Will your organization survive your departure?

The founding generation sets up their organisation with passion, vision and commitment – be it a charity, a social enterprise or a business. The founding board members often feel like trustees, even if they don’t have that official title.

The relationship between the board and the first employees is often a close and personal one. The early employees join because they share the founders’ same passion, vision and commitment. There is a sense of being one cohesive family.Such an organisation, driven by commitment and passion, is a winning formula! The team works hard to birth the new organisation and sustain it.

But if an organisation is going to continue growing and flourishing, the founding board members will need to change their approach over time, in the same way that parents need to ‘let go’ of their children as they grow into independence.

I have seen sad cases of charities that couldn’t trust the future generations. They codified their shared values. They appointed ‘keepers of the sacred flame’ to keep things just the way they were. The generation of founders (having humbly learnt from their mistakes) tried to prevent the next generation making any mistakes at all – mistakes that they in turn could learn from.

By the second generation, an organisation must start to develop new ways to sustain and adapt its vision. This can be hard for the earlier generations to watch. They remember the situations that led to the existing ways of working and they worry that the new generation may reject sound principles or endanger the organisation’s legacy.

It takes a skilled chairman to help the board see that an organisation should be greater than the individuals involved today. One with vision and diplomacy that prepares it for effective functioning after all the current members have moved on.

Such a chairman needs to create an environment where new blood can contribute fully and build trust with the board; an environment where the formation of new relationships is a normal and valued activity.A chairman can encourage the board to be relationally outward looking through regular evaluation of its skills gaps and the appointment of new members in a regular cycle. He or she will also find ways for the board to build appropriate relationships with all parts of the organisation, instead of relying on close personal contacts with valued long-term employees.

The board needs to be in a position to make sound and balanced judgements about employees, customers or others and this requires a range of input and perspective.Intentionally establishing reliable flows of information can feel unnatural. There can be a sense that creating intentional relationships in addition to existing informal personal and social relationships is less relational rather than more. Some founding directors will struggle with the transition, where others will be able to embrace change and transition relatively easily. Here again the role of the chairman is crucial; steering the board through transition, whilst honouring previous contributions and respecting individuals enough not to demand more than they can give.

Handled well, a board transition can result in a board made up of diverse vision-holders who have the capacity to handle the challenges of the future. That capacity will include the ability to relate effectively and intentionally with the whole organisation and its current and future stakeholders.

This article was written by Renuma Consulting and was published on their website. Renuma Consulting helps organisations measure and improve their corporate relationships.

Photo: 2012 Newcastle Olympic Torch Relay (by Kurosawa Michiyo on Flickr)

Relational dysfunction: a silent killer

“We never manage to do what we intend to do as an organisation.”

“Our strategy looks good on paper but we never manage to actually make it happen.”

We are all familiar with organisations that are no longer able to implement their strategy or deliver their plan. In some cases, it has always been a struggle for them. For others, it just seems to be getting harder. Organisations often look for external explanations. Or perhaps they have tried changing key personnel to inject fresh vision. Cutting staff and tightening up inefficient practices is another common approach. Introducing new systems and performance improvement programmes will usually be attempted.

Yet for some, the ability to implement strategy remains elusive.

From our relational perspective, there are clear signs that there is something dysfunctional going on inside the body corporate. Yet, we meet many leaders who appear to be in denial.

“It can’t be a relational problem because people aren’t actually shouting at each other.”

“Checking whether there are relational issues will only give us bad publicity and won’t solve anything.”

“Let’s keep trying these other things and wait and see; maybe the problem will solve itself.”

Individual relational issues within or between organisations are usually about personality clashes or personal chemistry. Such personal issues are very visible and tend to get addressed (by changing the people or avoiding each other). Organisational relational issues are more insidious and pernicious and more easily ignored. Just as geographic proximity can influence how well two teams work together, relational proximity is a key ingredient of a smoothly functioning organisation.

But there is more to relational proximity than geography. Unbalanced patterns of influence and communication can trigger misalignment, causing people to work at cross-purposes. Lack of mutual knowledge and irregular periods of contact can reduce momentum and cause people to despair of effective change. All of these give a sense of relational distance.

It is not only possible to clearly identify where such issues are occurring, it is also possible to do something about them.

Whilst basic business processes and the usual measures of activity in an organisation might appear to be working normally, core relational issues may be silently hampering its ability to deliver. A sound strategic plan will include an understanding and assessment of relational dynamics, enabling you to deal with organisational silent killers before they take hold.

This article was originally published by Renuma, one of our member organisations, and is republished here with their permission.

Where does capacity come from?

“Don’t tell us we need to change. We can’t: we are already working beyond our capacity.”

“I don’t even have time to think about whether I shouldn’t be doing this.”

“I will think about doing that when I get the chance.”

There should be a fundamental difference between a group of a hundred individuals and a well-functioning organisation of the same size. Yet when individuals are working at their capacity, a hundred people can look like nothing more than a hundred people. Organisational capacity is created by good working relationships and the fluid connections they make.When an individual is working at full capacity, any curve ball, any change request, in fact anything extra, will be treated as a distraction. Even an offer to take some of their workload requires a decision, a hand-over and co-ordination. Adding more people requires all that, plus training and orientation. At full capacity, therefore, individuals become bound to do things that someone else might be able to do more effectively and efficiently.

Effective, efficient organisations realise that investment in relational connections is fundamental to building organisational capacity. Relationships are required to enable the right people to do the right things at the right time. Stop and think about that: without the right relationships, it is likely that the person, activity or timing will be wrong. Inefficiency and reduction in output follow.In order to make change happen, capacity must be used to build relationships and maintain them. Thus, ironically, in order to be in a position to increase the overall volume of work, it is necessary to be working at less than full capacity. If your organisation is already at full capacity, it becomes extremely difficult to create the relational space necessary for change.

Once an organisation has the space to change it will need to recognise the specific issues with their current relationships, address them and manage ongoing improvements to the way they relate. If relational issues are not addressed, inefficiency in engagement and connection will unnecessarily absorb an organisation’s precious capacity.

When someone in your organisation is failing to deliver (or your whole organisation is failing to deliver) it may well be that you have a capacity problem. In that case, improving working relationships is a great place to start in bringing the availability and capability necessary to increase capacity.

This article was originally published by Renuma, one of our member organisations, and is republished here with their permission.

Translating the best…to the rest

I was at Jamie’s Italian recently in Liverpool. The menu had all the trademarks of the man’s appreciation of simple quality. The décor combined a sense of kitchen with a marketplace. The staff, albeit without a hint of Essex, had a familiar enthusiasm about the food they were serving (apparently they are trained to know about each recipe). It worked – a tried and tested approach with a distinctly local character, crammed full of customers.

But it doesn’t always work. The chain’s flagship Istanbul branch reportedly filed for bankruptcy earlier this year.

A restaurant offers a combination of concept, venue, recipe, ingredients, a chef’s skill, service and customers. The mix of these elements is often dynamic and subtle. Knowing how a great restaurant is working today does not tell you how it got to be great, let alone how to replicate it elsewhere. Which is why successfully rolling out a complex package to a wider constituency is challenging.

The NHS England Vanguard programme of New Models of Care has set out its stall to explore scaleable and replicable solutions. It is planned that the first wave of sites will pave the way for a group of early followers within a matter of months and years. Simon Stevens described the choice of Vanguard sites being made on the basis that they were already ‘performing strongly and have good relationships’. Selecting sites with strong relationships makes sense, as the success of an organisation depends on how well it connects internally and externally. The biggest challenges lie post-vanguard: how to translate what works for established partnerships (that also have access to a coordinated support programme and a share of £200m) into success for the rest.

Prominent amongst these challenges is how to replicate relational capital. Relational capital already exists within the Vanguard sites. Like an established restaurant, these sites have the wherewithal to adapt to improve customer service. How those sites got their strong relationships and how to help others build strong relationships is a different question.

Taking another example, it is striking how the relationships (some of them longstanding) behind devo Manc were so crucial in getting the agreement for devolved health and social care budgets for the city region. Where capital is less developed, as amongst some of the hoped for early followers, the parties to the relationships will need help to develop the capital they need. Unlike financial capital, relational capital cannot simply be transferred from headquarters. Adopting only the model or method or even providing the finances will not be the whole package for the post-vanguard sites, as numerous examples of public sector ‘pilot-itis’ testify.

The Vanguard has a real opportunity to address this. If NHS England generates a detailed understanding of the relational capital fuelling the first wave of sites, it can support the next wave to develop good relationships more quickly. Many areas struggle to broker trust and common purpose amongst stakeholders, finding themselves battling organisational self-preservation and chequered histories of engagement. However, relational capital can now be quantified and explained in ways that can be adopted by another system relatively quickly. Introducing a common language and understanding of inter-organisational relationship will practically help areas ‘make it real here, regardless of where we are starting from’. With this sort of outcome, the New Models of Care programme will truly be transformative.

This article was originally published by Renuma, one of our member organisations, and is republished here with their permission.

Why let mission-critical become mission-crisis?

Any time-management guru will tell you to distinguish between the urgent and the important. In practice, non-urgent but important tasks get shouted down by the ‘Do it Now’ category of urgent importance. There are, after all, plenty of these on the table for most organisations. The result is that non-urgent issues that should be carefully planned for, simmer away until at some point they drift into the urgent importance camp and get attention.

The mission-critical activities are apparently obvious: hitting the quarterly earnings forecasts, staying within the quarterly budgets, achieving the performance targets. Shareholders are told that the relationship with this or that stakeholder is mission-critical. As employees we hear leaders saying, “Our staff are our most important asset.” As customers we see organisations appoint Client Relationship Managers and we experience an inexhaustible flow of requests to understand our preferences.

And yet our hunch is that relationship is not an important priority for most companies. We see the customer relationship, the employee relationship, the supplier relationship or whichever relationship neglected up to the point it becomes critical. The news is full of banks, hospitals and global businesses that have delayed addressing their mission-critical relationships until they have ‘gone critical.’ For some leaders, it seems that relational issues are like global warming – we should do something about it someday, but if it is going bad, it’s going bad slowly enough for other more urgent things to get our attention in the meantime.

It is true that relationships take time to build and they can also take time to ruin. There is a sense of momentum in relationships. Neglect acts as a decelerating force. At some point, that deceleration becomes acceleration away (e.g. losing a key client) and occasional attention will no longer counteract the change in direction.

Poor prioritisation can miss the fact that some things need to be done regularly. Monitoring relationships and investing in them is one of those regular tasks. If your organisation is not monitoring and investing in relationships, mission-critical connections will eventually get your attention when they are in crisis. But why wait that long? A company neglecting customer value will struggle to meet its earning forecasts. A manufacturer who is not investing in supplier relationships may find budgets spiralling. An organisation in the dark about its clients’ needs is unlikely to meet its performance targets.

There is no need to leave your critical relationships to chance and circumstance. Understand them and consciously build them.

This article was originally published by Renuma, one of our member organisations, and is republished here with their permission.

Post-merger blues

LIVERPOOL/CAMBRIDGE – Analysis of mergers shows that they often don’t improve performance and value over the long run. Any of us who have experienced one will know that the mere process can bring enough stresses to cause operational difficulties to even an effective organisation.

The reasons for the failure to deliver the perceived benefit are commonly reported as unrealistic expectations or an inability to integrate cultures and ways of working. The issues are complex and often feel intangible, as different professional rationale, languages and histories compete within the new entity.

However mergers also represent an excellent opportunity to challenge traditional ways of working and address latent limitation which may have existed in either or both parties prior to merger. If this opportunity can be grasped, then the process of building new company together can be one that develops unity and resilience for the road ahead.

How then can boards and management teams improve the chances of merger benefits being realised? Is it possible to intentionally hasten the blending of cultures such that improvements to the bottom-line are delivered?

Experience shows that key relationships are critical to an effective merger, whether they are departmental, divisional, corporate or individual. The difficulty for those planning mergers is that they rarely have the tools to assess those crucial relationships and find ways to maintain or build them to make a merged organisation ‘great’.

Whilst there are many books about improving inter-personal and corporate relationships, none are actually improved by merely reading a book! The core to relational improvement, whether corporate or inter-personal, is that the parties engage with one another. Companies struggling with post-merger relationships do not need a report about how to improve the relevant relationships but rather assistance (preferably informed by both insight and the facts) to commit to actionable changes.

Tools now exist that have been specifically designed to identify and assess the Relational dynamic of organisations. Where a merger has taken place it is possible to forensically analyse the different aspects of group relationships. This allows potentially dysfunctional groups to build consensus around what is positive in their relationship, address weaknesses in a non-emotive way and deal with fundamental differences in perspective. Undertaking such an analysis will enable teams, by giving language and actionable information, to improve their interaction and performance.

Of course, as well as dealing with relational issues post-merger, it is possible to predict the relational impact that a merger may have on operations and service lines. In this way pro-active measures can be taken to make it a positive change for all involved!

This article was republished with permission of our Member Organization, Renuma Consulting.

New Year’s Resolutions?

LIVERPOOL/CAMBRIDGE – Keeping those promises to ourselves about losing weight, getting fitter, taking up a hobby or getting a new job seemed realistic when we made them, full of hope (or was it punch) a few weeks ago as 2015 dawned. Are we now, with many others, sadly realising that it isn’t happening?

Trying to ratchet up my own will power rarely seems to bring the changes I desire. It isn’t my decision to change that makes the difference; it is more about staying the course. Those who do succeed in keeping their resolutions seem to have two things in common. Firstly, they don’t try to do it alone. They join with others who are trying to achieve a similar change and they often have a coach to encourage them along the way. Secondly, they measure their progress. Measuring doesn’t change things in itself, but it helps keep the focus and helps identify when activity is having an impact.

Each year, organisations all over the world tell their stakeholders they are going to get fitter, leaner, better, bigger. Despite the resolution and public promise they often fail. Within organisations, we promise our boss or our employees that change will happen but the reality of the urgent and important soon takes grip. What do organisations who actually achieve change have in common? Perhaps it’s that the decision-maker doesn’t try to do it alone and they have simple ways of measuring progress.

Your network of relationships with those trying to achieve the same objectives is going to be crucial this year. How strong are those relationships? How can you achieve and maintain alignment? Who else do you need to be aligned with? Is there a way to keep track of the health of your relational network? Will you be able to tell if it is too weak and where misalignment is occurring?

This article was republished with permission of one of our Member Organizations, Renuma Consulting.

Relational strength feeds innovation and implementation

LIVERPOOL/CAMBRIDGE – Many organisations struggle with innovation. This article argues that taking a relational perspective can be very strategic in encouraging  and disseminating innovation.

Many organisations want to encourage innovation but not at the expense of maintaining high quality standards and consistency. Paradoxically, policies to reward innovation sit alongside processes which stifle it. Where such tight organisations excel at transmitting standards and ideas rapidly, they often struggle in being flexible enough to explore new ideas. Selection and dissemination of ideas is centralised, innovation relegated to a central function such as Research and Development and additional resource then spent keeping the central function connected to the frontline of the business.

Once innovation is created in a tight organisation, transfer and implementation of the knowledge tends to come through changing policies and processes. Employees at the frontline then have to find a way to make it work in their own context, perhaps recognising flaws or even identifying enhancements in the process. With the tide of innovation flowing outwards, such feedback (in a large organisation) rarely makes it back to the innovation department intact. Subjective interpretation along the way can adjust the insight as it is transmitted, changing both its meaning and its power (think summary evaluation results translated into a board paper minute and passed on). This is especially accentuated in an international context with added ingredients of language, culture and history.

At the other extreme, organisations may naturally innovate, but have such a loose structure that developments aren’t recognised broadly enough or replicated. Individuals and small teams experiment on the frontline, addressing their own problems, ignorant as to whether a solution already exists or what benefit their approach might hold for others. These looser organisations struggle to recognise new ideas or to identify their application elsewhere. Introduction of best practice and successful translation of innovation into other contexts is challenging. In an international context, head office may be unaware of the extent to which regional teams are conforming to standards. Periodic field trips by senior team members give the impression of organisational identity without addressing the underlying disconnection.

Taking a Relational Perspective

Relational Proximity® provides a framework for recognising and managing real world relationships. Within its five domains of Power, Information, Communication, Purpose and Story are many nuanced features, but even at the highest level, the framework has much to say about the role of relationships in encouraging and disseminating innovation.

Relational Proximity® suggests that not only are most relationships more effective if they are close but also that the distance can be managed and adjusted over time. A relationally fluent organisation is able to responsively adjust the proximity of different relationships over time. It can intentionally flex each of the domains within both direct and indirect relationships. Here, we illustrate the point with two of the available domains:

Information – central to the relevant people becoming aware of the relevant issues and being enabled to bring change. Data driven Knowledge Management solutions, however sophisticated, cannot replace the contextual knowledge required to draw together appropriate people, processes and ideas in new and relevant ways. The value of direct engagement together is far greater than documented information. Is your organisation able to recognise and draw together the relevant people sufficiently that they become aware of each other’s challenges, roles, skills and motivations? Is the relationship close enough that the challenges matter to the people who could help innovate or who have already solved the problem?

Power – an important dynamic that can encourage or hinder the flow of ideas and solutions. Influence is different from responsibility. Fluidity in influence does not mean that the standard accountability structures are removed but rather that there is the ability to properly listen and engage with what is happening up and down and across the organisation. By allowing and encouraging a back and forth flow of influence, power is effectively managed and harnessed to allow maximum innovation. Does your organisation skew what can be heard through its reporting lines? Can influence truly flow through those reporting lines? Can the lines of influence cross reporting lines or are there mechanisms militating against cross structural influence? What are the consequences of doing things differently or even wrong? Do people truly succeed if they help others succeed?

Taking it Further

If you have read to this point, then you are probably in a situation where you long to see more innovation in your organisation. Reading more about Relational Proximity® may help a little, but our view is that you need to get closer to people who can help your organisation transform its relational culture. Our experienced team use tools, workshops and coaching to get the relevant people closer and to teach parts of an organisation how to be relationally fluent. Innovation and freer dissemination of great ideas are just two of the potential outcomes. We believe that you will find our approach refreshing.

This article comes from Renuma, one of the members of the Relational Thinking network. For more information: Info@RenumaConsulting.com

Bullying in the workplace: looking at the relationships as well as the individuals

CAMBRIDGE – A survey of UNISON Trades Union members in 2011 suggested that up to 60% had been bullied or witnessed bullying at work in the previous year. Last year, and for the second year running, 24% of NHS employees working in hospital trusts in England said that they had ‘personally experienced harassment, bullying or abuse at work’ from a manager, team leader or colleague. ‘Bullying culture’ is a term repeatedly used to describe elements of the UK police, the armed forces, NHS and teaching. Abusive environments often appear to originate from the very top of public sector organisations. It is clear that this can radically affect our experience of public service.

But what is going on here? Are these service professions really so abusive? There’s plenty of published and private anecdote to suggest they can be. But it’s also true to say that a stretched and financially embattled service may begin to exhibit a whole load of unintended behaviours. The issue is complex. We are left to wonder how much of the apparent abuse results from unpleasant personalities exerting influence on their peers, their managers or their subordinates and how much results from well-intentioned managers deferring to an oppressive organisational culture or just struggling to manage the pressure. In some cases it may even be that a compliant about bullying is itself a way to bully management.

So a challenge for boards and regulators alike is to be able to distinguish between personal harassment arising from persistent and deliberate behaviour of another and the disempowerment of staff undermined by cultural and structural behaviours (e.g. unmanageable workload). The solutions to these two scenarios are clearly very different. Standard approaches include wielding a performance review stick with which to beat bad managers, pushing workforce through leadership training or values programmes in the hope that culture improves or even quietly shuffling people into other jobs. In isolation, these approaches can risk missing the point or simply being unrealistic and unsustainable.

Another approach is to build a fuller and franker understanding of the relationships at work in the organisation and identify where dysfunction needs to be addressed. On the whole, changing relationships that have abusive consequences is a more transformational activity than dealing with individuals who are bullies. Add in the wider organisational performance pay-offs of improved employee relationship and the investment of effort begins to look compelling.

Addressing relational dysfunction is a challenging activity, especially at the scale of a hospital trust or a Local Government Department. The effectiveness of the intervention is largely related to the quality of the insight into the issue. Relationship can be considered in terms of its strength in a number of related aspects, such as power, communication and history. Each of these aspects can be measured. This detailed insight identifies a range of possible levers for change – effective relationship does not necessarily hinge on individuals liking each other and is certainly not constrained by the involvement of differing personalities. Where some aspects of a relationship are fixed, there are usually other dimensions that can be adjusted to bring the desired improvement.

In partnership with Relational Research, companies like Renuma Consulting are working to help the public sector become a measurably less abusive place to work. They are enabling organisations to invest in their employee and inter-departmental relationships, as well as developing tools that equip boards with a more informative and accurate picture of their organisation’s culture, avoiding the “worrying disconnect” between management and frontline staff.

Renuma Consulting is one of the member organisations of the Relational Thinking network and was established to help organisations understand what is happening in their critical relationships and then find ways to improve those relationships. For more information, contact: info@renumaconsulting.com.