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Keep it simple

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 - Paul Blackhurst, Client Director, Mannaz, April 2014

I bet that in your industry, as in mine, there is a clamour for the ‘latest’ thing, the big idea that will transform challenges into opportunities and remove the need for hard work. This Holy Grail is bought and sold in many fields, from self-help to management and leadership: a new acquisition, a new Performance Management system, or simply a new 4-box modelmight help us to achieve our goals.

The disappointment for those seeking short-cuts to improvement is obvious. The tool itself often takes the blame for lower-than-expected results and so we seek out the next ‘big thing’. One of the lessons I have learnt is that there are rarely short-cuts to improvement; most success comes from doing ‘old things’ well and persevering. These are not the words of a Luddite: I embrace new technologies where relevant but most human systems are hard to change. If change is to be successful, it comes about because of hard work and deliberate practice: not just mindless repetition, but rather the mindful attempt to achieve a goal, the awareness of what you did to achieve said goal, and the willingness to experiment until the goal is reached.

Last week, I was working with a global client who has embraced technology in learning and focused on trying to develop most leadership competencies on the job. Their workshops act as a pit stop and check-in rather than focusing on new learning. This is cutting edge in concept, but in reality the participants are incredibly busy senior managers who only give 100 per cent of their attention to the face-to-face sessions. When physically in a room with peers and coaches, their attention is fully on learning. In the workplace, there are somany competing commitments that the learning agenda becomes subsumed under a raft of other priorities. As with much e-learning and self-directed learning, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

Another of my clients is working with a trusted Mannaz advisor on a programme that is low-tech inmany ways, but the impact so far ismeasurable and impressive. The CEO of a part of a famous Scandinavian business has asked us to help reenergise the management team as the company moves from survival mode into growth. We have a year-long commitment to work directly with the top two levels of management. Our approach is actionbased and each participant is working on a real project, directly linked to the corporate strategy, whilst receiving one-to-one coaching between workshops to cover specific challenges faced. The impact is palpable in terms of real-world results, yet the tools would be familiar to Aristotle: a highly skilled consultant, who listens, challenges and supports a team of people who have learnt to coach each other and to be open and honest together.

As you consider how best to achieve your goals, keep it simple and expect hard work. I want my surgeon to use the very best tools available to her, but in areas of human behaviour, the tools may be more sophisticated than we need. Ultimately, it is the confidence and competence of the surgeon that matters; the tools can only multiply the impact, not replace the human being who wields them.