I was invited to give the afternoon keynote at the HR Directors Forum, held at Mayer Brown Solicitors in the City the other week. Here’s a few highlights from the event:
Myths and Riffs of High Performance
The morning kicked off with a big bang from Professor Adrian Furnham, who elegantly blew away some myths surrounding the development of High Performance organisations and people. Here’s just a few of the key insights:
Adrian released some interesting research on Coaching. Whilst in general research demonstrates that the vast majority of Coaching is fairly ineffective, he highlighted some conditions under which it works. Like most things, it all comes down to solid preparation:
- Ensuring the client is ready to receive the coaching – 40% contribution
- Getting the relationship right between client and coach – 30% contribution
- Client expectation that coaching will lead to improvement – 15% contribution
- The coaches’ repertoire of models / strategies and tools to help the client – 15% contribution
This provided me with great levels of satisfaction and a certain level of smugness!! :-) since I always spend a lot of time making sure my clients are fully prepared to benefit from coaching. We then have an initial session to find out if the ‘chemistry’ will work and I work from a wide palette of approaches to coaching and not just the limited ‘question based approach’ that bedevils the ‘friendly co-pilot’ style of coaching, otherwise known as the ‘dumb leading the blind’. There is of course a place for purely “Socratic” question based coaching but it is just one approach from a much wider repertoire.
Adrian also dealt a critical blow to the beloved “Nine Box Performance Management model” based on UCL’s detailed research into the model. Read his new book “High Potential” with Ian MacRae for more insights if you want to do this stuff properly. Adrian also wrote an article on music and leadership for Psychology Today – read it here.
It also featured superb sessions from Liz Codd, who gave great insights into the realities of assessing leadership potential in an international Asset Management Firm and from John Renz at Novae Group, who also gave a practical example of how to do Coaching well in a business context, giving pragmatic triangulation to Professor Furnham’s ideas
Never Mind the Neuro-Boll … ks …
The most difficult session was an input on neuroscience and HR. Admittedly, it was far too short to give any real opportunity to dig into the topic so I have some sympathy for the speaker. My main difficulty with the session is that there was very little that did anything more than to reinforce some well known truths from over 100 years of social research on the topic by Herzberg, Victor Vroom et al. We already know that money doesn’t satisfy and that recognition is more important than reward. We also know that the alignment of goals with personal motivations matters for high performance. The speaker admitted that the addition of the word “neuro” to just about everything is simply an example of “old wine in new bottles”. Don’t get me wrong, I am a scientist by original profession and neuroscience is an important scientific development, but I agreed with her that we must be careful to avoid strapping it on to just about everything.
I fought the Law, and the Law won …
Plus a superb session from a Lawyer – YES, a superb session from a Lawyer. I have suffered the slings and arrows of numerous talks by lawyers when I was Branch Chair and Council Board Member for CIPD, but this was exceptional. Clear, simple advice and insights from Chris Fisher at Mayer Brown into how companies can protect their intellectual property when people leave plus a range of other topics.
Sex, HR and Rock’n’Roll
The odd ball of the day was the panel session on “Sexism and the City”. I am a vigorous advocate of diversity in every shape and form, having worked in a meritocracy at the Wellcome Foundation, a company who won four Nobel Prizes for it’s groundbreaking work in medicines for life threatening conditions. In such a company, the work is much more important than politically correct quotas of black / white, straight / gay, able-bodied / disabled, male / female as a driving force for the selection and development of people. As a result we had a genuine global village at the company and I found myself wondering whether the square mile was somehow still stuck in the 14th Century? The session included a rant from a self-confessed “alpha female” who asked for a revolution to introduce female quotas in the City. There is nothing less persuasive than a single issue protester with a ‘sandwich board’ so it was difficult to hear the sensible arguments that lay beneath it. However there were three other panel members who put forward wider arguments, beyond the outdated idea of bringing back quotas for women in senior positions which has failed over several generations. After all, do we really think that just transplanting women without the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes into positions is likely to make them shine? The thinking needs to go much further than this, more along the lines of Professor Charles Handy and Tom Peters’ thought leadership in this area. Overall, the panel session was provocative and set me thinking about the issues, so it did succeed in its aim of livening up the session before lunch after a long morning.
Adaptation, Improvisation and Organisation
I was asked to deliver the after lunch keynote … where I was rather strangely introduced as “I met some bloke who mixes rock music and business the other week” to a series of slightly confused people who were expecting a thought leader and former CIPD Council Board member rather than a busker. Oh well, that happens from time to time! :-) The session went very well despite losing nearly 1/3 of the time available and with this strange beginning. Here’s my slide deck on the substantial issues of adaptation, improvisation and organisation in HR. Contact me to discuss the issues I raised or for a personal walkthrough of the talk, where we looked at personal creativity and is relationship to adaptive or learning companies.
We finish with the main title of my talk:
About the Author: Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and Organisation Development, Training and Coaching. Contact via firstname.lastname@example.org or +44 (0) 7725 927585.