Monthly Archives: February 2013

The one with the grocery shopping

At some point in the last few months I heard a great quote. I have no idea where I heard it but if anyone has any suggestions then I’d appreciate it… The quote comes from a veteran of American Football management Bill Parcells. He managed several teams and has an impressive record including 2 Superbowl wins.

The quote goes:

“They want you to cook the dinner; at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries. Okay?” and according to Wikipedia refers to conflict Parcells experienced with the team’s owners and the impact it had on player selection.

On hearing the quote my mind immediately went to recruitment and how much of ‘a say’ HR should have in those being recruited by the organisation. The challenge I think arises in the overlap between the accountability placed on the HR team to deliver recruits and the accountability of the line manager to actually manage the employee to deliver once they’ve been recruited.

There’s a post all of it’s own probably on where the accountability/responsibility of a recruiting function ends and whether HR is try to enforce control or support the line manager in hiring the right person for their role. I’ve worked with managers who had an instinctive gift for spotting talent and likewise I’ve worked with managers who were overly focused on getting a pair hands to think through if they were the right pair of hands. As I said probably a whole post in itself…

However, on reflecting on the quote a little longer my thoughts switched to autonomy and how empowering managers and leaders in organisations actually are?

The balance between operational trust and task control is a fine line at times and I know from personal experience when the pressure’s on I can slide at varying rates towards control. I know there are people I’ve worked with who appreciate the clarity when the stakes are high but also colleagues who could have gladly punched me in the nose (god bless the disciplinary procedure) in order to get me to but out.

Where does supporting your team meet being a control megalomaniac? Where does the need to manage your own anxiety and need to feel in control neuter your team to the point they are merely carrying out instructions? Most importantly, how effective can you be at doing your own role if you spend all your time doing your team’s jobs for them?

It’s a challenge I admit – and in the spirit of openness, one I fail at as often as I succeed but as with many of these things the wonders of self awareness can of course help. Also giving your team permission or actually outright challenge to push you back when you are being a control freak and unempowering them to the point of inertia.

I remember running a workshop a few years ago and one of the topics covered was delegation. I had written a slide entitled something like “The Four Challenges of Delegation” (grandiose I admit) and asked the participants what they needed to do with each of the following: Responsibility,  Authority, Control and Accountability. Much debate ensued.

Where we landed (as planned) was to give responsibility, to give authority, to retain control and share accountability (the individual was accountable to you whilst you remained accountable to the wider ‘them’). One of the participants asked quite earnestly “how can you retain control whilst giving any responsibility?” and they won the $64,000 question award…



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The one with the wild rabbit

On occasion I loath the power of advertising. Not the pernicious, influential, sub-conscious messaging and influencing – that’s just the game. The bit I loath is the fact that on occasion something just lodges in my brain and lays dormant just waiting to pop out. Today I will inflict such an instance on you. It concerns Hennessy brandy and it’s Wild Rabbit campaign…

It was a Saturday afternoon in May 2012 (yes it’s been lodged that long) and I was lucky enough to be sat in the back of a taxi in New York heading towards Greenwich Village and I noticed a billboard that looked something like this (but without the palm tree – it was New York!!)…

 hennessey wild rabbit billboard

And it intrigued me enough to find the website and follow the thread of the campaign. The central tenant of which is this:

“In Cognac, France, where Hennessy is made, rabbits run wild. But the intriguing animals are rarely seen. Over time, people invented tales about them; Tales about a creature that lives in people’s minds.

This elusive Wild Rabbit, is thought to drive people from one success to another. For nearly 250 years Hennessy’s Wild Rabbit has been to build on our expertise and push our world class cognac ever closer to perfection. Constantly chasing. Never stopping. Never settling.


I had forgotten all about the advertising campaign (and apologies to Hennessy I’ve still not bought any brandy) but fast forward to February 2013 and I was reading a report on some research carried out by the talent consultancy Korn Ferry. It was based on the survey results of speaking to 109 business executives and getting them to rank which of Korn Ferry’s competencies they believed were their prorities in the post-financial crisis world (I must have missed the memo that it’s over). They were comparing it with data collected in 2007 and the pre-crisis post-crisis comparison looks like this.

Rank Pre-crisis Post-crisis
1 Customer Focus Dealing with Ambiguity
2 Drive for results Customer Focus
3 Motivating Others Manage Vision and Purpose
4 Priority Setting Strategic Agility
5 Problem Solving Managerial Courage
6 Timely Decision Making Perspective
7 Strategic Agility Priority Setting
8 Organising Motivating Others
9 Command Skills Drive for Results
10 Business Acumen Listening


On initial reading I was interested to see the absence of command skills post-crisis and to see that courage had appeared in the list. It was no surprise that dealing with ambiguity went straight in at number 1 and I suppose I was a little encouraged with the climb that strategic agility had made and the importance placed on managing vision and purpose.

However, the more I thought about it the more I thought the list was lacking anything truly inspirational – I mean, a lot of what these 109 executives are rating are to a certain extent the key skills of managers but what of leadership? I am not intending to have the leadership vs. management debate here but for me both lists were missing any kind of magic – where were the game changers?

This list and the blog post it was going to provoke have been bouncing around in my head for a few weeks and somewhere in the bouncing I came back to being sat in that taxi on that Saturday afternoon and being intrigued by the concept of the wild rabbit.

Maybe it’s just my divine discontent gene twitching again but I can’t help thinking that an organisation lead by those list of 10 will hardly be blowing the doors off anything. Where’s innovation? Where’s inspiring people? Where’s the global edge?

One could argue that courage+customer focus+strategic agility may blow the doors of something but I struggle with the notion that an organisation recruiting to that shopping list will have find themselves with a group of very competent senior managers but no magic.

In sitting and thinking about it you could play with the idea of the wild rabbit and think of IBM transforming itself from a business machines company to the knowledge and service offering they have now, probably most people would quote Apple’s disruption of the music market and the e-commerce examples are numerous (altogether after 3 – Jeff Bezos). But think about stuff that’s happening now – Random House and Penguin merging to ‘suit up’ in the battle of content vs. distribution… Think of the Co-op changing from an also ran to the ethical food retailer. There are probably loads of great examples but the example that both lists make me come back to is Kodak

Chapter 11 or Wild Rabbit?

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The one with the lion’s den and no christians

A few weeks ago I found myself waiting around in a hotel. I was meeting some colleagues and found the drinks point and was contentedly making a cup of tea. In the same lounge were 4 people who were obviously having some kind of work session talking animatedly about their plans.

In blatantly eavesdropping on their conversation I heard mention of the ‘whack pack’ a cheap and easy tool I’ve seen used to try and give people stimulation for creativity (think De Bono’s hats) at which point I started to pay more attention. Eventually my eavesdropping became interruption as I engaged them in conversation about what they planned to do.

One of them went on (with obvious signs of excitement) to share how they planned to take a large group of employees at a certain management level within a financial institution and ‘make them more creative’. It seems the institution in question wanted to increase innovation and encourage entrepreneurship within their organisation and the response was a 3 day training course on creativity. The course, I must admit, sounded like it would be fun and the people were clearly passionate about giving the participants a well planned programme but I left their conversation thinking how much time and effort they were likely wasting.

For me this illustrates the disconnect between learning & development and organisational development and where well intentioned L&D practitioners waste passion, time, effort and money on interventions that in generating change and traction are about as much use as a chocolate fire guard.

Most organisations, as they should be, are set up with the governance and processes to successfully operate the activities that deliver their business outcomes. In most cases neither the governance nor the processes are set up to adapt to people from around the organisation coming up with great new ideas about things that could be done better or should be done differently. Firing up a whole group of employees with the tools and motivation to ‘be more creative’ I would liken to chucking them into the lion’s den with a complete absence of Christian support.

It is my belief that to successfully drive innovation within an organisation it is not creativity that needs to be addressed (walk around your business tomorrow and ask if anyone has any ideas – there’ll be loads) it’s how the organisation successfully considers those ideas, turns them into plans, funds them and executes them into sustainable change that is the challenge in being more innovative. In other words how does the system adapt to the change required that requires focus not the impetus for change.

In carrying out my project research most of the intrapreneurs I talked to hardly focused on the generation of ideas or discussed a shortage of ideas. It was how they successfully got them through ‘the machine’ and sustained personal commitment and organisation support that received the most focus.

I would get down on bended knee, or at least ask with some emphasis that in considering any similar significant investment in learning that L&D practitioners think not just about the Daniels but also think with some care about the lion’s den and realise that unless both are addressed change is unlikely to happen.


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