Legacy & Ego

I’ve been at the CIPD for just over a year and a half and I’ve reached that point (it happens to everyone on a certain bit of the org chart)  where people start talking to me about the word ‘legacy’. What do I want to leave as my ‘legacy’?

It’s a very leadery thing to talk about legacy. It’s supposed to be very motivational and get you thinking about longer term ambitions. It does, but it also panders horribly to ego.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) I’m very aware that talking about legacy is a dangerous trap. Not because you shouldn’t try to leave sustainable improvements, but because the nature of most of what we do is transient. My guess is that most of what we would hope is our legacy is torn up within 2-3 years or taken in a direction we wouldn’t envisage. The danger is that people try to force too much change associated with their own ego into too short a period. We need to appreciate that we get to write a chapter, we don’t get to finish the book. So that chapter has to be in keeping with what happens either side of it.

Indeed, I once had a month long handover period with my successor and she was, intelligently, tearing my planned legacy up in front of my eyes. I remember wanting to justify each and every decision I had taken to get us to this point – then realising that history had no value. I was just the past. So I helped her.
I think one of the most useful legacies to leave behind is a good team with good ambitions and good values. More capable than what was there before. I also think some ‘breakthrough’ changes are good to tick off too. Creating new norms that last for a while. You just need to realise that they will move on even further when you go. Your legacy is just doing a good job whilst you were in the hotseat – then handing things on to someone else to do a good job too. Legitimise a different way of working then move on.

So if you come into a job and want to change everything –  then appreciate you are tearing up someone’s ‘legacy’. And in turn that will be your work being torn up.

But the impact you have on people? That can endure and ripple far beyond the walls of one organisation. Maybe stop thinking about legacy and start thinking about the decisions you took for the organisation being remembered with respect in years to come. One of the most undervalued things in business remains restraint. It’s not about your legacy, it’s about the organisation’s future.

I had breakfast with Neil Morrison yesterday. These are some thoughts after that, but in no way tie Neil in to my stupidity nor exclude any accidentally smart points from being his. 

Ketchup Bottles & Inequality 

At the end of last week I had the pleasure of attending the CIPD Wales conference. 450 HR professionals getting together to learn and talk about the future. I also had two fried breakfasts in a hotel. 

On the first day I came down for breakfast and, following a reasonably late night, was badly in need of some really bad food. I loaded several fuller than full English breakfasts onto my plate and sat down. I then needed ketchup and went up to where they had a selection of bottles. I sleepily picked up a bottle then returned to my seat to find it was nearly empty. You may wonder why I couldn’t tell – and the answer is that we are good at telling relative weights but not absolute. We have the ability to compare two bottles and work out which one lighter – but picking up and object and accurately guessing weight or capacity is tough. It’s the same with price, something called coherent arbitrariness. William Poundstone’s book is a really interesting read on value and the associated discipline of psychophysics (although I guess if you called it neuropsychophysics it would be more popular these days…).

On the second day I came down and filled my plate with almost as much nutritional badness. I went to the bottles and I lifted them up until the sixth bottle I found of the ten available felt demonstrably heavier. I then watched other diners go and pick up the emptier bottles and then get visibly irritated when they found the bottles to be empty or just shrug it off.

It strikes me that my experience on day 1 left the others diners at a disadvantage on day 2. Not only was I aware of a problem that they weren’t, but I was able to cherry pick possibly the only good option. Leaving all other diners to choose from poorer options. 

1. Within those poorer options there would have been a slightly more full bottle that someone else will have picked up and seen as a triumph if they compared the other bottles -but of course they wouldn’t have checked the other options
2. If they didn’t know the other bottles were empty then they will may well have reasonably assumed that every other person didn’t have a problem getting ketchup. If sauce isn’t a problem for me then it shouldn’t be for you. 

3. They might have tried one bottle, got lucky on their second pick and assumed it just takes minimal effort to get a better result 

This is how inequality works

1. Some people have had less good options before and are able to take steps to rectify it

2. Some people get lucky and assume everyone else had the same opportunity or that it is the norm 

3. Some people only ever, through no fault of their own, know an empty bottle

Interestingly there were no full bottles. Apparently I arrived a generation too late for that. 
(PS, this probably needs work but I think there is something there) 

#OD – Nothing but pragmatic 

It was the CIPD OD Conference yesterday so I got to hang about with some OD types and talk. If you don’t know what OD is then I’m going to let you Google that all by yourself and then once you come up out of the rabbit hole with a big grin in two years we can chat. 

There were a few thoughts I had on the day….

Organisational Development vs L&D was one of the discussions –  as though it was a West Side Story ‘Jets and Sharks’ situation in some organisations. An interesting discussion was where L&D became ‘strategic L&D’ and then OD. My view is they are all needed – and that continuum, if it is one, shouldn’t be viewed as a hierarchy. If your OD and L&D teams can’t find a way to work productively then I’d suggest (brutally but honestly) that they aren’t yet equipped to start talking to anyone else about improvement. Physician – heal thyself… There is an interdependency between OD and learning that means you are fighting yourself if you aren’t able to find common purpose. 

About that common  purpose… One delegate basically suggested that people come to work for money so this ‘shared purpose’ stuff is basically HR and leadership nonsense. Firstly – I respect them saying it out loud and there is some truth in that. Secondly – my belief is that just because people have to come to work for the money doesn’t mean we can’t provide them with more. It doesn’t mean they can’t be helped to find purpose, friendship and satisfaction in work. We still have control there. 

Finally… Pragmatism. OD and L&D are, for me, relentlessly pragmatic disciplines. If you aren’t making a difference then your thinking is worth absolutely nothing. You are the input, you are the catalyst for the output. There are no points available for the ideas that didn’t happen. There is no shareholder, customer or organisational benefit to you navel gazing. Quality thinking only effectively manifests when it becomes action. Or in the words of Mee-Yan Cheung Judge ‘the best theory is that which works in practice’. 

My commitment to this can make me seem an impatient OD practitioner – less reflective and more impulsive than others. That’s probably true – I bring impatience for performance with me. But I figure I’ve always been paid to make a difference and that involves decisions and action. So create thinking environments by all means – but then translate those thoughts into action. 

That’s what OD is… It’s development, not thinking about development. Go do stuff. 

Where is your manager? 

The context 

Yesterday we launched a London wide peer to peer mentoring scheme for the CIPD. It was chaotic and overwhelming and as I wake up this morning there is a good chance to that 40 people will get a mentoring relationship out of the exercise, which would be amazing. Thanks to all the mentors – it was incredible to see you all in there. 

The evening was run a bit like speed dating, so we got to see a host of mentees over the evening and listen to what they wanted to a mentor. 

The bit where I’m annoyed 

What worried me was that most of them just wanted a manager – or what their manager should be providing.

  • I need to get more confidence 
  • I need to understand how to talk to a senior team
  • I need to understand data better
  • I need someone to be on my back constantly to deliver 
  • I’m working in my comfort zone, I need someone to push me

As I listened I became more and more concerned at the level of support afforded to people by their managers. Especially in the SME world, but also in larger organisations. 

It seems I got incredibly lucky in my career because the list of things above are all things I’ve been coached and supported through by my manager at various parts of my career. It’s fair to say I wasn’t allowed to be bad at them. 

And most of the list comprises things that you need to see someone in action (or more regularly than a mentoring relationship tends to be) to support and advise on. 

I’m sure people will benefit from the evening and the relationships formed – but they would benefit even more from some care and investment from their manager each day. A regular meeting with a mentor can’t fill the gap caused by regular neglect. It shouldn’t have to. Managers – up your game.  

Catching the tortoise

The Greek Philosopher and smarty pants Zeno articulated a number of paradoxes. Paradoxes are statements that, despite seemingly soundly based on reason, appear to lead to seemingly logically impossible or self contradictory positions. 

One of the most famous is the Liar paradox – “This statement is false”.  A paradox because if I’m telling the truth then the statement can’t be false –  so it can’t be true. More variations can be found here.

The most famous of Zeno’s 9 paradoxes that have survived the years is probably Achilles and the Tortoise. I’m turning to Wikipedia to ensure it is explained clearly. 

In the paradox of Achilles and the Tortoise, Achilles is in a footrace with the tortoise. Achilles allows the tortoise a head start of 100 meters, for example. If we suppose that each racer starts running at some constant speed (one very fast and one very slow), then after some finite time, Achilles will have run 100 meters, bringing him to the tortoise’s starting point. During this time, the tortoise has run a much shorter distance, say, 10 meters. It will then take Achilles some further time to run that distance, by which time the tortoise will have advanced farther; and then more time still to reach this third point, while the tortoise moves ahead. Thus, whenever Achilles reaches somewhere the tortoise has been, he still has farther to go. Therefore, because there are an infinite number of points Achilles must reach where the tortoise has already been, he can never overtake the tortoise.”

We know this doesn’t make sense, we know that we can get there, that Usain Bolt would easily catch a tortoise, but because the problem is formulated around reaching a moving target, no matter how fast we move and no matter how much energy we expend we will never quite reach where we need to be. For infinity the tortoise dictates our failure. 

Modern business is full of this thinking: that we can never complete the race, that the world is moving on so we can never quite get there, that the natural logical progression of year on year growth is a requirement to reset for more year on year growth. We spend our lives never quite getting there. Never quite catching the tortoise. 

The way to resolve the paradox is simply to ignore, for a time, the concept of relative movement and just ask ‘given the tortoise’s current speed where can we plot an intercept point?”

Stop getting distracted by closing the gap to the tortoise, jog past it to where we want to be and then take charge. At what point can he stop the tortoise, pick it up and dictate all future movement by virtue of being a person. 

It is, after all, a tortoise. And what type of person would allow their life to be dictated by a tortoise? 

The Sweet Spots for Speaking

I have a lot of blogs in draft at the moment and I’ve been wondering about what to prioritise finishing. 

Then I started thinking about what people enjoy reading or listening to. 
Then I started thinking about recent political events and from this (and with the employment of absolutely no science) here are my theories on what the majority of people want from a speaker

– Confirmation of what they already know, but dressed in a way that makes their current position appear smart or gives it more scientific rigour or gravitas 

-Information on something they haven’t thought about yet, but feels like a position they could take if they had

-Unique information they can quote or recite

-A narrative that taps into their own frustration or experience 

-A degree of entertainment (it needs to be in some way compelling) 

-A feeling the speaker is tapping into something that the rest of the room shares. A sense of becoming part of a community that shares a common viewpoint. 

I’m not saying that is all everyone wants, but I’d guess if you can provide that you send 80 percent of people home happy and feeling positive about you. 

If that is your goal.