Digging Deep – Well not really! – AFR Boss Magazine article on Resources Sector talent issues was disappointing with little real insight

The fact that resources bosses are desperately seeking management talent is clear. Unfortunately the AFRBoss article only repeated tired ideas from the last 10+ years around managing talent/human capital. I think the article showed the conservative and traditional nature of our Australian human capital paradigms, practices and practitioners. At no stage were my concerns around the potential cannibalising of talent/labor markets by the Resources sector from other industry sectors addressed. Nor was there any systemic or innovative thinking presented.

In order to fulfil the human capital aspects of an organisation’s strategic objectives, we need to work both sides of the talent equation – demand and supply – and we need to undertake these tasks in innovative ways. We need segment workforces, focus on critical roles and capabilities, and to create differentiated value propositions. We need to decide what aspects of our workforces must be full time, and what can be contingent. As a nation, we need to decide what we want our workforce to be known for, and what skills/capabilities we want to source from other nations.

Set expectations and get quicker results: Scientists prove importance of expectation management

Science Daily: The human brain works incredibly fast. However, visual impressions are so complex that their processing takes several hundred milliseconds before they enter our consciousness. Scientists have now shown that this delay may vary in length. When the brain possesses some prior information — that is, when it already knows what it is about to see — conscious recognition occurs faster. Until now, neuroscientists assumed that the processes leading up to conscious perception were rather rigid and that their timing did not vary. Read the full article here.



My thoughts…

For many years, we’ve known good leadership and management involves expectation setting – but many leaders and managers just ‘expect’ their people to know. Science now confirms we can get quicker neural responses if the brain possesses some prior information about an ‘incoming stimulus’. So if we want improved outcomes from direct reports and teams, we must clearly establish expectations – both what can be expected during an experience/task/process, as well as what outcomes are expected from that experience/task/process.

Clarifying expectations reduces uncertainty, and accelerates action…

What can Australian organisations do about increasing shortages in required skills/talent? Work on demand side of equation!

Australia may have survived the global financial crisis relatively unscathed, but will it survive the skills and labor crisis which is now imminent? Both government and business seem ‘stuck’ in trying to solve the crisis primarily through ‘supply’ and/or ‘buy’ solutions. However, effectively working the ‘demand’ side of this challenge is likely to deliver more sustainable and achievable outcomes in accelerated timeframes.


Last year’s workforce effectiveness/productivity rhetoric from the government hasn’t been enough to address the issue of significant labor shortages. Action by government and business is now required quickly if are to avoid ‘running out’ of the people/skills needed to deliver a healthy and growing Australian economy. A quick sample of Australian Financial Review articles from last week highlight a range of themes which outline the imminent and significant risk faced by Australia from increasing labor shortages:

·         Peter Ruehl highlights the challenges of the ‘big Australia’ debate, the weakness of successive Australian governments to address this issue, and the damage being perpetrated to Australia’s future by a myopic, anti-immigrant minority. Over 140,000 skilled migrants remain caught in a bureaucratic logjam while Australia has more work than workers

·         Continued upward wages pressure arising from current talent shortages in the Australian economy, and its consequent impact on Australian competitiveness

·         Predictions of further reductions in Australia’s unemployment rate from 5% to 4.1% in 2011-12 (Australia is an economy approaching near full employment). Talent shortages are here to stay and will only increase in the next 2-5 years.

·         The impact that  Australia’s multispeed economy is having on increasing the negative competition for talent between different industry sectors. Over time, expect key industries to be cannibalised to meet the needs of industries with more compelling value propositions e.g. Manufacturing, Retail, Hospitality industries being used as potential labor sources by the Resources sector

·         The increasing trend to search for executive talent from overseas sources to meet Australian business demand

·         Increasing calls from business to the government that budget measures address Australia’s ability to expand capacity or enhance productivity


While the last point made by the Australian Industry Group’s, Heather Ridout, reads as a bet both ways it also highlights the need to address the two sides of the workforce management equation. In the past, ‘optimisation’ efforts have been primarily about reducing heads to reduce cost. Going forward, ‘workforce optimisation’ needs to be about reducing the demand for more talent, and maximising the output from the talent that already exists. As practitioners, we must help organisations to address the ‘demand’ side of the workforce management equation by focussing on the following:

·         Working out what is really required from an organisation’s human capital (critical roles, critical skills not able to be done through technology/other means), and revising this on an ongoing basis

·         Helping organisations to craft and deliver compelling value propositions to attract and retain the required human capital

·         Segmenting the required human capital to deliver targeted workforce management solutions/interventions

·         Improving the use of automation, processes, technology, and decision support to reduce the need for human intervention

·         Using different methods of management, organisation and motivation to minimise the need for supervision

·         Creating effective and accelerated techniques for inducting, developing and/or re-training individuals and workforces

·         Encouraging the use of outsourced/offshore resources in appropriate ways – effectively utilising ‘contingent’ workforces

·         Leveraging both formal and informal organisational networks to get work done efficiently

·         Improving knowledge and/or intellectual capital management and accessibility across an organisation


Some thoughts for consideration…

Our sub-conscious assumptions, poor idea selling, and lack of staying power kills organisational innovation

Yesterday, I had the privilege of hearing Professor Costas Markides from London Business School speak on innovation. Here are five key things you need to know about innovation. 1. Assumptions kill creativity. Assumptions are implicit and sub-conscious. As a consultant, I need to both challenge my own assumptions and help others to challenge their assumptions. Note that it’s all very well to tell someone to “think outside the box”, but if the box is our everyday sub-conscious assumptions, then we actually we can’t see the box. “Where is the box?” becomes a first critical question to enable innovation. As businesses seeking to innovate, we need to ask the following questions: “Who really is the customer? What am I really selling? How really should we compete in this market? What business are we really in?” 2. The Knowledge Doing Gap. A critical problem is that people and organisations usually know what to do, but they don’t actually do it. A “burning platform” gets people moving in all directions but doesn’t deliver innovation. A compelling vision gets people to agree on the future but doesn’t necessarily deliver consistent momentum. To create aligned momentum and innovation, organisations need a positive crisis. Instead of framing change either as a threat or an opportunity, you need to frame change and innovation challenges as both threat and opportunity. Frame both threat and opportunity at the same time – create a Positive Crisis3. Create/change the organisational environment in order to deliver innovation. Research has found that while 30% of behaviour is determined by personality, 70% of behavior is determined by social context. For example, we expect others to do something about a situation rather than ourselves. So change/shape the environment to encourage innovation. Framing problems is critical to helping innovation.4. Just because it is a good idea doesn’t mean it will catch on. We must also be able to effectively sell the idea to others. Selling effectiveness depends on who is selling, how it is being sold, what is being sold, and who is buying. In order to foster/deliver innovation, we need to ask ourselves how credible we are. We need to minimize disruption, and to lead by example.5. Small changes in social context, and/or your behavior, can have a major impact on people and organisations. Don’t try to change the world, or to implement ‘big bang’ innovation. Instead, act your way into a new way of thinking. Use pilots, make work fun, implement in a unit/team and expand from there!

Leaders can transform culture & behaviour by uncovering & shifting the frequent unconscious decisions made by groups every moment

As an advocate of ‘appreciative inquiry’, I don’t believe in spending too much time analysing the problems (what is going wrong) in an organisation’s current state. However, I do believe that effective transformation requires a good understanding (without judgement) of the subject you are trying to change. Secondly, it requires identification of the ‘key creative forces’ that occurred in the past to bring the subject into being in its current form. Both these steps apply to the transformation of organisational cultures.

So if organisational culture is the subject, what is culture? There are many definitions of culture in management literature. For me, culture is that attribute of a group of people which illustrates the group’s purpose, what it actually values, and its ‘war wounds’ (i.e. the group’s history together, including its multiple shared experiences related to collective problem solving). Schein defines culture as “a pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group has learned as it solved problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and therefore to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relation to those problems”. These assumptions are the unconscious decisions made by a group, affecting how they: (1)  perceive the world, (2) define success; and (3) solve existential challenges to be successful.

Early in a group’s formation, conscious decisions are made to solve specific problems. Decisions leading to success are repeated by the group, and if further success is achieved, they become increasingly automatic, forming an ongoing and often unconscious part of the way the group behaves going forward. If a new member joins the group, that member is most likely to build rapport by behaving in similar ways as the established members (in particular modelling the behaviours of specific influential members), thus perpetuating the culture.

However, a group’s external world is becoming increasingly complex, and the pace of change continues to increase. As Beck & Cowan share in their book ‘Spiral Dynamics’, tomorrow’s problems won’t be solved by today’s solutions. The challenge for any leader/group/organisation is that the “pattern of shared assumptions” that led to past successes may not do so in the future. As existential challenges change, so must the decisions and behaviour of the leader and group seeking to address them. Thus, a critical enabler of future success is a leader’s/groups ability to review and shift entrenched “patterns of shared assumptions”. To do this, they must understand the ‘key creative forces’ that occurred in the past to create the organisation’s culture in its current form.

When faced with changing organisational culture, what can leaders/groups do? Shift to conscious decision making and behavioural choices. Here are some suggestions for consideration:

1.       Adopt the 3rd/observer position. As an immediate quick win, this technique involves the ability to both be in a situation, as well as be an impartial observer of the situation. If executed well, it enables an individual/leader to be: (1) actively involved in the milieu; (2) evaluating the responses of other parties as well as their own; and (3) identifying the deeper/unconscious assumptions/processes shaping individual/collective perceptions and outcomes within the milieu. Learnings from this technique can enable the group to surface and test key assumptions, stop unproductive behaviours, and shift the group toward a more productive outcome.

2.       Turn the ‘unconscious’ into the ‘conscious’. Another quick win involves leaders and/or groups challenging existing decision processes/behaviour for fit and utility with the challenges of today. Ask questions like: What is different about today compared to last week, and what is our response? What needs to be different as a result of this meeting? What are we really trying to achieve from our time together? What could we do differently together to shake things up? What new approaches to problem solving and/or ‘solutioning’ can we apply? What questions should be asking right now? What did we just assume in making that decision – are those assumptions valid in this instance?

3.       Become a ‘part-time anthropologist’. Without living/getting caught in the past (hence ‘part-time’), seek to understand key formation/development moments in a group’s history. Ask questions like: What problems has the group typically had to solve? What decisions have they made in the past? Which decisions led to success/failure? What barriers did the group overcome to get to ‘today’? What tipping points/moments of greatness exist in the groups historical timeline? What is the group’s story so far?

4.       Explore organisational strategy implications. Having established the tasks/problems which gave rise to the existing culture, a leader must then understand what tasks/problems are to be addressed by the group in the future. The degree to which these future activities (and how they can be tackled) differ from those of the past will provide the leader with insights into the scope and scale of the culture change required to deliver success. Clearly articulating the barriers, enablers and activities related to strategy execution will provide the leader and group members with crucial information for affecting cultural change.

5.       Focus on the ‘Right Few’. Schein, Katzenbach and others advocate that successful culture change involves not attempting to change the culture directly,  but rather it involves focussing on the few critical behaviours which matters most in key populations. If this position is linked to the previous review of organisational strategy, then future success involves leaders and groups: (1) identifying the critical few elements/initiatives of the strategy which deliver the biggest/most immediate benefits; (2) applying focussed attention to implement the few key organisational capabilities (people, process, technology) required to deliver prioritised strategy elements; and (3) changing and managing the few critical behaviours aligned to prioritised strategy and capability execution in key employee populations.

Keen to hear your thoughts…

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