To say that our first Blacksmith Session went off with a bang would be a COMPLETE understatement.  Given the fabulous flexibility of our warehouse space we reconfigured the environment to create the perfect setting for our 25 guests to mix and mingle, listen and learn, share and collaborate.  Everyone was ON TIME (thank you) and shortly after our scheduled start of 4.30pm, Blacksmith HQ was full of HR, Comms, Marketing, Business Owner and Business Manager types mixing, mingling and chatting up a storm.

The topic obviously hit a nerve common across businesses of all shapes and sizes and our guests were an interesting and diverse bunch including representatives from:

  • Fisher & Paykel Finance
  • Telecom
  • Fonterra
  • ON-Brand Partners
  • THL
  • Asparona
  • Uniservices
  • BNZ
  • The Common Room
  • NZ Management Academies
  • Orica Chemnet
  • Hobson Leavy
  • Heartstone
  • Creativebank

Dr Rhema Vaithianathan kicked the business end of the session off with energy and passion.  She is most definitely a woman on a mission and she quickly engaged the room with her accessible, entertaining style and rock solid, practical, research based presentation.  She drew on a wide range of research from NZ and around the world, including some of her own work in the UK, to demonstrate the current state of NZ management and its impact on our productivity and economic performance.  Rhema presented some pretty impressive statistics around the positive impact of increasing management capability and confidence. Something that particularly grabbed the group was the magnitude of change that can be created by just a one point increase in manager capability – equivalent to adding 65% more capital to the business or 25% more labour with outspending an extra cent on plant or recruitment.  Wow!

We then broke into groups for some conversations around the insights and relevance to our respective businesses of the information in Rhema’s talk, the opportunities we see for our businesses and the country, and the barriers that get in the way of implementing solutions to shift manager capability and unlock this potential.

Insights & Relevance to our organisations:

  • We’re not addressing poor performance
  • There’s a lack of courage in our people managers
  • We’re held back by NZ culture of ‘like to be liked’
  • “Play the ball and not the man” with performance feedback – don’t make it personal or take it personally, focus on the problem not the person
  • We promote on technical competence but don’t offer management training to prepare them
  • We under value the need for and benefit of training e.g. tend to blame the workforce
  • Owner/operator mentality of retaining control, even by leaders in corporate – everything’s fine, why would I change anything/investment in managers? I’m making enough money.
  • Belief is we can’t afford it
  • Confidence in our managers to let go may be low
  • Lack of honour in being a middle manager
  • Management doesn’t make us money
  • Lack of measurement and hard data to make the business case for investment
  • Reducing costs versus increasing value – business by numbers versus holistic
  • 1 percentage point upward movement in manager capability = 65% increase in capital base of business!
  • Multinational success (for any sized business) means scalable management practices
  • Founders Dilemma – creator versus manager; are we in a warm bath?
  • We promote on tenure over performance and to keep people
  • This isn’t government’s problem – it’s a business issue
  • Do we have to be in pain to change?
  • Innovation versus DIY culture – we’re reluctant to get the expert support to help us grow and change
  • Cherry picking rather than using integrated solutions
  • As a country we’re too damn polite – our leaders aren’t facing the people challenges

What opportunities do we see to do better?

  • See everyone as a potential manager – not only for our business but the one’s they will move on to in their careers
  • Seek out and spotlight great managers in our business – create positive tension
  • Use assessment tools, to identify manager/leader potential as well as current performance
  • Succession planning and career planning – they should want my job!
  • Be brave! Courage is a foundation requirement for great leaders AND managers
  • Validate success – what does good look like?  Broaden the horizon of what a successful manager could look like
  • Tap into expertise to develop manager capability (SME’s could use contract/consulting services)
  • Room for more research (academic) that is NZ relevant
  • Real opportunity to improve the bottom line!
  • Room for cost effective training – making it accessible to businesses of all shapes and sizes (government funding and co-operative approaches)
  • Identify talent (future managers and leaders) – what an opportunity!!
  • Right opportunity.  Right person.  Right promotion.
  • Start with the basics – management versus leadership
  • Talk the language of business – create commercial/$$ argument for investment e.g. 65% increase in capital base and 25% increase in labour.  Wow!
  • Whose doing this well? Seek out and showcase great NZ companies doing management development well.
  • NZ = SME.  Lots of support for start-up but what about growth and first time manager development?
  • Collaboration – share what works between businesses of all sizes.  Together we can be better.
  • Start ‘The Conversation’ inside our businesses – a culture moves in the direction of its conversations. Are ours about what’s working or just the problems?
  • Personal responsibility – everyone in this room AND for all our managers
  • Thinking bigger about our businesses and their potential – create scalability in our management practices as well as our operations/supply chain.
  • Build a bigger NZ dream – what is our vision as a country and how are we working together as a business community to create it?

The barriers we see to implement solutions?

  • The old favourites – time and cost
  • Believing “it’s too hard”
  • Internal politics
  • Not having a shared understanding of what ‘good’ looks like
  • Trust – or rather lack thereof
  • Business owner/command and control (in businesses of ALL sizes) – lack of personal development/self awareness and the need to talk a bigger game than is necessarily true (looking good, going nowhere)
  • Failure to invest due to lack of perception of value
  • Bottom line mentality – cost versus value
  • Don’t want to admit they need help or ask for it
  • Founders Dilemma – too involved IN the business and a DIY attitude
  • Mindsets – tall poppy syndrome, performance is all about #s and logistics – not people.

After sharing the conversation outcomes above, which itself generated some great insights and a-ha moments, we once again flowed out to smaller groups to talk about the personal responsibility and opportunity we all have to change the conversation about manager capability and its place in the NZ productivity dilemma and get it ON THE TABLE for serious consideration and investment.

What are we inspired to do TOMORROW to start changing things?

  • Start open conversations about manager capability at all levels to align our vision and understanding
  • Identify talent in our own management – self awareness and consciousness
  • Be brave about recruiting choices
  • Talk about the evidence and spread the word
  • Have a conversation with the Executive team about prioritizing training – changing the attitude of ‘too busy’ to participate
  • Invest in management training for my own small business
  • Spread the word and connect people who ‘get it’ with information and each other
  • Evaluation and measurement analysis of social media for recruitment and share ALL THIS with my clients
  • Get management capability into the agenda of 2012 conference
  • Force the discussion on succession – no more Mr Nice Guy
  • Think like a multinational – repeatable, scalable processes and reduce reliance on specific people
  • Celebrate success – spot the brilliance and ‘catch’ people being good – share what ‘good’ looks like
  • Schedule monthly strategic level conversation about management capability
  • Work out what’s needed going forward – 12 months, 3 years, etc – talent in vacancy versus thinking ahead; at risk job groups
  • Look at how to elevate the role versus replace at cost
  • Have honest conversations about potential and capability with managers

Absolutely fabulous start to our Blacksmith Session series with definite desire for more from all participants and from our team.  Watch this space for information on the next one!  We’re also creating a Management Matters NZ group on Linked In to continue the conversation and build a movement with the momentum to create change in this important area.

Special thanks to Dr Rhema Vaithianathan for her time, energy and passion.  Thanks also to Meg Luff for providing the hospitality support for the event – it made Paul and my life soooo much easier having you there to quietly take care of business.