T is for training
Does training (or L&D) activity add value? Is there a return on the investment, if, indeed, the C-suite regards it as such rather than an expensive, preferably avoidable cost? An article entitled “The Great Training Robbery”, published by Harvard Business School, merits reading during the festive season, see https://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/16-121_bc0f03ce-27de-4479-a90e-9d78b8da7b67.pdf. It says US firms spend something like $165 BILLION on “development” of which 90% generates NO performance uplift within 12 months.
The new vogue of e-training commoditises learning into read this, watch this, listen to this, do this tick-box exercises. This may satisfy compliance but the learning cycle of acquisition, assimilation and application of new knowledge does not complete a full cycle. The old practice of discussing expectations of performance uplift before undertaking any training, reviewing and committing to them immediately afterwards then subsequently tracking progress appears to be a redundant managerial practice. Is it all too humdrum?
Might that have something to do with the job descriptions including leading the team and growing its capability as the last in the list of objectives – see my previous blog (letter S)?
U is for unconscious bias
This recent article from the Economist, which is a mock letter from a shareholder to a CEO, makes some excellent points about equality, inclusion and diversity and the approach to “training out” biases, https://www.economist.com/business/2019/11/07/how-to-make-your-firm-more-diverse-and-inclusive.
It needs to be read by the coders at Google who generate their algorithms. Sadly, in searching for a graphic for letter S (Selection) in my last blog, those illustrations showing shapes of human figures being chosen were all male!
It seems many E&D training initiatives have been added on to the back of Harvard’s train and become another exercise in larceny. Exhorting people not to be prejudiced and biased serves little useful purpose. They may become aware of one of the countless numbers of biases, see the “codex”fronting this letter. Yet it unlikely to prevent those biases from being displayed overtly or unconsciously because they sit so deeply within people’s character, perhaps, if you wish, their soul.
Consider this horrifying line from Congressman John Lewis’s magnificent book, “Walking with the Wind”, which is attributed to New York Times writer Claude Sitton quoting a white resident of Greenwood, Mississippi in 1963, “We killed two-month old Indian babies to take this country, and now they want us to give it away to the *******.” (You can guess the offensive word I’ve asterisked.) How deep does that pool of biased bile, animosity and hatred sit in that man’s being? Was he the only person to hold that view then; critically how many hold those views today?
Closer to home in the UK, I recall TV news footage during “The Troubles” in Northern Island of Protestants or Catholics marching in Belfast through each other’s communities. They have a torrent of abuse hurled at them by residents. Very often, they were young children. From whom did they acquire that behaviour?
As Emile Heskey says in his recently published biography, “Even Heskey Scored: My Story”, “We are not born with hate in our hearts, so there is no need for us to learn to be that way.”
Greenwood and Belfast bleakly portray the scale of the challenge Unconscious Bias training is trying to surmount. Is the better way for leaders to agitate cognitive dissonance by repeating Heskey’s beautiful remark?
V is for velocity
From my Physics A Level over 40 years ago (yikes!) I recall, “Speed is the rate at which an object covers distance, it is a scalar quantity. On the other hand, velocity is the rate at which an object changes its position changes, it is a vector quantity – it is “direction aware”.
In June 1988, George Stalk wrote the article “Time – The Next Source of Competitive Advantage” in Harvard Business Review. Ever since, it seems business has been trying to move more quickly, at greater speed but, perhaps, without much direction. Everything has just got to be done faster, faster, faster. Until now, however. Has the decision of the US Business Roundtable of CEOs to commit to “purpose beyond profit”, see https://opportunity.businessroundtable.org/ourcommitment/ (and the signature list has some notable absentees, e.g. Disney, and not a great many females).
Businesses must generate a profit but how large should this be relative to their capital size? What should be done with those profits? Should they be paid out in dividends and share buy-backs to investors or used to fund R&D, pay higher salaries, reduce gouging of suppliers or hoodwinking of customers or poisoning of host communities?
As we enter the “roaring twenties v2”, what is the required velocity for business? Woven into velocity is another “v”, that of values, which if an organisation publishes a set of them everyone in that firm needs to practise them. How do values that are practised not merely preached provide the requisite direction?
W is for women (in leadership)
I spent some time this month enjoying the privilege of judging one of Northern Power Women’s Awards, see https://www.northernpowerwomen.com/awards/. WOW! It is wonderful to read and hear about what is going on some distance outside the M25 bubble. For anyone to suggest woman can’t do things, well as NPW’s founder Simone Roche hashtag says, “#wecan”.
Pleasingly, it is marvellous to see both the broken 2nd rung and the glass ceiling of the career ladder (see O in my previous blog) have respectively been repaired and shattered, although this column about Carolyn McCall, CEO of ITV https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/what-she-said-should-i-accept-a-ceo-promotion-when-i-have-preschool-children-nzpsjlsdw highights the challenges women continue to face. Hopefully, because the behaviours of these 21st century female leaders are different to their male predecessors, we shall see new, healthier climates arise in their organisations, be they first, second or third sector.
There is an inclusivity, a level of involvement in establishing direction and challenging the status quo. The recognition that things must be done differently to achieve different outcomes is profound. Their scale of endeavour is vast not just in their work but in their home lives, their societal contribution, their mentoring to other people embarking on similar entrepreneurial adventures.
Some of the young women with whom I am lucky enough to work and to learn from are committed, driven and enterprising, trying to make the world less divided, duplicitous and divisive. Stand-up Martina (https://www.linkedin.com/in/martinabuchal/) and Marlou (https://www.linkedin.com/in/marlouhermsen/) and Emily (https://www.linkedin.com/in/mcintoshemily/).
Their work demonstrates what can be done when there is flexibility, transparency and tolerance. Their stewardship creates a new form of wealth that is not denominated solely in a financial currency, but encompasses the absolute value of family, friendship, community and the natural environment. Surely, that can only be healthy for all our futures?
X is for X-ray specs
I am going to indulge myself and treat you to some musical joy at Christmas with letter X.
All the rage when I was a child, the soon-to-have must-have device was a pair of X-ray specs. A bit like nuclear reactor powered cars in Space 1999, whatever happened to them? Perhaps the closest we got (the specs not the cars) was Google’s specs or various forms of virtual reality headsets.
So, here’s my indulgement, an opportunity to remind ourselves of “deliberate underachievers”, the Poly Styrene fronted punk band X-ray Specs, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogypBUCb7DA.
Y is for youth
So much seems to be written that besmirches young people calling them out as overly politically correct “snowflakes”, consider this from the Guardian in July this year, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jul/10/millennials-censorship-putney-sofka-zinovieff-lolita. But is that really the case?
What will be the impact of the likes of Greta Thunberg (see my blog from August this year, https://www.tsp-uk.co.uk/general-leadership/what-if-greta-is-correct/) upon the way politicians and business leaders behave? Consider the about turn of the Australian PM concerning climate change, extreme weather and the catastrophic wild fires raging across the Australian countryside. While AI is considered to be the impetus behind the fourth industrial revolution, will those who do not dismiss the mass of scientific evidence about climate change as a Chinese hoax bring about a fifth revolution? What economic growth will the young experience, or will contraction be the order of the day as Tim Jackson wrote about in “Prosperity without Growth”?
What help can be provided to the young to boost their self-esteem and resilience. Good friends at Quintillion, see www.quintillion.io, sister company to Glowinkowski International (GIL), have developed an on-line, digital version of GIL’s personality instrument, the Global Predisposition Indicator (GPI). Look at what has been created, see https://vimeo.com/356855956 or the website www.quintillion.io. If you have a teenager in your house this Christmas who confronts making major decisions about which courses to take at school or whether to apply to university, for an apprenticeship or start their own business, this could be the best Christmas present you buy them.
As is often the case, an old, native American phrase sums up the predicament, “We do not inherit the earth from our forefathers, we hold it in trust for those that follow us.” So, not just millennials and post-millennials but those generations who follow them.
Z is for zest, zeal and zing
We seem to relish the extravert’s pizzazz over the quiet, calmness of the introvert. Is this a mistake? In these volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous do we need cocksure arrogance, the “Matilda syndrome” of, “I’m smart, you’re dumb; I’m big, you’re little; I’m right, you’re wrong!”, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QriZJ-X3wbU?
Why does the tide appear to have receded on the Jim Collins’s Level 5 Leadership I mentioned earlier? Why have we dispensed with the old saw of “You have two ears, one mouth. Use them in that ratio?” The echo chambers on social media are cacophonously alive with Matildas. Are all of us who write a blog for Trevor displaying symptoms of the syndrome? Are we empty vessels making too much racket?
In an increasing secular society, has the loss of faith (and mine is not strong) created a yawning gap that technology has filled with the perpetual buzzing of white noise? Should another Christmas read be Susan Cain’s “Quiet”?
A few years ago, I recall walking up Mosaic Canyon near the community of Stovepipe Wells in the heart of Death Valley National Park. At the top of the canyon, my wife and I sat for many minutes. The silence was palpable, firm, alive in its weighty density. It was broken by the sound of approaching footsteps crunching through the shingle further down the canyon from where we sat. Silence is golden, it has its own special qualities, its own restorative zest. I shall return (offsetting my carbon emissions, of course).