Author: colin

Posted on /by colin/in Article - Vision, Kim, Strategy - Vision, Transformation

A common goal strengthens even the weakest link

Part 1: Business lessons from Mount Cook

By Kim Goodhart

Remember the anxiety you felt when you were a kid and you were the last person picked for the sports team?

It’s never a nice feeling to know that you’re the weakest link on the team, but on a recent mountaineering trip across the Mount Cook Range – a demanding three day alpine trek through the Ball Pass Crossing – that’s the position I found myself in.

I’d committed to doing the crossing with my fiancé Steve – an accomplished athlete – his best mate Brian (a serious mountain biker) and Sasha, Brian’s wife and long distance trail runner. So, with our guide, Jono I found myself in the 5th position as the least fit, least experienced and totally naïve addition to the team – I had never even climbed a mountain!

To say I was anxious about the expedition would be an understatement. But Steve reassured me that I was fit enough to cope with the trip and that he would be there to support me. My team were also very quick to put me at ease. Steve had told them I would be fine and they trusted his judgement.

You can’t get there on your own

My team acknowledged my anxiety but they told me this wasn’t about any of us being the weakest link. That when it comes to trips like these, at any moment any one of them could become the weakest link. All it takes is bad luck – a slip can lead to a sprained ankle, a falling rock could hit someone on the head or an exposed rock face could trigger a moment of anxiety. Any of these will change the group dynamic in a second. Out in the wilderness that is the reality.

The goal is not for one person to make it in the fastest time, but for the team to make it to the end. To achieve that, the group must move as one – supporting and encouraging each other along the way – if we were going to successfully complete the three days of hiking, climbing and sometimes sliding through the Mount Cook National Park.

Day 1: Up the mountain

The first day was a steady uphill climb in the rain. I was quick to realise that the guide was asking me questions along the route to check to see if I could still talk. This is a simple way to test how well you are coping and he was setting the pace at my limits.

This made me a little anxious as I was concerned that the others wanted to go faster and that I was holding them back. It was fascinating for me to learn that holding other people back creates some anxiety for me but Steve supported me the whole way. He kept reassuring me that I was doing a great job and that I didn’t need to go any faster. That everyone was happy to go at my pace.

The truth was I couldn’t have gone any faster even if I’d wanted to. It was simply beyond my capabilities and so I had to let go and just do what I could. Every time the guide paused I knew I needed the moment to collect my breath before I could continue on to the next section.

My strength I’ve discovered is perseverance.

I don’t give up easily and while I may not have been able to move as quickly as the others, I can dig pretty deep, stay cheerful and keep moving forwards. But it was still a surprise to me that we made it to the top far faster than our guide anticipated. It turns out that just maintaining a steady pace actually gets you to the top pretty quickly.

As our guide said, it’s the breaks that slow you down. It’s a great reminder in business that it’s not about racing to the end. Moving too quickly can actually slow you down. It can lead to fatigue. It can lead to accidents and it can lead to mistakes all of which delay progress.

Business moral: If you want to get your team to the finish line in the fastest time, you need to set a pace that works for the whole group and that means setting the pace at a speed that everyone can maintain.

At the top we were welcomed with the first avalanche I’ve ever seen.

Standing on the edge of the peek by the Caroline Hut, with Mount Cook peering out at us between the clouds, the snow and rocks suddenly set themselves free. The load roar as they bounded and bounced down the edge of the mountain was something to behold.

The four of us watched in awe, silenced by the sheer impact and power of nature.  It served as a reminder of how small we are as individuals on this planet and how beautiful the world around us really is. If it hadn’t been for that climb I would never have experienced anything like it. This was our reward.

Posted on /by colin/in #MeToo Workplace Transformation, Transformation, Uncategorized

Will issues in New Zealand’s legal sector give us our Harvey Weinstein moment?

Tired of waiting for the #MeToo movement to breach New Zealand’s shores, broadcast radio personality Alison Mau launched ‘an investigation into sexual harassment in New Zealand workplaces’ early March, but does Ms Mau have the credibility, or will she be dismissed as ‘just a vigilante?’

By and large, the deafening silence continued after Ms Mau’s announcement. And then, former Prime Minister Helen Clark intimated that we must avoid sweeping sexual harassment under the carpet here in New Zealand.

Speaking under the headline #MeToo movement exposing ‘very unpleasant side of New Zealand’ – Helen Clark, she called on the issue to be dealt with, not ignored.

We’ve also seen some women talk up about sexual harassment in the law firm environment, in particular, Russell McVeigh has been in the firing line.. Auckland University of Technology cancelled a ‘recruiting visit’ from the law firm, which itself has appointed an independent review.

Victoria University meanwhile has been outed as having known about the allegations of sexual harassment against the law firm, and says it confronted the firm, but admits it never stopped students clerking there. You have to wonder, what young law student would turn down a role at a prestigious law firm, assuming they even knew about the allegations? Shouldn’t the university have done a lot more?

This raises a bigger question. Is Russell McVeagh the Harvey Weinstein of New Zealand? And are some of our universities the equivalent of ‘the Hollywood that knew’? As Quentin Tarantino said: “We allowed it to exist because that’s the way it was”.

Like Hollywood, young women entering the legal sector can have their careers stall or they can go stellar, depending on the good graces of a select few patriarchs – mostly senior male partners. The legal profession isn’t the only one that has this kind of structure. Accounting firms come to mind too.

You could argue that the structure of most business organisations lend themselves to the abuse of power on a Weinstein-like scale, but that wouldn’t be accurate. Most organisations are hierarchical, not patriarchal. Your average organisation does not have a ‘founding’ level of upper echelon management that barely ever changes and accrues the kind of power a senior partner holds. Partners themselves are institutions like Weinstein was in his business, and we all know that power corrupts.

Just how rotten is the law sector in New Zealand or, for that matter, accounting and other partnership based ‘establishments?’ Will we find rot? Or a house in order? Or will the deafening silence continue?

Alison Mau, as well-meaning as she may be, does not have the leadership credibility to inspire change. She’s a journalist. Her job is to call out those that need calling out, but it’s unlikely business leaders here will take her seriously unless she does what the New York Times did, and begins a lengthy exposé.

Even then, she’ll struggle unless the victims – particularly those women who now have influence – come forward and speak publicly.

People, society in general and particularly business leaders want to avoid scandal at all costs. There’s too much blood and angst, and it sticks around for decades. So how do we coax New Zealand’s business leaders to step up and deal with this issue when they’d really just have it go away?

I said earlier (you can read about it here) that I believe the gender equality equivalent of the Rainbow Tick might work. It provides a positive mechanism for companies, CEOs and other leaders to support change – and thus lead change – with perhaps a little less pain than Hollywood is experiencing.

As somebody who works with CEO’s and other business leaders in helping organisations to transform and change, I know from experience that change will not happen unless people see the need for change and they are ready for change – a Rainbow Tick equivalent for gender equality can help start the conversation.

A bloodless transition may not be ideal. Perhaps the only healing that can be achieved is through legal action or the New Zealand equivalent of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. A Rainbow Tick-like scheme, however, is a mechanism for achieving change and safer workplaces and that, surely, is preferable to this entire issue being swept under the carpet – as Helen Clark, no doubt fears it will be.



Posted on /by colin/in Article - Vision

Uber under fire, but team led transformation may be a way out

Taking over the helm of an organisation facing accusations of breaching customer privacy and having a workplace environment described as toxic (and rife with sexual harassment claims) – not to mention falling foul of various national transport regulators – could be described as gulping from a poisoned chalice. You would have to be a lunatic to take the job as CEO, wouldn’t you?

Iranian-American businessman and former CEO of Expedia, Inc., Dara Khosrowshahi, has sipped from that poisoned chalice and he’s still standing – and he’s not a lunatic either, just a man who has a vision.

Dara Khosrowshahi took the job as CEO at Uber and, as one media outlet put it, he’s been “racing from one disaster to the next as he tries to head off boycotts, lawsuits, criminal probes and an executive-led exodus”.

London is trying to outlaw Uber, Brasilia is going the same way, and now we’ve just had news of a cyber breach that exposed the personal data of more than 57 million customers and Uber drivers globally.

But rather than running for cover, or taking a defiant stand, Khosrowshahi has accepted responsibility, apologised and set about fixing the problems – but not with the iron fist one would expect.

Charged with transforming Uber from a ‘growth at all costs’ culture to one of ‘responsible growth,’ Khosrowshahi invited the company’s staff to write the organisation’s new norms – rather than impressing his interpretation on the team.

1,200 submissions and 22,000 votes later, Khosrowshahi published Uber’s new cultural values on LinkedIn. They are:

  1. We build globally; we live locally
  2. We are customer obsessed
  3. We celebrate differences
  4. We do the right thing
  5. We act like owners
  6. We persevere
  7. We value ideas over hierarchy
  8. We make big, bold bets

Some commentators suggest that the inclusive approach of involving the entire organisation in the design and development of cultural values won’t always work, and that may be true – but there’s no better way to build unity and purpose, provided it’s done with sincerity from the top down.

By sincerity, we mean that you cannot achieve change without your team’s support and you won’t get that support if you’re not sincere about the value you place in their opinions, thoughts, feelings and ideas.

Organisational transformation won’t work without team buy-in, and you’ll only win that buy-in by demonstrating your desire to connect, listen and learn from them.

We recently wrote an eGuide about how “no plan survives first contact” (to say that Uber is in a military contact-like a situation is no understatement).

Military generals will leave it to the troops on the ground to improvise and adjust tactics when the bombs start landing – it’s why the army works so hard to build unity, and why it puts so much emphasis into training, teamwork and trust.

To read about how you can do the same for your organisation, we invite you to read the guide – it’s free, your details are private, and we won’t spam you. Just click the button below.


Posted on /by colin/in Article - Vision, Purpose, Strategy - Vision

What Steve Jobs and scorpions can teach us about successful business change

Steve Jobs said marketing is about values. But actually, values are more than marketing.

At the launch of the Apple marketing campaign ‘Think Different’, Steve Jobs said, “Values and core values, those things shouldn’t change. The things that Apple believed in at its core are the same things Apple stands for today”.

Apple’s ‘Think Different’ campaign was about honouring people who think different and move the world forward. But so many leaders fail to move even the company forward.


The frog and the scorpion

One of the main reasons for this is that they’ve lost their core values or no longer refer to them as the lodestones they once were.

Most of us will be familiar with Aesop’s fable about the scorpion that asked the frog to give it a lift across the river. The frog is hesitant, fearing the scorpion will sting it. But the scorpion argues that if it stung the frog, they would both drown.

So, reluctantly the frog carries the scorpion across the river. Halfway across the river, the scorpion stings the frog, dooming them both.

When the frog asks the scorpion ‘why?’ The scorpion shrugs and says that it was in its nature to do so. People are appalled by the gloomy pessimism of this fable, and that’s because we are not guided, or motivated or compelled by instinct like the scorpion. We are led by reason.


Staying the course on your true north

Earlier, I referred to ‘values’ as a lodestone, which in Middle English means ‘course stone’ or ‘leading stone’ – it’s a good metaphor for how values-led businesses will always know true north.

Without them, companies become lost because companies are the sum total of their people and people are ‘reason seeking creatures’ – we need a ‘why’, and we respond best when we have an over-arching purpose.

Steve Jobs went on to say that, “this is a very complicated world. It is a very noisy world. We are not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. And so, we have to be really clear on what we want people to know about us”.

He concluded that advancing Apple was not a matter of talking about speeds and fees and why Apple is better than Windows, but about Apple’s identity, as defined by its values.


What you stand for will show the way

“What is it that we stand for? Where do we fit in this world?” he asked. “What we are about isn’t making boxes for people to get their jobs done. Although we do that well. Apple is about something more. Apple, at the core, its core value, is that we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better.

“Those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that actually do,” he said.

Apple’s mission was clear; to enable people with passion who wanted to change the world.

Jobs acknowledged that Apple had changed completely from when it first started out, but values remain – your true north.

Your company and your plans will change, so will your people, but your values can remain consistent.

To help companies stay on true north even when circumstances change, I invite you to download and read our free eGuide on why transformations fail and in particular, why no plan survives the first contact and what to do about it.