A David Puls, becoming/change blog.
#LeadershipPartnersAustralia #leadership #complexity #ambiguity #enquiry #community
How do you manage complexity as a leader?
This was the question posed to us when I attended The Lab, a bi monthly community of inquiry facilitated by Leadership Partners Australia, headed by Tim LaPorte and Sandra Sieb.
It was an absolutely inspiring evening.
In this blog I want to talk about two things: the content and the process. Let me start with the process.
The participants came from a variety of sectors and organisation types, so brought different views to the table. This was a genuine community of inquiry, owned as much by the participants as the facilitators.
Something magic can happen when a room full of curious leaders come together to discuss leadership practice, but it requires good facilitation to bring out the magic.
The facilitators (it was jointly facilitated by Sandra and Tim) very quickly built trust, set ground rules, and created an environment where participants felt safe to share.
The point at which I realised the evening might be more than initially expected was when we were challenged to bring our whole selves to the inquiry. “We don’t just want you to inquire with your intellect. Bring the whole of you to the discussion. Inquire from the heart as well as the head”.
And then they did what good facilitators do: they got out of the way.
This wasn’t the first time that complexity has been discussed at The Lab. We were quickly introduced to the Cynefin framework, which had been used previously and provided a base for discussion.
I’m not going to try and go into the framework in great detail as I won’t do it justice here, but if you want to understand it better then you can see Dave Snowden talking about the framework here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7oz366X0-8
The important take out is that the framework asks of you to look the data or information that presents in a particular circumstance and use the framework to assist in establishing ways you might act as a leader. There are basically four classifications that require different types of approach: simple (when there’s a cause and effect that is always the same), complicated (where there’s a cause and effect that’s not immediately obvious but can be found with investigation), complex (where there is a network or system of cause and effect that is not linear or constant) and chaotic.
The question for the evening was about leadership within the complex arena. The model suggests that a leader sense the patterns, try an experiment or intervention, grow what works, shut down what doesn’t.
And from there we jumped into inquiry.
There were a number of questions posed by the participants and we self-selected into groups to follow the inquiry where we were most curious. (I understand that group work has never happened before. This was the choice of the participants).
I’m going to talk only about the specific topic of inquiry that I went with, and what that meant for my thinking.
We explored the role of vulnerability in leadership in complex situations.
When is a leader able to say “I don’t know. I don’t have an answer to this situation”.
In times of complexity people look toward a leader for a solution. The culture of an organisation is just one piece of the system that can have a huge impact on what happens next. Does the culture accept ambiguity and vulnerability? Is failure encouraged as a method of learning?
When you’re being watched to provide a solution, it takes courage and vulnerability to say that you don’t have one, and you still have to be able to lead your organisation into and through the complexity.
We discussed how we make decisions when we are working with complexity and there is no obvious answer. How do we make decisions with our hearts, or gut decisions?
When things aren’t clear at all, how do we live with that ambiguity and not be tempted to step in and do something? Can we resist the temptation and step back and see the patterns and potential ways forward?
The role of a leader may switch from finding a solution to managing organisational distress caused by ambiguity, while testing for the way forward.
For me this has been really evident in working with organisations making the transition to the NDIS. The NDIS has been a unique market transition for disability organisations. There are some lessons we can look to from the UK, but mostly organisations in Australia had to try different models, markets, services; build up what works, dampen down what doesn’t.
On a much wider level I thought about the failure of governments in many complex situations to lead effectively. Governments often pretend they’re in the simple zone and provide a simple answer, when the issue is complex.
The evening was, in and of itself, an exercise in complexity and ambiguity. There are no answers to the questions posed. What The Lab fostered for me was a mind of curiosity, fuelled by really authentic discussions.
I will be back for many more.
[I have known Tim Laporte for many years as a colleague. There was no financial gain to me from this article].
You’ve had your AGM. Now the all important board development… where do you start?
A David Puls becoming/change blog.
There are no right answers to what constitutes great governance. There are some givens like ensuring regulatory compliance. There are some sensible benchmarks you might use where appropriate.
Beyond that the board needs to be able to adapt its governance and governance style to suit the organisation’s strategy and get the most from the board team, to best govern the organisation. And that requires conversations.
Great governance starts with great conversations.
To get you started on great governance, here are some conversation starters that I believe will move you and your board in the right direction. If you want something more detailed I’ve put a link at the end to some more structured questions about board skills, strategy and leadership. But in the meantime here’s ten high level conversation starters.
- Getting beyond the induction: board induction will generally include new directors being given documents relevant to their new position (hopefully already read as part of due diligence, but generally not). But what do these documents mean? For example:
- The constitution is a contract. What does that mean for you?
- There’s a strategic plan that lasts another three years – do you have to agree with it?
- How is the board charter actually enforced?
- “Roles of engagement”: What sort of roles might board members take (questioning, expert, pace setting, representative). What are you? What would you like to be? How can you get there? How can the board support role growth?
- Understanding required skills: not for profit boards positions are increasingly focused on skills. If this is a new board role for someone that needs to build skills, how will the board manage skills training or transfer? There are lots of useful governance resources online to get you started. Some that I know well because I contributed to their writing can be found on the FACS website, here: Good Governance: It’s your Business. While there is the occasional reference to the NDIS, they’re good for everyone.
- Understanding not for profits answer to different stakeholders: with increasing focus on skill based appointments there are more board members that don’t have previous not for profit experience. What does it mean when an organisation isn’t driven by shareholder value? How will you balance the often conflicting demands of stakeholders?
- Leadership: how does the board see its leadership role? How do individual members see their role as leaders, and how do they differ from the board’s role? Where will you exercise your leadership – the board, the organisation, the sector, the community? Assume you’re being watched as individuals and as a board – if people are modelling your behaviour, are you happy with it? How will you change it?
- Followership: not everyone can be a leader all of the time. And leaders can’t be leaders without followers. Followership is a highly under rated (or unknown) concept, and yet teams can’t function without it. A good follower knows when to trust – when to step back and support. But how and when do you do that within the confines of your duty as a board member? And how is trust built?
- Ongoing development: What’s your ongoing development plan for you as a board member, and for the board. How will you evaluate your performance and the boards performance? There are lots of ways to do this, but one of the quickest and easiest is for a different board member to give feedback at the end of each session on predetermined criteria – such as keeping to time, quality of argument, focus on strategy.
- Strategy, strategy, strategy: as one of the main responsibilities of the board, a good question for the board is how it will stay focused on strategy on an ongoing basis? Do all board papers have a section on strategic alignment? Has the board considered an “inverted agenda” – an agenda that focuses on strategy before formalities? Can you create a strategic dashboard?
- Setting expectations for the year: ever heard the saying: “culture eats strategy for breakfast”? A new board is a great time to be honest about what may have gone before, and set intentions for going forward. Things don’t have to continue as they always have, but they probably will without new intentions and new actions.
- In-camera sessions: this point is a bit more process less leadership, but this is such a rarely used or discussed governance tool the it’s worth including. When will you have board members only sessions? What will you use them for? They should be a regular part of board business – how will you include them? Talking about this now avoids that difficult situation of having an in camera session become the focus of staff attention because it’s so rare.
For some more detailed discussion starters about board skill sets, strategy and leadership, follow the link here.
If you have questions feel free to visit www.becomingchange.com.au to see what I’m about.
In the age of NDIS there are some things you can do to enhance your strategic planning. They account for the change to a competitive market and the increasing speed and complexity of the world we operate in. While any sort of strategic planning is a useful for setting direction, these tools and ideas are often overlooked. Yet they improve your chances of sustainability as the NDIS world moves forward.
TEN ideas to supercharge your NDIS strategy:
- Issues are solved by strategies, strategies require capabilities: At the time of planning we look at what is arising in the environment, often in a SWOT analysis, and brainstorm the strategies to minimise risk and maximise opportunities. Strategies require capabilities to deliver. Does the organisation have the capabilities? If not how is it going to acquire them and what is the lead time and cost? A strong plan factors in growing the capability.
- Build, borrow or buy? While on the topic of capabilities, great planning will compare the different options for acquiring them, or other parts of the business model. Build them yourself, borrow them through partnership, contract them in?
- Look out over three horizons: The three horizons model asks what you have to do in the next 12 – 18 months to (a) enhance business as usual (b) create new opportunities for delivering the services you already deliver and (c) create new services and markets. This plans for getting better at what you do now, while future proofing the organisation. (Baghai, M., Coley, S., et al, 2000) . Closely related is….
- Know your business/service model cycle: because all businesses, products and services eventually experience falling demand and finally cease to be needed. Yes it’s that “Kodak moment”. You can avoid that Kodak moment by recognising when your service is winding down, and bringing in the new (because you’ve planned to that third horizon).
- Canvass all the options. While on the subject of business cycles, the changing market MAY mean that some organisations become obsolete. We all praise the courage of the CEO or board member that knows when it’s time to leave and hand over. I think it takes more courage for an organisation to say: our time has come. It may not be the way forward, but it’s something that should be thought about.
- Support innovation: many an organisation talks about being innovative. Innovation is great, but it requires a distinct type of culture and space in which to thrive. Organisations planning on being innovative need to grow the capabilities and address the culture.
- Be clear on what you’re not: The idea of becoming a niche provider by definition means you can’t be all things to all people. The capabilities for one type of service delivery can conflict with others, so be clear on what you’re not doing and free your focus, resources and capabilities for what you are doing.
- Don’t forget the time and money: Not for Profits generally operate on a shoestring. The NDIS changes are difficult and time consuming to process and plan for. It’s one thing to identify all the things that need changing, but another to ring fence the time and budget for the money. In my view the greatest predictor of strategy failure is not giving it dedicated resources.
- Get the client’s input: self explanatory really. In a person centred system planning services without asking clients what they want is just plain crazy.
- Plan short: focus on what you’re doing in the next 12 – 18 months. Have an idea of where you’re going beyond that, but don’t try to plan it out. If you visit your strategy regularly and plan a year out, in the long run it can take less time overall while remaining more relevant.
These aren’t the only things that can enhance planning, but in my view and in my experience they are some of the things that can turn strategic planning into a really powerful tool.
David Puls, A becoming/change blog.
Baghai, M., Coley, S., et al.
(2000). The alchemy of growth:
practical insights for building the
enduring enterprise, San Frncisco,
CA: Perseus Publishing.
22 September 2017
Dear Michael Sukkar
I really need to respond to your appalling behavior on Q&A.
There is this prevailing concern that I have about the no vote playing victim simply because they are held to task about arguments that are not true.
You pointed to the fact that someone at an SSM rally had a safe schools banner.
SSM is about rights. Safe schools is about harm minimization. I don’t find it surprising that there are people that support both rights and harm minimization. But you are a smart man and you know very well that does not mean that there is any link between the two. There is no more a causal link between SSM and safe schools than there is between a “yes” vote and someone marrying the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which I think we can all agree is ludicrous.
Here’s the central problem with this debate as I see it.
The “yes” vote has:
- peer reviewed literature on how children with same sex parents are often better off,
- peer reviewed literature on the effect of denying rights on mental health,
- the learned experience of most of the western world on what the after effects of marriage equality really are,
- other examples of the difference between secular law and the church, such as divorce for Catholics, and
- Personal stories of the effect that not having equality has on real people for things like access to loved ones in hospital.
This is all physical evidence.
I absolutely believe in your right to an opinion – and by that I mean … here is the floor Mr Sukkar. Take the floor and give us your arguments. I will hear you out. But please actual arguments based on real evidence.
You see, so far not one single person on the “no” camp has been able to give me any evidence of any argument against marriage equality at all. Sure people can voice opinions with no evidence, but when you do that and I say – “that’s crap” (or Penny Wong calls it shameful) – you are not being attacked or shouted down for your opinion. It’s dismay that people can tell such bold untruths in a debate that effects people’s lives. If I said vote “yes” because all no voters will grow a second head after the poll, you would no doubt tell me “that’s crap” – because it is! Not that it would affect your life one little bit.
Now if you say to me… “vote no because I have a deeply held religious belief”, I can’t argue with that. No one can prove or disprove God or anything that she may or may not have said. Vote no on faith reasons if you must, even though we are not talking about religious marriage. That is your right.
But when you start pointing to schools, the children and the harbor bridge – then you need to come armed with evidence, and the “no” vote needs to stop playing victim when they make claims that are shameful.
David Puls, Sydney
A becoming/change blog by David Puls, Social Consultant. Details follow at the end.
I’ve been working with entrepreneurs and others on wellness ever since I studied public health. As part of my research I became aware of the propensity for certain groups to be disproportionately affected by stress, burnout, depression and suicide. This was of interest to me having belonged to two of those groups in my lifetime, and I wanted to find an intervention that would have an impact.
But I didn’t want to just focus on avoiding depression. I was interested in how to help everyone stay well. Wellness impacts performance – a concept that is obvious but I first came across it studying management in a (now rather sexist and dated) article by Loehr and Schwartz (2001): The Making of a Corporate Athlete (https://hbr.org/2001/01/the-making-of-a-corporate-athlete (https://hbr.org/2001/01/the-making-of-a-corporate-athlete)
Studies identified a number of these professions, and you’re probably aware of some of them: doctors, vets, dentists, electricians, finance advisors, and real estate agents for example. The two that I have been a member of are lawyer and entrepreneur.
When I was working with Catalysr (a social enterprise helping refugees and other immigrants start businesses) I developed an initiative to work with them on wellness. The basic concept, in a nutshell:
Facilitate wellness by bringing together peers in a safe environment where they can talk and support each other to stay well.
It’s not rocket science. It’s not new. We know peer support is important for wellness.
But there are still some lessons that I’ve learned that might be useful for those wanting to start a conversation about stress and burnout in the workplace.
I’ve learned that the most useful way of approaching wellness with a group is to assist with information as it’s appropriate (there are many, many studies on wellness these days) but to otherwise let the group direct itself, while holding that safe space for them to do so.
Here are some things that I’ve learned from peer groups I’ve worked with:
- There’s no prescriptive path to wellness: As soon as you say wellness depends on having work/life balance, eating well and getting sleep someone will say: I live for my work, it makes me happy and I only sleep 5 hours a night. In heath we talk of client centred approaches, and consumer directed care. This is no different. People can build their own wellness and their own resilience. They don’t need direction, but they do need motivation.
- Be there to motivate. The great thing about groups of peers is that talking is easier hearing others are in the same stuff. A facilitator can bring peers together and direct conversation so that people feel safe to disclose, and make commitments in front of each other. People are much more likely to keep a public commitment.
- Don’t talk about meditation, gratitude diaries or other woo-woo things. Lots of people aren’t ready for it, even if there are many studies that support these kinds of approaches. But we all know about neural plasticity. All these types of exercises are really about is the quality of thought, and consequently the pathways we burn: do we think positive or negative? The concepts are simple when you take away the woo-woo words.
- There’s more benefits to wellness than being well: Wellness concepts are at the core of adaptive leadership models, authentic leadership models, and underpin high performance at work and in teams. The quality of your decision making is improved when you can engage those areas of the brain that are helpful, and turn off the “lizard brain”.
- And while there is no prescriptive road to wellness and performance, there seems to be three domains: the physical, emotional and spiritual: so I agree with Loehr and Schwartz on that point.
As a management consultant and coach working for social good I have facilitated many peer groups and teams exploring wellness. The model of peer driven safe spaces hasn’t been evaluated. I’m planning to do that. But if feedback is anything to go by the model has a positive impact on wellness.
If anyone is interested in starting a conversation in their work place, please contact me.
David Puls, becoming/change
Management consulting for social justice
When changing business models from block funding to the user pays NDIS model, myself and a bunch of other consultants have said to clients words like “look for your niche”, “what’s your client segment” or “how do you create value”?
As consultants we can default to the business jargon. Many of you haven’t had the jargon as part of your work or study life – which is great because it makes me think about what I’m saying and how I’m saying it. We have ways of making the simple seem complex, but we don’t want that culture in our organisations or with our clients.
Creating a value proposition that differentiates your niche service from others in order to reach your customer segment … needs simplification. Let’s instead break things down into simple underlying questions, that have the same result.
- What problems do my clients have?
- Which of those problems am I solving for them?
- Of the problems that I solve, which of those am I solving in a unique way?
- Of the problems that I solve, which of those am I the best at solving?
That seems much simpler.
When we help someone solve a problem, we create value for them. A simple example: I need a coffee in the morning. There’s a few ways I can solve that problem, but the one that solves it best for me is the local cafe. It’s convenient because I can take it away. It tastes better than me making it. It’s a reasonable coffee price. I think the $4 is good value, so that value proposition appeals to me.
That’s the easy bit.
But why this cafe and not the other two on the corner, or one of the seven that I pass going to work? Or better still, why not the two on my street that are closer? Well, where I go they know my name, the coffee is never bitter, they play a bit of early morning jazz and don’t blast me with dance music ( no one needs that at 730am).
But on days that I crave a muffin I go further down the road because when my problem is a combined coffee/muffin problem the place down the road has a better value proposition for me.
Stay with me here…
In fact I’m writing this on a property in the Huon in Tasmania (looking after a friend’s chickens) and the nearest cafe is a 20 minute drive away. Now the best value proposition for me is making my own on a stovetop (and not the coffee machine that I can’t work).
What do we learn from my coffee preferences that helps you strategically with the NDIS?
First, you can’t be all things to me. Not even with the service you provide. When you think of the area that you specialise in, your niche, you might think “coffee”. Or you could be even more specialised and say “friendly great tasting coffee with jazz music”. So the second thing we learn is that a niche can be a very narrow thing. If you think your niche is, say, “transport”, you may have more thinking to do.
This is a very new way of thinking when block funding encouraged you to do one thing broadly for pretty much anyone. For example in the homelessness area the still very recent “going home, staying home” reforms required all service providers to be able to service any client. A move away from specialisation in, say, domestic violence or LGBTQI. So we’re used to being asked to do more for everyone rather than specialise.
And customer segment? That’s kind of the flip side to niche. Your customer segment is the segment of the population who have the same problem, that you can solve. The more complex you define the problem, the smaller the niche you provide to.
What does taking away the jargon do? I think when we drop the jargon we can focus on the underlying questions. In a way the jargon acts as a barrier – we hear the jargon and stop there.
So defining value and finding a niche is all about working out what you do best, that solves problem for people in a way that is unique. Uniqueness is usually either through commodification and price leadership, differentiation…. and we’ll unpack THAT jargon next time.
Is this helpful? I’d love to know what you think.
David Puls, 0412126006, firstname.lastname@example.org
An ongoing blog from David Puls for becomingchange. Leadership, management and legal know how for social justice outcomes. Contact details below.
As a management consultant that brings together the human and the technical it’s always interesting to me to talk about what the law suggests, and the higher standard NFPs might hold themselves to in delivering human services.
More and more not for profits are increasing their spend on marketing.
In particular there has been a huge shift towards marketing in the disability sector with the introduction of the NDIS.
When I talk to organisations about their proposed marketing strategies it becomes pretty clear that many are using the word interchangeably with advertising. But advertising is a very small part of marketing, and not necessarily a useful part.
Marketing encompasses the service itself, as well as all the ways a customer can experience finding it, having it deliverd, and the after care. Everything in the whole experience should be centred around the customer.
It’s interesting how close the concepts of being person centred and marketing actually are.
Advertising on the other hand can become a costly exercise that adds little benefit. How do your potential clients want to find out about services? Where do they look? When? How?
Much advertising is more of a scattergun approach. The problem with advertising can be that often organisations just copy their potential competators, and so everyone’s costs go up for no real gain.
That’s one of the not so legal questions I got to touch on when I was invited by Noelene Gration of Agility Communications and Connections to do a podcast with her on some of the legal issues around marketing in the NFP sector.
The podcast contains legal information only, and not legal advice of course. If you have specific questions about your practice please contact a practising solicitor.
In the podcast we talk about privacy, online marketing, and what it means to be person centred, and other marketing/law related topics.
The link to the podcast is here
If you have any questions about marketing then feel free to contact Noelene at Agility, or on 0408 218 954
I’m available as a management consultant – using leaswrship, management and legal skills in the pursuit of social justice.