, they accept the fact that stuff happens and kick into problem solving mode quickly. They push the reset button and exhibit high 'bounce-backability'. 

So, as an organisation, how energised are you towards achieving your goals? What is the path or multiple paths to getting there? Have you identified them clearly? And if so, what strategies are you going to put in place to ensure that you and your team can achieve them?

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.