It takes a village to raise a child

I recently celebrated my 40th birthday!

Over the past 4 decades I have tried so many things, made so many mistakes, got a few things right and learnt so many lessons.

This felt like a good milestone at which to pause, look back and look forward. An opportunity to reflect on life, to gather the accumulated wisdom that people have shared with me and write down the essential principles that I want to live my life by. Having recently completed Ray Dalio’s book “Principles”, I’ve been determined to write mine down and share them.

Version 1 of my principles for life and work are captured here primarily for my reference, for those that live and work with me, as well as maybe those who are reflecting on their own principles.

Here goes:

  1. Be yourself. Know yourself. Lead yourself. 
  • Self discovery is the most meaningful work of our lives.
  • You cannot help/love/lead others until you help/love/lead yourself.
  • We need to stretch our limits to recognise our blind spots, biases and ego.

2. Seek out difference, diversity and challenge.

  • People are different, are wired differently and have different values.
  • We have the most to learn from those that are most different to us.
  • You can see more by considering different perspectives.

3. Give time, attention & knowledge generously – without expecting anything in return.

  • Everyone is on a journey, it is helpful to understand where they have come from and where they are going.
  • Seek out the potential in everyone you come across and give people freedom and responsibility to unleash it.
  • It takes practice to love, give, sacrifice and serve selflessly (this is the essence of all religions).

4. Embrace decision making, control the controllables and focus on the important (not urgent).

  • Consult as widely as possible but don’t rely on the consensus to make the best decisions.
  • Everyone doesn’t have to agree, it’s ok to give your opinion, debate vigorously, disagree with a decision and still commit.
  • Magic happens when you can align individual ambitions and passions with collective goals and aspirations.

5. Be a truth seeker and a truth speaker.

  • Be curious, ask questions and challenge the status quo.
  • Face harsh realities and address the elephants in the room.
  • Care enough to give open, constructive and candid feedback always.

6. Success & failure (happiness & suffering) are two sides of the same coin.

  • Change is inevitable, accept whatever life throws at you with open arms (don’t be a victim).
  • Guard against complacency in your good times, when things are going well.
  • Know that your greatest learning happens during times of sorrow, suffering and failure.

7. We are all connected (to those that came before us, those that will follow and  those we share this Earth with).

  • So many have sacrificed so much for us to be where we are today.
  • Take responsibility for the consequences of your decisions and actions.
  • We cannot live a purposeless life, when we stand on the shoulders of giants.

As I said earlier, this is version 1 – a starting point to practice and improve upon.

My principles to date been inspired by – Pandurang Shastri Athavale (Dada), Jayshree Talwalkar (Didi), Swami Vivekananda, Steven Covey, Huston Smith, Seth Godin, Dan Pink, Patrick Lencionni, Clay Christensen, Charles Duhigg and most recently Ray Dalio.

That’s not it though – my wife, parents, family, friends and colleagues have all played a huge part. As they say it takes a village to raise a child, so many people have guided me, shaped me and moulded me into the person I am today. There’s still so much to learn and discover, I’m blessed to be surrounded by so many generous people who continue to help on my journey of self discovery and development.

 

Time flies when you’re learning – 2 years as CEO

2 years ago I took on the role as Redington’s CEO (5th April 2016).

It has been the hardest job I’ve ever done and yet the most fulfilling one.

I’m so proud of what we have achieved together over that time – from the great feedback we get from clients on the outcomes our team continue to deliver for them, to getting into Sunday Times Top 100 Best Small Companies, to licencing our software for the first time in order to solve a client need, to the important work we are doing with the Chinese insurance industry, to RedSTART becoming a charity, to running 2 successful returnship programs, etc.

As I told Liam Kennedy at IPE a couple of weeks ago,

“Whilst we are ambitious to make 100m people financially secure, by growing our core business as well as pivoting into new business lines and geographies, we remain crystal clear that we will not comprise on quality of service we offer our clients nor on our culture.

We’d rather be a small giant. We don’t want to become a big foot. Otherwise, there’s a real risk of getting bigger and bigger but delivering less and less quality advice to many more pension funds.
That isn’t acceptable to us.”

You can read the full article here – https://www.ipe.com/investment/strategically-speaking/strategically-speaking-redington/10023914.article

I’m taking some time right now to pause, reflect, and reset. It’s interesting to look back on my reflections at the end of day 1 (http://www.miteshsheth.com/ceo-day-1/) as well as the key risk indicators (a CEO red radar) that I outlined this time last year (http://www.miteshsheth.com/how-to-stop-your-ceo-from-screwing-up/).

Some of my biggest lessons from this year include:

  • Being more realistic about how long things take and having patience.
  • Getting the right balance between internal and external, empowering and dictating, big picture and the details.
  • Creating more structure and role clarity.
  • Seeking out and really listening to challenging viewpoints without feeling defensive.
  • Looking after myself, my mental health and energy.

I’ll share further reflections in a couple of weeks time.

I want to thank Rob and Dawid for believing in me, supporting me and challenging me over the past 2 years. This was no easy thing to do for them and they have maintained the right balance of being involved, giving me space and checking in where needed.

Also, the Senior Leaders that stand by my side without whom I would not have been able to achieve a fraction of what we have over the past couple of years. I am grateful for their challenge, contribution and friendship.

I continue to believe that the essence of this role is to serve the incredible people who work at Redington. It is important that they continue to hold me and the other leaders accountable by giving us regular challenge and feedback.

Finally, my incredible wife, who has been my strength through ups and downs, giving me advice, helping me manage my emotions, keeping my ego in check and making sure I look after myself.  Thank you for your patience, guidance and unconditional love.

It’s a privilege to serve this firm and to work with such generous people. I’m delighted to still be learning and growing so much.

Goodbye 2017, thank you for the lessons…

For a New Year’s resolution to stick, I have found:

  1. it needs to be meaningful (you have to visualise it clearly and really care about the outcome);
  2. you have to be able to take small realistic steps every day (so you feel like you’re making progress);
  3. you have to enjoy the process and frame it positively (the brain avoids negative/painful things);
  4. you need a back-up plan to get on track again every time you slip (because you will slip); and
  5. you need to share it with others around you to motivate you and keep you accountable.

I have really benefited from making a public New Year’s Resolution each year since 2013. I also have valued the clarity of having decided what the single most important thing is the start of the year. One improvement I’d like to make to this is to review what is the single most important thing I want get done each day, including weekends and holidays, not just centered around work goals.

The past 5 years has been the most incredible period of growth, learning and change for me. Whilst I haven’t always achieved my goals each year, I find the process of reflection invaluable. I am still working on all the resolutions from the past 5 years, whilst building on them as I go along (discovery (2013), focus (2014), sacrifice (2015), vulnerability (2016) and balance (2017)). I’ve enjoyed going back and reading my thoughts from the previous year/years to be able to see where I have moved forward and where I’m still struggling.

2017 in review

At the start of 2017 I said that “my overarching focus was going to be to experiment with daily hacks, habits, systems, routines and overrides that will help me give time and attention to my family, my health and all the things at work and outside of work that are most important in the long term”.

Having had an incredibly fulfilling and challenging year at work, I wanted to invest wholeheartedly in other important areas of my life (that were at risk of being neglected) including: Marriage, Children, Health, Family, Friendships, Charity, Learning and Spirituality.

I had defined what success would look like “at the end of the year, I want to be able to look back and know that I tried to invest passionately in each important area of my life. Whenever I fail to get it right, as no doubt I frequently will, I need to analyse, review, iterate, adapt and try again…”.

When I honestly ask myself how I’ve done against this definition of success, I have to admit defeat.

I cannot look back and say I invested in each area of life in 2017. Work was my overarching focus, effort and attention.

It’s ok. I don’t need to dress it up, or make excuses.

It wasn’t just me but a lot of my senior team also struggled with balance this year.

So, what can I learn from this failure?

I work with really smart and interesting people, together we are doing meaningful work, we have taken on some huge projects/changes, we have been learning exponentially and I get huge satisfaction from my role. It’s not hard to see why it has been so hard to walk away, to switch off and to have enough energy and enthusiasm for other areas of life.

Together, we have had an incredible year of achievement. 2017 saw a lot of firsts/big changes. We:

  1. ran our first Returnship program and hired 4 awesome senior women into our firm.
  2. designed a framework to assess new products, services and business lines, used it to approve a new pipeline of ideas.
  3. developed a 5 year business plan and outlined the KPIs for the whole firm to align their objectives to.
  4. kicked off a process to seek a long term strategic investor for the business.
  5. designed an amazing new office space and moved into 1 Angel Court.
  6. developed and launched a new brand and website.
  7. strengthened all our corporate functions, with awesome new hires that have enriched our culture.
  8. started experimenting with self-management, empowering employees to take ownership for making the firm better.
  9. prepared for and conducted our first hearing with the Competition Markets Authority.
  10. invested significantly in our technology and innovation.
  11. A few other exciting things that I can’t disclose yet!

I couldn’t understand how I finished the year feeling deflated, given how much we had achieved collectively. My colleagues were also concerned about why I was feeling this way – it was no reflection on them. I am very grateful for the amazing team of people around me, with both character and capability, which is rare to find and to be cherished.

It was only upon reflection that I realised that my disappointment was in myself, that despite all our successes, I had failed against my own goals and promises to myself and my family this year.

I knew going into the year that it was going to be a busy year ahead, but I was wary of the oft’ used narrative – “It’s just this week, this month, this project, this year… then I’ll get my life into balance…” – especially when we start new jobs, roles and projects. I’ve seen so many of my colleagues and friends struggle with this too.

Despite knowing what to do, I simply hadn’t done enough of it! I knew that “we are tempted to invest our resources in things that offer more immediate rewards and feedback like work, and that family and friends rarely shout the loudest for our attention. It will always be tempting to defer health, family and friendships, because you are busy with your career right now, but you have to invest in these long before you need them”.

Evidently it is not enough to know this, or to write it down, without cultivating the habits and making the difficult tradeoffs.

Brightspots

Whilst there were too many days when I worked for too many hours, and I was too often engrossed or exhausted to offer much creativity to other spheres of life, there were some real glimmers of hope. I find it useful to look at some of the brightspots and study them so that I can try and replicate those in 2018:

  • I had gone into 2017, knowing that I needed to carve out enough headspace, time and attention to make sure I could organise a 40th birthday celebration for my wife, the love of my life, something she’d never forget. Knowing this and scheduling it in advance meant that I was able to do this properly. This is important lesson for the future.
  • On the days when my wife/kids called me at 6pm to come home for dinner, more often than not, it was a great trigger to walk out and go home (even if there was work to finish off later at night).
  • Setting aside a day for thinking time (say each Friday, or every other week), even if it wasn’t always possible, gave me the chance to get tasks completed, think deeply, or prepare for the following week so I wouldn’t have to work over into the weekend.
  • Blocking time at the start of the day – a couple of times a week – for the gym, exercise or just thinking was really useful, otherwise I’d have meetings start from 7.15am. Managing my calendar in advance and every night, is key to communicating to my colleagues when I am and am not available.
  • Keeping a journal, the Self-Journal in particular (which I first discovered in Jan 2016), was really helpful. I wished I’d kept the discipline of it all year. It forces me to be grateful each day, to think about what the most important thing I am trying to get done, what I have learnt from the day, amongst other things.
  • Pre-booking scheduled holidays, provided quality time to read, reflect and recharge. I needed to book these regularly throughout next year.

There were some surprises that completely threw me, like my Dad’s diagnosis and subsequent operation. I was really grateful to be able to take time out from work, at short notice, to be with him for his appointments and to be by his side through this difficult process. I feel blessed that he recovered fully and our relationship is better than ever. When life throws curve balls at you, no matter how busy you are, you can and must make time.

One of the biggest changes of the year was that I fell ill and have since become intolerant to lactose, gluten and caffeine. Whilst this might not sound like a big deal, I am a real foodie, I love cheese, bread, flat whites, cakes, etc. Whilst this started off as an obstacle and curse, it has since turned into a blessing. It’s challenged some of my deepest held habits and addictions, and has shown me just how adaptable we are as human beings.

Making sense of it all

Now the four burners theory states (https://jamesclear.com/four-burners-theory) that:

“…life is filled with tradeoffs. If you want to excel in your work and in your marriage, then your friends and your health may have to suffer. If you want to be healthy and succeed as a parent, then you might be forced to dial back your career ambitions. If you divide your time equally among all four burners, you may have to accept that you will never reach your full potential in any given area.”

I’m not sure I fully agree with this view. However, it suggests that we have to live life in chapters, or seasons. For long periods of our life we have to focus on one or at the most two areas of life, if we really want to be successful in them. The challenge I have with this is seeing too many people sacrifice health, family, friendships, and other things for too long, burning those bridges and never really knowing how to go back. I also don’t believe that just giving more time to something makes you more successful at it.

I want to do this job, this role and pursue this mission for the long run, so I am determined to find a way of doing it sustainably for myself and those around me.

I still believe that making “deliberate choices each day, planning, scheduling, blocking out time, setting boundaries, managing distractions, compartmentalising, reviewing priorities daily/weekly, having an honest dialogue and creating a support network” should allow us to excel in each area of life. Maybe some days or weeks we focus on one area of another, but daily journaling, regular reflection and people to hold us accountable should stop us from getting carried away.

Looking forward to 2018

2018 is a big year: This year l turn 40. My wife and I will be celebrating 20 years of marriage. My eldest daughter becomes a teenager (between our 3 kids, we have a decade of teenager hell or heaven to look forward to depending on our mindset, how we prepare for it and approach it).

These are really significant milestones in life that I don’t want to pass me by, in the dizzying blur of work (as meaningful and satisfying as it is).

I want to begin the year with scheduled time to reflect, think, look back, plan forward, deepen relationships, be grateful and celebrate. I want to make sure my colleagues can do the same.

2018 has to be the year of recognising my strengths and weaknesses, asking for help, inviting others in, making my principles explicit and developing many other leaders around me.

My first step is going to be to write down and share my guiding principles (feeling inspired from reading Ray Dalio’s Principles).

Thank you to everyone who has supported me, pushed me and been patient with me this year – especially my wife, family, friends and colleagues.

Wishing you and yours the very best for 2018.

Are you ready to Dare Greatly?

Daring greatly leadership poster
I’ve been wanting to read this book for ages, ever since I watched Brené’s TED talk (link). I’ve been experimenting with vulnerability, something I have always found difficult, for a couple of years now (Time to get personal – 2016). This book is the gospel on vulnerability, shame and courage. It is really easy to read and is structured with checklists and summaries throughout.
I thought it would be helpful to summarise some of my big takeaways – though I encourage you to read this book and apply its lessons yourself.
Vulnerability is:
  • asking for help
  • saying no
  • starting a business
  • encouraging my kids to try (even if they might fail)
  • calling someone who lost a loved one
  • publishing your work, sending it out, etc
  • falling in love
  • trying something new
  • admitting I don’t know
  • admitting I’m afraid
  • trying again after failing
  • standing up to peer pressure
She has 10 questions she asks to understand the culture of any group or organisation:
  1. What behaviours are rewarded and punished?
  2. Where and how do people spend time, money and attention?
  3. What rules and expectations are followed, enforced and ignored?
  4. Do people feel safe and supported taking about how they feel and asking for what they need?
  5. What are the sacred cows?
  6. What stories are legend and what values do they convey?
  7. What happens when someone fails, disappoints or makes a mistake?
  8. How is vulnerability perceived?
  9. How prevalent are shame and blame and how do they show up?
  10. What’s the collective tolerance for discomfort? Is the discomfort of learning,  trying new things, giving and receiving feedback normalised or is there a premium on comfort?
The space between our practiced values and our aspirational values is the values gap. This is where we can lose people.
In an organisational culture where respect and dignity of individuals are held as the highest values, shame and blame don’t work as management styles. We can’t control the behaviour of individuals, we can only create cultures where certain behaviours are not tolerated and people are held accountable for protecting what matters most – human beings. There is no leading by fear, if we are looking for creativity, innovation and engaged learning.
A daring greatly culture is one of honest, constructive and engaged feedback. However, in most teams and organisations effective feedback is rare. There are two main reasons:
  1. we are not comfortable with hard conversations
  2. we don’t know how to give feedback in a way that moves people forward.
There’s a big difference between mean spirited criticism and constructive feedback: When we stop caring about what people think, we lose our capacity for connection, but when we become defined by what people think, we lose our willingness to be vulnerable. If we dismiss criticism we lose out on important feedback, but if we subject ourselves to hatefulness, our spirits get crushed.
Vulnerability is at the heart of the feedback process. She has a great checklist for preparing to give feedback.
I know I am ready to give feedback when:
  • I’m ready to sit next to you rather than opposite you, and put the problem in front of us rather than between us.
  • I’m ready to listen, ask questions and accept that I may not fully understand the issue.
  • I want to acknowledge what you do well instead of picking apart your mistakes.
  • I recognise your strengths and how you can use them to address your challenges.
  • I can hold you accountable without shaming or blaming you.
  • I’m willing to own my part.
  • I can genuinely thank you for your efforts rather than criticise you for your failings.
  • I can talk about how resolving these challenges will lead to your growth and opportunity.
  • I can model the vulnerability and openness that I expect to see from you.

We can tell a lot about how we are engaging with Vulnerability by observing how often we say:

  • I don’t know
  • I need help
  • I’d like to give it a shot
  • I disagree – can we talk about it
  • I did it
  • Here’s how I feel
  • I’d like some feedback
  • Can I get your take on this?
  • What can I do better next time?
  • Can you teach me how to do this?
  • I take responsibility for that
  • I’m here for you
  • I want to help
  • Let’s move on
  • I’m sorry
  • This means a lot to me
  • Thank you
My commitment as a leader:
  1. I want you to show up, to be yourself, to be open to learning.
  2. I want you to take risks, embrace your vulnerabilities and be courageous.
  3. I commit to engaging with you, standing beside you and learning from you.
  4. I commit to be vulnerable, to be courageous and to dare greatly.
“The key to our transformation as leaders is in realising that getting people to engage or take ownership isn’t about the telling but about letting them come to their own idea in a purpose-led way, and our job is to create the space for others to perform. This is a shift from “having the best idea” or “solving all the problems” to “being the best leader of people”.
This is a shift from controlling to engaging with vulnerability – taking risks and cultivating trust.”
– Christine Day, CEO Lululemon
Vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity, innovation and trust. If you want your employees that take responsibility, take risks and have an entrepreneurial spirit, you have to encourage people to try and to make mistakes (and be willing to stand by them when they do).
Go read it and apply her lessons for yourself!
(Brené has a great chapter on “wholehearted parenting” that is builds on these ideas powerfully.)

How to stop your CEO (or boss) from screwing up!

More than a year ago, April 2016, I set out to study leadership, by experimenting, journaling and reflecting on my own journey as the new CEO for Redington.

124H

I’ve tried to look back on the past year dispassionately to learn clear lessons that can frame the next year. I have tried to think about what has mattered the most, what to maintain, what to let go of and what changes to make. This has actually been really hard to do objectively, given how self-preserving our memories can be, forgetting mistakes, making us blind to so much and especially the many people who play a huge part, the conditions and even luck.

I found it really helpful to look back at my journal and blogs throughout the year:

Reflections on Leadership 1 year in

Management, as we know it, was invented 100 years ago to get people to show up to work, to do the same thing efficiently, every day and in the same way. It was not designed to engage, adapt and innovate. Yet the world, our work and industries have changed beyond recognition.  We need an overhaul of our management systems, tools and thinking to ensure they are fit for purpose.  I believe we need to reinvent leadership.

Patrick Lencioni wrote about the 5 Temptations of a CEO. Here are some related reflections on my first year in the role:

1. When you’re a new leader (frankly new in any role) there is a natural desire to prove yourself, to show that your recruiters/backers made a good decision. As a leader stepping into this role, I knew and trusted my own abilities. It was natural to make plans based on what I knew I could do, without a deep understanding of other people’s skills, ambitions and capacity. I did not ask for help enough and didn’t seek advice often enough. I tried to do too many things myself. This can only ever succeed in the short term. If you’re not careful this can lead to bottlenecks, resentment, over-dependence and abdication of responsibility from those around you. I’ve had to reframe and hack my own tendency to ensure I ask for help from my team, from the wider employees, from the Board of Directors and other CEOs.

2. Everyone looks to their leaders for certainty. Everyone tells you to project confidence in front of your staff. I think this is dangerous. My goal is to develop a firm of leaders at Redington. As a result I have tried to experiment with being vulnerable, acknowledging my mistakes, as well as inviting critical thinking and challenge. It’s been difficult (it’s not at all natural for me) but really insightful. I have found that talented people really value openness, transparency and clarity much more than leaders projecting false certainty and offering blind assurances.

3. As a leader you enter a different echo-chamber in which it becomes increasingly difficult to put yourself in the shows of your front line staff or your clients. Dan Pink says there is an inverse correlation between status and empathy. Leaders find it harder to empathise and see things through the eyes of others. I was aware of this coming into the role, so my experiment to counter this has been to regularly schedule honest and open conversations with clients, staff and suppliers to invite their constructive feedback and to see the firm through their eyes. Even if you schedule regular chats, people often struggle to give you the constructive challenge you desperately need. I need to periodically push myself out of the business to spend time in different environments, with different people and experiences.

4. Popularity is very seductive. It’s very tempting to want to be everyone’s friend. So often leaders struggle to have difficult conversations, to hold people accountable and call out the elephants in the room. Too often leaders choose to maintain harmony in the team and avoid confrontation. It’s natural to want everyone to get on, even though you know there is value in debate, challenge and constructive conflict. This has been difficult for me historically. I have deliberately worked on this all year. I have been running training sessions (using the AltMBA learning format) for all my direct reports and other team leaders on “radical candour”. We have been able to create a common language, permission and shared practice. Whilst radical candour is starting to creep into the language of the firm, it will take a lot more practice and trust for people to apply effectively across the firm (without abusing it).

5. Success is dangerous. It leads to complacency. The more that things go well, the more you start to believe your own hype. Even if you start off with a risk taking, failure embracing, growth mindset, success has the power to shift you to being fixed and risk averse, without even realising it. Every win, every successful project, every initiative landed sows the seeds of complacency, gradually eroding your growth mindset. In addition, what took me a bit by surprise is that people assume you know what your are doing because you’re CEO; success just reinforces that. The dopamine hit means you do more things that give you more status (without even realising), rather than focusing on the choices that will deliver the best results. I have to keep catching myself, asking my team and the wider firm to challenge me, to point out “what I am missing” or “what should I think about differently”. I’ve found this particularly hard, but it is the key to consistently delivering results.

I have shared these and many more reflections with my team and the firm over the past few months. On my one year anniversary I invited blisteringly honest feedback from across the firm and in response to it have tried to set up our governance, communication and decision-making differently for this next year, to learn from those lessons, setting up new experiments to deliver different outcomes.

Leadership 2.0

Having started my second year in the role, I’ve been thinking about setting out some red flags and warning signs to the whole firm, so they can keep me (as well as the other leaders in the firm) accountable. This was inspired by fund manager research process where we identify what could go wrong with a fund manager in advance using “RedRadar”. We share this with clients that are investing in any fund from the outset, so they can anticipate, be alert and prepared if something starts to go wrong.

Much like Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), these are 7 Key Risk Indicators (KRIs) for me and frankly any CEO or leader:

  1. Infallible: if your CEO or manager is not making any mistakes, they are not taking enough risk, maybe previous successes have created complacency.
  2. Unchallenged: If people stop asking the CEO/leaders questions, stop challenging them, start accepting whatever them say, this is a red flag.
  3. Frantic: If they are always running around, from meeting to meeting, neglecting rest, learning and reflection, complaining about not enough time to do the important things.
  4. Defensive: If they are defensive when you challenge or criticise their decisions, this is a worrying.
  5. Agreeable: If they start to avoid people, do not facilitate conflict, do not offer radical candour this is a concern.
  6. Indecisive: If you are always waiting on them to make decisions, so that you can move forward. If every decision goes through them, this is a warning sign.
  7. Controlling: If your CEO/leader does not invest in others, does not develop leaders around them, this is a problem. I think a good leader is always looking to make themselves redundant.

I find these are really helpful checks and balances for myself.

I know for example, I am struggling with feeling a bit frantic (#3) at the moment and am doing something about it. This was my overarching focus (new year’s resolution) for 2017, to experiment with daily hacks, habits, systems, routines and overrides to give time and attention to my family, my health and all the things at work and outside of work that are most important in the long term. It has been a daily battle, a weekly struggle and an ongoing war against my own mind, against the urgent, the loud and the easy. I am still trying to make deliberate choices, planning, scheduling, blocking out time, setting boundaries, managing distractions and creating a support network. Some days I win and some I lose, but its a daily battle worth fighting.

An invitation to challenge authority

Back to the overarching theme of this blog, I believe that everyone has a responsibility to hold their leaders accountable, to challenge them, to call them out if they show one of these warning signs and to help them succeed by not screwing up.

Of the various factors that have been tested by psychologists for what makes great teams, the one that stands out above all is ‘psychological safety’ – a shared belief held by the members of a team, that the group is a safe place to take risks and challenge authority.

Amy Edmondson wrote in 1996 in The Journal of Applied Behavioural Science, that “the best team leaders encourage people to speak up; teammates felt like they can expose their vulnerabilities to each other; people could suggest ideas without fear of retribution; the culture discourages people from making harsh judgements.” My ongoing fundamental cultural challenge remains – How do we help people to feel safe, whilst encouraging them to disagree? – I’m sure this is true for most other leaders too.

It has been an incredible year of experimentation, achievement and learning. It’s been a great start to the second year. I feel privileged to serve the people in the firm, to be part of this tribe and to have shareholders who want to make 100m people financially secure.

“We don’t hire smart people so we can tell them what to do, we expect them to tell us what to do.”

References:

It’s 2017 – surely we can do better than Work-Life Balance?

IMG_3878

I know… February is a bit late to be publishing a New Years blog… (more on this later). It’s only now that I feel ready to plan for 2017.

It has become a habit at the start of each New Year, to outline a single overarching focus for the year. Some people choose 3 words, some a phrase, and some have lots of resolutions and some have none at all. I find there is something powerful in knowing what is your single most important objective for the year – I like the #powerofone. It pushes me to ask myself how I’m doing each day, week, month and quarter and recalibrate as I go along. It ensures I don’t hide, avoid, forget or go off track for too long.

I have been sharing my New Year’s intent for 4 years now, which whilst scary, has made me more accountable and has brought me valuable dialogue, support and assistance.

2013 was the year of ‘discovery’ – I was starting a new chapter in my career, developing new skills, facing fears and being bold (Become the hero of your own story!). My big lesson was to focus by saying ‘no’.

2014 was the year of ‘devotion’ (What will you devote yourself to this year?) – My focus was on figuring out what I was going to devote my time, enthusiasm and energy to? It was the year I found my tribe at Redington.

2015 started as a year of ‘sacrifice’, surrender and pilgrimage for my wife and I. Over the year it developed in directions that we could not have even imagined. I learnt more, wrote more and did more than I ever thought possible (15 top tips for a successful 2015).

Last year, 2016, I wanted to learn how to be ‘vulnerable’. I wanted to share my thinking, my processes and my mistakes. I knew that sharing mistakes would be more valuable for me and for others, but found it difficult to do. 2016 was the year to “to lead, to serve and above all to make it personal” (2016 – time to get personal).

So, how was it? 

2016 was an incredible year. I became CEO of Redington – “the best job in the City”.  I got a lot of opportunities to lead, to serve and to make it personal (my new year’s wish 12 months ago). I’m still loving the job, the team and our game worth playing – win, lose or draw – to make 100m people financially secure.

I wrote a few blogs during the year in an effort to be more open and vulnerable – 1st day, 1st week, 100 days, 7 months, etc. Sharing my mistakes was a lot harder than I expected, but far more valuable all around.  I’d like to continue working at this.

In the spirit of being ‘vulnerable’, rather than listing achievements, here are my 10 biggest mistakes of 2016:

  1. I didn’t ask for help enough. I didn’t seek advice from those that have done it before. I was too proud and wanted to prove myself in the new role.
  2. We did a lot of stuff but I didn’t explain why I was doing what I was doing often enough. Change is hard and I didn’t signpost, flag and contextualise enough.
  3. I didn’t pay enough attention to people’s challenges, competing priorities and tensions.
  4. I didn’t praise enough.
  5. I didn’t highlight successes enough.
  6. I didn’t thank people enough.
  7. I took criticism/challenge more personally than I’d like to.
  8. I didn’t invite enough challenge, even though I knew you have to create a safe space where people can question you.
  9. Too often I allowed myself to become a victim to my calendar, rather than stepping back periodically and taking control.
  10. Above all, I didn’t make enough time for my wife, children, my health, my wider family, and friends. I made some sacrifices this year that are not sustainable.

So what’s my goal for 2017?

We used a ‘wheel of life’ to review 2016 as a family and set our new year resolutions based on this. It highlighted all the areas that I have neglected…

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Over the next year, I would really like to invest wholeheartedly in each important area of my life: Marriage, Children, Health, Family, Friendships, Charity, Fun, Spirituality and Learning.

This is starting to sound like the elusive ‘work-life balance‘ goal – I don’t really like that term (not that work-life integration, juggle, fit, effectiveness, or management are much better). In fact, I dislike the term so much that its taken me 6 weeks to complete and publish this new year’s blog.

Deconstructing work-life balance

Here are my favourite 2 insights on the subject, getting to the heart of the issue:

In Clayton Christensen’s book, How will you measure your life?, he explains – Why do we take our relationships with friends and family for granted, even though we know that they are the greatest source of happiness in life? The first reason is we are tempted to invest our resources in things that offer more immediate rewards and feedback like work. Secondly, family and friends rarely shout the loudest for our attention. It will always be tempting to defer health, family and friendships, because you are busy with your career right now, but you have to invest in these long before you need them.

Seth Godin also talks about this in his blog on Singer’s Paradox.

I think they have hit the nail on the head. We need to override our own mind/instincts to be able to give our time & attention to the things that aren’t urgent, don’t shout the loudest, that don’t give immediate results, rewards or feedback. No wonder ‘work-life balance’ is so difficult.

It is no different than saving, instead of spending; or going to the gym, instead of sitting on the sofa; or eating healthy food, instead of eating junk… health, saving, family, etc. all sit in this ‘important but not urgent’ group. Redington advises large institutions (and school children) to prioritise the important over the urgent, to begin with the end in mind, to put risk management in place when you least need it, to use conservative assumptions, to save little and often, etc. I need to apply this essential wisdom to my own life.

So my overarching focus for 2017, is going to be to experiment with daily hacks, habits, systems, routines and overrides that will help me give time and attention to my family, my health and all the things at work and outside of work that are most important in the long term.

In 2017:  The Year of Balance 2.0 – I am signing up for a daily battle, a weekly struggle and an ongoing war against my own mind, against the urgent, the loud and the easy. This is about making deliberate choices, planning, scheduling, blocking out time, setting boundaries, managing distractions, compartmentalising, reviewing regularly, having honest dialogue and creating a support network.

At the end of the year, I want to be able to look back and know that I tried to invest passionately in each important area of my life. Whenever I fail to get it right, as no doubt I frequently will, I need to analyse, review, iterate, adapt and try again… wish me luck!

Please share your lessons, hacks and tips too.

10 Tips, tricks & hacks to be more productive, effective & happy in 2017

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As we look forward to the New Year, with new resolutions, new efforts and new goals, I thought it was a good time to share some tips, tricks and hacks to being more productive, effective and happy in 2017.

There is a huge body of excellent research available on goal setting, prioritisation, focus, habits and time management. I know I’m not the only one who is a big fan of these books, articles and research. Together with my colleague, Dan Mikulskis, a productivity ninja, we gathered together our top combined tips to share with others at Redington.

We hope you find these useful. Please share your tips below.

  1. Set SMART & stretch goals

Set daily priorities, weekly goals, quarterly objectives, as well as longer term stretch goals. Use these daily to help prioritise what you start your day doing. Review at the start of each day, at the end of each week, each quarter, etc. At work, each team and across the firm everyone should know what their biggest priorities are for the week, the quarter and the year, these should be aligned with the bigger team or firms objectives.

2.  Do the Important before the Urgent

Stephen Covey was one of the first to share this 2×2 productivity matrix (https://goo.gl/images/H3e8tc) of what is urgent/not urgent versus important/not important. Everything you need to do does not have the same importance or impact. It’s ok to delegate or say no to things that are neither urgent nor important. If it doesn’t help you achieve your goals it’s not that important. You can’t spend your day dealing with a long list of last minute urgent items. Plan your time between blocks of time to deal with the urgent stuff and dedicated time each day to do the things that are most important.

3.  Do the most important things first

This is the golden rule of time management. Having identified the two or three tasks that are the most crucial to complete, you need to do those first. Willpower is a finite resource, each distraction/temptation we resist depletes the amount of willpower we can rely on. That means after resisting opening your inbox, then resisting checking your phone when it beeps, etc, when a colleague interrupts you to ask about your weekend, you welcome the distraction because you have no self-control left with which to resist it. Start by doing your most important or hardest tasks first in the day when your willpower is at its best.

4.  Keep the main thing, the main thing

Always ask yourself – what are the most important thing I need to achieve today. Don’t let your focus drift from those for too long. Try committing to particular deadlines to yourself (“I must get this done by 2pm”) to force yourself to prioritise avoid getting sidetracked into other things. If you’re experiencing a dip in productivity, take a walk, go for a coffee, get out of the office to try to refresh and get the right “headspace” to come back and focus that one thing. Some people find just being aware of their breath and being still is a powerful way of recharging and taking control of your mind-state.

5.  Multitasking doesn’t work.

Switching between tasks is a classic productivity killer. Humans can’t physically multitask. We’re not very efficient at it. If you try to do too many things at once, you probably won’t finish any of those tasks to a high standard. Plus, it could take you more time than if you simply focused on one task at a time. Eliminate distractions. Close all other browser windows. Put your phone away, out of sight and on silent. Find a quiet place to work, or put on your headphones if that helps you. Concentrate on this one task. Nothing else should exist. Immerse yourself in it. Try the Pomodoro Technique – promise yourself you’ll focus exclusively on something for 45 mins then take a break – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique

6.  Use memory and learning hacks

We are presented with infinitely more material than we can ever assimilate or retain in our minds.  Human beings are inherently forgetful. We need memory hacks to make sure we remember and can reproduce what is important. Instead of passively absorbing data, we need to overcome information blindness by engaging with it – hand write notes, draw charts, test hypotheses, etc.  If you read a good book, write notes on it, discuss it and present it

7.  Harness the power of background processing

Sometimes when working on a ‘high-cognitive load’ task (such as writing a new report from scratch) it is best to quickly sketch a rough template early in the day (no need to get it perfect, it’ll change anyway) then jot down a few thoughts. Then leave it and move onto other tasks. Often you’ll find yourself unconsciously thinking about it during the day/over lunch etc. and when you come back to it “it writes itself.

8.  Ship it

We can all be perfectionists, though we may not recognise this is driven by fear. We need to start by recognising that it is our fear that stops us pressing send on an email, that makes us avoid difficult tasks, that causes us to read, re-read, check, second check, procrastinate, kill trees by writing unnecessarily long papers. Note: we need to do be careful in how we apply this to client work we send out, for example detailed factual performance reports need to be treated with a “right first time” approach. However, by adopting a lean/agile, test, iterate, get feedback approach you can get more done and get real, honest and critical feedback on what needs more work.

9.  Create Habit loops 

Most of the time we operate on auto-pilot, that’s why it’s so hard to break old habits. We can all learn how to create habits. You start by identifying the cue that triggers a bad habit. For example, the first thing I do when I get in… Straight after lunch I … When I get a mid afternoon craving I… etc. once you know your cue, you can insert a good/new habit. It’s important you have a reward at the end of the habit loop (Cue > Habit > Reward – https://goo.gl/images/c4WYkz). Do it everyday for 1-3 months and a new habit is formed. Once it’s committed to your unconscious mind you don’t need to expend any energy on it, it becomes automatic.

10.  If something should be very quick – force yourself to get it done right there

Just told someone you’ll “send them that”, or “you’ll get a slot in the dairy”? Just do it. Right then. That should take no more than a minute or two of your time.

What do you find most useful? What works for you?  Please share.

7 months in a leadership lab – highs, lows, lessons & reflections

“Seeing life as a leadership laboratory enables you to try things out, make mistakes, strengthen your skills and take pleasure in the journey, as well as the fruits of your labour.”
– Heifetz, Grashaw & Linsky

I’m looking out at the ocean, reflecting on the past 7 months since taking on this role. It’s been an incredible period of my life. I’m learning every day, I’m being stretched, I’m doing work that matters, with people I really like.

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What are my highlights:

I’m grateful for how people across the firm have embraced change over these past few months. We are getting better at dealing with difficult issues, whether unspoken, unresolved or unaddressed. This skill will be critical to our success.

We launched the Redington MBA 1.1 with the first group focused on “Having Difficult Conversations”. This is our attempt to deliver targeted training that actually changes habits and behaviours, learning from the latest research in people development.

I’m really pleased with how Redington’s “game” (to make 100m people financially secure) has been received, not just internally, but also with clients and the wider market. The opportunity is really ours to create, innovate and scale our ideas. We want to be known for helping people tackle their most difficult problems, leaving them feeling smarter, capable and better equipped.

We held our first “Innovation Day” with a focus on tech. We heard a number of pitches for client and customer problems that our colleagues wanted to solve. They worked together in small groups to test the problem and develop solutions using a lean canvas approach. We need to move these ideas to the next stage now and will be repeating the whole process regularly.

We held our first “Month of Learning” with daily talks, training and classes that all staff could participate in. Topics included – how decision science can help our clients, understanding path dependency risk, the redington approach to ESG, etc. This has been great. We’re going to repeat it each quarter.

We have made improvements to our pension scheme, maternity benefits, working hours, flexible working, etc. There’s still more we need to do, but this is a great start.

Last month we participated in the Sunday Times Best Places to Work survey, I was over the moon that we had 100% of employees take time to complete the 70-odd questions.

We’ve just launched the #RedingtonReturnshipProgramme, which will kick off in January. This is an internship to encourage mid level and senior women and men to return to work after a career break. I’m really excited about the potential of this programme to enhance the cognitive diversity of our senior team.

I’m delighted with how the Faculty of Fun Stuff (our social committee) have managed our social/charity budget – Halloween Party, Poker night, Arabian night, Drinks, etc. they’ve done far more that has been valued than a top down management of this could have delivered.

In terms of revenue, we had a record quarter and half year. This is testament to the tireless efforts of lots of talented people. No time to be complacent though. We are tightening up our sales and business development efforts, with a new governance structure. This is showing some early positive signs, the key to its success is holding each other to account. I’m really pleased with how the whole team has engaged with this.

What has been my biggest low:

I have allowed myself to get really busy, engrossed, sleep deprived and exhausted by the end of each quarter. I’m leaving home early, coming back late, sleeping late, and generally getting exhausted. Moreover, I can’t stop thinking about work. It’s manageable but I want to address this early, I don’t want it to become a deeply ingrained habit.

This quarter I am going to get stricter with myself. I’m going to have a fixed time to leave by – 6pm – no matter what, to make it home for dinner and storytime. I’m going to go to the gym 2 times a week before work and not compromise on it. I’m going to make time for my morning routine, reflection, journaling and meditation each morning. To make it all happen I’m going to identify my triggers and plan for them in advance. I’m going to be even better prepared.

We need to be alert as a business of the dark side of engagement. People across the firm willingly work long hours, especially at quarter ends. For our longer term sustainability, we want to help our colleagues find better balance. Moreover, we want to be an employer that can attract talent that wants to work more flexibly. I have a responsibility to set the right norms and expectations, not just in words and policies, but in action.

What have I learnt?

  • The importance of having difficult conversations, always, at all levels.
  • The need for daily, weekly, quarterly goals. It’s the only way I’ve found of not becoming a victim to my diary or just reacting to demands on my time.
  • The need to align the rhythm of reviews around capacity and busy periods.
  • I need to get better at writing and sharing minutes. I can’t rely on regular verbal communication.
  • Despite my best intentions I cannot meet/talk to every employee as frequently as I’d like. I need to meet people more regularly in groups to consult and debate ideas.
  • You can only get out of your brain what you put in – so reading and learning has to continue no matter how busy we get.
  • I’m really pleased that we booked regular holidays in advance for each quarter end. I’m definitely doing that again next year.
  • Over the past 7 months I have tried to be involved in every function of the business, for my own familiarity and experience. This is not sustainable. I have to step back and help others lead confidently. After all, I want to create a firm of leaders.

Further Experiments:

My priorities this year are to grow our culture, capability and infrastructure to enable us to move closer to our ultimate goal of making 100 million people financially secure. Though we have made a lot of progress on these, there are many more experiments to be done.

I have come across these two definitions of leadership that really appeal to me. They offer a model of leadership that I think Redington needs to achieve its game. It is also an approach to leadership that is essential for the future.

I think Redington can be an ambidextrous/adaptive organisation. This is my personal challenge for the rest of this year.

“Adaptive leadership is the practice of mobilizing people to tackle tough challenges and thrive. Adaptive organisations name the elephants in the room, share responsibility for the future, value independent thinking, build leadership capability and institutionalize reflection and continuous learning.” – Heifetz, Grashaw & Linsky

Be the change: Reflections on 100 days as CEO

Friday marked 100 days since I took on this role as CEO of Redington – “the best job in the industry” – as one of our clients put it.

They say that during his first 100 days in office, President Franklin D. Roosevelt “sent 15 messages to Congress, guided 15 major laws to enactment, delivered 10 speeches, held press conferences and cabinet meetings twice a week, conducted talks with foreign heads of state, sponsored an international conference, made all the major decisions in domestic and foreign policy, and never displayed fright or panic and rarely even bad temper.”
– Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., The Age of Roosevelt

I didn’t have a specific 100 day plan and I’m not sure 100 days is quite as valuable a period for assessment as the hype suggests.

Fortunately, I’m not in Roosevelt’s shoes, though, I did feel these were big shoes to fill. The job description I proposed for the Redington CEO, 10 years after the company was founded by entrepreneurs like Robert Gardner and Dawid Konotey-Ahulu, was to grow the culture, capability and infrastructure to move us closer to our ultimate goal of making 100 million people financially secure.

We currently help just over 1 million people achieve greater financial security primarily through our Defined Benefit pensions business. Against the backdrop of pension fund disasters, our clients continue to perform well. They manage their funds with discipline. Rather than spending lots of time forecasting the future, our clients work hard to ensure they are more resilient, whatever happens.

We regularly ask ourselves: what client problems we can solve better; what unmet or un-articulated needs could we fulfil; what legacy methods or systems should be challenged? The next 10 years could see us enter new geographies, start new business lines and/or adopt new technologies. Above all, we will need to test new ideas, empathise, innovate and take risks. This is Redington’s ‘game’.

Rob and Dawid have been clear about their longer term ambitions ‘game’ too. So far though, I have not talked much about my dream or mission. It’s always a bit scary sharing your dream, it makes you vulnerable and open to criticism. Being more vulnerable was my New Years resolution, so here goes…

Continue reading Be the change: Reflections on 100 days as CEO

8 weeks in: This isn’t the finish line, it’s just the beginning

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It’s been a busy few weeks. In the spirit of openness, vulnerability and learning, I’d like to share some of my recent mistakes and lessons:

We held a town hall last week to share our 3-5 year strategy with all staff, which overran. I don’t just mean by a few minutes, but by more than 30 minutes. I was grateful for my colleagues’ patience, but I was cross with myself that I allowed it to happen. I and everyone else, spoke for double the time allocated. I was kicking myself for not rehearsing and preparing all the speakers to make sure that we were joined up and on time. From now on, I have to get strict on myself and others – no practice no presentation. At least, we didn’t have it in the kitchen this time, with everyone standing for that long. Also I’m really really glad that we gave everyone a simple and powerful take away in the form of a one page strategy summary. It’s great to be transparent about what I am working on and to be able to ask others to do the same.

Continue reading 8 weeks in: This isn’t the finish line, it’s just the beginning