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.
I keep running meetings with overly ambitious agendas. There is so much I want to cover, I lose sight of what can be realistically achieved in 60 or 90 minutes. I need to get better at running meetings more effectively and I also need to learn to remove items from the agenda. A lot of people emphasise the need for preparation ahead of meetings and I have got a lot better at doing this in recent years. At the start of each week and each morning, I diligently go through the meetings I have coming up and prepare. Whilst the value of preparation is unquestionable, so is the benefit of listening and adapting to the situation and to new information. I am finding this hard to balance.
At various points in the past few weeks I have found I am going into important meetings without being clear enough around what we need to achieve. Everyone values knowing what is expected and what success looks like. I need to practice being clear about the purpose of each meeting. I need to define and communicate whether I am informing, consulting or require a decision. I know this and have done it from time-to-time, but it isn’t ingrained in my habits yet. Daily reminders, hacks and reviews should help me embed this important skill.
I have been very internally focused for the past couple of months. Until last week, when I was forced to attend an industry conference in Montreaux (see picture), stepping in for a colleague who could no longer go. Though I went reluctantly, thinking about all the things that needed to be done and my growing to do list, it was the best thing that happened. I was able to meet clients, understand the needs of potential leads and prospects, hear from competitors and above all get some perspective. We all need to make sure that we maintain a client perspective in everything we do, this can only be done effectively if you see clients often enough. I’d like to meet each of our clients, at least once a year, to understand how they are feeling, what they value, what they are unhappy about and how we can help them be more successful.
I am also going to schedule regular opportunities to get out of the business for an industry overview and even periodic out-of-industry perspectives. For example, I met an old friend last week who works in the global leadership, talent & culture team at eBay in San Fransisco. It was awesome to hear her perspective on how tech firms are managing their cultural challenges as they grow. Once upon a time they used to be innovative and entrepreneurial, but they’ve lost it and are now trying to recreate that culture. We are going to keep in touch and share ideas and lessons across the pond.
‘What makes great teams?‘. This is probably the question I’ve lost most sleep over in the past few weeks. To be honest, this question has fascinated me for most of my career, ever since I started out researching great fund managers at Aon. Many people, academics and corporates, have studied this question, analysed the data and writer papers on this. The most lauded work comes from Amy Edmondson (The Journal of Applied Behavioural Science (1996) ‘Learning from Mistakes is Easier Said than Done: Group Error and Organizational Influences’; Administrative Science Quarterly 44 (1999) ‘Psychological Safety and Learning Behaviour in Work Teams’) who concludes “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.” Of the various factors that have been tested for what makes great teams, across different industries (from healthcare and aviation to technology), 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 for taking risks”.
The fundamental cultural challenge we have (and most others trying to scale culture) is – How do we help people to feel safe, whilst encouraging them to disagree? We need to protect people’s distinct voices but also encourage them to work together. We need to preserve what makes each person different before they joined Redington, but also help everyone be sensitive enough to make the rough edges fit. We need to draw out the unique brilliance of each person, yet the sum has to be greater than any of the individual parts. This is work in progress and the subject of my preoccupation. Whilst we have achieved a lot, we are just at the starting line with these really important questions.
It’s been an incredible few weeks. We’ve completed performance appraisals, compensation reviews and promotions decisions having spent time talking about each Redington employee, carefully calibrating decisions across teams and levels. We have presented, debated and agreed our 3-5 year strategy, in the context of the next decade, with our Board. We have engaged all teams and functions in determining budgets for the next 12 months, strategic hiring decisions and prioritising important projects. We’ve communicated the priorities for the next quarter (the first do-able step) to all employees at Redington.
I’m so grateful for the huge effort that has gone into this from all the team leaders, new management team, key functional heads, operational support teams, shareholders and wider Redington staff. Many of us have worked longer hours than can be sustained. I am committing to work shorter hours for the next few weeks and will encourage others will take my lead and rebalance their lives, making time for their health, family, learning and interests.