Learming Hub
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            [post_title] => Business Model Innovation
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            [post_content] => Have you noticed that so many of the great managers – and leaders – are really odd?

Steve JobsThis can be seen not only in business with enigmatic leaders like Apple's Steve Jobs (described by Bill Gates as "fundamentally odd", but also in some of the more eccentric characters we see in sport - take for example football managers like José Mourinho, Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough.

While there are indeed managers like Manchester United's David Moyes, who are ..  average, reasonable, uninspired: just the sort of manager that might make the grade on paper in a recruitment process, the great leadership is seen from managers like Mourinho and Ferguson, neither of whom would have stood much chance of making it through to the interview stage! They weren't even great football players!

Odd, isn’t it?

But is it enough just to be odd? Unlikely... Perhaps there is good odd (Mourinho) and bad odd (take your pick of the world’s despots).

In my experience working with organisations, I have found that the great leaders, despite their seeming oddness, have at least 3 things in common:

1. They are clever – especially with people. They know whose buttons to press – and when! Who to kick and who to hug! They know the game – they know their business inside out.

2. They have more than just one style – they hold their principles constant but adapt their own style to the situation in hand. Mourinho famously let his kit man give the motivational speech to his players last week (in indecipherable “Scottish”, too!). Ferguson could tell his Beckhams from his Ronaldos, his Van Persies from his Rooneys - and found the right words for each.

3. They reach for the stars, and hold themselves – not just their staff – to the highe



st standards.  They are unrelenting in their quest for success. Their self-belief is unshakable. Failures are used as opportunities to learn. Success is inevitable – the only question is when.

So perhaps there is something to be learned from seeing past what might seem like strange personalities and assessing our potential leaders instead for intelligence, a flexibility in style and an unshakable self-belief and ambition.  It may be that these characteristics are more important to success as a leader that meeting any definition of "normal".

Dermot Duff is Programme Director of the ManagementWorks IMI Diploma in Management and the ManagementWorks IMI Diploma in Strategy & Innovation - programmes specifically aimed at developing management and strategic capability in SMEs.  His expertise is in the area of SMEs, project management, manufacturing and supply chain management and he is the author of Managing Professionals and Other Smart People. His work focuses on developing practical implementable solutions founded on sound theory.  

If you are interested in honing your skills as a leader in your organisation speak to us about the IMI Diploma in Leadership starting this Spring. The programme is aimed at dramatically enhancing leadership skills, awareness, impact and judgement. To know more check out the brochure or watch this clip.

 

 
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            [post_title] => Bridging The Generational Gap In Modern Organisations
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Simon Boucher

Simon Boucher

5th Dec 2019

Chief Executive Officer of IMI

Related Articles

Business Model Innovation
Are You Odd Enough to Lead? What do Steve Jobs, José Mourinho and Alex Ferguson have in common?
Bridging The Generational Gap In Modern Organisations

Curiosity at work is the birthplace of innovation

Leaders today demand relentless innovation from their organisations. In a frighteningly short period of time, innovation has evolved from a nice-to-have to a can’t-do-without. However, while managers like to play the role of innovation cheerleaders, research suggests that they can also be one of its greatest barriers.

When a new employee joins a company, they inevitably experience a bedding-in period during which they are the human equivalent of a sponge. They talk to colleagues across different departments, compare processes to their old workplace and spot gaps, bringing fresh eyes and a questioning attitude to everything they do. They are, in other words, curious. We would hope that leaders would harness and encourage this mindset.

It may not entirely surprise you however to learn that this is often not the case. In fact, the average individual’s curiosity level drops by 20 per cent within six months in their new role. Further research has found that while 75 per cent of senior leaders perceive there to be no barriers to curiosity in their company, only 35 per cent of their employees agree.

 

If you want innovation, enable curiosity

Google phased out their famous ‘20% time’ not long after Larry Page became CEO in 2011

Diminishing curiosity can be directly linked to leadership behaviours. If leaders do not consciously and proactively encourage their employees to act on their curiosity, they will inevitably be stifled by ‘business as usual’. Many organisations recognise this, but only pay lip service to cultivating curiosity within their ranks, failing to back up innovation buzz-phrases with robust plans or work processes.

For years, a celebrated exception to this was Google’s renowned ‘20 per cent rule’, whereby software engineers were encouraged to work on independent projects for one day of their working week; ‘20 per cent time’ was purportedly the incubator for AdSense, which is now responsible for 50 per cent of Google revenues. Many companies have sought to implement similar policies.

When sales dip or targets slip, however, such initiatives are often perceived as unaffordable luxuries. Sadly, it seems management anxiety may even have triumphed in Google. According to reports, the ‘20 per cent rule’ has effectively been abandoned, the first nail in the coffin coming when engineers were required to actively seek management approval for ‘20 per cent’ projects. Indeed, it has become common to refer to such policies as ‘120 per cent time’ – you are free to do whatever work you want . . . provided you get all your normal work done first.

 

Courageous Curiosity in Leaders

The good news is that encouraging curiosity generally doesn’t cost much. Small mentality shifts can have significant effects. The example of Amazon illustrates that innovation and curiosity can still flourish even in giant organisations. Several years ago, they implemented a policy whereby if a manager rejected an idea from a member of their team, they would have to write a memo to their superior justifying the decision.

This change was simple, but it shifted the centre of gravity of conversations within Amazon, moving it from being a culture of ‘No’ to a culture of ‘Yes’. Employees stopped being fearful of making suggestions; instead managers became fearful of rejecting ideas.

Nobody wants to be the person that turned down the Beatles.

 

Be Curious, Stay Curious

Hiring curious employees can be a short cut to bringing it into the heart of your organisation (picture source)

Modelling the behaviour you want to see in others has always been a powerful tool in any leader’s armoury. Unsurprisingly, this rule also holds true with curiosity. If we want our employees to be curious, we must be so ourselves. Of course, when faced by a challenge most leaders feel compelled to respond – to do something, anything – quickly. Frankly, if you want your colleagues to develop compelling solutions, it’s best not to pretend to have all the answers up your sleeve.

Another easy win is to consciously recruit naturally curious people. There are any number of ways to ‘test’ for curiosity during the hiring process, but the best rule of thumb is to seek out empathetic people who demonstrate an interest in aspects of the company outside of the specific role that they are applying for.

Managers will also reap dividends by encouraging employees to explore their curiosity, even when it’s not directly related to their current job. For example, a HR director may naturally question whether they should support an accountant who wishes to undertake a marketing qualification. It is difficult, however, to overestimate the potential for new insights when two areas of expertise converge. Indeed, that is often where innovation begins. Supporting such tangential professional development or facilitating lateral role changes across the company can have profound effects.

Finally, actively encouraging innovation by introducing policies such as ‘20 per cent time’ or introducing ‘what if?’ days to stimulate new thinking may appear to be bold decisions for leaders to make, but Amazon demonstrates that the cultural impact can be transformational. To give nervous leaders reassurance, measurable KPIs can be introduced to complement such policies, thereby ensuring these opportunities become concrete processes, rather than pleasant benefits.

 

Evolution is Curiosity Evolved

Organisations demand innovation. If that is what we really want, we need to trust our employees to be curious about their work and provide support for them to act on their imagination. Astute leaders therefore understand that their best innovation is to empower curiosity. They consider their organisations in evolutionary terms, orchestrating a culture whereby continuous, incremental improvements enable positive adaption in a changing environment.

The next decade will witness immeasurable change in the world of work. Meaningful innovation will not result from the proclamations of chief executives, but rather emerge from thousands of ideas born from millions of conversations within the curious rank and file.

 

Simon Boucher is CEO of IMI and a regular columnist for the Sunday Business Post. You can find more of his articles here