How leaders start Electric Conversations

Powerful tips to facilitate more creative team meetings

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Have you ever been in a conversation that takes on a life of its own? You lose track of time and become completely engrossed? Sometimes, it even makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end? In the The Spark, How to Ignite and Lead Business Creativity (FT Publishing) I coined a phrase for these special interactions that has chimed with a lot of business people: Electric Conversations.

After years of working with management teams in creative companies on leadership and change, I noticed an important skill that separates inspiring leaders from the rest: they facilitate meetings in which Electric Conversations are encouraged.

You’ll have experienced an Electric Conversation. They often precede important decisions and change in your life. Sadly, they’re often stifled at work. People clam up because they’re scared of sounding stupid – especially when the boss is the room. This kills off any hope of innovation.

Allowing creative discussions to flow couldn’t be more important to your business; these conversations are behind every profit-making idea you’ll ever have. They lead to that most precious of commodities: new ideas. Ideas change your future. Electric Conversations allow ideas to develop in the spaces between people.

You can tell when you’re having an Electric Conversation because they are:

Idea-Driven: Not focussed on hierarchy – all about the idea.

Brave: Constructive conflict is part of it – and the potential for failure takes courage.

Passionate: It’s not possible to be creative without caring.

Playful: No assumption of a “right way” – unpredictable, playful and fun.

Purposeful: The team can disagree – but share values and an inspiring purpose.

If you want to start some Electric Conversations here’s how:

  1. Find a Challenging Question: Think of one of the biggest or most intriguing questions facing your business. Something that makes you scared and hopeful all at the same time. Some examples: How could we improve our products to embarrass the competition? What are we really good at – AND really bad at (but have been too scared to admit it?) What new technology do we need to exploit before it makes us irrelevant?
  2. Pick a Diverse Team: Invite a group of people to a no-holds barred creative conversation – be careful to select them from all levels and all parts of your team or business.
  3. Drop Hierarchy: Make it clear you are all there “on the same level”. Listen more than you speak. Facilitate a flowing discussion where all are involved and then summarise what was achieved. This is a golden opportunity for you to demonstrate what an Electric Conversation should look, sound and feel like.
  4. Observe Carefully: Use your eyes, ears and instincts to make sure the conversation embodies the Electric Conversation characteristics listed above.

This blog is an adapted extract from The Spark, How to Ignite and Lead Business Creativity (FT Publishing, £14.99). There’s more information at gregorme.org/the-spark/. It’s available in all good book shops and on Amazon.

Copyright © 2014 Greg Orme All Rights Reserved

Have you got The Spark in your business?

This article is a sneak preview of “The Spark – How to Ignite and Lead Business Creativity” (FT Publishing) now available at all good book shops

What is The Spark?book

Have you ever walked into a business and sensed something special in the air?  A glint in the eye of people you meet that speaks volumes about their passion for the job and the company they’re working for. A spark of playfulness, curiosity and potential. An exciting static charge of courageous creativity. Is that kind energy pulsing through your business?

The Spark is about how to lead an organisation, department or team in which creativity and innovation flourish. Accelerating global competition, disruptive technology and radical changes to employee expectations mean a creative culture is no longer a “nice-to-have”. To dodge these commercial bullets your business must be able to keep deliver new ideas. Fast.

Innovation is business critical because creative companies make more money. A burning passion to improve things – to make a difference to the world – is no longer an adornment to the usual success factors: reliable delivery, high productivity and outstanding service. If efficiency and execution are this year’s profits; next year’s profits – and the years after that – are driven by creativity and new ideas.

In over twenty years of working with creative businesses I’ve been privileged to experience an exciting energy in those studios, offices and meeting rooms. I call the crackling electricity in truly creative companies The Spark:

  • The Spark is the potential for creativity in a person, a team – or a whole business.
  • The Spark is a great idea that changes perceptions, drives innovation and makes money.

My mission is to offer you a practical tool kit to develop a charged climate in your team or business. To make sparks common place so your organisation can successfully innovate in a fast-changing commercial world.

The Ten Habits

The Ten Habits are designed to demystify the leadership capabilities needed to turn up the power supply: to create sparks in you, your team and your business.  They are numbered and will have a big impact if you approach them sequentially. But they also work together interdependently. To truly transform your business, practise all ten habits together over time.

10 Habits BIGGER

The Spark between two people is created when a person decides to:

Habit 1: Start an Electric Conversation… how to create The Spark in your business

Passionate People are the rocket fuel of any creative business. The three habits that help inspire passionate people are:

  • Habit 2: Break the Management Rules… how to become an Electric Manager
  • Habit 3: Lead with Creative Choices… how to choose to be an authentic and inspiring leader
  • Habit 4: Become a Talent Impresario…. how to fill your business with creative talent

An Inspiring Philosophy is your belief system. The twin habits that helps develop it are:

  • Habit 5: Know Why You Do, What You Do…how to find an inspiring business purpose
  • Habit 6: Connect through shared values…how to inspire passion in your people

An Energised Cultured is the weather system in which inspired people and teams work. The two habits that help make the weather are:

  • Habit 7: Build a Business Playground…how to electrically charge your creative climate
  • Habit 8: Balance Focus and Freedom…how to manage creative tensions

Collaborative Teams make the most of scale in your business.The habits that promote creative team teamwork are:

  • Habit 9: Break Down Barriers… How to dynamite the walls that block creativity
  • Habit 10: Encourage Collisions… How to spark Electric Conversations to power collaboration    

If you’ve linked this sneak preview taken from the book’s introduction and want to find out more about developing the Ten Habits you can find The Spark on Amazon and at all good book shops.

All Rights Reserved, © Copyright Greg Orme 2014

Video snippets: Capturing Creativity In your Business

The individual answers from a one-to-one interview I gave tackling the key questions of business creativity. We’ve cut it into individual snippets so you can view the videos most relevant for you first!  If you want to watch it all in one sitting – that video is also posted on the blog.

Why is it important for businesses to be creative?

Are there other benefits for a business if it becomes more creative?

How difficult is it to lead creativity in a business?

Why is culture so important to creativity in business?

How do you influence culture?

What are the habits you’ve seen in good creative businesses?

Video Interview: Capturing Creativity In your Business

In just over seven minutes I tackle some of the key questions of business creativity. If your’e in a rush, don’t worry!  The individual answers to each of the six questions can be found in another of my blog posts as handy video snippets – I hope you find it useful.

  1. Why is it important for businesses to be creative?
  2. Are there other benefits for a business if it becomes more creative?
  3. How difficult is it to lead creativity in a business?
  4. Why is culture so important to creativity in business?
  5. How do you influence culture?
  6. What are the habits you’ve seen in good creative businesses?

Why meetings are a waste of time (and how to fix it)

Six steps to transform leadership meetings from talking shops to opportunities for change. 

waste of time

Management and board meetings are a fact of life. A recent study by the London School of Economics and Harvard Business School found leaders spend a third of their team in meetings. They can either be valuable milestones to build the team, share information and make decisions. Or, as one of my client’s once put it: “A life-sucking waste of my time!” The stakes are high. The clock is ticking on those chunky salaries if meetings are not adding value. Here are six steps to get it right:

  1. Explicitly Value Working Together: In some cases the perceived worth of exploring issues and making key decisions as a management team has plummeted. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy. No preparation is done. People turn up late, if at all. Often, the meeting gets cancelled at the last moment. When it finally gets started its unfocussed and lacking in energy and inspiration. The power for breaking this vicious circle sits with the leader. He or she needs to clearly signal the Rules of Engagement have changed.
  2. Agree Rules of Engagement: Ask: “How do we need to behave in order to make this meeting the best use of our time?” Agree some clear, non-negotiable rules. When I’ve encouraged clients to do this in the past it’s resulted in common sense principles such as: turn up on time, be open and honest with each other, seek to understand before responding, speak to the point, show respect, encourage full participation and accept no distractions (those nagging phone calls and emails!). When people break these rules, speak up. Self policing works.
  3. Set Clear Objectives: Is this a “Decisions-and-Actions” meeting, where the objective is to converge on a way forward? Or, a “Dreaming-Together” session where free-wheeling creativity aims to produce new thinking? Both are valid. But they’ll have a different process, style and feel. Establish the type of gathering you need. Create a clear agenda. Identify the best possible outcome. Get started.
  4. Guarantee Engagement. The whole point of a management team is one person can’t do it all! Increase participation and engagement by assigning roles to discussion leaders, having multiple presenters, and asking open-ended (rather than yes-or-no) questions.
  5. Show Leadership: Many of the innovative, people-focussed businesses I work with have an informal, non-hierarchical culture. That’s great! Listening to all sides of the argument and empowering people is important. But let’s be clear: someone needs to fairly and firmly guide a meeting. If consensus can’t be reached it’s not an excuse to duck tough decisions. People don’t expect democracy in a business – and there’s nothing more frustrating for a team than a leader who won’t lead.
  6. Follow Up: At the end of the meeting agree a list of who is responsible for each next action – and when it’s due. Hold people accountable the next time you get together. Meetings get a reputation as pointless talking shops if they don’t result in progress outside the room.

Copyright © 2013 Greg Orme All Rights Reserved

Don’t Be A Crash Test Dummy – Please Ensure Your Culture and Strategy Are Fastened Securely

In brief: Four insights into organisational culture followed by three leadership tips to ensure you reach your destination – rather than repeatedly crashing your business dreams. 

A common response to the global downturn is: “we need a new strategy”! But there’s a problem.

New strategy = new structures and processes.

New structures and processes = new behaviours.

How people behave on a day-to-day basis is where strategy collides with culture. The new strategy gains impetus from engaged staff – or is bought to the sort of shuddering halt normally experienced by a crash test dummy.

Four Insights into Organisational Culture

1. What’s culture?

Culture is the water in the fish tank. It’s everywhere you look. And, if you’ve worked in a business long enough, virtually invisible . It’s “the way things get done around here”: values, language, symbols, stories, beliefs and habits – everything from the organisation chart to the bonus system, accepted behaviour in meetings to parking spot allocations. Like fish tank water, it needs regular attention to stay fresh – and to avoid the growth of green slime!

2. Why’s it important?

Culture is important because it’s the way people learn how to behave. Crucially, it’s stronger than any new, whizz-bang strategy.

3. Is there a “right” or “wrong” culture?

What is your business trying to achieve? The culture at a creative agency like Saatchi & Saatchi is different from the culture required to deliver Sainsbury’s success in retailing. Both vary from the “lone-wolves-together” culture at a newspaper or on a trading floor. The best test is: “Does this culture help us to achieve our objectives?” Culture is not right or wrong, but appropriate or inappropriate.

4. What’s the role of leadership?  

Cultures can go rotten without clear leadership. Relationship-focussed cultures become highly politicised. Task-focussed, performance cultures become harsh, uncaring – and even amoral. Great examples: the Barclays LIBOR-rigging scandal, the role of banks in the global financial crash – and don’t forget Enron. Leaders keep the water clean.

Three Tips for Leading Culture 

Here’s what you can focus on increase your effectiveness.

1. Take time to fully understand your culture

Cultures differ on the focus they put upon maintaining relationships versus achieving goals. Understanding where your culture is on this spectrum requires close observation of the physical environment, the way people spend their time and how they communicate. (PS, you can also use analysis tools to try to quantify what can be viewed as “fluffy stuff best left to HR”).

2. If you simply want to manage the culture – learn to swim with the current

Aligning your style to the prevailing culture is a powerful way to stack the deck in your favour. This might be about taking the time to get to know people within a relationship-based culture. Or, it might be about developing clear goals in a focussed, high-performance culture.

3. If you want to lead change in the culture be prepared for a tricky job – that starts with you

Good management swims with the prevailing cultural currents. But a leader’s job is to constantly evaluate what might need to change to make things better. Put another way: “Do we need to change the water?”

Changing a culture is possible. But it effects the beliefs and behaviours of everyone so it takes time, energy and focus. If you want to change a culture, lead from the front. Don’t simply mandate new behaviours, demonstrate them. Every day.

Summary

Whether you are changing a culture – or just ensuring it works – Oscar Wilde was right: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” It’s true for organisations, as with people. There isn’t one “good” culture we should all aspire too.

But on thing’s for sure. Whatever your unique situation, culture needs to wrap around strategy like a well-designed seatbelt.

Copyright © 2012 Greg Orme All Rights Reserved

10 Tips to Inspire Your People to Engage

How creating high-levels of commitment drives success

By Greg Orme

Over many years of working with business leaders trying to figure out how to create winning strategies I have come to realise one thing. For any change in direction to get off the ground you need a magical, intangible ingredient: employee engagement.

Inspiring your people to be bothered to deliver your company vision, pledge themselves to a new strategy or simply improve things is vital. Research shows an engaged employee is 87% less likely to leave a job – and a fully engaged person performs at a 20% higher level* . In business performance is so correlated to staff engagement it is in my view a key success factor for long-term sustainability.

So here is a bit of food for thought on how you can improve engagement in your business. Score your company on the following ten questions:

  1. Are your line manager’s real managers? And, just to be clear, we are not talking about skilled practitioners in any creative, functional or technical specialism. That’s how you get promoted to management in the first place. But being an empathetic and skilled manager of teams and people is not something most people are born with. You and your managers need to be clear about the distinction. We have all experienced bad management (and its toxically demotivating effects).
  2. Do your people really believe in your company direction? And remember, first they have to understand what direction you are going in before they can get to the stage of believing in it!
  3. Are you providing inspiring leadership from the top? This is not easy to do consistently. High-performance leaders provide direction, show respect, inform regularly, live their values, exude energy. In other words, they are role models.
  4. Do you engage people through involvement and consultation? I know this works. I recently facilitated strategy for a large UK business. Over 18 months we involved over 200 staff members (10% of the workforce) directly, and 2,000 indirectly, in an engagement and change management programme. This type of exercise can be time consuming for any business large or small but it pays dividends in the long-run.
  5. Have you got a genuinely “people-centric” culture? We all know the old company mission cliché: “Our people are our biggest asset”. But things become clichés for a reason. And all businesses appear horribly hypocritical if action does not match rhetoric.
  6. Do you have perfect internal communications? Don’t answer that one! However much you communicate right now you know the answer is “no” – at least in the minds of some of your staff! When we diagnose problem issues in businesses this is always in the top five staff complaints – normally because there is insufficient consistency, skill and focus from top management in this vital area.
  7. Do you offer your people genuine influence over how their job is done? This means doing the HR basics rights (e.g. two-way performance reviews) as well as open-minded and empowered line managers who are prepared to innovate to improve.
  8. Do your people get the “Big Picture”? In other words, do you take the time to explain why “things get done the way they do”. This is especially important for unpopular business practices such as time sheets and other forms of management information gathering.
  9. Do you offer opportunities for career development? This is one of the arguments for smaller businesses to grow a little as it avoids losing talented staff who get bored waiting to fill “dead man’s shoes”.
  10. Do you walk the walk? Are your personal values as an owner/manager and leadership team reflected in the organisation’s values? Any disparity between your leadership behaviour and what you project as “what the company is all about” can be potentially damaging.

©Greg Orme Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved

*Corporate Leadership Foundation ‘Driving Performance and Retention through Employee Engagement’, 2004.