How to make waves – and influence peopleOn 1 Sep 2001 in Auto-enrolment, Personnel Today Previous Article Next Article Allowing managers to import outside ideas into their organisations canthreaten the established culture, yet also bring massive benefits. Training anddevelopment professionals can help broker such changes – but, say CatherineBailey and David Butcher, it takes courageConsider the following advice: most of what managers now need to learn comesfrom outside their organisation or, for that matter, from outside theirindustry. This may sound like management guru-speak, but ignore it at your peril. Most executives take it seriously, although what they mean when they talk of”getting an external viewpoint” is subject to a number ofinterpretations. They range from “broadening the thinking”,”benchmarking practice”, “seeking out the leading edge”,”injecting innovative thinking”, to “breaking out of themindset”. Whatever the slant, the underlying aim in getting this external view is tobe better equipped to challenge and change the way the business operates bybringing in or developing people whose ideas are counter-culture. Organisations want people who can think outside the box, are prepared to askthe unaskable, to challenge the intuitive core. In other words, they wantpeople who can think and act with a degree of irreverence – or at least theysay they do. External perspective Businesses exploit several routes in pursuit of the external perspective.Importing fresh blood, seconding key individuals, using seasoned mentors andwidely experienced external coaches, making comparisons through benchmarkingactivities and, of course, enabling their managers to participate on openenrolment development programmes. But despite the apparent value and investment in these activities, there ismuch evidence to suggest that organisations have considerable difficulty inmaking good use of them – of being able to work with ideas and people with thepower to challenge culture and transform the business. Managers imported at senior level frequently do not survive. Secondedindividuals can be left struggling with re-entry. Coaching relationships can bemore conducive to cultural collusion than challenge. And executives who are provided with off-line development opportunitiesoften feel that their insights are poorly used, their efforts to inject newideas undermined. Management development programmes are still the most common route tobuilding the external perspective, not just because they are structuredlearning processes, but also because they are economical with executive time.They vary greatly in the way this is achieved. Sometimes the external dimensionremains a background feature of the learning environment, coming into its ownin the bar once the formal learning has finished for the day. At the other extreme, programmes designed specifically to nurture theexternal view offer more than simple exposure to wider experience. If they are to succeed, they must challenge current thinking sufficiently tocreate a mindset shift for participants and, of equal importance, develop thecapability to use that well. The more ambitious and challenging the programme, the more it should enablemanagers to work with the paradox of an external viewpoint. What those managersthen offer their organisations is both the promise and the threat ofinnovation. If they are to be capable of introducing ideas with the power to transformthey need the skills to act with the political stealth to nurture the ideauntil it is unstoppable. In our view, management development processes designed to create and reapthe benefit of external mindsets have to accommodate this paradox and extol thevirtues of political skills. It is very much the development territory. If they stop short ofanticipating and preparing managers to use the external perspective, the job ofenabling irreverence is only half done and valuable development wasted. Open general management programmes, when they are designed to achieve thisaim, can do so with dramatic effect. Counter culture These outcomes are made possible by having both the mandate and the time tochallenge each participant personally and deeply to think irreverently. In each of these cases the programme served to suspend company culturesufficiently to generate, evaluate and legitimise counter-culture ideas. Itenabled managers to see how to extend their influence and then create changeusing the necessary stealth until the organisational benefit was clear,unassailable and welcomed. Programmes like this are at their most potent when attended by ambitiousmanagers, sufficiently robust to respond well to the illuminating personaldevelopment opportunities. This allows the development process to be stretched to its full potential,and the true power of the external perspective to be applied when eachexecutive returns to his or her unsuspecting business. Then, whether it iswelcome or not, the influence of that perspective can become unstoppable. For the perpetrator, however, pain and pleasure is experienced in more orless equal measure and it is, therefore, no light undertaking. Clearly, development processes must somehow overcome the tendency to rejectexternal viewpoints. Different routes need to be evaluated and practitionersneed to consider their own role in the process. Management development and training practitioners naturally play a pivotalrole in brokering effective development and use of the external perspective.They can influence culture, senior management thinking and behaviour, provideaccess to challenging development opportunities, select the right people, andprovide learning support. Managing the paradox How much of a challenge this presents to management development and trainingmanagers may in itself be an indicator of the organisation’s ability to use theexternal view well. This being the case, these professionals may find they haveto manage the paradox for themselves. So what should we make of the advice about the importance of an externalperspective? Radical ideas, good intent, capable managers and investment aresimply not enough for organisations to really benefit. Irreverence is essential, but it spells danger. Development processes thataccommodate the paradox of the external view are probably the best bet forbusinesses wishing to counteract their own contradictory tendencies in thisrespect. Management development and training practitioners can make a majordifference to their organisation’s capability to use well an externalperspective and the irreverent views it generates. The question is, are youbrave enough? What can management development and training managers do?Top tips on fresh thinking– Get senior managers to think about what it would take for truly powerfuland radical management ideas to be on their personal agendas– Challenge unthinking culture-guarding responses – not least in themselves– Critically evaluate the use and limitations of routes that offer anexternal perspective.– Create development opportunities that explicitly nurture counter-culturethinking – Use providers who demonstrate their own ability to challengeconstructively– Target development at both the organisationally well-placed and theambitious “misfits” who are able to make most use of it– Prepare and support managers to work with the paradox that using theexternal view entailsNew thinking put into practiceBronwyn MckennaExperiencing wide-ranging ideas gained insight into changes neededBronwyn McKenna is director of services to members at Unison. As a solicitorheading up legal services and looking to move into general management, McKennasaw an open development programme as the opportunity to counter the apparentrigidity and narrowness that is often associated with the rigours of a legaltraining and approach. She found that exposure to wide-ranging management ideas and private sectorthinking helped her identify necessary changes in her approach to her role. After the programme, she led performance improvement reviews of a majornational function in the union. She drove an initiative to identify how theunion could use new technology to build a stronger sense of connection withmembers. And, most significantly, in terms of challenging culture, she importedcustomer relations management techniques to improve service to members andincrease efficiency. The result is impressive. Reviews have resulted in improved focus andperformance. In one area, an annual deficit of £950,000 has been converted intoa surplus of £25,000. Measures of members’ satisfaction with new and changed services are verypositive. The website has been rated in the top 10 sites world-wide coveringworkplace issues. McKenna’s growing reputation as one of the organisation’s”thinkers” has led to being invited to contribute to a prestigiousstrategic project entirely outside her own areas of responsibility – no smallpraise for someone coming from a function which typically does not encourageradical thought. And within a short space of time, she has been promoted to director withresponsibility for 95 staff and a total budget of £9m.Michael VoigtExposure to different approaches provided sharp insightsMichael Voigt is front-of-house manager responsible for 25 staff andreception services at Mayfair’s Connaught Hotel. Seen as someone who could do more in the business,he attended a major business school general management development programme.He was keen to be more influential in instigating changes to increaseprofitability.Voigt soon found the limitations of his traditional management stylechallenged by others, and exposure to very different approaches provided sharpinsights for him. Inspired to reduce staff turnover and improve profitability, on return towork he set out to involve his staff in driving through their own serviceimprovement and cost reduction ideas. But he was working againstwell-established practices. After great initial caution, people were suddenly very involved. Task groups met outside work time. Staff turnover more than halved from 58 per cent to 23 per cent and serviceimprovements accounted for several percentage points increase in revenue perroom.As for Voigt, his managerial credibility took a major step. Sponsored by his general manager to speak atLegends in the Industry – an industry event for 500 general managers – hisprofile has been raised in a way he could not have imagined and the innovationhe inspired in his business has drawn considerable attention in the industry. Cliff mallardBenchmarking and testing brought the confidence to make a real contributionCliff Mallard is a business unit manager at Timken-Desford, a £25m-turnoverbusiness which employs 150 people in the manufacture of steel components forthe motor industry. A sustained period of sale and resale and the introduction of a lot ofchange added to the uncertainty and insecurity felt throughout the business. A major challenge was in the offing: the business needed him to reducevariable and compressible costs by 40 per cent in 18 months and it was clearthat reductions on this scale required radical changes. Mixing with others on a public management development programme,benchmarking and testing himself on the programme helped Mallard change the wayhe thought about his role and the real contribution he could to make. It gave him the confidence to take action and be prepared to make himselfmore prominent and visible. Freeing himself temporarily from the culture enabled him to find new ways ofthinking and behaving that supported fundamental organisational change. He cameto see, for example, that “disagreement doesn’t have to be conflict”,and that forcing decisions was not the way to achieve the radical changesnecessary. The outcome? Two months ahead of target, the project has achieved a 39 percent cost reduction. As a result, the US parent has transfered manufacturing tothe plant, securing the future of the business. Related posts:No related photos. Comments are closed.