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Leaders Letter 182 – The 5 Recommended Roles For 2024

Dear leaders, each year I make recommendations for the roles you will want to hire for the next 12 to 24 months. These are to help leaders think differently or zoom out and consider the broader landscape to improve performance. 

2023 has been known as the ‘year of efficiency’ from large businesses and the VC and PE worlds, and I predict 2024 is going to be seen as the ‘year of performance’. 

Therefore a performance theme is running through this year’s predictions. 

I have broken the ‘what’ of the role and the ‘why’ of the role with some commentary to give you a little more context for success. 

The Recommended Roles For Success In 2024 

The AI Compliance Officer (Internal) 

  • What? A dedicated compliance officer concentrates on AI’s good and bad uses within and around your company. 
  • Why? To help steer your business from what is safe and productive and be proactive in reducing risks and bad use cases of AI and LLMs. 

What to be aware of is the rush that many companies had to create their own AI feature, there is likely already damage been done and the busy CPO or CTO may night have protected the business as much as an AI compliance would. Like with many tools like Dropbox, Slack team members are already installing and bringing in the tools to their work and their teams, meaning they are using and sharing data with different AI tools without much protection.

The Project Manager (Internal) 

  • What? The modern twist on the unfashionable role, the classic project lead who takes important projects and drives towards set deadlines 
  • Why? Almost every business is slowing in the delivery of important work (especially larger projects) and it is hindering how a company performs. This role will be responsible for alignment, moving from stagnated or roadblock to nearer completion. Project Managers have the autonomy from leadership to push and push harder where many Product & Delivery Managers don’t. 

Having been a Project Manager and a Product lead you have very different roles and Product is often a fully political role, whereas a Project Manager can use brute secondary executive force to make changes. A great Project Manager will ensure great retrospectives are made and ensure the right performance impact is made alongside any cultural bridges they may have burnt. 

The Distribution Specialist (Internal) 

  • What? A dedicated person who specialises in positively obsessing about getting your company, your people and your products in front of right eyeballs. 
  • Why? Many companies have Social Media, they have CRM (email marketing), PR and Performance Marketers but this isn’t gaining the cut-through that is required to gain more exposure to the most important updates from your business. This is an incredibly small pool to hire from however it is critical in the nosiest content market (feeds have been flooded with quantity of content not a quality of content and relationships with key distribution centres and people will be critical for all non-huge companies) 

Most businesses struggle to hire a Marketing or Growth specialist who concentrates on Retention or modern-day Distribution, these roles are going to be critical for many companies to gain any traction and make sure their latest update or product feature or pricing change cuts through.  

The Performance Coach (Internal/External) 

  • What? The coach can be internal or external (could be seen as a similar person to the character Wendy Rhodes in Billions). The coach will help to improve “hard” and “soft skills” and bring in other coaches (and mentors where applicable) 
  • Why? Traditional exec coaches have created the same training materials for over a decade and the next gen of leaders needs more coaching, and more skills (particularly more EQ and workIQ alongside PQ political intelligence), while these exec trainers have strong materials they haven’t adapted and often does not consider the person receiving the coaching and won’t tailor to them and their profile.  

One important note, in the world of work we operate in today, there is a role for the “software coach”, a dedicated person helping all staff members to get the most out of the 40-50 different pieces of software we use daily to weekly (see a new person using Notion, or trying to work out Microsoft’s (version of Notion) Loop or a person switch from Slack to MS Teams) and you will see no-one is set up to be successful using the tool or software. 

The Corporate Creator (Internal) 

  • What? A dedicated employee who acts as the revised company representative, who creates compelling, informative and educational content about and around the company.
  • Why? The CEO has had to take on this mantel in recent years, many companies have pushed content to be shared and amplified across social media channels, specifically LinkedIn, re-shares, reposts and re-quotes have been down-weighted in their algorithms. The role of the spokesperson has also lost its shine with these roles being seen through and not being invited onto podcasts, news interviews and non-corporate press moments. 

The corporate creator has unofficially existed for a few years, the creators have often been brand policed versus being embraced and coached into what the brand would like to see alongside their organic content creation or curation. Be wary of your company not embracing these types of creators or collaborating with your employees in this way. 

There will be a demand for more content to be created, what you will need to ask as a business (and with the distribution specialist) is how can we increase the quality, increase reach and impact of your content versus creating huge quantities of content and spraying and praying. 

This week’s focus action is to consider how you would hire or incorporate these roles into your business without overloading the existing team(s). 

Thanks and have a great week ahead, 

Danny Denhard

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 181 – Which Are You Surrounded By? Problem Raisers, Problem Solvers Or Problematics

Dear leaders, when I look back over the last two decades of my career, there are a number of common themes that come up and bubble back up to the surface. 

In March 2020 I wrote one of my most popular blog posts called Problem Raisers Vs Problem Solvers Vs Problematics. 

In short, it is about the three different problem profiles. I have revisited the blog post and updated it to align specifically with leadership and how we can improve our teams(s) and importantly the leaders around us. 

» Throughout my career, I have made many observations about teams and individuals, as I have run teams in agencies, had two of my own consultancies, advised businesses & marketplaces and worked across multiple disciplines and business sectors; I have seen many versions of individuals who raise problems or pain points or become the problems themselves.

For the most part, people raise pain points, typically it is for the right reasons and depending on your work environment (or direct manager), you will see types of three profiles of people:

Problem Raisers — Problem Solvers — Problematics

Problem Raisers

Problem Raisers usually have the right intent, they want to raise pain points for themselves, for users or for clients. Problem Raisers want to create a fix to these pain points, however, they might not engineered in that way, they may not be creative (Problem Solvers are) or environmentally it is not their place (the position within the org or down to core individuals or departments to be the fixers) to offer a solution.

Problem Raisers are concerned about the problem but the fix is not always an important milestone for them, they potentially work around the problem or in some cases can continue to work without the Problem being explicitly fixed or removed.

A great team or cross-functional teams have a blend of Problem Raisers and Problem Solvers.

Problem Solvers

Problem Solvers (often seen as ‘the rescuer’ in Stephen Karpman’s The Drama Triangle) are those people who find pain points, raise problems and then offer solutions, typically driven by the outcome and fixing the problem that is at hand.

Problem Solvers can come in two subcategories:

  1. Empowered Problem Solver:
    Empowered Problem Solvers want to solve the puzzle, they see puzzles not problems. Empowered Problem Solvers have the ability to lead from the front and often act as the project manager and engineer the fix. The fix is their energy source and how they thrive.
  2. Problem Solver Solutioniser”: 
    The problem solver solutioniser are not empowered to make the change themselves and have to push for the solution from the passenger seat.

From experience, the best Problem Solvers typically have a growth mindset, they embrace change, they strive to improve themselves and the situation around them and want to take it on as a learning curve and grow from the experience.

There can actually be negative to Problem Solvers; they can get frustrated and fairly quickly and do not understand why these problems are not fixed. Problem Solvers often have high IQ and WIQ (work IQ) but can lack the PQ (political intelligence) needed to ensure these problems are addressed. 

The best MarketingGrowth and Product people I have worked with fall into the Problem Solvers profile and actively want to address the pain points at hand and the ones that are up and coming and prioritise accordingly. 

If a Problem Solver Solutioniser is ignored or their pain points are not addressed in a reasonable time, over time Problem Solvers can turn into Problematics and that can be a difficult place for you and your teams. 

Most often Problematics have a negative impact on their colleagues, they negatively impact how they are perceived and will then impact your department’s performance and the company’s subculture

As a leader, this is where you have to step up and ensure these changes are made or you or an external exec coach actually evolves the Problem Solver Solutioniser’s to have more PQ (political intelligence). 

Problematics

We have all worked with Problematics, they stand out, they are a negative (almost toxic) employee and unfortunately, the likelihood is they have been burnt, and the pain points they raise have not been addressed in the way they have felt heard.

Problematics feel like their pain points have never been addressed or fixed and every time they raise pain points it comes across as a problem or someone else fault.

Problematics are often overly negative and it starts to spread or they compare their experiences versus others and start resenting the work or workplace. Two or more Problematics in close proximity can have a real negative impact on people and teams around them.

Problematics fall into two subcategories: 

(1) Negative Problematics 
(2) Positive Problematics

I generally believe Positive Problematics can be moved back to Problem Raisers with specific coaching, supporting frameworks and measurements to help them understand the logic behind the decision made and re-engage them back into the business.

My Problem-Solving Power Half Hours can work with Positive Problematics and I recommend there are two or three sessions to uncover their issues and enable them to put across their business cases. 

Once a Problematic knows deep down things won’t change or they cannot make the changes they have recommended, unfortunately, they become Negative Problematics

Negative Problematics are faced with a realistic outcome and that is often unclear to them, it is to move onto a new workplace and have the opportunity to become Problem Raisers and reset their energy and become successful again with their role. 

Framework To Help

My favourite and most recommended framework that can help is the One Problem — Two Solutions framework:

One Problem — Two Solutions: With every problem raised, you should offer two possible solutions, one preferred and show how you landed with this solution and the second an alternative. 

This framework works particularly well with more senior people who are unaware of these types of pain points or those who like to make the decisions.

It is always important to ensure you show business impact, and external impact with revenue figures and I recommend going that step further and showing internal/cultural impact.

Offer a way to show which people or teams need to be involved and the timeline of the proposed solution. If this pain point is to replace other issues or stop work on existing items on roadmaps everything needs to be laid out and thought through. Often you will need to speak to the relevant teams to gain this insight however if you are a Problem Solver this will be part of something you have thought of.

As a leader, you can run the exercise in 1-2-1’s, informal check-ins or across your leadership team meetings and categorise your fellow leads into these three profiles and decide if you need to help enable them, back them more or in extreme cases move them towards an exit if they have moved too far towards a Negative Problematic. 

This week’s focus action is to categorise your department members into these categories and an interesting exercise is to apply this to your fellow management and leadership colleagues, this will give you a different perspective on how you can and should interact with your colleagues and the actions you have to take. 

Thanks and have a great week, 

Danny Denhard


Now Watch Leaders Reshaping Their Industries

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Leaders Letter 172 – Speak Up Culture & Leadership With Stephen “Shed” Shedletzky

Dear leaders, have you embraced speak-up culture at your business? Many have struggled, so this week I have a great newsletter to help you shape or reshape open culture.

So this week I have a great 5 questions answering why speak-up culture is essential and how to lead your people to embrace and encourage a communication culture within organisations of all sizes. 

I invited author Stephen Shedletzky aka “Shed” to answer 5 questions about his upcoming book aptly named Speak-Up Culture and the lessons he took from leading his own company, learnings from working alongside Simon Sinek and dedicating his career to driving change across businesses. 


Q. You have a new book hitting our shelves dedicated to “Speak-Up Culture”, what are the five things every leadership team should do to encourage and adopt a speak-up culture? 

First, I think a definition may be helpful. 

A speak-up culture is an environment in which people feel it is both psychologically safe and worth it to speak up, to share:

  • Ideas, even if they’re half-baked,
  • Feedback, to help one another grow together and our work improve.
  • Concerns, even if they’re unpopular or personal,
  • Disagreements, especially with those more senior to us in an organization, and
  • Mistakes, believing it will lead to improvement, not being repeatedly ignored or worse punished.

The book, “Speak-Up Culture: When Leaders Truly Listen, People Step Up,” shows you how creating an environment where people feel it’s both safe and worth it to speak up is the responsibility and the advantage of leaders at every level who want to be great at leading, and who want to create a better version of humanity while they do it. The bottom line, for everyone, is that organizations with speak-up cultures are safer, more innovative, more engaged, and better-performing than their peers. 

The book releases on October 3, 2023, and is available for wherever you get your books. 

Okay, now here are five things leadership teams can do to foster a speak-up culture:

  1. Value people’s voice and contributions.
  2. Encourage people to speak up.
  3. Reward people when they do speak up, especially when they bring up bad news or hard things to share.
  4. In our cultures we get the behavior we reward and the behavior we tolerate. Tolerating behavior is a passive form of rewarding it. Identify your values and the behaviors your leaders and people ought to exhibit to live into them. Recognize and reward the behavior you wish to see more of. Provide feedback, coaching and discipline, if necessary when folks behave outside the value set. If they continue to behave outside the value set, even if they are individually high performers, they’re behavior is likely toxic to the team and these folks should be offered to the competition. 
  5. Ensure you hear from a diverse set of voices and embrace difference. If the same folks are the ones speaking up, your speak-up culture could be much more inclusive and robust.

Q. Leaders go first. That’s what it means “to lead.” is one of your recent quotes – How do you recommend leaders to lead in troubling times? 

Admit what they know and don’t yet know, so long as it’s appropriate. Vulnerability isn’t sharing all the things all the time. That could simply be oversharing. Vulnerability is about context — it’s about sharing what is necessary, appropriate, and useful given a particular context and audience.

On the first day of my corporate career (September 7, 2009), 1,000 people were let go following “post-merger synergies.” I was the kid walking in as many more people were walking out, boxes in hands. I saw the direct impact that a lack of transparency in leaders had on not just folks’ productivity, but also their health and well-being. I distinctly remember my colleague, a 37-year veteran of the company, sitting in the cubicle across from mine frightened her pink-slip would arrive next. 

In this instance, I witnessed far more leaders in self-preservation mode rather than sharing what they could openly and fighting for their people.

I make the distinction between capital L Leaders and lowercase l leaders.

While Leaders may have the title, as my esteemed colleague Rich Diviney shared, “Leaders aren’t born. Leaders aren’t even made. Leaders are chosen based upon the way they behave.’ Leadership is a set of behaviors and when folks behave as such, regardless of if they hold a formal position of leadership or not, people follow. 
Those who lead hold influence, and they have a following. 
To lead means to show up to serve, to be consistent and authentic, to extend compassion and empathy, to be decisive and yet accountable, giving credit when things go well and taking responsibility when things don’t go well. 

Here is a flavour Shed’s new book and going deeper into culture ↓

Q. You worked alongside Simon Sinek; you facilitated a number of speeches and workshops for other businesses. Out of all of the great books and philosophies (The Infinite Game, Start With Why, Leaders Eat Last, Find Your Why and Together Is Better) which sticks most with you today and your teachings in your own company?

Definitely his most recent book, The Infinite Game (2019). I describe that book as Simon’s greatest hits album plus some very worthwhile bonus tracks. The book is brilliantly wrapped in game theory – building upon the work of the late Dr. James Carse and his work on Finite and Infinite Games — to show us that we’re all players in games that have ends (finite) and games that may have mile markers but no end (infinite). While many business leaders strive to “win” the game of business, beat the competition or be the best, they’re using finite language and thus a finite mindset in infinite games. 

Of all of Simon’s works, The Infinite Game is most robust and relevant today. In the five practices he covers (Just Cause, Trusting Teams, Worthy Rivals, Existential Flexibility and the Courage to Lead), he nicely highlights the importance of his previous works as well. 


Q. Driving change and innovation is hard within businesses, even when you are the most senior or have the most relevant title, how would you recommend business leaders do to drive positive change within their organizations for the rest of the year? 

Leaders must know that even if they’re driving the bus, everyone’s behavior on that bus is pivotal and paramount. Leaders ought to lead, not drive change. This proves a useful distinction between leaders and drivers. Leaders inspire. Drivers force or even coerce. Leaders engender followers. People do as drivers say out of fear or a perception of necessity. So, I do believe it’s important for leaders to lead, not drive. 

Leaders ought also to be aware of three gears that must all move to create meaningful and last change. These three gears, depicted below from the book (page 106 in chapter 7, Culture Matters) are Mindset, Actions and Systems. 

A leader’s mindset matters and impacts others. You cannot force someone to take on a new mindset. Transformation is an inside out job. But when people have some sort of experience that changes the way they think and view the world, it changes the way they lead and behave. We can change our world when we change our mind. 

Second, as if I haven’t belabored this point enough, our actions and behaviors matter, a lot! And, as it turns out, we can actually act our way to new thinking. L. David Marquet highlights an impressive story on this as he lead and empowered a crew of 150 sailors to turn the worst rated submarine in the entire 1999 US Navy fleet, the USS Santa Fe, from worst to first in one year. He had his sailors act into a feeling of pride by following a simple set of actions in greeting visitors aboard the Santa Fe. It’s brilliant. More on this directly from Marquet here.

Finally, systems matter… again, a lot as well. We need all three of these gears to work in unison. If one is off, the entire culture suffers. If you put a good person in a bad system or environment, the latter prevails every time. I call this Pickle Brine Theory. If you put a world-class cucumber in awful pickle brine, we, my friends, have an awful pickle that should never have been made. And we can’t blame the pickle. We must examine its brine – the environment it was in. Take an average pickle, put it in excellent brine and we have a delicious pickle, to whatever your taste. To complete the analogy, we all start out as unique cucumbers and the brine we’re in determines the pickle we become. That’s right, culture is like a pickle jar. There, I said it. 


Q. What do you predict the future of work looking like in three years’ time?  

Hate to be lame, I’m not a wild futurist that thinks the world is going to be fundamentally different in what human beings want and value. Sure, the context will always change, but these truths, I believe, will remain:

1)     Respect – We all wanted to be treated as the human beings we are, not as numbers or cogs in a wheel or machine. 

2)    Flexibility – We want to feel empower and trusted to do our work in a responsible way that integrates into our lives.  

3)    Compensation – We want to be compensated fairly and equally based upon the value of our work. 

Finally, there will be (or already is) a job called “AI Prompter.” Let’s have humans working the machine, and not the other way around… unless we truly are in The Matrix… Well that got real meta at the end here #trippy. 

The places of work – virtual, physical and hybrid– that offer flexibility, fair compensation, and who treat people as the human beings they are will prevail.

I think you’ll agree there is a tremendous amount of value here and brilliantly actionable ways to introduce or reintroduce speak-up culture into your business. If you’d like to connect to Shed, please do so on LinkedIn and definitely think about purchasing Speak Up Culture book for your leadership team. 

This week’s focus action is to introduce (capital L) Leadership and ensure speak-up culture is introduced and respected in Q4. 

Thanks, have a great week and I’ll land in your inbox again next week with another leaders letters.

Danny Denhard

» If you have missed the 5 questions series you can enjoy here

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Leaders Letter 171 – Which Do You Need, A Refresh, A Reset, A Reboot Or A Restart?

Dear leaders, I have a little secret, away from the leaders newsletter and focus, I run a dedicated offering for Execs, Growth and Marketing leaders

When people ask me what I do, I used to say – I am a coach, consultant and advisor. 

When people ask me what that means I tweaked it recently to ask a question, “Which do you need, a refresh? A reset? A reboot? Or a restart?”  

It’s the 4 R’s you didn’t know you needed but everyone is in this phase. 

Over the last two decades, I have actually had a lot of jobs that aren’t on my LinkedIn and aren’t specifically broken down on my resume so here are a few stories to help to frame reset, refresh, restart, reboot. 

A Reset Story

When I worked as a Project Manager (in today’s world it would be a Product Manager releasing software) in finance I actually had to do a stint of work in commissions (in the finance team) when we were really struggling and my job in that period was to talk on the phone and over email with finance brokers on why their payments were late or missing. 

It was at the brutal end of customer service. I learnt a lot in that period with mortgage brokers coming to the office to find out where sometimes 100k was missing from payment runs. 

The owners didn’t know how to stop this business from going under in the middle of the major subprime mortgage crisis (2007 to 2010) but with a little hindsight, I believe we could have reset the business by removing more of the complexity of the processing department and helping our partners and brokers to remove numerous friction points and understanding how to reject applications more quickly. 

Hindsight is a wonder thing, isn’t it?  

A Refresh Story 

In another job I had to shift the focus of the sales packages from one discipline we were known for (there were white and black hat associations) to broadening out the offering with a super talented internal department lead who had to package up solutions on the fly (sometimes in the morning of big pitches) with hardly any time as a bolt-on to bigger pitches to offer a better more holistic Marketing solution. 

We built sales packages, built bespoke tools and hired an insanely talented person to come in and service clients, build reports and be the face of the new offering and we expanded that offering 4x that year. 

It worked really well and diversified the business. The refresh helped the company refresh the offering when pitching and have a broader influence on the marketing teams of the companies we were working with and being introduced to. 

A Reboot Story

There is something I don’t share often, I joined a company and for me, despite all of the interviews, great conversations smart people within the business and negotiations, it didn’t work out within a week. 

This company had a top-tier product (this was why I reached out to them directly), had high loyalty and was a utility (for many it was essential to check before work) and it had powerful sets of data across the globe (it was not quite a moat but close enough to to be excited of what we should do). 

Speaking to the founder and the leadership team I could see what was missing to kickstart the company’s new chapter and it was a reboot around brand side and stories connect to the product, a fresh product positioning and the business could make significant money with the right investment. 

The vision I had to reboot and drive ultra focus the business wasn’t shared by the founder and their vanity-based KPI wasn’t exactly what the brand needed, what the non-users craved and that’s not what the hundreds of thousands of daily active users would ever care about. 

Like I have said before big ideas rarely hit home, especially with founders, cofounders and CEOs as it means big shifts within the business and often has large time and business costs they just cannot commit to. 

A Restart Story 

In March 2020 I left a leadership role, I poured my heart and soul into the business and through five years of being connected to the company first as a consultant and then employed I knew in late 2019 after annual planning and discussions that I needed a full restart. 

I knew from the internal coaching and the work that gave me energy, I had to start my mission to fix the broken world of work, I knew companies weren’t placing the right emphasis on creating a company-wide strategy where people (company culture) and performance (company strategy) were rarely connected or aligned that this was the focus that businesses needed. 
I knew this was the restart I needed. 

What I didn’t think would be a two-year battle (thanks to the pandemic) was a long restart and many still are catching up to the concept of bringing people and performance closer together and understanding that the way it has always been done isn’t working in the 2020’s and those leading industries (away from big tech) are tackling this in more progressive ways… 

A Hard Reboot Story

A business I have been advising this year needed a hard reboot. 

Their business is large, they are a national favourite, however,  they were being chopped down piece by piece and broken down by numerous new competitors and their features were no longer unique or value-driving vs. cheaper or free options. 

My recommendation was: 

  • To revisit their annual strategy and rethink it from a fresh perspective 
  • To rethink how their product should work for existing but also for the new use cases appearing in the market and in products adjacent to them  
  • To understand the lite product hacking (when people use your product in a completely new way you never considered)  
  • To consider how they showed up with their pricing. 

We had a number of sessions and took a hard reboot approach, to go back to if they were a startup, review their own product be brutally honest and run a keep, kill, core and copy approach to the product and run a set of pricing surveys. 

Looking Back With Fresh Set Of Eyes

None of these was fun to me, it was incredibly hard work and took a number of painful conversations but one was an enlightening business lesson for me, one has helped me understand the lay of the land in businesses and agencies and has been a brilliant foundation to my career and another enabled me to be part of an IPO, numerous M&A deals and drive positive change for people I coach and the businesses I help to reshape. 

This week’s focus action is to down and think about how you are performing and consider which R phase are you in and what you need:  

  • A Refresh 
  • A Reset 
  • A Reboot 
  • A Restart

Have a great week ahead and if I can help you on your 4R journey happily email me directly danny@focus.business

Danny Denhard

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Leaders Letter 167 – The Comprehensive Guide & Ranking Of Company Culture Activities

Dear leaders, are you considering your options to improve your company culture? I hope so. 

Why? I am often asked by CEOs, leadership teams and founders about how to invest in company culture and what are the best activities to improve culture. 

Each business is in its own phase and each business has specific characters who will have their say on what’s best, particularly the internal influencers

What is important is to balance these factors out and select the best most inclusive event. 

Company Culture Activities  

I bet you have asked your fellow leadership team members what you should do. 

I bet you gathered a wide-ranging list of events, and you might now be considering a getaway, an army assault course or even starting a computer game league or sorry startups – a ping pong tournament? 

I have worked since 16 years old and over the last 25 years, I have experienced 16 different attempts to connect and improve company culture. 

I have ranked them below with a score out of 5, a cost implication and a breakdown of the score. 

If you want to expand or have a detailed look at the list, request full access here

My top 5 recommendations to improve company culture would be to consider the following: 

  1. Problem Solving Day – a revamp on the hack day, a way that the whole business can come together and select existing problems, bring the team closer together and develop new tech, and different approaches and release a new working practice collectively. Work out whether you remove the leadership team from this as it can bias the problems solved or how problems are shaped  
  2. Hack Day (Aka Hackathons) – a staple in most businesses, a hack day can be a great way for devs to demonstrate their skills and their broader ways of thinking and collaborate with many they just don’t have a chance to work directly with. It’s key to encouraging or constructing teams who rarely work together to work together. It is key to ensure you remove the boredom from hack days as it can be a lot of start-stop without real structure and deadlines throughout the day  
  3. Sports Day / Sports Team – sports can divide people (sporty vs non-sporty) but in my experience, it is the closest thing to connecting people quickly and easily across the ability scale. Here in the UK rounders (like softball), giant egg and spoon, sack race, and tug of war is the go-to, I have been part of a company that hired an athletes track and we took part in an Olympics-style event it was brilliantly done and everyone stepped up for the event. The key to winning this is keeping everything light-hearted and encouraging people to give it a go and making the in-between about connection, not competition!  
  4. Company Retreat / Holiday – you either love or hate retreats, I have had some brilliant company-wide holidays/vacations/retreats and I have had some of the worst professional experiences at leadership retreats. I found company-wide holidays work particularly well for those companies from 10-200 and then effectiveness can scale down quickly from 500 as it is logistically so challenging and you need people to force people to interact and speak to complete strangers. Leadership retreats aren’t treats they are hard work and it’s important to onboard new members of the leadership team to the way you do offsites or retreats and then gather rounds of feedback to improve retreats.  
  5. Cooking Class – I am a cook (not quite a Masterchef) and I have always enjoyed cooking classes, from pasta making to pizza making to Indian cooking classes, they bring people together, everyone tends to get a job and then there is healthy competition and connections. For those who just don’t or can’t (or won’t) cook if you want them to engage create a judging panel or drinks classes to encourage making the drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks) and make for those cooking etc. 

All company culture activities and days have a series of costs, from internal costs (like the number of hours missed of work) to large external costs of hiring event spaces and paying for external facilitators. 

Tip: Always have a dedicated budget in mind before the events are created rather than react to the potentially large quotes you will likely receive. 

This week’s focus item is to review the full list and then create a series of activities or events to connect and galvanise the company employees in line for Q4 and the associated ramp-up. 

Have a great week ahead,

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

Need help with company culture? Get in touch, just hit reply or email me directly >> danny @ focus.business 

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Leaders Letter 166 – The No Passengers Principle

It Is Time To Remove The Passengers From Your Business

Dear leaders, if I said no passengers within your team what would I be referring to? 

A passenger (to me) is someone who always sits back, does just about enough and doesn’t strive to push their work forward or importantly improve the company’s status quo.

Passengers are in every business, in almost every team and are often hidden away by a lack of people management (managers this is on you, if you catch the early onset of passengers you can address it, if stays after six months it’s hard to reset) performers or by performances from their colleagues. 

Having Potential & Good Is Different To A Passenger 

I believe you can have brilliant performers who can take their foot off the gas from time to time and can have a lot on to keep up their high standards, however, allowing long-term mediocrity is going to have a hugely negative impact. 

Middle managers have a hard job and motivating passengers can be almost impossible. It’s critical in management and leadership you know who’s adding value and whos detracting from it. This is where you can proactively score performance and output and then address them regularly. 

Blending quant and qual with real work examples is critical to influencing, improving performance or replacing passengers.  

Passenger True Impact 

Passengers are often hindering your department’s performance, they are coasting, and passengers often rub off in the wrong way and then bring on others for their ride and it can then spill over into other members of the team. Remember team members mimic behaviours especially hard and high performers who feel they are being taken advantage of. 

Why A No-Passenger Principle? 

Principles are what people can get behind, and agree on and they can lead behaviours. 

Long-time readers will know I am a huge supporter of principles, I have: 

Principles Over Pointers 

When you look to create your principles or look at revisiting your principles (it’s annual planning for most larger companies in August), you should question what you really need and what makes the business better and why no passengers are critical to reset expectations and drive the business forward at every given opportunity.  

Principles are written up, formalised, put up in the office and shared so frequently the whole company should be able to repeat on request without any effort or hesitation. Being a pointer isn’t enough and this is when HR will likely have to be called in to help when principles are there to support managers and colleagues. 

This week’s focus action is to consider adding a no-passenger principle to your business and being clear on what behaviours work within your business and which behaviours will not be accepted. 

Have a great week ahead,

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

Read the last 3 weeks newsletters

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 164 – Discover How to Make Company-Wide Feedback Proactive and Effective Now!

Dear leaders, how frequently do you ask for and gather company-wide feedback? My guess is quarterly and it’s often just another task to complete.

As a department lead, you should look for feedback loops as often as possible. 

From

  • One to ones 
  • Skip meetings 
  • Team feedback 
  • Department feedback 
  • QBRs & Quarterly planning with the team 
  • Annual department planning 
  • BAR & AAR (before action reviews and after action reviews)
  • Your manager’s feedback (yes even CEOs have bosses) 

One of the hardest things to do as a leader is to make feedback actionable and take steps to improve. For most, you are never given a framework or a tool to keep track of and improve on the essential items of feedback from quarterly check-ins, your annual review and real-time feedback from colleagues. 

There is a free feedback model that I like broken down into: 

  • Advice 
  • Compliment 
  • Criticism 
  • Suggestion 

This framework helps you list out all feedback and decide if you need to take action or something you should take note of and evolve your approach over time. 

Battling Realtime Team & Department Feedback 

I bet you have also been in meetings where your team or department becomes under fire and the feedback is mostly lost or unactionable as it’s not recorded or part of a political game from other department leads. This isn’t helping the company, its venting and its hindering progress without formal examples.

Actionable Hint:

  • Always ask for this feedback in writing and ask for two to three examples of when the team or department have acted like this otherwise it’s likely reactionary to results or not getting the desired outcome. 
  • Create a centralised document and start attacking each piece of feedback (not opinion) and show how you are proactively leading from the front. This makes it clear to the team/department and company how seriously you are taking feedback.

Official tools like Workday struggle with helping department leads to know what to work on and if there are core learning and skills gaps. 

This is where there is a big jump (and no bridge) between individual feedback, departmental and company-wide feedback. Very often they are connected and you should learn by sharing knowledge and actions taken.

Company-Wide Feedback

When you’re a company you look for official feedback from all the company employees. 

Most ask a series of questions and the answers are anonymous. 

Some companies select an eNPS solution and have quant and qual feedback. 

There are a few issues that arise: 

  • A low number of responses – requires numerous chases from HR (and becomes disheartening)
  • Sending a survey to all staff members doesn’t work from an HR perspective. It is not personal to the recipient, it seems low importance and takes a long time versus finishing all of your important tasks.  Always being put off.
    Hint: Seeding and then nudging from the department lead is a better approach and easier to scale than mass sends from HR or the founder
  • There is a fundamental lack of trust in the “anonymity” of the surveys (having led software selection the majority are anonymous and aren’t actually sophisticated enough to offer this
  • eNPS often can confuse the company and without real management and insight it can seem daunting or unrealistic to make any change from a low score to a better score let alone a bigger score  
  • Most who complete the survey don’t trust the answers will be actioned and don’t see the steps (or the discussion) behind the feedback sessions and how it’s handled 

Most often these feedback surveys do not highlight the real issues or areas to celebrate in the company culture, it is often performance-based feedback and without more organic and frequent feedback companies will struggle to make a difference for the company or the people. 

Google Weekly Move 

I recently read that Google has moved from annual feedback to weekly feedback (surveying) and it makes me wonder, why and what is it actually achieving.

Is it a leadership initiative or is it an HR play or a PR response to the ongoing changes and headlines Google are receiving? 

I can’t see how this will add value and make any feedback actionable without deep connections and department (Product) to department (Marketing), company (Android) to company (Google Ads). 

With thousands of employees at different phases of being unhappy making changes will take a long time and the low-cost low effort will most likely always be selected to roll out. 

How to improve weekly feedback? I often suggest a company culture or culture community manager to help to shape and collaborate in company culture – the key is not to be reporting to HR and definitely not to be seen playing the game. Trust is critical.

Other Companies Feedback Cadence

I asked 50 C-suite leaders what their company-wide cadence was and the breakdown was:

  • Weekly – 2% 
  • Monthly – 44% 
  • Quarterly – 18% 
  • Annually – 36% 

When I asked those who replied with monthly as their answer, this changed from annually over the last 18 months, this shows there is either progress or reacting to the demands of hybrid work and forced return to the office. 

Feedback is a critical part of management and leadership, that’s obvious, however, what is less obvious is how we review data sources and ask for better feedback loops. 

  • When performance is high you will want to understand the drivers and what and how people are feeling 
  • When performance is down or a big event has taken place and there is a negative sentiment in the air – what can we learn from this 
  • When a core member of the team leaves or when mass layoffs happen what insights and nuggets do we have to garner from the company to improve the business holistically 

This week’s focus action is: Ask yourself and the leadership team:

  • How frequently do you ask for feedback?
  • How do you show the results and identity which areas you will be working on and the areas of concern you will be taking a longer-term view on?
  • How do we step up and ask for feedback formally in the good times and then in the low times and how are we proactive in showing we (the leadership team) want to improve the business and not just ask for more? 

This won’t improve everything in the near term but in the mid to long term, this approach is going to reshape how feedback is seen, heard and actioned within your business.

Have a great week and if you have feedback let me know below.

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 161 – 5 Questions With Dave Cairns The #digitalhomad

Dear leaders, this week I have a brand new and special “5 questions with” series. This leadership newsletter is with futurist, SPaaS (Space-As-A-Service) and the creator of the #digitalhomad Dave Cairns

Dave recently started to work from anywhere (despite being an Office Leasing Agent) and is sharing his flex journey blending work and parent through a mix of video, written and audio content. 

I was introduced to Dave by the previous 5 questions with Caleb Parker and we have had some enlightening conversations and know he will inspire you to think about workspaces and work environments differently.

Dave is a brilliant thinker, he is prolific on LinkedIn and really shares his knowledge and insights. If you are an exec looking to see how to leverage LinkedIn to add value to your audience and customers Dave is a great example.  

The Q&A 

Q1: You used to be a professional poker player, how did being a top poker player help with your career and leadership style?

Poker is an interesting game. It’s the only pursuit I’ve encountered whereby it’s expected that you’ll be lied to. Ironically, there’s a lot of honesty in this dynamic; you can almost breathe a sigh of relief in that the baseline expectation is some form of deception. 

Conversely, in our professional lives we are always having to suss out whether or not we are being deceived by our colleagues, bosses or clients.

Having a background in poker has allowed me to apply my knowledge of zero sum games (in poker, your win is always someone else’s loss) to win-win(-win) outcomes.

Having a deep understanding of deception and self-interest allows one to evaluate bringing two or more parties together in non-linear ways. 

Q2: What are your top three recommendations for companies trying to get the most out of “hybrid” work? 

If you think culture = the office – start by reconsidering as “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” – Suzuki Roshi

Check out Dave’s insightful prediction from last year and his excellent thoughts on the topic shared on LinkedIn.

Increasingly, one of your most common employee avatars will resemble that of a “corporate freelancer” – an employee who desires the job security and values being on a team but wants to behave with the flexibility of a digital nomad/freelancer.

Beta test workplace strategies that embody unbundling work from a central office model and instead seek to create a network effect for your employees when it comes to where they work – both physically and digitally (in a digital capacity – explore virtual worlds that make up an aspect of what we define as the Metaverse)
Read Dave’s supporting metaverse LinkedIn post

Future of Work strategy must be built around the understanding that: both employees and employers must be able to reserve the right to change their minds. For employees, their life circumstances will change which will equate to ever-changing workplace needs.

For employers, long-term office leasing as primary strategy never made sense in the first place as no business can predict where they will be in 5-10 years time, yet their real estate is fixed and leased long.

Employers will continue to be at the mercy of destabilizing forces like de-globalization and climate change – they will quite literally need to be able to pick up and move “houses” (good thing their employees all have homes!). 

Q3: You are an active member of helping companies enable better working environments, most recently you entered the metaverse and help companies with your expertise and answered Q&A.
What have you learnt by sharing your ideas regularly across LinkedIn and embracing different technology platforms?
  

The way I see it, there are only advantages to exploring your own mind and sharing it with the world. And the same goes with novel technologies. It’s for these reasons that I publish content daily and that I explore new ways of connecting to & collaborating such as virtual worlds. 

If I write something stupid it’ll be forgotten tomorrow but if I write nothing I’ll miss the opportunity to keep getting to know my own mind. And if it turns out the metaverse is in fact “dead”, I’ll have lost nothing as I’ll have engaged with all kinds of new people along the way and will have valuable skills/perspectives BECAUSE I was curious. 

Q4: You are a huge advocate of Space as a Service (#SPaaS) – how do you see this really shaping the future of work? 

Over the last few years I’ve often said that there is NO office “amenity” more valuable than the choice to go there or not. I firmly believe this to be true as what is more valuable than autonomy? Autonomy provides us with the agency to decide where and with whom we belong. If I’m right, companies who compete for the next “warm body” to sit in their seat will get increasingly competitive.

It’s no longer just corporate executives that are consumers of the workplace. Whether they like it or not, their employees have been granted that same privilege. Accordingly, these newfound consumers will align with certain brands and not others, and will need different types of products/services.

The only words I can think of to describe this movement are Space-as-a-Service.

Q5: You started the #digitalhomad hashtag on LinkedIn to let people follow your journey and updates – how do you think your approach to LinkedIn can help business leaders from around the world to become more authentic across social media? 

After I left poker, I spent 8.5 years living in a state of cognitive dissonance. Even though I make a living from the office, I’ve NEVER romanticized it and in fact a lot of office culture just doesn’t work for me (I suspect I have ADHD and am trying to get assessed). 

For many years prior to Covid, I made content on LinkedIn but it wasn’t authentic. I was making videos and shit about how to sublease your office and relocate without having to pay double rent. While stuff like that matters to some of my customers, I wasn’t at all passionate about these subjects. 

I thank Covid for creating the space for me to access a former version of myself, a digitally nomadic online poker player. By accessing this guy once more I was able to start to poke holes in not just the office market, but the culture. In doing this, I’ve been on a journey of getting closer and closer to my authentic self. It’s brought me closer to all the change agents out there and has gotten me more deeply aligned with the types of customers I want to work with.

Saying what I think has also gotten me into a lot of trouble but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

You can’t put a price on authenticity – you win and so do the people you care about. 


» A huge thanks to Dave for answering these questions so transparently and offering his unique insight.

With the way the new world of work is shaping up, David is definitely a thought leader and I highly recommend following or connecting with Dave on LinkedIn. When I re-boot Fixing the broken world of work podcast, Dave will be the first guest I interview. 

Have a great week ahead and this week’s focus action is to rethink how you will look to work and leverage space differently. 

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

Read The Other 5 Questions Series 

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Leaders Letter Newsletter Leadership

Leaders Letter 160 – 10 Of The Best Ways To Improve “Team” Subculture

Dear leaders, In recent weeks I have shared insights into how to think about your team, management and leadership levels and how to connect to those around you. 

In a recent presentation to a C-suite, I suggested that they were confusing everyone: how? They had:  

  • C-Suite – CEO, COO etc 
  • Leadership Team – C + SVPs
  • Management Team – Department Leads + HR 
  • Next Gen Team – The Heads of 
  • They also had an X-team for good measure too – that was their executive team and advisors in a big group who mostly spoke about the numbers and performance (very similar to the C-Suite) 

The difference for most is a title and how they are tiered internally. 

For others it is how they represent the company, which teams they might serve and who is the first team, this first team principle is something that has been around in management training for years, it’s the team you spend the most time with and who you often operate alongside most. 

If you are on the C-suite your team is 99% of the time, the C-Suite team or if named differently the Senior Leadership Team. 

If you are a department lead, your team is most likely the team you manage. 

When you are senior and trusted you will likely be across numerous teams and that’s when your time is precious you need to understand which team is your primary and which is your secondary and so on.  

I am a big believer in there are actually numerous cultures within organisations, there is one but they are influenced by the ongoing micro cultures of your company. I tend to refer to these mirco cultures as sub-cultures, each team or unit of people are big influencers on the wider company culture, big decisions do change how the people within your company operate and will impact how they perform. 

I have been in challenging times when the most senior leadership team is in dispute or has long-term conflict and it really impacts those around them, underneath them and can creep into one-to-ones and departmental meetings. This is where seasoned operators use and abuse their political intelligence and sends the wrong waves through the organisation.  

Team Subculture Advice

I’m usually asked for specific details of how I’ve helped my teams in the past so here are ten common recommendations I make to clients today.  

Leadership Team Level 

  1. All Company Stand-Ups – These are optional standups for the whole company to attend; this included weekly performance and revenue numbers, it included top-level information of what we discussed at the leadership team meeting (to allow the team to understand how we are tackling issues, discussing the future and where we see opportunities etc) and our actions and we invited anyone to ask questions and present their take. 
  2. Friday Stand Down – as a leadership team, we were all relatively new to each other. We had an informal debrief every Friday afternoon before we left and it was what we needed to blow off steam, have a laugh and connect on a personal/professional level. In most leadership teams you rarely have a chance to laugh and it’s incredibly important you find your mutual humour zone and what is acceptable within your team. 
  3. Meeting Captains – there’s nothing more annoying if you are that person who always takes notes, I introduced a rotating meeting captain who would lead meetings and be responsible for agendas, action points and notes, it was a way to share respect and responsibilities and not just be on the “leader” to lead meetings. 
  4. Extra / Management Fika – a coffee and a snack together following the Swedish tradition. Fika worked well with leaders who don’t work together often or have less of a personal connection. Fika can work well and can work remotely – it’s worth exploring how you can introduce time blocking to encourage Fika. 

Management Team Level 

  1. Onboarding – Very often you will work with people on the MT who is new to the company or new to the management team; they very often need onboarding to the management team, they need to understand how this management team works and what success is for them on the management team. Onboarding is essential and almost always overlooked – I created the onboarding flow and a cheat sheet alongside a record of important items we had discussed recently and how we made and got to decisions. 
  2. Decision Documents – I have recommended a number of times on leaders letters; the decision document helps the company to understand how decisions were made, how, who and why. It’s an invaluable tool for transparency and takes minutes to update and share with the org. This is an open document everyone has access to. 
  3. Up-and-comers lunches – a virtual or in-person lunch where up-and-comers within the business could be taken for lunch and discuss the company, and get to know senior execs. This isn’t just for the up-and-comer it is for the leaders to get to know their colleagues and understand how the level or two below are operating and understand any concerns they may have.    

D Team Level 

  1. Reverse Mentorship – Mentorship isn’t always senior mentoring the “junior”. Reverse mentorship is the smart way to help spread knowledge and insights across the business. It is a way for less senior members or discipline experts to help more senior people understand how the company is operating lower down, understand the discipline and learn from internal experts. Be mindful of the time and how many reverse mentorship sessions you have or enable.
    There is an upcoming leaders letter around your 160 hours of work per month and making the most out of time management.   
  2. Champions Presentations – Champions are experts in their field, aka subject matter specialists (Super ICs as it has been referred to recently) who go into management and leadership meetings and present rather than the Department lead. This is important for exposure to the environment, training on what is expected and tolerated in these meetings and giving the Champion the opportunity to connect with senior leadership. Historically this may have been seen as Departmental management not to present on the behaviour of your team, however, empowering your team members and bringing in champions will improve how important tactical layers are thought through and delivered on (alongside being a time-saving exercise). 
  3. Cross Champions Training – this was something that I rolled out as long as 14 years ago. Inviting international colleagues to the U.K. and having a few days going through plans, learnings we came across and sharing knowledge whether that’s day-to-day essential cross champions like excel training, latest tools to use and how to use them to one example was someone was a popular external keynote speaker and provided speaking training to the department. 

This week’s focus item is to implement the most applicable pieces of advice, I always strongly recommend rolling out a decision document, champions presentations and meeting captains for the quickest impact and lowest effort. 

Have a good week and I’ll land in your inbox next week,

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

Five Other Essential Company Culture Must Reads

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Leaders Letter Newsletter Leadership

Leaders Letter 159 – The Company Number 2

Dear leaders, the fight for the number two position has been something coveted for many years. 

I recently received an email from a leaders letters subscriber asking about “the mythical number two role” so I wanted to tackle it in a dedicated leaders letter. 

Being the right-hand person, the next strong voice and then the trusted partner is something many professionals try to acquire and manufacture their way into this converted slot. 

Being trusted by the number 1 (CEO or founder) is a double-edged sword and one you might just struggle with.  

The Expectations 

  • Your expectation is your colleagues around you have to listen
  • Your colleagues will come to you for buy-in and support – improving your position as the number 2 
  • Your colleagues will ripple this news through the organisation and the rest of the business takes this on 
  • The rest of the org will listen to your every word and look to you for answers and additional support 
  • Leverage (leverage the people, leverage the unofficial title, leverage the opportunity) 
  • The validation will create respect 
  • You are next in line  

The Usual Reality 

  • The number two spot is often an impossible position 
  • Your colleagues around the exec table do not trust you, this sends signals to the rest of the org not to trust you  
  • You can be seen as the #1’s puppet – only delivering on their requirements and actions 
  • When there is a requirement to challenge the number 1 you will be torn to protect and defend vs do what is best for the wider org or your department 
  • Your own team’s trust often erodes over time – you become dislocated from your team and your loyalties are questioned constantly 
  • Your own “number two” will take aim at your position and authority and very often unpick your position at the seams while you play an unofficial company number 2 role 
  • The number two often doesn’t take the leaders chair when they leave or are removed 

2 Political 

Very often the number two is posturing, it’s a political minefield and you as the number two have to be so politically savvy, you have to embrace your IQ, EQ and PQ in rotation and this can be exhausting.

The company culture is often manipulated the most by this number two person and can work for and against them, most often going against them as they are in the most questioned position within the business. 

When company culture is so important to your performance many companies make the mistake of entrusting the number two to make the right strategic plays and bets to improve the company culture. Very few will put the company first when their own personal stakes and game plan have been years to play out. 

Waves Of Change 

Despite the largest company trends, over the last 15 years, it has been CFOs transitioning to CEOs, then COOs transitioning and most recently it has been CPO who takes on the CEO role once their boss moves on. 

CFOs, COOs and CROs are often in the number two position, you will see this play out over and over in mid to large businesses and often in smaller businesses or startups you might even see co-founders having to battle it out with external “adults” to take over the reins of the business. 

Very rarely does the internal number two actually take over from exiting founders or co-founders and often the move onto another business is harder for them. 

Likely Outcome – Interim 

Like in sports, you become the caretaker manager, you take temporary charge of the team. You will know quickly how your tenure will go, likely quickly and then you have the fight all over again. 

In business the number 2 can take over as an interim lead, however, it is often seen with resistance and a full-time leader comes in to replace the interim. 

Big change in business is rarely a good thing for the supposed number two and this is often overlooked by them. 

Having been positioned as the number two on a number of occasions it rarely worked out for me – going into any situation like this with eyes wide open will only benefit you and the business. 

Protect You & The Business: Are you the number 2 within your business, how have you protected yourself and prevented many of these called-out issues to protect you and move the business forward? I trust so. 

This week’s focus action is to review how you are positioned within the business and understand how your position might be negatively impacted by the perceived “rank” you are in or represent. 

Thanks and have a great week 

Danny Denhard

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