Human Potential Realization. A £400M opportunity…If only we can align what we KNOW with what we DO

On November 13th we attended a business development event in London. The concept sounded good. During this day we would be paired up for 10 one-to-one 30 mins meetings with pre-qualified HR leaders. “Pre-qualified” meaning that these HR leaders were decision makers, had budget to spend and most importantly were looking for innovative solutions to ignite the performance of their organizations. As part of the pre-conference match-making process we had to complete a form describing our USP (unique selling point). Much like online dating platforms, the HR leaders would review the profiles of the various service providers and then make a choice of who they would like to meet based on the best fit with their needs.

 

This is the first time we invest in such an event. Until now all our business has been developed organically, either through our network of partners, word of mouth or simply because more and more people seem to be googling “how to measure human potential”! We knew that to do this right we couldn’t do it alone. We had to bring together a dedicated team and approach this as a project that would need significant investments in time and energy both during the preparation and follow up phases. So making such an investment together with the core group (10,000 pounds and many hours) was a big decision. Until recently we would not have dared to take such a bold step but with many small and medium sized projects under the belt, and a fantastic team of Human Potential facilitators in place, we unhesitantly took this leap of faith. It signals to the world that we are ready and committed to play in the “big leagues”!

 

The day started with a key note by Kevin Green, founder of What’s Next Consultancy and ex-HRD at Royal Mail. His message was simple: 85% of future value creation will come from the intangibles of the organization (in other words by accessing and unleashing the tremendous Human Potential that is dormant or sometimes even suppressed in organizations).

 

He went on to say:

  • Leaders are experiencing an overwhelm of information and yearn to get back to basics / simplicity (ie: human connection)
  • HR is at a tipping point. As a function we need to “get on the offensive” and lead the human capital revolution.
  • Reinventing culture is a 400M pound opportunity. Key focus areas need to be on building a coaching culture amongst line managers as they are the bridges between high level vision / strategies and operational activities.
  • Changing mindset and improving employee experience (vs structure and tech skills) are the two most critical focus areas to access the 85% of intangible value in the organization.
  • Need to change mindset on talent. It’s not the people that are in the spotlight that usually create the most value. Rather it’s the “unsung heroes” who do the critical behind the scenes work that need to be acknowledged.

What an incredible setup for the day! Sujith and I were exchanging smiles throughout the talk and couldn’t wait to sit down with our “blind dates” to connect the dots between this keynote and the ins and outs of our Human Potential solutions.

 

Looking back on the day, over a cold British Ale in a neighboring pub, we felt a deep sense of fulfillment. The 10 people we had met were all high caliber HR leaders with a genuine interest in our approach. For each one we had come to clarity on what their need was and how we could take a small next step together. A follow up conversation to further explore the scope of a collaboration was the obvious one, so we took the next couple of days to summarize all our notes and send a personalized email to each one of the delegates.

 

Almost three weeks have gone by now and of the ten people we met, two have responded. In most sales situations this would be quite a positive outcome. However, given the targeted approach of this event and the quality of the conversations that we had, I have to admit that we were expecting a higher initial response to our follow up invitation. Of course there are many plausible explanations for this: pre-Christmas overwhelm, emails getting lost in inbox, ignored voice messages, other more urgent priorities and the list goes on…

 

All of this might be true AND…we suspect there is something more foundational going on to explain the disconnect between the intentions that were shared on November 13th and the lack of follow up action afterwards.

 

This finally brings me to the key point of the story.

 

We know unequivocally that 85% of future value creation will come from the intangibles (ie, the human lever) of the organization. The evidence is overwhelmingly clear. However, our HR interventions do not yet reflect this knowledge and understanding. There is a big gap between what we KNOW and what we DO. This is not a judgment, it’s simply a reality we must acknowledge in the midst of these transformational times. The following framework by Edgar Shein (thought leader in organizational culture and transformation) helps us understand why this disconnect exists and what needs to be done before it can come back into alignment.

 

 

The theory goes that the top and bottom of the pyramid are ALWAYS aligned. In other words, our observable behaviours are inevitably an expression of our unconscious thoughts, beliefs and assumptions about the organization/the world. For example an individual who exhibits excessively competitive behaviour (top of the pyramid) probably sees the world through a scarcity lens. In this case the core assumption or belief is that for one person to win another must lose (bottom of the pyramid).

 

The middle of the pyramid represents the intentions of the organization (values, vision, strategies). So let’s say the organization has set the intention to become more collaborative and as a result puts in place state-of-the-art systems and processes to make it easier for people to collaborate. Chances are very small that this will translate into the desired new behaviours (top of the pyramid). So simply changing the middle and expecting the top to follow is unrealistic and the main reason why so many well intentioned change programs fail.

 

Unless we work on the bottom layer and genuinely reassess our underlying belief systems and assumptions about the business we will not be able to create the sustainable changes in behaviour that we are aspiring for. This is of course very daunting work. It can feel like “opening Pandora’s Box”.

 

Because we don’t know what will be unleashed, is it not better to keep it tightly closed?

 

This is certainly the feeling many people have and undoubtedly one of the reasons why deeper, human centric HR interventions are avoided. It’s a fascinating paradox. One the one hand, addressing the bottom of the Shein pyramid offers the greatest hope, and on the other hand it also triggers the greatest fear.

 

As stewards and thought leaders of this work we have a deep compassion for leaders who are confronted with this dilemma. It’s a scary path to take and doesn’t come without risks. However, if executed with great care, it is possible to make the self realization journey more accessible and relevant to the organizational context. Creating transformational tools and methods that meet organizations where they’re at vs expecting them to take this huge leap of faith is what Being at Full Potential is all about. By quantifying the intangibles, we help shine the light on the invisible layer of culture. HR leaders now have a practical way to measure and release the 85% of intangible value and in doing so, it is possible to start harnessing the vast creative potential of their people. This goes a long way to bridge the gap between what we KNOW and what we DO and truly align all three layers of the Shein pyramid described above.

 

In our experience, when it comes to large scale organizational change journeys, there is no better place to start than with ourselves. As we grow in our HR leadership, so will we grow in our ability to inspire and engage other stakeholders throughout the organization.

 

Is this a challenge you are ready to take on? Do you want to courageously examine how some of your own beliefs may need to change in order to spark a deeper transformation within the organization? We can help!

Human Potential Realization starts at home – Part 2

Whenever I feel stuck, I eventually realize (sometimes faster than others) that a shift is needed. I have learnt that this requires active engagement in the tension – a stepping into of sorts – rather than just getting on with my life and hoping one day I will wake up transformed.

Let me try to describe my process of accessing the creativity and breakthrough potential inherent in every tension.

The first step of course is to acknowledge it. Usually it manifests as some sort of heaviness in my body, moodiness or irritability. Then there is typically a moment of pause, sometimes triggered by a breaking point, other times a deliberate choice to step out of the status quo. For me this often looks like a long walk in nature or even active engagement with those lucid moments just before falling asleep.

This helps switch off the mind and connect to a deeper part of myself. In our work we refer to it as the BEING. It’s a place of heightened awareness where we can more easily become the observer of our triggers and limiting beliefs, and therefore, step out of victim mode and become the choice maker.

In this moment it helps me to bring to mind what we refer to as the 8 BEING Attitudes or the 8 qualities of a transformational leader.

  1. Fierce Authenticity
  2. Live in a state of enquiry
  3. Harness the intuitive mind
  4. Relentless experimentation & play
  5. Alter my relationship to all adversities
  6. Help others shine
  7. Commit to a higher cause
  8. Synchronize individual and collective purpose

Then I simply run each one through my awareness and honestly ask myself how I am doing on that particular dimension. Inevitably two or three stand out as key levers for me to embrace more of in relation to the tension I am feeling.

Let me share a personal example that is unfolding as we speak. I will use this opportunity to work through a real life tension to illustrate how this process works for me and hopefully walk away with some new insights for myself as well.

I have been fortunate to spend the last 10 years working from home which has given me plenty of quality time with my two children Oscar and Audrey.  In front of my eyes they are now transforming from child to adults. I couldn’t be prouder of who they are becoming. However, there is a part of me that struggles to let go of the parent / child relationship I have had with them until now. I still yearn to spend more time with them while they are off with their friends. I still catch myself “telling them what to do and what not to do” while they are laying the foundations of their own values and standards.

This is the nature of my tension at the moment and I am in the middle of processing it. I know it is important work for me to do right now because I am being triggered more than usual these days. In particular my energy gets affected when I see my son – what appears to me –  withdrawn, upset and irritable from time to time. In these situations my reflex is to fix it. But of course being asked “what’s wrong” is the last thing he wants to engage in and therefore the tension only intensifies.

So here I am, feeling somewhat stuck but at the same time aware that a breakthrough lies ahead. Let’s see if any of the 8 BEING Attitudes can help shed some light and perhaps even shift my perspective.

  1. Fierce Authenticity: when I sense into this attitude I feel it might be too expressed at the moment . I am quick to “stand my ground” and share my frustration with some of his behaviour. What if this dimension was less expressed at the moment? Would it give each other a bit more space?
  2. Live in a state of enquiry: there is important work to do here. There is a lot I can do to remember what it’s like to be a teenager, to see the beauty of him finding his own voice, even if it conflicts with mine from time to time. Rather than ask him “what’s wrong” so I can fix it, how about opening my mind and heart to the emotional reality of being a teenager. I can immediately feel compassion and in that compassion take a step back to be more accepting and tolerant.
  3. Harness the intuitive mind: absolutely relevant. In fact this process of stepping back and becoming the observer of the tension is all about accessing and harnessing the intuitive mind
  4. Relentless experimentation & play: I feel the greatest breakthrough lies in expressing more of this attitude towards my son. I realize my responses have become quite predictable. When he is spending too much time on a video game then I will automatically tell him to shut it off. When he doesn’t help around the house then I have to remind him to do so. This is tiring for both of us and doesn’t create a lot of positive energy. Instead, what if I would respond in a more playful way, experimenting with different (perhaps unexpected) responses. For example the other day when he left the dinner table without helping to clean up I could tell he was testing me, perhaps even wanting me to get triggered. Because I had more awareness at the time I was able to sense into the dynamic and realize it was natural teenage behaviour. With this awareness I could remain calm and simply go about doing the chores without asking for any help. Some minutes later he stated the following: “if you need help, let me know”. Instead of welcoming his half hearted invitation I paused and from a very neutral place simply responded: “If I have to ask for help, then it’s not needed”. It wasn’t so much what I said but how I said it. Depending on my energy those same words could be perceived as confrontational and therefore recreate the same dynamic. But because they were coming from a really authentic / non triggered place it caught him by surprise and I could immediately sense that he went into self reflection mode. Clearly something has started to shift (for both of us). It’s like a game but instead of kicking the football around together we are playfully and positively pushing each other’s boundaries and opening the possibility for deeper self exploration.

I could go on in the same way with the other 4 BEING Attitudes as well but there are already so many rich insights to harvest. Hopefully this has given you a feel for the inner process that works for me and perhaps some of it can inspire you next time a trigger or tension comes your way.

You can find more info on the 8 BEING Attitudes and how they are the foundation of full expressing our FULL Human Potential here.

Human Potential Realization starts at home – Part 1

My 13 year old daughter, Audrey, is the most social one in the family. She thrives whenever we have guests over and like all good hosts she will start with a tour around the house. Invariably the first room that gets proudly shown is her bedroom. It’s well kept and frequently redesigned to match her evolving personality. Last on the tour is my office (just before the toilets).

My office has served me extremely well these past 10 years as a stay-at-home dad / Being Entrepreneur. It’s been the place where I can retreat, reflect, access creativity and collaborate via the internet with a growing network of committed Human Potential partners.

However, it has also become the dumping ground for all the rejected objects of the household. After years of accumulating stuff, the cluttered feeling was also starting to rub off on me. My presence was not as sharp and I was finding it increasingly difficult to access new realms of possibility for myself and Being at Full Potential. I knew it was time for a cleaning but didn’t know where to start.

As with most things, the solution is often closer and more at hand than we think. I realized it was time for me to tap into the natural design talents of my daughter and in doing so put to the test the grand vision of Being at Full Potential:

 

Every Human, Being at Full Potential. 

 

What better place to start than right here at home!

 

I also figured that if we are going to do this we might as well do it right. So I approached her, as I would any professional, giving a brief and asking for a mood board, budget, timeline etc… Given we had been watching “The Great Interior Design Challenge” show, she had become familiar with this approach and immediately started putting her ideas on paper.

The first presentation was to my liking so signing off on the design was easy. More challenging for her was the question of budget (especially putting a number behind her time and effort). It was a fascinating process to watch her go through. She went from having no expectation at all to thinking that a “daily rate” meant 24 hours of work. Rather than tell her what I think such a project is worth I continued to coach her through the question so she could discover for herself all the variables that come into play when valuing the unique contributions we make.  Not only did it lead to an outcome that we both felt great about but it also served as an extremely valuable lesson for the rest of her life.

With all the details signed off we could now get to work. For me this meant rolling up my sleeves and subordinating myself to her vision and all the different steps she had in mind to get us there. It started by dismantling the current office space. Everything needed to be sorted in 3 buckets. 1) The absolute essentials, 2) The things I have outgrown and no longer need and 3) the unsure pile. This last one of course was quite large and required further choice making. I was asked the tough questions like: “why do you need it? How does it help your work?” Eventually more clarity came and with it a sense of lightness and freedom.

Next step was to go on a shopping trip to add some of the elements that had been missing like a plant, cosy lighting, comfy chair, some candles and the signature Being at Full Potential blue paint. After the complete deconstruction of the place it was time to reassemble according to the new vision.

It was brilliant to see it all come together exactly the way it was intended. Even more fulfilling for me though was to see my daughter shine in her greatness all throughout the process. If I am able to fully trust and surrender to my 13 year old to redesign my sacred workspace then just imagine what else is possible with all the incredible talents that are being under utilized in the world today!

Here’s a short time lapse video that she made to document her first real interior design assignment. If you ever come to Schaffhausen, please do stop by for a visit. Audrey will give you a tour of the house and there’s a good chance that the first stop will be the office!

The day our CTO faded away

A CTO is a Chief Technology Officer. In our case this was a young brilliant systems engineer in India named Nikhil. He single-handedly built the entire backend system that supports the infrastructure to administer and manage our Human Potential assessment products and services. He did this out of passion, mostly in the evenings and on weekends due to a full time day job.

 

As our business grew, so did the number of assessments and the complexity of the DB. Under his leadership we knew that the backend platform, upon which our clients relied, would be robust and future proof for years to come. There are currently 4000 registered users and we expect this to grow exponentially. In order to meet the needs of the many IT projects in the pipeline, we found ways to unload the more basic technical tasks with other programmers but were adamant to keep Nikhil engaged for the tech vision and more advanced projects. This set up worked well and was sustainable as long as Nikhil remained available as CTO.

 

However, a few months ago his priorities started to change. With a growing family and an even more demanding day job, the number of hours he could commit to BFP was declining rapidly. One of the cultural idiosyncrasies  about working with Indians, is the fluidness of their communication. Sometimes it can be hard to tell what they are thinking and feeling. In the case of Nikhil, he kept affirming that the status quo was fine and that he would continue to find time for us but his actions told another story. As a consequence we kept holding on to someone who wasn’t really there anymore, rather than accept his need to re-prioritize his life and find another partner who could take over the reins.

 

There is one project in particular that suffered from this void in technical leadership. It would have been a fairly routine initiative so we felt confident with the aggressive timings promised to the client. Without Nikhil’s involvement though nothing was happening. The programming team was waiting for instructions and guidance but nothing was coming. As a result, Sujith and I put all our effort trying to pin down Nikhil and inspire him to carve out some time. It was hard work with very little impact. We felt drained and, as the project kept being delayed, our initial commitment to the client had to be pushed back significantly as well. This went on for a number of months, and as our frustration grew, we noticed a tendency to fall back into old patterns of pushing people to deliver rather than inspiring them. We were losing touch with the BFP way. Fortunately we caught ourselves in time to notice what was happening. It was time to press the pause button, step back and gain some new perspective.

 

It was time for a shift from DOING to BEING

 

The first thing we had to acknowledge was that Nikhil was out of the picture and unless we accepted this, nothing would change. So we lovingly said goodbye with an open invitation to come back on board whenever he wanted to. In that moment of acceptance, where we consciously closed one door, of course something amazing happened. All of a sudden we could see what had always been there but we had been blinded to it. Our attachment to Nikhil prevented us from seeing the brilliance in all the other programmers that had been working under his leadership.

 

One company in particular (Sunlight IT) had felt hand-cuffed with the current set up. They had expressed this in the past but at the time we were not really open to hand over more responsibilities. Somehow we were carrying the belief that only Nikhil knew the system well enough to be in the lead. When we chose (or to a certain extent were forced) to let go of this belief and invited this new partner (Sunlight IT) to the table as an equal and credible alternative to Nikhil, they started to shine.

 

To demonstrate their technical competency they volunteered to take the weekend to study the ins and outs of our system and prepare an overview of the work that needed to be done. Within days we had agreed on a proposal and a couple of weeks later the project was delivered. Not only did they complete it on time and within budget, but they also did so in the most professional way. We received daily progress updates and efficient communication whenever they had a doubt or question so no time was lost trying to figure everything out themselves. It was beautiful watching them thrive and show us all their creative potential. This project had turned the relationship from a transactional one to a deeply fulfilling collaboration on both ends. So it seems our technical needs are once again in good hands to allow a fresh wave of new innovations to come forth.

 

The other good news is that Sunlight IT is opening its doors to serve more small & medium sized companies in Europe and North America. So if you are looking for high quality IT support from a young innovative team at competitive prices then please do reach out. I’d be happy to share more of our experience working with them and put you in touch.

Leadership Development Is A $366 Billion Industry: Here’s Why Most Programs Don’t Work – by Chris Westfall

According to data from the Chief Learning Officer Business Intelligence Board, nearly 95% of learning organizations either plan to increase or maintain their current investment in leadership development. Meanwhile, TrainingIndustry.com says that leadership training is $366 billion global industry. High-growth organizations are focused on improving their talent, and that means enhanced programs for emerging leaders. Yet data provided by McKinsey offers a startling insight into the leadership industry: most of these leadership programs fail to create desired results. What’s keeping leadership out of your organization – despite the best intentions of management (and management consultants) to turn the tide?

With an estimated $166 billion annual spend on leadership development in the USA alone, organizations must transform these mission-critical programs to create real and lasting impact.

According to a recent survey of 28,000 business leaders, conducted under the guidance of Chief Learning Officer magazine, leadership development is a high-touch, in-person effort that focuses on soft skills (as opposed to certification training, or skills-based instruction). Seventy-four percent of organizations use instructor-led leadership training, and 63% use executive coaching, to deliver on the following top-rated leadership skills:

  • Improving coaching skills (a priority for 34% of respondents)
  • Communication (31%)
  • Employee Engagement (27%)
  • Strategic planning and business acumen (21%)
  • The soft skills of leadership are critical to advancing the organization (as well as advancing the careers of those who aim for the C-Suite). So why aren’t we better at delivering leadership programs that work?

 

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That question is the focus of a McKinsey study, that cites four critical areas for potential failure in leadership development training.

  1. Context Conquers Content: While most leadership development training programs emphasize content, it’s really context that matters most. The McKinsey study cites a “one size fits all” mentality of most training programs. Assuming that a particular curriculum or leadership viewpoint fits for every company – regardless of size, culture, or current leadership structure – is often the first mistake. Overwhelm is the real challenge here: in an effort to prove their value, leadership development consultants often try to offer a Chinese menu of leadership insights, based on their work (instead of the context that looks at the work of the company). The challenge for leadership development? Having the clarity to offer the two or three things that matter most to the organization, not just the 46 things (or 21 irrefutable laws) that look like leadership.
  2. Too Much Reflection, Not Enough Application: in my book, Leadership Language, I ask the question: where does leadership really come from? Without tying reflection to specific action, leadership initiatives are lost. Because leadership doesn’t come from a guru, or team of gurus. Leadership comes from one place, and one place only: inside of you. A program that forces participants to reflect on Warren Bennis, Jack Welch or Steve Jobs might be useful for understanding what others have done before. But consider this: knowing all of the rules and history of boxing isn’t going to help you when you’re about to get punched in the face. Leadership, in this context, is a verb: discovered in action and demonstrated in application. What Steve Jobs did is impressive, and informative. But what you are going to do, right now for your team, is what really matters. Connect concepts to current events, and tie ideas to action, if you want a leadership program with real impact.
  3. Underestimating Culture: The McKinsey study points to mindset as perhaps the most dangerous enemy of successful leadership training programs. For consultants, coaches and even in-house leadership training programs, preparing to battle the mindset within the organization can be the deepest challenge of all. Why? Because, without receptivity, revelations can’t occur. Transformational leadership initiatives, on an individual or company-wide basis, always start at the same place: where you are now. Do you understand the deep-rooted beliefs about how things work, within the organization? What are the preciously-held beliefs of the C-Suite that make change an uphill battle? I’ve written about the need to look beyond mindset in order to find true innovation. Chasing a mindset – or clinging to one – is not a recipe for new ideas. No leadership training program can truly succeed unless the organization is willing to look beyond these seven words: “that’s the way we’ve always done things.”
  4. What Gets Measured Gets Done: How do you know if your leadership initiative was a success? Understanding the behaviors that are measured, and how to quantify soft skills, can be a challenge. Unfortunately, without measurement tools in place, there’s no way to know the business impact of your leadership investment. If you want to see the success of a leader, don’t look at her. Look at what her team is doing. If folks are leaving the organization, or trying to find ways to work for someone else within it, there’s a leadership disconnect. Consider monitoring the career progression of program participants, and using evaluations to identify the implementation of new skills. Another useful metric: employee turnover. A successful leader is always building or retaining a powerful team. A successful leader creates more leaders. Looking at the leader’s team, observe who is getting promoted, moving in to new divisions, and successfully taking on new responsibility. The best leaders help others to achieve things they didn’t think possible. Who’s creating new possibilities, within your organization? Soft skills like communication, persuasion and commitment can be measured – if you know where to look.

High-growth organizations can maximize their investment in leadership development by focusing resources on what matters most: developing a customized leadership program, based on your organization (not the consultant’s). While experts might argue that the components of leadership are the same for all, leadership development doesn’t work without a clear context and cultural understanding. Otherwise, the program is simply a curriculum: a course that assumes that every company in the world needs to begin at Chapter One. Leadership is often a personal journey, and it always starts where you are. Not where your consultant thinks you should be. Without the right context, and a willingness to understand the mindset or culture of the company, even the best-intentioned leadership programs will not stick. Innovative companies understand that an investment in employee development requires connecting concepts to real work; that context is the most powerful predictor of leadership development success.