Loss : how it’s essential

Loss is essential. Only through loss can something new flow in.

A thought. Dropped in a moment. New insight coming in.

A definite idea of a plan. Loosened and let go of, even the slightest gap. Innovation of something better appears….Keep reading over on Medium, and give it a few claps if you like it! Thanks

If you’re interested in talking more about the work I do, just get in touch here and we can set up a call. read more

Diversity and Inclusion comes to Learn > Connect > Do

It’s going to be big!! On 30th November Learn > Connect > Do is back with something a bit different. It’s our Christmas event – nice and early to avoid bumping into the partying and quality time with friends and family – and we’re bringing you four – yes four!! – experts to join our learning conversation about Diversity and Inclusion.  If you already know you need this learning jump straight to the booking page on Eventbrite!

(Thanks to Gabriella Driver for sharing this great image from the recent CRF Conference.)

On the back of National Inclusion Week (#NIW2017) last week, and research conducted by PM Insight, this is an essential topic for organisations to engage with. Whether you believe we live in a VUCA world or not, creativity and innovation are essential in work and those qualities will only come through bringing and genuinely including different perspectives and approaches into the workplace’s thinking.

LEARN

So in November we’re inviting four experts to come and share their knowledge and experience on some of the hot topics in the world of Diversity:

> Disadvantaged young people

> LGBT

> Menopause

> Mental Health

Make sure you read about Joanna, Sean, Deborah and Karen at the end of the post.

At Learn > Connect > Do we believe in an adult approach to learning and we like to do things informally so, for this event, the experts will be available around the room much like a conference exhibition hall – but without any hard sell! So you’ll get to choose which experts you spend your time with – whether that’s 1, 2, 3 or all 4 of them. It’ll be about relaxed conversations – learning, asking and exchanging ideas.

CONNECT

But this event isn’t just about gaining knowledge. We’re also going to explore the barriers to diversity – what stops us when it comes to Inclusion. As a species, we’ve been scared of difference in others for many years – just check out this video if you need evidence for that (thanks to Janice Keyes for the vid). And recent events prove this fear is still prevalent all around us. So we’ll be talking about this barrier and any others you encounter, understanding them and sharing ideas together for how to overcome them.

DO

If we keep doing the same things we’ll keep getting the same results. This is a chance for you to choose to do things differently, to make work better.

It’s going to be a bumper event with mince pies and, of course, chocoloate included! And as usual, all profits will be going to TwentyTwenty so they can continue to do their great work. All this for less than £27!

We’d love to see you there!

 

Book here now!

Email me to go on the mailing list for this and future events.

For now, here’s an introduction to our experts…..

Disadvantaged Young People – Joanna Burrows from TwentyTwenty

To represent the perspective of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, Joanna Burrows from TwentyTwenty (Learn > Connect > Do’s charity partner) will be joining us. TwentyTwenty is an award-winning employment support charity specialising in supporting and empowering disadvantaged 11-24 year olds who are disengaged from education or not in education, employment or training (NEET). We break cycles of hopelessness, worklessness and dependency in the most deprived areas of the East Midlands, operating through Lifeskills Centres in Loughborough, Leicester and Derby.

We aim to consistently put the right people, places and opportunities around each young person, to counterbalance some of their persistently difficult home, educational and social experiences. We support young people to develop self-belief and motivation, achieve in education, learn work-ready skills and attitudes and find and keep a good job.

 

LGBT – Sean Russell from Get Out Stay Out

Sean Russell is passionate about LGBT and enabling employment. He’s the founder of the website:

www.getoutstayout.org.uk read more

The Chinese Buffet Effect

As I write this I feel like David D’Souza who’s an expert at these analogies with life (as an example, you can read about Chicken and Business Plans here). I hope mine hits the mark. It’s not rocket science, or brand new information (HT Phoebe), but it’s something I re-noticed while working with a leadership team this week – and I don’t think I’d ever previously made the broader connections of this effect in other activities.  Plus I love Chinese food!!

So here’s what started it. The leadership team I was working with were creating their collective underpinning beliefs for effective meetings, and then the tangible actions they’d display to live those beliefs.

What they noticed was that, in the two distinct sections of the morning, they worked more effectively and efficiently in the part where they had more structure to their discussions, where they had time limits applied to how long they spoke or discussed for, and when they began by getting all their ideas out on the table first to then distil, prioritise and refine.

And lo, the Chinese Buffet Effect was born.

Imagine you’re at a Chinese buffet restaurant. You’ve looked at the dishes available and taken what you want to eat. Then towards the end of your meal the chef brings out a new dish. By this point you’re already full or nearly full and you find yourself with two options – decline this new dish – even if it is the one you love the most! You’ve had enough already. Or push on through and indulge in the final dish so you leave feeling so full that you don’t know what to do with yourself.

What would be ideal is if the chef had brought out all the meal options from the start so that you could have chosen the right amounts of each one based on your favourites and appetite.

The same applies to so many aspects of work:

Meetings to generate ideas – get them all out on the table (thank you chefs!), choose which you want to go with (your favourites) and keep to the time available to make decisions (your appetite).

Personal time effectiveness – write out all the things you could possibly do with the next hour, prioritise the things that will make the biggest difference (your favourites) and decide how long you can spend on each (your appetite).

Creating a marketing, training, or any other similar plan – generate all the possible ways you could communicate, train, etc and then prioritise the activities that will make the biggest difference (your favourites) within the restraints of time and budget available (your appetite).

Create an agenda (for a meeting, group learning, regular 1:1, coaching, mentoring) – get out all the things that people could talk about (favourites) and then prioritise what’s most important for these people in this meeting and within the time limits available (appetite).

As well as being an effective way of working individually, when others are involved you also get the chance to hear from multiple perspectives which leads to greater engagement and commitment to the plan.

Plus rather than keeping on eating, and eating, and eating – adding more and more topics or ideas in – which saps your energy as your belly (or brain) swells, you start with everything you need on your plate and eat your way through what’s there, getting to a point of decision or closure – or leaving the restaurant.

And there’s a balance with this – you can’t stand in the restaurant until your favourite food comes out – you could be waiting a long time if they’re not serving it that day. So also know when to cut your losses. Know when to say – we’ve spent enough time getting the options / topics / tasks out on the table, there’s a “good enough” selection – we now just need to start distilling, prioritising and refining – or eating!

When else could you apply this Chinese Buffet Effect in your own or your team’s life?

When will you give it a go?

Bon appetit!

Do we need offices?

BREAKING NEWS! Ian Ellison now also speaking at Learn > Connect > Do!!  Read on….

On 1st December it’s Learn > Connect > Do, the event for people professionals who care about making work better.

This quarter we’re talking about our workplaces and spaces and stimulating the debate from the position of “Do we need offices?”.  It’s fantastic to have Dan Pilling and now, not just Dan, but Ian Ellison too!  They’ll be joining us to bring us their deign and workplace insights and get the discussion going.  As the Chair and Deputy Chair of the BIFM Special Interest Group they know their stuff!

So why this topic?  With the gig economy and our ‘always on, work anywhere’ technology surely we don’t need to all be in one physical space together any more.  But then even Google has offices – and they clearly invest a lot in how they look and feel.  Most of us don’t have those kinds of budgets so what can we do where we work?

google-offices-2 google-offices-3

What’s it like for you?

Maybe your business has a regionally or geographically spread team.  Are they based in offices, from coffee shops or from their homes?  What impact does this have on how you and they work day to day?  What’s great about it and what stops this being useful?

Maybe your workplace is tired, uninviting and temperaturely chaotic.  What impact does this have on the teams and their wellbeing and effectiveness at what they do?

Or perhaps your workplace is in one location but inside it feels like lots of separate spaces – physically and emotionally.  Which areas are seen as better off and which are the poor relations?  What does this mean for how people communicate and collaborate?  Does the space reinforce silos between teams?

And then there’s the whole open plan vs closed offices.  Introverts and extroverts and highly sensitive people.  How do we meet everyone’s needs?

We’ll be exploring these and no doubt many more questions on the day so you can leave with new ideas and practical solutions that could make work better where you are.

Join us by booking here, we’d love to see you there – and Pulp Friction will definitely appreciate it – all profits this quarter are going to them 🙂

birthday-fizz-and-cake

P.S.  It’s our first birthday so there’s the chance for a cheeky wee prosecco and some birthday cake!

P.P.S.  I’m currently working with Simon Heath on re-branding ready for the new year so keep your eyes peeled for the new logo to start 2017 off in style!

P.P.P.S. If you can’t make this one but you’re interested in future events, send me your email address and I’ll put you on the mailing list.  And in the meantime pop these dates in your diary for 2017 – 9th March, 8th June, 14th Sept, 30th Nov – all 3-6pm.

In a crisis

In a crisis we come together.

While standing on the train station this morning, waiting for the fast train to London with all the regular commuters, the silence was deafening. Everybody was so separate. So isolated. So absorbed in their own world.

It felt desperately alien to me and I wanted to talk to someone – anyone – to create some human connection.

Our train was delayed, only by 5 minutes, but as the tannoy announced its arrival I thought about those instances when trains are REALLY delayed. Where people start to talk to each other; first about the state of the train service but then moving on to work and personal conversations. Sometimes discovering they have some kind of connection in common. And in those instances when the train finally arrives, people cheer together – connected through the adversity.

We see it over and over again. Give us a crisis and we come together. I remember in my last job when one of our shops was very sadly burnt to the ground. The team effort which ensued was incredible, there was pace, there was communication and collaboration across boundaries, deadlines were left for dust, people went over and above. And it resulted in a new store being built in record time. A store which then went on to outperform its previous sales results as it became a beacon of pride for the local team and community.

I remember at the time it was used as an example to say “we can achieve amazing things when we come together like that. If we can do that more of the time, we’ll be flying”.

So what stops us? What is it that means we only connect in a crisis? That means we only behave as our most awesome versions of human beings when the chips are down.

SOS

I saw this TED Talk of Simon Sinek recently and I think there might be an answer in here.

Our primitive brain still plays a significant part in how we operate today.

Simon describes in this talk about our primitive heritage when we had to connect and be social for our survival. We had to be able to collaborate to ensure someone was on night-duty and watching over the rest of the tribe while they slept. We had to work together to catch food so everyone could eat.

And in the days of our primitive heritage, a state of crisis was more the norm than the exception. Our stress response was a necessary physiological response to ensure we survived to see another day and ensure procreation would continue.

Bringing this to today, the stress response is still alive and well, it’s just that the sabre toothed tigers have turned into bosses, competitors, shop fires and delayed trains.

And so it’s in these circumstances of threat that we pull together, connect and collaborate just as we would have done all those years ago.

So this is perhaps an explanation for our innate ability to pull together in a crisis but how do we make it happen more of the time? And how do we make it happen without the need for the stress response to kick in? Because as much as our ancestors lived more on stress than not, pulling together more often than not, I would guess their life expectancy was a fair bit shorter than we have today. We know that prolonged periods of stress make us ill – physically and mentally – so the answer isn’t to create stressful situations more of the time.

So what is the answer?

Maybe it’s the opposite.

Positive Psychology is about making more of the good stuff. Finding strengths and doing more of those things that let us use them. Focussing on what’s gone well. Seeing what’s gone not so well as an opportunity to learn and adjust. Being appreciative of what we have. Being believed in.

When these things are present we’re awesome versions of human beings and even better because, in contrast to the stress response which narrows our thinking, being in an environment of positivity and safety broadens our thinking. Broader thinking means more opportunities are spotted and more great things are created.

This broader thinking is what enabled us to progress ourselves and our world from those primitive days. Although back then the predominant feature was threats, there were times when we did feel safe and it was in these moments that we invented stuff and created new solutions to help our subsequent generations find shelter, food and stay safe more easily.

So by now, you’d think we’d have invented so much of this great stuff that we’d feel super-safe and be at our best, most positive selves all the time.

And yet that’s not true. As Rick Hanson writes in Hardwiring Happiness, our mind is still like Teflon for the good and like Velcro for the bad. Another hangover from our primitive days to ensure we stayed alive.

So this positive stuff, we have to work on it. We have to re-train our brains to help us be our awesome+1 selves more of the time.

But imagine that: awesome teamwork, communication, delivery of results, going above and beyond – and all without the need to be in a crisis!

This is me – www.wildfigsolutions.co.uk

WFS Tree

When did you last do something random?

While updating his Christmas list on my phone, my son started playing around with the new iPhone feature where you can select the next word from what the phone suggests. This is what it/he wrote….

Days like this is not the same thing as a result of the year before that is not an easy to play the piano lessons and a great way to go out with my family and friends of a good idea of what is up with my life I love you so much for me I have to go out with a few years and years in a row in my room for a long way toward an amazing job and a great way to go back in time and it will take the bus driver. I just want to see the same thing over and over a month or two days after the game with a new phone is so much better than a fart to go back and the rest is the most beautiful and the first half of the year of high quality of life and the rest of the day before I get a follow back on my way home and I don’t think that I have a great way to go back and I don’t think that I have a great way to go back and I don’t. You are the only thing that would have to go back and I have a good time with the new year with the new version is the only thing that would have to be the first place in a row. I don’t think that the new year with a lot more fun if I don’t TY me to go back and I you have a good time with the same thing to say it was the best of the day before I get a follow back please I need a good time with. I don’t think that the new year and I don’t think I can see it as an excuse for the next. I don’t know how much you love someone else to say it was the best of the year. I don’t think that I can see it as an excuse for the next few weeks and months and the other hand the same as a whole new meaning of a sudden it was the first half of the day I have. I don’t think that I can get it right away with the same thing to say it is not the same……

And so it went on!

I thought this was pretty cool!

And I also thought, how often do we just do random stuff, for fun, just for the sheer hell of seeing what happens.

I don’t do enough. Do you?

 

I believe in people being the key to success in a business and that success is unlocked by great bosses. I’m an Executive Coach for SME leaders to help create success for you, for your team, for your business.

Get in touch for a chat if you believe in this stuff too and you want your business to be even better – helen.amery@wildfigsolutions.co.uk
or take a look at my website to find out more http://www.wildfigsolutions.co.uk

#CIPD14 – a year ago today…

….I wrote my first ever blog post after #CIPD13 and after encouragement (in Duttons Bar – a good place!) from David D’Souza to give it a go.

Now, a year on, I’m incredibly proud to have lots of amazing, forward-thinking tweeps as friends, colleagues, mentors and challengers and I was fortunate to go to CIPD14 as part of the blog squad.

IMG_5826-1.JPG

So last year I came away with positive thoughts about how the profession was starting to move in the right direction but that, for a profession that’s meant to be about inclusion and diversity, the speaker sessions were pretty exclusive and corporate.

This year it was fantastic to see more variety of speakers with more small businesses and not for profits represented. There was more free, quality, fringe activity. And the social media activity outstripped 2013 so those as far away as New Zealand could still connect with what was going on.

Since the end of last Thursday, the thing I’m now pondering is this culture stuff.

I care about cultures that are inclusive, where staff and bosses talk like two adults who are equally worthy of their place on this planet, where collaboration is encouraged, where ideas are actively sought – not just welcomed if they happen to appear, where there’s a clear purpose beyond profit that gives people a reason to be there beyond their wages, where people deliver what’s needed in their job because they see the part they play in the overall success. The kind of stuff that Julie Drybrough talks about here and the sort of Giver culture that Adam Grant talked about.

I truly believe that this place is better for individuals, for bosses and for business. Not just because it sounds like a great place to be, but because it will create a business that’s more able to adapt and change for the benefit of its customers – and that will benefit the business.

Millers Oils put it beautifully by saying they created a strategy about how they wanted the place to ‘feel’ in the future – not about the growth they planned to achieve. They knew the growth would follow. And it has.

But then, amongst all that, there’s a challenge. As Gemma Reucroft wrote about how work, for so many people, is just about getting the money they need and trying to survive until the next month. It’s just about getting by in the hope that they’re treated well enough and that they don’t need to worry about the relatively low level of employment rights they have.

But there’s another world too. A world that Tim Scott and I chatted about. A world where things are just ticking over nicely thank you. There’s no burning platform of market conditions requiring a change in approach. The boss might be of the traditional, hierarchical command & control school but they might also be fair and paternalistic, with a team who know where they stand even if that place they stand in is ‘do as I say, and don’t speak unless spoken to’.

Of course I exaggerate a bit for effect but these are just 3 cultures on a continuum of the workplaces we have today.

And who’s to say which is right or wrong for a particular business, for the market they’re in at that moment in time, for their ambitions for the future? Well, ok, the breaching employment rights bit is clearly wrong!

But the other message I heard at the conference loud and clear, and which I believe to be true, is that the culture of a business comes from the top.

So, if that is true. If we can’t shift anything really, properly unless the person up top buys into it, is the role of anyone involved in making work and working lives better to just do that? Make it a bit better. No matter what starting point you have. Just start, take a bold step tomorrow, and then another, and another.

Yes – definitely talk to the people at the top about what you’re learning about the changing economic and work environments.

Yes – definitely keep that conversation going, sharing case studies and success stories.

But really it’s going to be down to them if anything is going to fundamentally change. If anything is going to shift and stick in any direction.

So your job, my job, our job is to take the culture in front of us and make it the best we possibly can – to make the working lives within there the best they can possibly be.

For a full roundup of all the #CIPD14 content take a look here. Thanks to Ian Pettigrew for that!

I believe in people being the key to success in a business and that success is unlocked by great bosses. I’m an Executive Coach for SME leaders to help create success for you, for your team, for your business.

Get in touch for a chat if you believe in this stuff too and you want your business to be even better – helen.amery@wildfigsolutions.co.uk
or take a look at my website to find out more http://www.wildfigsolutions.co.uk

#CIPD14 – Overcoming Barriers to Effective Leadership throughout the Organisation

A topic I’m really interested in as I’m currently exploring this from the perspective of creating a coaching organisaiton as part of my Coaching PG Cert.

So this morning we have Alex Lewis from BAE Systems, Sarah James from Crime Reduction Initiatives and Jamie Ryan from Miller Oils (small business – yay!) and Ksenia Zheltoukhova chairing from the CIPD.

Ksenia starting off by talking about most organisations realising that leaders are seeing they need to make a shift towards leading through authenticity and relationships.  And yet, are the ecosystems of these organisations set up to support this style of leadership?

First Alex saying hello.  BAE have been involved with work CIPD have done with Uni of Bath around trust, and have been involved in the government’s taskforce around engagement.

Alex remembers when he did his CIPD quals a few years back there was a clear distinction between management and leadership.  Now, 20 years on, he believes we expct both from the same person.  Our expectations of our teams have changed too.  Apprentices now struggle with the fact that the manager’s in charge – why should they automatically get the role of running things.  They don’t assume the person who’s their boss has the right to be in charge of them.  They need to earn that by engaging their employees.

Some leaders gets this.  Some don’t.  So to be successful you first need to be clear about what you expect of leaders where you work.

Engage for Success talk about the 4 enablers of engagement – one of which is engaging managers – give people scope, treat them as individuals, coach and stretch them.  Don’t have a gap between what you say and what you do – even if the ‘doing’ is done by a different leader to the one who ‘said’ it in the first place.  It breaks trust.

This is a big ask and leaders need help to be competent and confident.

Trust is critical for effective change, encouraging innovation, continual improvement.

Work by the Uni of Bath with the CIPD has identified 4 drivers of trust –

1. Ability – they’re competent, 2. Benevolence – a concern for others and treats all team members as individuals, 3. Integrity – principles encompassing fairness and consistency, 4. Predictability – principles to work by to make it possible for staff to make their own decisions.

So, 1. Define what you expect of leaders, 2. Understand and address the key barriers – e.g. competence and confidence, 3. Integrate any change for leadership to bring it into a wider change that provides a context – this is where we’ve been this is where we are and this is where we’re going.

Now up is Sarah from CRI.  Their business operates with leaders who are capable to be autonomous to make decisions.  They created management competencies – assessed people in development centres (360 degree, competency interview, desk top exercise) and they then attended a development programme which is now ILM accredited.

As well as capability, capacity was a barrier to effective leadership – going from managing team to checking water supplies for legionaires disease.  Their CEO changed and the new one restructured the business into 3 sections under 3 directors, supported by areas of expertise e.g. bid writers.

Finally, Jamie from Millers Oils, they’ve been around for a long time and Mr Miller who started the business

Mr Miller had a very autocratic style – what Mr Miller said was what you did. But then the final Mr Miller died in the early 2000’s and the business decied they needed a change.

They introduced a management development programme but they discovered it wasn’t working. The barriers? No clear purpose, no clear values, no clear expectations of managers.

So they involved the wider business team in answering these areas. They asked lots of questions such as why do people come to work. For most people it wasn’t about self worth, it was just about getting money. And they just expected to do as they were told and to work hard, and they wanted to use their skills or intellect for the money they were given. It was the fair deal they’d always experienced with Mr Miller.

But now in today’s world, you can buy these commodities for a quarter of the price – you can go to Kuala Lumpar and easily find people who’ll work hard and do as they’re told, AND they’re also accessing education.

So to step ahead in the new world you need people to think for themselves. But staff were suspicious – Will they listen to me? Will my manager not just take the credit? If I just do as I’m told I won’t get into trouble.

They wanted people to think for themselves, come up with new ideas and get passionate about coming to work.

They focussed on the feel of the company, rather than the size of the company. Instead of deciding how much they wanted to grow by and in which markets, they thought about how they wanted it to feel to work there.

They looked at the physical aspects of how people worked to get them working together, and created opportunities to break down the ‘invisible’ barriers.

They’ve removed the role of Operations Manager so others could be involved in operations and come up with better ways of doing things – ops has improved significantly.

They’ve removed the Health & Safety Manager so others are part of the health & safety forum and take responsibility for safety, making it important to them – not just assuming that one person was doing it all.

They’ve helped the teams to see what success looks like and given them the tools to achieve that success well.

They did away with sales commission – hooray hooray!! Too many sales people make decisions for the good of their commission, not for the good of the business. They also did away with the Sales Manager. They’ve given them the tools to do their job now and they now have increased sales through a professional sales team.

They changed the development review – by asking the team what they wanted. They introduced a 360 degree system that the team designed and put in place and which is much more engaging.

They asked the teams what target they would set for the year. The targets the team members set were higher than the managers would have done, and when they meet challenges they come and ask for help.

Of course they’ve met barriers in this change, and they’re all learning. They’ve used CIPD research and have recognised that they’re not the only ones who are experiencing these challenges – which is helpful to know.

Some of the barriers –

  • A lack of willingness to believe in others
  • Managers not willing to let go and create an environment of coaching and empowerment to innovate – it’s a tough balance between using your expertise (which got you promoted to manager) and enabling others to participate, rather than dominating the conversation with your expertise
  • Cynicism from those used to ‘them and us’ – management will do anything to get one over on us, they don’t care about us workers
  • Some people don’t want to think for themselves – but when they start it they find they enjoy it and then want to do it more
  • Lack of patience – the early adopters of change struggle to understand why others haven’t and they can lose faith. Part of a leaders role is to coach these people to be tolerant of those who haven’t quite got it yet to keep the early adopters on board.
  • read more

    #CIPD14 #streetwisdom

    I was really gutted I missed out on the Sheffield Street Wisdom a few weeks back so I was delighted that David D’Souza was bringing it to #CIPD14.

    All I knew about it was that you came with a question
    You walked around
    You tried to find answers.

    I believe in mindfulness, I know the power of our subconscious mind and I even know the difference a good walk can make to my own creativity and problem solving.

    And yet I still wasn’t convinced that Street Wisdom would really answer my question.

    But it did. I slowed down, I stopped and observed, I allowed those things to show a meaning.

    IMG_5738-0.JPG

    I’m not religious but this stuff echoes the times when people say their God has given them a sign to take a certain path.

    And maybe Street Wisdom is the modern day version of connecting with others, connecting with your environment and finding your way – something which the majority of people used to do in their church/temple/mosque….

    What I do know is that it makes a difference – different differences depending on your starting point, your question, your mindset – but it makes a difference.

    If this stuff can help us take one step towards better workplaces, one step towards greater innovation, one step towards feeling more balanced, grounded and clear – then it’s really worth it.

    Want to experience it too? Give me a shout and I can help make it happen.

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    I believe in people being the key to success in a business and that success is unlocked by great bosses. I’m an Executive Coach for SME leaders to help create success for you, for your team, for your business.

    Get in touch for a chat if you believe in this stuff too and you want your business to be even better – helen.amery@wildfigsolutions.co.uk
    or take a look at my website to find out more http://www.wildfigsolutions.co.uk

    Psst, SMEs, look over here. There’s another way!

    After a full on day in Sheffield yesterday at the CIPD HR in SMEs event, I’ve been pondering and reflecting.

    There was a huge variety of content from the inspiring Keith Jackson, MD of JRI Orthopaedics (http://t.co/B8Whtcoa1p), to the HR foundations from Sue Harper, HR Advisor of Leap 29 (http://wp.me/p45I4E-aN) and then with some brilliant practical sessions in between: lining HR activity up to the business needs from Sara and Martin from MJF Cleaning Services (http://wp.me/p45I4E-aR), attracting, selecting and retaining talent from Ben at IMarEST (http://wp.me/p45I4E-aW) and a brilliant L&D programme for first line managers from Anabela at Just Eat (http://wp.me/p45I4E-b0).  All rounded off with a discussion and Q&As on leadership in SMEs (http://wp.me/p45I4E-b4).

    One of the things that’s stayed with me after the event, buzzing round my head, is the opportunity for SMEs to forge a new and better path for themselves.

    JRI are a great example of an SME who have spotted that there’s another way to do things and they’re following their own route that’s right for them and which, it sounds like, is setting them up for some strong growth.  Embracing a coaching and empowering culture in which hierarchies are flattened and everyone really is valued and has a voice – sounds a lot like where many corporates are trying to get to at the moment, but struggling due to their size and long legacies of top-down control.

    MJF Cleaning Services are also going from strength to strength and, with a passionate MD at the helm in Martin Ferguson, they really want to, and are succeeding in, engaging their workforce so that, in a very tough market, people choose to join and stay with them.  But some of what MJF are up to isn’t going to be sustainable as they grow.  Sending a birthday card to every employee is a very personalised and, no doubt, much appreciated gesture but it must take a fair amount of time and effort already with their 130 ish staff.

    And that’s where the journey of existing bigger companies has normally kicked in – the organisation grows, efficiencies are sought, process is applied, people turn into numbers and control takes full hold – because that’s the easiest way to get the basics done.

    Don’t get me wrong, there is most definitely a place for efficiencies, systems and processes to do stuff instead of people doing it, or to write stuff down once for everyone, instead of everyone writing a version.  But there’s a balance which many large organisations have lost and I wonder how SMEs can avoid following that very well-trodden path to the land of control.

    Having listened to JRI, it really feels as though the answer to that is in the leaders and line managers – I differentiate these roles and yet they are really one and the same.

    As an MD, and often founder, of a smaller business, it’s possible to wrap your arms round the whole thing, and relatively easy for your values and your beliefs to filter down and have an impact on everyone who works for you.

    As things grow, for that to be maintained, it’s the leaders and line managers who you employ and develop that will be carrying those beliefs and values through the business.  They’ll be the ones who embody the purpose of the business.  They’ll be the ones who coach, develop and value the staff at the coal face, who in turn delight your customers.  They’ll be the ones who give those personal touches of a birthday card or a spontaneous gift in recognition of doing a great job. And they’ll be the ones who encourage a climate of equity so everyone feels entitled to ask, to offer ideas and suggestions, to give new stuff a go that could make the business even better.  They’ll be the ones who treat your staff like the adults they really are.

    And of course, it’s not all roses and sunlight.  There’ll be times when your leaders and line managers need to have difficult conversations, when they need to step into being more parental with a staff member who’s abused the sick pay policy, or who’s sworn at a customer.  And there’ll be times when they need to firefight and get stuck in because there’s an urgent need to fulfil a customer’s needs.

    And therein lies the opportunity of being a situational leader (http://changingminds.org/disciplines/leadership/styles/six_emotional_styles.htm).  No leader can adopt one style all the time.  But equally, as a leader, you should be more aware of the style you’re choosing and for what reason.  Will you get it right all the time?  Of course not.  Should you notice it when you get it wrong and learn for next time?  Absolutely.  And will it be rewarding when you get better at it?  Most definitely!  As your team grows and develops and the business succeeds – that’s got to be a good reason!

    So where’s your business just now?  What opportunities do you have to carve out a new way, a better way, of growing your business and taking your people with you?  And what’s stopping you?