It begins with getting agreement on what the strategy is for the business because if you’ve got the strategy at the senior level and it’s agreed and crystallized, then we can then turn that strategy into a plan.
Welcome to our interview with Russell Dalgleish. Russell is the Exolta Managing Partner, a Strategist, Innovator, Coach and Conference Speaker.
Welcome Russell, and thank you for contributing to the questions that are at the heart of the Exploring Forward Thinking Workplaces 2.0 conversation.
How can we create workplaces where more voices matter, people thrive and find meaning, and change and innovation happen naturally?
Russell: To me, the starting point is always strategy. It begins with getting agreement on what the strategy is for the business because if you’ve got the strategy at the senior level and it’s agreed and crystallized, then we can then turn that strategy into a plan.
What a plan gives us is clarity. The plan includes a vision, we know where we’re going. We know roughly what the steps are to get there. We also accept that in a period of such great change, what we’ve laid down in the plan isn’t going to happen, but it’s at least got us started. Once we’ve got that in place, we can then start building out the company and ensuring that everyone understands how their position fits within that plan. Then we ensure the quality of communication where we’re showing everyone how we’re moving forward towards this vision.
Once we do the above, we’re just then talking about incremental improvements. Incremental improvements right across the business at every stage to make things better. The areas we have to improve on are clear communication and an understanding that everybody within the company has the freedom and opportunity to either make the change themselves or direct that change to a place where the change can be accepted.
It’s really interesting for me, I started my career working on the shop floor of a manufacturing facility. In the manufacturing facility, we had a box on the wall called a “Suggestions Box.” Any member of the staff could put any suggestion they wanted into that box. If their suggestion was viewed as being good and accepted, there was a prize. But isn’t it interesting in this fantastic technology age where we’ve all got communication with everyone, we’ve forgotten to listen to the voices of everyone within our organizations.
In organizations that I envision, everyone’s voice is of equal value because they’re trying to make the incremental change that will make our business better. I’m a great believer in having as a core part of the culture this ability for everyone to make suggestions in how we can be doing things better. I’ve seen how well this can work because I’ve done a lot of turnarounds where you get in and you listen to the leadership team of the failing company say what’s all going wrong. Then you ask the staff and quite simply the staff tell you how to fix everything. Communication is a core one.
Then we have things like lean thinking, agile sprints and other methodologies, which can be adopted as appropriate for different organizations. But for me, the overall absolute key step is having a clear strategy that’s communicated with clarity.
What does it take to get an employee’s full attention and best performance?
Russell: I believe in leading any team it’s all about clarity. It’s all about making it absolutely clear where it is we’re going and how the individual member of the team and every member of staff fits into that.
It’s also important to explain where we’re going in terms of what their involvement is going to be. You can do an analogy with a soccer team. You don’t really have to explain to the team what we’re trying to achieve because they know they’re trying to score more goals than the other team. But you do have to make it relevant to how they’re going to be able to contribute to doing that. For example if you’re the goalkeeper, your job is to stop the ball going in the net. It’s that kind of relevance.
What we see in the business world could be the objective may be we’re going to start raising publicity for the company to gain access to a new market. You could be sitting on the help desk going, “Well, that’s not really relevant to me” unless we actually communicate relevant needs. I think for members of staff to get engaged, it requires clarity about what the objective is, clearly explaining it, and then making it relevant to them individually.
Additionally, you’ve only achieved clarity once the person you’re trying to share it with can actually explain it back in their own terms that makes sense. We’ve got an awful habit of broadcasting and then saying, “I told you!” Yes, but you may not have understood, so our communication and attempt at clarity has failed.
What do people really lack and long for at work?
Russell: My response to this question is, “Ask them what they lack and long for!”
I’ve got a sales company and once a month the managing director takes all the top sales performing people out of a lovely lunch. They have a few drinks then they get the rest of the afternoon off. One of the people who has been on this celebration is a lady. At a management meeting I once asked the team what they want? This lady spoke up and said, “This is really a minor point, but I’d prefer not to do that because I’m on a diet and I’d rather do something else than sit in a pub.”
We had never thought of that! We just assumed that people would love getting a half-day off with a lovely lunch and that would be it. But what would really motivate her would be a trip to a spa. Now we realized other female people in the company may be sitting there going, “Why do I want to be top salesperson because I don’t want to go do that.” We’ve defeated ourselves by not understanding what people really want.
What is the most important questions leaders should ask employees?
Russell: I believe the most important question to ask is, “What do you think?” But I would suggest that it needs to be done in a style that fits the employee and the organization. Now it gets harder do that with the scale of the company, but you have to do it within the confines of us being human beings.
For me, it’s not about taking people out for dinner and gathering them to talk or taking them to an environment that’s not theirs, it’s sitting down at the canteen or sitting by their desk and saying, “Hey, you know about this, what do you think?”
What is the most important question employees should ask leaders?
Russell: I don’t know because I’m not an employee. I’m thinking of a scenario. If my son came to me and said he was unhappy or something was wrong at his work, what should he do? I would tell him to go openly explain it to the people who are running the company. When someone says something like that, I want them to be able to come to me and I will stand by them and thank them. You’ve just done something very important for the company.
What is the most important question we should ask ourselves?
Russell: To be honest with ourselves. I’ve been through some experiences in my life and what I came out with from those experiences was the person that was hardest to be honest with was myself. I would tend to look on the positive side rather than face the stark reality of the situation.
For example, if a business is beginning to fail and you’ve tried everything to turn it around, at some point you’ve got to agree that it’s not worked. That honesty with yourself is really hard. Once you can engrain it in your makeup, then you become a real strong leader.
In my case, I’m very, very comfortable in my own skin. I love each day one day at a time. That gives me a lot of what people tell me is my charisma because I am what you see.
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