Are you building the skills for success in 2030?

A report into consulting skills for the next decade has lessons for all kinds of organisation

The Centre for Management Consulting Excellence, a pro bono organisation set up in 2017 to foster excellence in consulting through greater links with research, launched a report into Consulting Skills for 2030 this week. Drawing on interviews and surveys with consultants and “non-consultants” – i.e. potential buyers of consulting services (or if you’re being cynical, people with “real jobs”) the report comes to some interesting conclusions about what we will all be focusing on in 10 years’ time.


Respondents were asked to rank various skill/technology areas according to their likely impact, from very significant down to negligible. Perhaps surprisingly, Cyber Security emerged as the area that most respondents rated as very significant or significant, with AI – which is what the report writers had originally expected to be the most impactful – beaten into second place and Robotics ranked lowest, just below the Internet of Things.

Report cover featuring a robot

Cyber Security is the biggest risk faced by organisations now and survey respondents felt that knowledge about the topic in most organisations is inadequate, with a poor understanding of risks and potential solutions. It’s thus a massive roadblock on the way to a productive digital future.

In terms of skillsets required, technical knowledge is almost certainly not sufficient as Cyber Security experts need to be able to combine a deep insight into the area with an ability to “sell” these ideas into the C-Suite and generate an understanding of and commitment to the security strategies as well as the complex regulatory and legislative environment that will prevail.

AI – who knows?

Although it came second in terms of impact, Artificial (or Augmented) Intelligence produced a huge polarisation of views from respondents, with a number thinking that the impact would be later than 2030 and others thinking that there would be considerable competition and impact for large and medium-sized firms in the period 2020-2030, as these firms would be investing in the area.

One potential impact is on the traditional “pyramid” model where large firms generate revenue from deploying relatively large numbers of lower-paid consultants on more routine jobs such a data and business analysis. These would be eroded by the increased adoption of AI technologies to automate these jobs – an impact likely to be felt in all types of businesses, not just consulting.


Whilst most of the skill areas highlighted in the report point to a deepening level of technical knowledge, the impact of, and need for “timeless” skills such as stakeholder management, project and change management was felt to be very significant by the majority of respondents. The subject matter will evolve over time, but these “softer” skills will be just as critical.

Construction workers
Building T-shaped skills can be a challenge

The classic consultant skill set is often described as “T-shaped” which is to say that you have a deep area of expertise and then a broad set of skills that you use and grow over time. Typically, these will be the softer, change and stakeholder management skills. The challenge organisations face is that there are an increasing number of areas that require deep skills and the people who possess them are “I-shaped” – deep technical specialists with fewer of the broad skills that will help them get their deep knowledge across. This is a challenge not only for consultancy firms but for the companies that buy their services or develop them in house.

The client knows best

One final point from the report is worth emphasising: those respondents from non-consulting organisations estimated that the impact from the new areas would be more significant than the consultants did. This suggests that consultants are confident in their ability to absorb new areas of knowledge (not as someone at the launch event on 20th March suggested, in the taxi on the way to the client), whereas the buyers of consultancy are perhaps a little more sceptical.

Predicting the future is a notoriously unreliable sport: no-one foresaw the rise of the likes of Uber and similar models when mapping apps were starting to be developed, so apprehension about areas of new technology may be justified. It’s the unknown quantity: people who can develop innovative capabilities on the back of these technologies that represents the greatest threat.

The consultancies that can successfully ride the waves of change that new technologies bring will be those that learn and adapt the fastest and pass that insight on to their clients.

Perhaps the question businesses should be asking of their consultants is not “tell me what you know, and what it means for my business” but “tell me how you learn, and how you can help me learn”.

How strong is your “Alt-CV”?

Paying attention to the things not on a CV can be just as important as the things that are on it

Like most people I like to keep my CV and LinkedIn profile up-to-date. I think my CV and profile do a pretty good job of representing the “work me” – the qualities and experience that you might want to hire me or my company for.

But there’s another side that’s not revealed in the standard CV: it’s what I call my “Alt-CV” – the alternative CV that contains things that rarely, if ever, make it onto a regular CV.

It’s all about me

As I’ve got older, I’ve noticed that some of my contemporaries’ LinkedIn profiles have started to including straplines such as “lady of leisure at retired” and “golf course tester at taking some time out”. With that in mind I decided my headline/summary on my Alt-CV should include things like:

  • Part-time barista – I make a pretty good cappuccino
  • Baker – I’ve started baking my own bread and have to say the results are pretty good
  • Regular contributor to BBC Radio 3 – I regularly email their Essential Classics show in the morning with “playlist suggestions” and occasionally get a shout-out (although for a classical music show that’s probably the wrong term)
  • Guitar collector – I own a total of six guitars and occasionally play them

These are deliberately light-hearted but, whilst they won’t get me hired – although I have deployed an acoustic guitar on a couple of occasions in a work context – they represent some of the things that are important to me.   

Monkey business

A few years ago, I had my first one to one with a member of my new team. I suggested that if we were to discuss development and career progression it should be in the context of what she wanted to do with her life. The result surprised me: “I’d really like to work with wild animals” she said. Barely suppressing a quip that some sales managers in the company were pretty untamed, I said that I couldn’t directly advise on that career path but if that was a personal objective, she ought to see how she could work towards it. Following a reorganisation shortly afterwards I moved to a new team, so my career development advice was apparently short-lived. However, I got an invitation about a year later to the team member’s leaving drinks as she was about to take a three-month sabbatical. At the event she thanked me publicly for giving her the nudge to pursue her ambition: she was about to spend her time volunteering in three different animal sanctuaries in the Far East…

I’d like to be able to say she went on to run a ground-breaking conservation charity but, in fact, she came back after her trip and decided that, whilst it had been immensely enjoyable, she had decided that she didn’t want to pursue that as a life goal after all and went back to her previous job. The last I heard she was still there and considering weekend volunteering at a wildlife centre near her home.


Whilst I don’t claim my career advice in the above example was especially innovative or unique, I was implicitly acknowledging that my colleague had a life outside of work and that that was just as important as her life at work. Allowing people to bring their “whole self” to work is key in helping them feel more fulfilled and engaged and results in better performance, with a knock-on beneficial effect on customers and the bottom line.

NextTen’s Richard Horner has turned this into an approach – the Framework of Champions – that provides a systematic method of helping employees align their own personal purpose with that of the organisation. Companies that have adopted this have reported dramatic improvements in growth rates, financial performance and engagement with some areas showing results inside a month.

Whilst you’ll always find high-performing people who want to keep their work and personal lives entirely separate, there’s much to be gained as a leader and a team-member from having a strong “Alt-CV” and making it visible.

Is democracy all it’s cracked up to be?

The UK’s Brexit debate is about democracy as much as its relationship with Europe. It’s an important debate for workplaces too

If you were trying to get around central London last Saturday, you’d most likely have found 700,000 people getting in your way blocking the route from Park Lane to Parliament Square. The issue that caused this unprecedented turnout was Brexit – an inescapable one if you live in the UK and turn on the news or open a newspaper – and specifically the desire for a second referendum to approve or reject any deal negotiated with the European Union.

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

Winston Churchill, 1947

The debate on Brexit has split the country, and it feels that, as much we are debating whether we should be part of the EU or not, we are also debating what democracy means, with specific questions such as:

  • Does a slim majority (52% in favour of leaving versus 48% remaining) mean the matter is settled, once and for all?
  • Did people know what they were voting for and should they have another go now that they are more informed?

and, more importantly…

  • What on earth has this got to do with customer-centricity?

Winston Churchill famously said that “democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time” but I feel that in the workplace most bosses only heard the first part of that sentence.

There’s an immense gain to be had from having a workforce that turns up to work feeling that what they do makes a difference and that translates directly into happier customers.

So why is it that most companies are run like tinpot dictatorships?


According to Gallup’s 2017 global workplace survey, “85% of employees are not engaged or actively disengaged at work” with an estimated impact or $7 trillion in lost productivity. So, the business impact should be clear even if we don’t consider customer satisfaction, which would add even more benefits on top of the productivity gains.

But if the economic argument is so blindingly obvious we’re clearly not buying it.


Control freak

Somewhere in our genetic make-up we’re hardwired to be selfish: sharing what you have achieved by hard work, guile or luck with people outside your family/tribal boundaries doesn’t come naturally to us. Business leaders and founders who have built something successful have an innate reluctance to share the fruits of their labours out of fear that others might spoil what they have created.

It takes a maverick to achieve something that goes against the grain. Enter Ricardo Semler, the archetypal maverick leader whose Brazilian engineering group Semco is one of the relatively few companies to be organised on principles of active worker participation and self-determination. With its flat hierarchy, self-determination, and peer-set salaries it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s no denying it works: Semco is still in business and has evolved in the 25 years since Semler’s account of his approach “Maverick” was published – its evolution potentially attributable to its flexible, bottom-up approach.

More equal than others

Increased worker participation doesn’t automatically mean businesses should turn into workers’ cooperatives, but it wouldn’t do too much harm to adopt some of the principles to improve engagement. The John Lewis Partnership is hardly a bastion of socialism, but because the workforce consists of partners, everyone has a share in the success of the business. And it’s no coincidence that John Lewis has high levels of customer satisfaction and advocacy.

If you want to get your people more engaged, there are three things you need in place to increase the level of participation:

1. Articulate a compelling purpose

I can’t overstate the importance of a compelling purpose – your organisation’s why – to unite the organisation and give people a framework in which operate.

2. Change the conversation around leadership

This sounds like a big task but as a leader you can start to shift people’s perception of what being a leader means. If the history of the organisation means that a top-down, objective-driven style is prevalent, you’ll need to actively demonstrate and model a more participative approach and encourage those leaders elsewhere in the organisation who do the same.

3. Provide avenues for people to participate and bring more of themselves to work

We’ve outlined the Framework of Champions elsewhere on The Next Ten Years – once you introduce that you’re instantly raising the level of participation

Protest and survive

Dissenting workers (or members of the public) don’t tend to take to the streets until all other avenues have been exhausted. It’s blindingly obvious that social media now provides a platform for all and sundry to vent their opinions and whilst the manner in which people express those opinions may leave much to be desired, it doesn’t negate the importance of those views.

The challenge for leaders is to detect the conversations: I’m aware of many groups on Facebook for example where disgruntled private groups can express opinions about “the management”. Discovering these might require a degree of detective work – also known as talking to your employees – but, just as companies need to take seriously the feedback from customers on social media, the issues raised by employees are also important. Relying on the annual employee survey just won’t cut it in this day and age.

When people protest about something, it means they care deeply about it, so those who complain about their company aren’t just whingeing, they’re usually doing it because they have a view on something the company is or isn’t doing – and that view is important.

Keeping your ear to the ground and encouraging – polite – debate is as healthy for workplaces as it is for countries.

Jerks at work – now running a country near you!

You need industrial strength processes to ensure bullies get the boot

Hearing the phrase “a damning report” on the one o’clock news is usually enough to get me to prick up my ears, but when it’s a damning report on a culture of bullying and intimidation in the UK’s House of Commons, I’m definitely interested. It’s not out of some prurient interest in the suffering of workers but because I’m interested in when organisations have a cultural failure and what they do to put it right.

In the case of Parliament, it looks like a massive failure and an insufficient response.

The report by Dame Laura Cox QC into bullying and sexual harassment cases followed an investigation by the BBC’s Newsnight programme into complaints about a number of MPs. Her findings make depressing reading for anyone who likes to think that the “mother of parliaments” might be reflecting the social mores of the 21st Century. Sadly not, as Dame Laura details alleged sexual harassment by MPs with women reporting abuse in “vulgar, gender-related terms” and being “repeatedly propositioned”, along with accounts of “inappropriate touching”.

Others reported regular instances of shouting, swearing, belittling behaviour or staff being routinely overbearing or confrontational towards their colleagues.

Yes, jerks at work are alive and well in the organisation that’s charged with running the country.

Due process

Most worrying is the criticism of the decision by a Commons working group to implement a new code of conduct before the inquiry was complete. The complaints procedure this would include was based on a 2014 policy which – clearly from the evidence in the report – was discredited and distrusted.

And this is the key point: in order to root out this kind of behaviour you need credible and robust processes to allow affected staff to complain and have those complaints taken seriously. It isn’t just unpleasant for the recipients of harassment but makes bad business sense, since the “stifling of potential, the blighting of careers and the loss of talented and dedicated employees, many of them women” as the report says, carries an economic cost as well as a psychological one.

Leadership fail

The Cox report highlights a massive failure of leadership in the organisation: it takes courage and principles to get rid of toxic members of staff and these are sorely lacking at present. In fact she goes as far to say that the continued presence of some senior leaders – the terms of reference of the report mean they must remain anonymous – means that “Some individuals will want to think very carefully about whether they are the right people to press the reset button and to do what is required to deliver that change in the best interests of the house”.

Leaving individuals to think doesn’t sound like an industrial strength process, but it’s a start.

When there is evidence of widespread assholery in another organisation it’s tempting to point the finger and feel a sense of moral superiority – criticising politicians is a close to a national sport in most countries and the UK is no exception – but we should also ask ourselves how much bad behaviour we tacitly accept in our own workplaces.

If you’re not part of the solution – i.e. actively working to ensure all forms of harassment are dealt with root and branch – then you’re definitely part of the problem.



Is your business built on “alternative facts”?

It’s a natural tendency, but you should worry about the consequences

Like many people I’m sceptical about the labelling of what people – typically leaders of superpowers, or journalists – say or write as “fake news” or “alternative facts”, and worried that this kind of mud-slinging will lead to a general decrease of trust, when that’s something the world needs more of, not less.

But then I discovered two things:

  • I’ve got a tendency to use “alternative facts” when it suits me
  • It’s something that we’re hard-wired to do and – for better or worse – has made us the dominant species on the planet.

And business leaders need to be aware of the dual-edged sword that this evolutionary advantage gives us.

True confessions

I was picked up by a client recently for appearing to state something as an irrefutable truth when – in truth – it was an observation of some behaviours that indicated an area of improvement. I apologised for my oversight and we moved on. Afterwards, I reflected on what I had done: in my eagerness to reinforce something that my client was already aware of I had over-edited my point to remove almost all the words that had originally suggested it was an indicative observation. The result: drifting into the domain of alternative facts.

Then, by coincidence, I picked up the book I am currently reading – Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – where author Yuval Noah Harari makes the assertion that everything that homo sapiens has achieved is built on fiction. What he means by this is that the reason that homo sapiens managed to achieve dominance on the planet – and eliminated other human species such as Neanderthals – was that we developed the ability to tell stories about other people, about what we or they had done and about things that we wanted to achieve, thus enabling large groups (ideally around 150) to cooperate in hunting or other joint endeavours.

This is something I had realised whenever I had stopped to ask myself faintly philosophical questions about why things have a monetary value, why wars start and why so many people like Ed Sheeran. We all agree that certain things are the way they are, largely without question, because we accept the story behind them.

Does this matter?

This realisation made me feel slightly better about exaggerating something to make a point: clearly I was building on an innate human capability to make stuff up and to tell a better story.

But beyond that, realising that the stories we tell each other can have a profound effect is the most important trait that leaders at all levels possess. Leaders that tell stories well, and with authenticity, are more likely to achieve lasting success than those that don’t.

You can see this in the world of customer experience: if I have a good experience I’ll tell someone about it; if I have a bad experience, I’ll most likely tell even more people, maybe exaggerating a little to make the story more interesting.

Brands of course do this all the time, and perhaps should do more of it. Many years ago, I used to stay regularly at a Marriott hotel whilst working in Vienna. At the time Marriott was running a newspaper ad campaign with stories of excellent customer service, including the time a concierge had loaned his cufflinks to a customer who had an important meeting and had forgotten his. I thought of testing this out and turning up to the front desk with un-linked cuffs but lacked the chutzpah to try it, so I never found out how prevalent this excellent service culture was. Looking at some stories of service it’s quite a thing in Marriott and other hotels.

True or false?

You might be forgiven for thinking that if success comes from telling the best stories we might as well just make stuff up to suit our personal or business agendas. But there’s a catch: it helps if the stories are true. A tribal leader who tells people of a great herd of bison to hunt just over the hill isn’t going to last long if that proves to be incorrect just as a business leader who paints a compelling vision based on empowering their workforce is going to have a tough job if a significant number of people find redundancy notices in their inboxes the next morning. And if I had carried out my testing of Marriott’s cufflink-lending service and found it wanting, I’d have moved to another hotel pretty quickly (maybe).

In a world where fake news can spread instantaneously, and alternative facts can seem like a viable alternative to actual facts, leaders at all levels have a responsibility to increase the integrity of their messages they or their companies send out. We might be merely human but that doesn’t stop us taking responsibility for our evolutionary tendencies.

Jerks at work can seriously affect your health

And other aspects of performance can be affected as well

According to recent reports the cardiac surgery unit at my local hospital has a mortality rate almost twice the national average and the main reason given is a “toxic atmosphere” and bickering between two rival camps of surgeons. Since I’m an outpatient at the cardiology unit in the same hospital this is a source of both personal and professional concern for me. On a personal level it’s slightly worrying since I am expecting to have a minor cardiac procedure there later this year, and on a professional level it’s another demonstration of how people who behave like jerks can mitigate the best endeavours of an otherwise doubtless highly competent team.

It’s uppermost in my mind at the moment, not only because of my supraventricular tachycardia but also because I have just finished reading Robert Sutton’s excellent book “The No-Asshole Rule: Building a Civilised Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t”. In what amounts to a manifesto for removing jerks (my preferred term, although Sutton devotes a substantial intro to his rationale for using “asshole” – he’s American obviously) from workplaces.

The most convincing argument for me is the concept of TCA (Total Cost of Assholes) which shows that it’s not just the ‘soft’ cultural issues that are impacted, there’s a direct cost impact as well. When you count up the reduced productivity of the people affected by bad behaviour and the time spent appeasing, counselling or disciplining the perpetrators, together with the management overhead, legal costs, settlement fees etc. you find that it’s just not worth recruiting the brilliant salesperson, surgeon or CEO in the first place.

House calls

But, I hear you ask, don’t we have to tolerate a bit of jerkiness or assholery from leaders just to get things done? This is a tricky question and one which Sutton tackles head-on: you occasionally need to be direct or even downright rude to make things happen – he refers to this as being a “temporary asshole” – but maintains that being a full-time jerk or “certified asshole” is, in the long term, counter-productive and injurious to business performance.

Sadly, our popular myths and stories often feature heroes and heroines with significant personality defects who nonetheless solve the crime or carry out life-saving surgery as a result of their controversial insights. In the latter case, we’ve often discussed in NextTen whether we’d prefer the fictional Dr House as the surgeon you’d want to diagnose your mystery illness rather than someone more “touchy-feely”…

The heart of the matter

But back to St George’s – and real life – the newspaper reports of the “dark atmosphere” in the cardiac surgery unit are frustratingly light on detail and, as always, there may be other reasons for the high mortality rate: as a teaching hospital St George’s often has the more complex cases to deal with. But what struck me was that out of a team of 39 people there was a view that the environment was toxic, but nothing appeared to have been done about it.

It appears that management are now taking action but ensuring a healthy workplace – in all senses of the word – requires that those on the receiving end of sustained jerk behaviour are able to raise their concerns and have them dealt with rapidly and constructively.

It’s not exaggerating too much to say that, in this case, it could be a matter of life or death.

Could you care more? Avoiding the Guaranteed Formula for Failure

Leading with compassion makes you a better leader

How many times have you said “I couldn’t care less what they think” in relation to a work or personal matter?

It feels good doesn’t it? You can stand alone, proud of your own position and invincible point of view?

Unfortunately, it’s also the most corrosive attitude you can take in the modern workplace.

Here’s why: I call it the Guaranteed Formula for Failure (GaFF, if you prefer).

We’ve spent years reinventing the way that organisations are structured: streamlined and automated to deliver better, faster and/or cheaper than the competition. We’ve got smarter and smarter people working in these organisations: we hire the best we can get and get them to perform to help make us even better, faster or cheaper. Those who don’t perform don’t rise to the top and may be encouraged, gently or otherwise, to work elsewhere. A bit of constructive stress keeps everyone on their toes and striving to be better and what they do, every day.

A guaranteed formula for success, right?


The formula I outline above is an idealised one if your workforce consists of machines and, since that day’s a long way off, organisations need to realise that they are made up of human beings who, whatever you may like to think, turn up each day with their own set of quirks, grievances, stresses and strains. Managing that diversity constructively is the hallmark of truly effective leadership. And that requires one quality that’s not often talked about: compassion.

Café society

These thoughts came to mind after a highly stimulating “Knowledge Café”, organised by knowledge management expert David Gurteen. David’s been running these for last 16 years after realising that at the typical PowerPoint-slide-and-speaker-based conference, the most interesting parts were the conversations that occurred in the coffee breaks – often between strangers. He designed the cafés to stimulate active and engaging conversation amongst attendees.

At a recent event, Mark Coles, from the NHS London Leadership Academy introduced the topic of “Paying Attention to Attentiveness” – essentially how we can care more for each other in the business environment, or perhaps whether that was asking too much in an increasingly pressured workplace.

Through Mark Coles’ introductory talk and the ensuing discussion groups taking the topic as a start point, I found a few themes starting to emerge:

  • Pressures on organisations particularly when running at full capacity (a problem the NHS is experiencing in spades right now) mitigates against what might be called “compassionate leadership” – leaders are challenged to find the time and space for their teams to share what’s bothering them. But if you’re not listening to conversations, how can you be aware of the challenges your people face?
  • Leaders and managers may not recognise that they have a “duty of care” to their teams, although this is the basis of genuine employee engagement.
  • “Listening cleanly” or authentic listening (listening without layering on your own prejudices and opinions) is a skill that leaders may need to practice.
  • Line managers are growers of talent and the much-maligned middle manager has a key role as motivator of change. This is true even in “holacratic” organisations such as Zappo’s that still have middle managers even if they may not be referred to as such.

Against therapy

The above list might suggest that businesses need to turn themselves into massive therapy groups but that’s a massive misconception: therapy has its place but only for those who genuinely need it. However, what the discussions in the Knowledge Café recognised is that the effective leaders created space to manage the conflicting opinions, stresses and strains that are an inevitable by-product of any workplace.

Some structures and techniques were suggested that people had found to work: I was particularly struck by one software team leader who used an “escalation unicorn” as a means for her team members to raise issues. The unicorn (a toy one, obviously) was held by the member dealing with a critical issue that threatened the team’s progress, as a means of signalling that they were working on it. The team leader had created an environment where working on the hard stuff – and having hold of the unicorn – was seen as a motivator: dealing with difficult issues was therefore positively encouraged.

Another technique that was cited was originated by KM doyen Dave Snowden and is known as “ritual dissent”. This involves teams or groups offering criticism or support to members while the recipient’s back is turned. This both depersonalises and legitimises constructive criticism and is particularly effective in validating new ideas.

I’m not advocating either of these as magic bullet solutions to the challenge of managing diverse groups of individuals, but it is important leaders create “psychological safety” to allow dissent. As I pointed out in relation to the recent – indeed ongoingdebacle with TSB’s IT systems, it’s those dissenting voices that may point out the truth of the situation.

Passion and compassion

Compassion is a word that crops up mostly in relation to situations outside of the workplace: it’s what we feel when something awful happens to someone – whether that’s someone we know, or someone affected by a disaster on the other side of the world. It stirs us to action, helping us to do something, even if that’s donating to a relief effort or lending an ear to a friend who’s going through a hard time.

There’s no reason why such a basic human quality should be excluded from the workplace. In fact, it makes workplaces much more effective: it means that leaders and managers, far from losing their focus on the hard performance criteria their teams have to deliver, recognise that these are not simple diktats that have to be obeyed, but negotiated to allow each team member to deliver according to their skills and development needs.

It’s a quality that underpins NextTen’s approach to customer success, using the F.A.S.T. principles originated by Gordon Tredgold. As customer experience makes the evolution from “nice-to-have” to business essential, there will be many tough conversations to be had.

Those firms that hold them in a compassionate and caring environment will be the ones that achieve real success.

Want to get results? Stop being results-driven!

Remove the obvious and focus on the meaningful

Look through any selection of LinkedIn profiles and you’ll find the usual array of chest-beating descriptions of people’s skills and attributes. I’m not knocking this – it’s a marketplace; you’re there to sell yourself – but there’s one descriptor that’s really come to irk me lately: “results-driven”.

Results-driven – what does it actually mean?

Think about it, it’s semantic nonsense: results are what happen as an outcome when you do something. Do it badly and you’ll get a bad result; do it brilliantly and you’ll get a better one.

OK, I realise that, in the world of business jargon, results-driven is a shorthand for “look at me, I have a track record of getting great results, so hire me” but what the statement omits is much more important: what kind of results do I get motivated by and what kind of results do I expect and encourage from the people who work with me?

As Gordon Tredgold argues in his book FAST, transparency is one of the keys to successful leadership, so it’s a shame that we hide who we are behind meaningless clichés. But if transparency – in this case, sharing what kind of results get us out of bed in the morning – is something to be encouraged, there’s a problem that we face. It’s this:

We often don’t know what results we want

And this is compounded by a further problem: we don’t spend enough time talking about them. Particularly when we might find that we want different things.

Find the why

Simon Sinek gets to the root of things with his work on “finding your ‘why’”, but it’s a sad fact that not many people have a clear view of their “why” – their core purpose – and businesses have even less of one.

I’ve found that senior executives are more than comfortable talking about what they are doing or plan to do and how it might be done, but rarely stop to examine why they are doing it. It’s understandable – it’s not an easy conversation as it involves each person triangulating different results:

  • The results I’m judged on by those outside my team – e.g. sales, customer satisfaction, share price
  • The results my team and/or peers expect from me – a mix of behaviours and measurable outcomes
  • The results I want for myself, which could be anything to meet a range of material emotional and spiritual needs.

When you start to examine your own responses to those three sets of results you begin to realise that unpacking what being results-driven means is massively complex and, quite possibly, if you were to be fully “results-driven” you would never get anything done as you would be constantly working out which set of results you were trying to drive.

Keep it simple

Better to adopt an approach taken by John Maeda in his book The Laws of Simplicity, which states that simplicity is “subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful”. Taking this approach means not fretting about the obvious results – increased sales, better satisfaction etc – but focusing on the meaningful – how do those results support the purpose of the organisation?

That’s a conversation that’s well worth having.

No time for poetry? You’re missing a trick

Breaks – for poems – can raise your productivity

World Poetry Day? The very thought fills you with foreboding, probably as a result of being forced to learn or critique some piece by a Dead White Male while you were at school. And now you’re a whizz-bang business leader there’s no time for any fripperies – right?


I’m not going to make a case for force-feeding your contact centres with inspirational poems of the day or worse, have your staff sing the company song before starting a shift (probably because you don’t have one – if so, good on you).

But it’s worth remembering that taking time out to read a poem gives you a few minutes of reflection and according to many writers, taking a break is a key productivity tool.

Confession time: I’m quite bad a taking regular breaks and can often let tasks drag on for too long before recognising that I’m no longer productive – I suspect many other people are too.

In business, taking a break is still see as somehow shirking: can you remember the last time anyone in a meeting suggested a stretch break before the meeting heads into it’s second, less productive hour. A poem break would be an even better idea.

I’m keeping this short so that if you’ve taken a break to read it, you can soon get back to whatever you were doing. Or maybe read a poem? If you want one now, here’s one of my favourite bits of Shakespeare which often feels relevant to my working day. It’s Brutus, in Julius Caesar, before going into battle…

“O, that a man might know
The end of this day’s business ere it come!
But it sufficeth that the day will end,
And then the end is known.”

In search of a magic number? Try 150

Bear this number in mind when aligning your organisation around the customer.

It’s become more than a cliché but people (including me) are still writing articles with a compelling number in the headline as these are thought to get people clicking more avidly than a title without. (I suppose Paul Simon’s hit “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” would have had less impact if it had been titled “How to Leave Your Lover”, or “Leaving Your Lover: Some Thoughts”.)

This week I’ve been attracted to the number 150, and you should be too, as it gives organisation designers a useful rule of thumb on the effective size of an organisational unit.

The origin of this thought came from looking at the website of AND Digital. This innovative and rapidly-growing digital development business is organised into a number of Squads – small teams with a mix of developers and analysts covering a range of experience and six of these Squads make up autonomous Clubs, each of which has its own club house and a total focus on its own people and clients.

Club size is limited to 100 people and this chimed with me as, despite working in organisations of over 100,000 employees I have always felt more involved with a much smaller unit. And it also reminded me of a book I had read – “Managing the Human Animal” by London Business School professor Nigel Nicholson – which identifies 150 as the maximum number of members of a kinship group.

150 ways…

Turns out this number is no accident but an outcome of our evolution as a species. Nicholson’s book is concerned with evolutionary psychology – and specifically how our modern society and the way it is organised does not pay enough attention to the slower evolutionary pace of our brains’ development.

The number of 150 was arrived at by psychologist Robin Dunbar, who looked at the size of the neocortex – crudely put, the bit of our brain that makes us human – and the size of primate communities. He found that, for humans, 150 is the maximum size of the community that our brains can navigate. As Nicholson points out, our evolution as semi-nomadic kinship groups meant that our brains developed to cope with this optimum size – any larger and the group was too large to support itself, and if too small it could not generate enough resource.

What has this to do with supercompany performance?

In the case of AND Digital this was a conscious design choice based on the Rule of 150 and their current recruitment drive suggests a high rate of growth. But I’m not going to suggest that copying their model exactly would be right for everyone or that doing so would automatically create higher levels of performance.

Make a new plan, Stan

Companies that want to become more customer-centric certainly will have to create a new design for their organisations. Sadly, many do not and paste customer experience on top of what they already do – hence the lack of impact for many. I was pleased to hear that one major UK bank has recently moved its 15,000 IT and change staff into 15 integrated teams organised around key colleague or customer journeys. This is an excellent start point but the effectiveness of such an organisation will be in the ability to make each unit of (presumably) 1,000 people – a tribe in Nicholson and Dunbar’s work – work effectively across smaller groups.

Making sure such redesigns – and the processes that support them – go with the grain of human evolution rather than against it is a subtle and sophisticated art. But as a guideline, bearing the number 150 in mind is not a bad start.

(Thanks to AND Digital advisory board member Mark Zawacki for sowing the seed of this piece in my mind.)