"Frank's skill in asking the right questions is un-mistakable, and is at the core of his leadership philosophy.

The power of these questions cannot be underestimated, especially if you want to lead and not manage."
—John Cave
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How Long Should People Work?

So… leaders everywhere I ask you… how long should your people work each day?

They’re really keen to find out in Sweden.

They explored the issue in the country’s most northerly town, Kiruna. Here some 250 staff worked a six hour shift for 16 years (now that’s a long experiment!) until the trial was abandoned after a review decided that there had been no perceptible impact on workers’ health.

Then they had another go in a hospital department in Stockholm. This had to be abandoned because of the levels of resentment in other departments.

And another similar experiment with childcare workers was halted because costs started to rise.

Undeterred, staff in one government department in Sweden are to work six-hour days to see if their levels of happiness are higher than colleagues on a ‘control’ group still working the standard seven-hour day. The hope is that staff on shorter days will have lower sick absence levels and have better physical and mental health.

Now I am not sure they’re going to get the benefits they hope for with this experiment. Some of the issues that befell previous attempts like colleague resentment might happen again. And workers might find it difficult to achieve in six hours what they used to in seven.

In my heart of hearts, though, I hope it’s a success. I have touched many times on the work:life balance issue in this blog… and would welcome any evidence that fewer working hours is progress.



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Parental Management

An acquaintance is a father of a young family.

He’s also a former middle-ranking executive in a medium sized firm.

I asked him, casually, whether he saw any parallels between his management and parental experience.

He said all the obvious stuff. You have to budget. You have to have the right resources. Processes and routines are required. Safety and security are of prime importance. Your ‘charges’ need direction. You have a duty of care. You have to deal with issues like sick absence and discipline.

As he said the word discipline he fell a bit quiet, clearly mulling over the ‘d’ word. “You know, Frank,” he said, “as I look after, play with and manage my children I am often reminded of my period in management. The ways in which people used to behave towards each other; the pettiness; the occasional insolence; the tantrums and meltdowns. I was managing these sorts of issues then… and I am managing them now.”

We laughed at the comparison he was making. But as I reflected on our discussion afterwards, I wondered at the childishness grown adults can display… particularly in the workplace. And no wonder phrases like ‘throwing all his/her toys out of the pram’ get used so much in corporate life.

I could get depressed about it…

… or I could encourage leaders to create cultures where it does not happen.


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Insider Promotion

A recent blog entry talked about the issues attached to new high-level appointees bringing in team members from their previous company.

Here’s another dilemma.

Should your high-level appointees have come from outside your business in the first place?

I ask this as Microsoft appoints Satya Nadella, a Microsoft veteran of some 22 years, as its new Chief Executive. Mr Nadella’s predecessor, Steve Ballmer, was also an internal appointment (he took over from Bill Gates).

Now, a widely held view of Mr Ballmer’s tenure is that Microsoft lost ground to its rivals during his time at the helm (a view reflected in a 7% increase in Microsoft shares when Ballmer announced his retirement). Part of that view is that, as an internally promoted candidate, Ballmer was not radical enough in his approach. Satya Nadella’s appointment is arousing similar concerns.

US-based Global management consulting firm Booz & Company have waded into this fray with their annual study of the world’s largest public companies. Their analysis of 2012 new Chief Executive appointments found that insiders were promoted 71% of the time.

What do I think? Well, on the upside, internal promotions provide appointees who really know their industry, how the market operates and how to get things done. Their appointment also sends a signal out within the company that the possibilities for progression are there.

On the other hand, an internal candidate might be blinkered by what they know, unreceptive to new ideas and approaches and insufficiently innovative to identify and tackle the issues that matter.

Another leadership issue with no easy answer? Possibly. Or, is the answer really about thinking what’s best for the company at that particular time in its evolution. In Microsoft’s case, if they continue to lose ground against their competitors, then Mr Nadella’s appointment may prove inappropriate.

Good luck to him… and we will see.


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Big Brother or Ultra Controlling

In 2008, Microsoft filed a patent for software that tracked a company’s employees. If you were an employee, this software would track personal information like your blood pressure and performance information like your productivity.

It’s understood that this product was subsequently abandoned.

Now, I don’t know about you, but to me, there’s something deeply unpleasant about an ultra-controlling concept like this. It’s clearly going to put yet another layer of stress on people whose performance is probably already measured to the nth degree by a whole host of processes and management devices.

So, to hear that Microsoft’s patent was apparently abandoned was a relief.

Our respite has proved short-lived, however. I now understand that Hitachi have developed a surveillance device that tracks employees’ movements. And when I say movements, I mean all movements, because it even checks how long you spend in the restroom.

This is achieved through a high-tech ID badge which tells management where you’ve been, whom you’ve spoken to and even how energetically you’ve contributed in any meetings you’ve attended.

All of which begs a few questions:

  • Do leaders really need to know this level of detail?
  • What impact does it have on employees?
  • How contrived might some staff members’ behavior become as they try to ensure that Hitachi’s device transmits only good data?
  • And most important of all, what effects on our health as we rush our visits to the john?


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Taking the Shit

A friend of mine recently shared a ‘new joiner’ experience with me.

He was recruited as Head of Marketing for a financial services company. Inheriting a team of four, his brief was to develop and implement a marketing strategy which would support ambitious growth plans.

Now, this is quite a brief. It requires a lot of focus as well as getting up to speed quickly with a new company and the market place within which it operates.

So… the last thing my friend needed, just two weeks into the job, was further responsibility.

Yet… you’ve guessed it… that’s exactly what he got. Called to a meeting with the MD, my friend was asked to assume responsibility for another department… an administrative department which had nothing to do with my friend’s specialism, Marketing, whatsoever.

As my friend shared this tale with me, so my issues with this kind of imposition began to mount.
  1. How was my friend supposed to deal with this new responsibility as well as execute his marketing role effectively?
  2. Was it right to lumber him with this… after all, this was a significant moving of the goalposts from the role which he had applied for.
  3. How could he say ‘no’ when he had only just joined the company?
  4. Was he the best man to run an administrative department?

And on top of all this, was there an increase in salary to reflect an expanded role and sugar the pill?

Of course not!

This is not leadership… it’s just taking the @*$*.


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Lucky You!

So, you’ve got some high achievers in your team? Lucky you.

We tend to think of our high achievers as permanently giving to our organization, individuals who require less care and attention than their ‘lower-performing’ counterparts. They’ll be at their desk early, leave late and keep delivering results.

Or will they?

According to research conducted by Nada Kakabadse, Professor of Policy, Governance and Ethics at Henley School of Business, the most successful employees inability to take time out – and in particular their continued working out of hours using the internet to stay connected, puts them at risk. Psychological problems lurk in the wings as these employees become addicted to working outside the office via the web, checking emails during the night and suffering separation anxiety when apart from their computer.

Co-author of the report. Dr Cristina Quinones-Garcia of Northampton Business School, said of the study’s findings that, “Those individuals who use technology to enable working beyond office hours tend to be highly successful in their jobs, but are at a high risk of developing problems.” She also said that, “… those individuals who work long hours and use technology to work outside office hours are overlooked mainly due to their success.”

In a separate study, Tallinn University of Technology in Estonia found that employees worried whether some of the emails they received during a weekend contained instructions. Lead author Mare Teichmann described some workers as ‘paralyzed’ by the volume of messages they received.

Remember, your leadership responsibilities include taking care of your high achievers as well as nurturing those who struggle.

* The internet findings were presented at the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology annual conference. The Talinn report is published in the journal ‘Recent Advances in Telecommunications and Circuit Design’.


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How Long Does It Take To Become The Perfect Leader?

“Depends on the person, Frank,” I hear you say, “and their background, work and life experiences.”

I suppose that’s right. But I’ve been thinking about the road to good leadership, my last blog entry and an interesting rule I’ve come across. The 10,000 hour rule.

The 10,000 hour rule was first mooted in a book called ‘Outliers: The Story of Success’. In the book, its author, Malcolm Gladwell, explores the success of people like Bill Gates and The Beatles and frequently refers to the ‘10,000 hour rule’, arguing that it takes 10,000 hours of practicing specific tasks to mastering that skill-set.

So—The Beatles performed live during their time in Germany over a thousand times, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time. Gates spent a similar amount of time programming his high-school computer.

So, 10,000 hours. Um. Well (you know there’s a Kanu Calculation coming up, don’t you!)—there are 7 hours in the working day. Let’s say that the opportunity to acquire leadership skill takes place for a total of 1.5 hours in each of those 7 hour days… and there are 260 working days in a year. That’s 390 leadership skill acquisition hours or LSAH. 10,000 divided by 390 LSAH is around 26.

So there you have it. Start learning those skills now, my 21 year old would-be leader friends, and you should be a master of your subject by 47.

I know. I am being a bit tongue in cheek. But, curiously enough, 47 sounds about right.


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Is Your Leadership A One Hit Wonder?

An acquaintance of mine is a reasonable amateur musician. He’s a competent guitarist – and is making his way through piano exams.

My friend is 55. I ask him about the music he likes—and while his piano studies are exposing him to and making him increasingly fond of the classical music he previously shied away from, he is at heart a 1970s rock music lover.

Now they say you always stick with the music you like in your teens—and that may be the case. There’s more to my friend’s taste in music than that though. He says the bands and musicians he admired worked hard to get where they were. More importantly, they had studied and were skilled in what they did.

Now I have to be careful what I say here. I am sure there are plenty of musicians and other performance artists today in the ‘popular’ genres who have worked and studied hard to get where they are.

But I also think that shows like ‘The ‘X’ factor‘, ‘American Idol‘ and ‘America’s Got Talent‘ send signals to young people that you can fast-track success and that you don’t have to ‘pay your dues’.

What’s all this got to do with leadership? Well, quite a lot. The people who produce shows, who manage the content of newspapers and magazines, who fail to provide an outlet for more challenging art-forms and who generally dumb down culture are doing a massive disservice to the young. They inform their watered-down aspirations and they mislead about the hard work it takes to succeed.

In other words, with leadership comes responsibility not just to your own or your business’ success but also to your customers or other audience.


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