Understanding Cultural Differences – Implications for Teams at Work

Understanding Cultural Differences – Implications for Teams at Work

By Aoife Harrington, July 2010

With the globalisation of the economy and the diversification of the labour market, more and more organisations are relying on multi-cultural teams (MCT). Although MCTs often produce more creative solutions and better quality decisions, they can also bring with them complex group dynamics, unique communication issues and a greater potential for interpersonal conflict.

In order to better understand cultural differences, this article will draw primarily on Hofstede’s (1980) Model of Culture – based on data from over 100,000 people in 40 countries.

In brief, Hofstede proposed that there are 5 main dimensions on which cultures can vary;

 

  • Power Distance – the degree to which less powerful members of institutions and organisations expect and accept that power is distributed unequally
  • Uncertainty Avoidance – the degree of tolerance of ambiguity and uncertainty
  • Individualism – the extent to which individuals are integrated into groups and how people define themselves apart from their group membership
  • Masculinity– the value placed on traditionally male versus female values in society
  • Long-Term Orientation – the degree to which a society embraces long term devotion to tradition and commitment and also their degree of receptivity to change

 

Some key cultural differences will now be outlined and the implications for MCTs at work will be discussed.

 

  • Agreeing on Task and Process Strategies:

Like all teams at work, MCTs need to arrive at a common approach to working together. Reaching an agreement from the outset on how meetings will be conducted and what conduct is appropriate during meetings is particularly important in MCTs. In high uncertainty avoidance cultures, setting agendas is essential as they bring a sense of predictability and structure to meetings.  For cultures with low uncertainty avoidance, however, meeting agendas and sticking to them rigidly can be seen as repressive and potentially stifling creativity.

 

  • Goal Setting:

Cultural differences will play a key role in how goals are set and what these goals entail. Some cultures would interpret the very act of goal setting as task-orientated and insensitive to the needs of the social group. As such, time should be dedicated to establishing a sense of rapport between team members before any goals are set. Different approaches to time will also have an impact on how and when goals are set – depending on whether time is viewed as monochromic or polychromic.

 

  • Assigning Roles and Responsibilities:

Choosing who does what and who will take the lead can be problematic in MCTs. Who is chosen as the team’s leader and what their responsibilities are is an important decision that the team must make. Cultures can differ significantly in the degree to which the leader is seen as a facilitator versus a decision maker and also the extent to which the team leader can be challenged.

 

  • Choosing How to Communicate:

The first step in communication is to choose the working language for the MCT. In order to facilitate communication, members should be encouraged to speak slowly and to try to express their view points in alternative ways. Particularly in times of emotional conflict, communication can become even more difficult within MCTs. Translating feelings into words can be very difficult when people are upset and often people do not know equivalent words for emotions across cultures which can lead to misunderstandings.

 

  • Virtual Communication:

As MCTs are often dispersed both temporally and geographically, virtual communication has become a necessity in organisational life. However, by their very nature, online environments tend to be task-focused and restrict social interaction.  In order to create a greater sense of purpose in the virtual MCT, high quality audio and visual technology, that absorbs team members into the scene, should be used.

 

  • Decision Making:

How decisions as reached and implemented can differ from one culture to the next, with some cultures seeking consensus, others favouring majority rule and others still looking to power distance, seniority and longevity.

 

  • Evaluating Performance & Allocating Rewards:

Performance appraisal can be a potential cultural minefield. Appraisal systems, by their very nature, tend to assume that goals can be set and reached and, therefore, that people and time can be managed so to achieve those goals. The allocation of rewards is an equally sensitive issue in MCTs that needs to be handled with care – particularly when people from collectivist and individualistic cultures are members of the same team.

 

  • Conflict Resolution:

It is essential that ways of managing conflict in MCTs are agreed upon in advance, because the way in which conflict is managed can vary significantly form one culture to the next, depending on whether value is placed on maintaining harmonious relationships versus more masculine values like drive and determination to succeed.

 

In conclusion, MCTs are inherent in organisational life and businesses need to embrace and take advantage of cultural diversity. This involves identifying and discussing differences and not just ignoring them and hoping that they will go away. Most importantly, as boundaries between nations become increasingly blurred, developing a more general cultural awareness and being receptive to cues of cultural differences will allow MCT members to work together to their best effect.

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To learn more about our  services, please contact the office: +353-1-6688891 or info@davittcorporatepartners.com

Discover how DavittCorporatePartners can help you to:

Develop Leadership in Your Organisation

Win the War for Talent

Realise Individual Potential

Align Behaviour with Corporate Values

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Aoife Harrington is a Registered Work and Organisational Psychologist at DavittCorporatePartners – Corporate Psychologists

Leading by Example

Leading with Emotional Intelligence


Great businesses are headed by great leaders.  There are a handful of charismatic figures who lead high-profile organisations and names such as Jack Welch of GE and Steve Jobs of Apple come easily to mind.  There are, however, many, many more very successful businesses where the catalyst for that success is as effective but less visible to the outside world.


So what is it that these men and women are doing that is different?

How do they deliver performance and shareholder value?


Research in over 200 companies and organisations worldwide suggests that about one-third of this difference is due to technical skill and cognitive ability while two-thirds is due to emotional competence. In top leadership positions, over four-fifths of the difference is due to emotional competence.


Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is often defined as the ability to use your emotions intelligently – that is, to understand how your emotions impact upon the way you think, communicate and influence.  Emotionally intelligent people create effective working relationships, solve problems and increase their capacity to perform.  The idea that personal development can be enhanced through looking at emotions, first achieved popular acceptance in 1995 when writer-psychologist Daniel Goleman published his best selling book “Emotional Intelligence”.


Leaders with high EQ have been shown to add as much as 127% more value to the bottom line of their organization than average leaders. Indeed, how executives handle their own emotions determines how much people want to interact with them.


Even in jobs of medium complexity studies of EQ have found that a top performer is 12 times more productive than those at the bottom and 85 percent more productive than an average performer.


Empowering Employees – Making the Most of Your Human Capital

Empowering Employees – Making the Most of Your Human Capital

By Aoife Harrington May 2010

Times are tough. Economies are faltering. Businesses are under increasing pressure. Now is the time for organisations to capitalize on their strengths, particularly their human capital, and one way of doing this is through employee empowerment. Empowerment is a buzz word that has been bandied about for many years – overused and misused in many contexts – but what exactly is it and how can it be best achieved in order to make sure that your business makes the most of its human capital?

Fundamentally, empowerment is about recognising and releasing into the organisation the power that people already have within them in terms of their experience, knowledge and motivation. It represents a move away from traditional top down models of management and involves a controlled transfer of authority, responsibility and power to people at different levels of the organisation. Essentially empowerment allows employees to think, act, function and make decisions in autonomous ways.

Empowerment has been found to be associated with significant organisational gains, including an increase in work commitment and job satisfaction, commitment to organisational goals, better team performance and increased product and service quality. It has also been found to have a positive impact on employee turnover and employee stress levels as it promotes greater role clarity.  Giving power to your people will not only make them happier and more productive, it will have benefits across the organisation, including the identification of high potential performers and freeing up more time for business leaders to focus on strategic thinking, more complex problem solving and others executive leadership matters.

Organisations often take for granted, however, that employees will welcome and indeed be committed to empowerment. It’s not just a case of convincing employees that they are powerful, however, employees must consider themselves to have gained some power. One of the most important messages for organisations today is that it is individuals that must make the choice of whether to be empowered or not, leaders simply create the environment in which individuals can make that choice.

8 Steps to Creating an Empowerment Environment

  1. 1. Improve Communication:
  • Progressively sharing vital and often sensitive company information will develop a sense of mutual trust between management and employees and will facilitate employees making informed, independent decisions.
  • Communication must be two-way: it is not only important for management to keep employees in the loop on what’s going on in the business but they should be willing to listening to staff also.
  • Upward communication provides a means for employees to express their views and grievances openly to management.
  • Getting employee to share their points of view can be encouraged by using suggestion boxes, brain storming, focus groups and quality circles and the output from this should be evaluated and implemented, by management, as appropriate.

  1. 2. Provide Training & Learning Opportunities:
  • Organisations must remember that people often don’t have the necessary skills or capabilities to deal with the new responsibilities that have been bestowed on them through empowerment and thus employees need to be helped to become more competent by providing regular and continuous training.
  • Employees should also be given the opportunity to network with one another and to shadow the work of others so that they can build their level of confidence and their skills repertoire.
  • Since empowerment is also about seizing opportunities for personal growth and self-fulfilment, organic approaches to training should also focus on helping employees to gain a sense of ownership in the organisation and provide opportunities for personal growth and change within the empowered work role.

  1. 3. Change the Corporate Culture:
  • It is fundamentally important that mangers do not just pay lip service to the idea of empowerment. Before the concept is even introduced to employees, the organisation need to get buy in from managers and to educate them on what exactly empowerment is.
  • This process should begin by defining what exactly empowerment is and establishing policies and strategies on how it can be introduced across the organisation.
  • Barriers that limit employees from acting in empowered ways will also need to be identified and removed.

 

  1. 4. Adapt the Organisational Structure:
  • Empowerment does not mean that organisational leaders are no longer responsible for performance but rather that they are now responsible for creating a culture in which employee contribution is valued and cultivated.
  • Management at all levels will need to be made aware that while strong leadership will be important at the outset when introducing employee empowerment, mangers will need to gradually adapt to more participative management styles to support the empowerment process going forward.
  • Provision of training will be important in this regard and should focus on how to flatten organisational structures,  move on from micro managing employees and increases employee access to the information required to make autonomous decisions.

  1. 5. Set Boundaries:
  • It is important that although employees are delegated control and autonomy, clear boundaries are set.
  • Managers must be open and honest about what decisions employees can make and which they cannot.
  • Employees should be taught how to set realistic, specific and measurable goals.
  • Accountability needs to be passed down to employees as well as control.

  1. 6. Reward Employee Participation:
  • In order to prevent employees from feeling that empowerment is being used as a front for getting them to do more for less, the organisation’s reward system needs to be changed
  • Contingent rewards systems including pay for performance and profit sharing initiatives help to forge a sense of ownership between the employee and the organisation.
  • Individual performance-based reward-systems also work well in empowered organisations.
  • Managers must remember to reward employees in visible ways and provide them with continuous, constructive feedback on their performance.
  • Praise for accomplishment and acknowledgement of effort will also ensure that employees feel rewarded for taking on additional responsibilities.

 

  1. 7. Support Empowered Employees:
  • A safe environment should be created where people can learn to cope with their responsibilities and try out new skills.
  • Employees should not be punished for making mistakes but rather they should be urged to learn from them and do better next time.
  • Provision of support for the integration of employee work and family lives
  • Developing networks between employees which will help to build wider and stronger relationships at work which will be a source of social support.

  1. 8. Support the Power Sharers:
  • Organisations must not forget to support the power sharers in empowerment initiatives, which, more often than not, are middle managers. Often middle managers are most resistant to empowerment initiatives as they fear that the organisation will no longer need them and that they will be made redundant.
  • Organisations should try to increase the scope of delegation of responsibilities from senior management to middle management
  • Training should be provided for middle managers in how to effectively manage and lead empowered teams

Although difficult to define, empowerment is a concept that most organisations must at least consider if they wish to retain their competitive edge. It is important that organisations recognise that empowerment will not happen overnight but that it will take some time before employees feel truly empowered. By training employees in the necessary skills, improving lines of communication, flattening the organisational structure, creating a culture of participation and supporting the power sharers, the process of empowerment is likely to be accelerated and collective organisational success will ensure.

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To learn more about our  services, please contact the office: +353-1-6688891 or info@davittcorporatepartners.com

Discover how DavittCorporatePartners can help you to:

Develop Leadership in Your Organisation

Win the War for Talent

Realise Individual Potential

Align Behaviour with Corporate Values

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Aoife Harrington is a Consultant Organisational Psychologist at DavittCorporatePartners – Corporate Psychologists

Read an interview with Adrienne Davitt in this month’s Marketing Age magazine

Read an interview with Adrienne Davitt in this month’s Maketing Age magazine.

Marketing Age – Moving On Up Issue 1 2010

or visit their website:  here


Getting Redundancy Right

Getting Redundancy Right- As published in March 2010 issue of “IE.AB” The official publication of the ACCA

If redundancy and workforce transitioning is managed properly, businesses can ensure that valued employees make the transitions into new roles and organisations, while remaining staff are kept motivated and engaged, according to DavittCorporatePartners, Ireland’s leading organisational psychology consultancy, which provides client’s with proven psychological solutions to enhance their business performance.

Outplacement and career transitioning services assist organisations to: increase motivation among remaining employees; improve their ability to retain key staff; project a positive image; and alleviate feelings of anger and fear. individuals can be helped to understand their potential and how to use it to their advantage as well as increasing self awareness and confidence.

Find out more at info@davittcorporatepartners.com

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

To learn more about our  Career services, please contact the office: +353-1-6688891 or info@davittcorporatepartners.com

Discover how DavittCorporatePartners can help you to:

Develop Leadership in Your Organisation

Win the War for Talent

Realise Individual Potential

Align Behaviour with Corporate Values

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


Learning to develop stress capacity and enhance your stress coping skills

Learning to develop stress capacity and enhance your stress coping skills

By Amber Hanna

It seems that stress has become an unavoidable side effect in today’s workplace. Rapidly changing market demands have added an extra layer of unpredictability and stress to the already stressful day to day experiences of many businesses in Ireland. Increasingly the causes of increased stress are outside our control, when this is the case the best way to tackle rising stress levels is to prepare yourself and begin to learn how to modify your response to these unexpected and increasingly difficult stressors. This article will offer some tips on how you can begin to actively manage your own stress levels.

The single most effective way to enhance our capability to deal with stress is by improving one’s overall physical condition.  Research confirms that the better your overall physical condition, the more able you are to cope with stress.  Good physical condition has also been linked to higher self esteem and a more positive outlook on life in general.  Physical condition is largely determined by diet, nutrition and exercise – subjects that are well beyond our capacity to cover here in any depth.  Most of us freely acknowledge the potential benefits of improved physical condition, while our attempts to manage ourselves in this respect meet with varying degrees of success. A key point is that exercise, in particular, is an energy source, not an energy drain.  Time set aside for exercise is guaranteed to lead to enhanced focus and productivity in any work role and as such is a great way to develop our capacity to deal with stress.

We can also increase our stress capacity by developing our emotional resiliency. Self awareness can help us manage stress by increasing our ability to understand and predict our responses to events and the way others will react to us.   Self awareness can be developed for example via personality profiles (e.g., Myers Briggs, 16PF or the EQI) or by feedback, including 360 feedback from colleagues.  Psychologists also believe that self talk is also an important determinant of how we feel in any given situation. Negative self talk is itself a barrier to performance and a source of stress.   Regardless of the context, negative self talk will only make things worse; conversely, positive self talk can help reduce stress.


Learn how to manage stress

 

When you feel like the stress in your life may be getting out of control, remember that while you may not be able to control life’s stressors you can control your response to them. The number one thing to take into account when trying to manage stress is to take charge! You can manage the stress in your life by taking charge of your thoughts, your emotions, your schedule, your environment, and the way you deal with problems. Stress management involves changing the stressful situation when you can, changing your reaction when you can’t, taking care of yourself, and making time for rest and relaxation.

 

People deal with stressful situations in their own unique way. Psychologists have grouped the variety of coping methods people employ into three groups. These are, problem focused coping, emotion focused coping and seeking social support.

 

Problem focused coping occurs in people who reduce their anxiety about an upcoming event by focussing on the problem at hand. Preparing power point slides and rehearsing questions in advance for that upcoming presentation for example. People who use this method directly confront their problem and try and change the situation so it is no longer stressful for them.

Emotion focused coping strategies occur when people try to manage their own response to a stressful situation rather than directly face the problem. Forms of this response can vary from avoidance of the situation altogether to grim acceptance that the situation can’t be changed so ‘I have to just get on with it’.

The last type of coping strategy employed by people under stress is that of seeking social support which involves to turning to others for assistance and emotional support in times of stress.

 

Research has shown that a combination of problem focused coping and seeking social support lead to the best outcomes for people under stress. Unsurprisingly, emotion focused coping strategies that centre on avoidance, denial or wishful thinking do not result in favourable outcomes. However emotion focused strategies that are useful for tackling stress include those that involve identifying your own emotional responses and trying to change irrational negative thinking patterns regarding stressful situations.

 

For many people stress in today’s workplace situations may be outside their control. In these cases problem focused solutions involving changing the situation so it no longer causes stress may not be possible. When this is the case emotion focused coping strategies may be the most effective option, because even if it not possible to change the situation we can change our responses, preventing or controlling further negative effects of stress resulting from our own negative responses to stress.



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To learn more about our  services, please contact the office: +353-1-6688891 or info@davittcorporatepartners.com

Discover how DavittCorporatePartners can help you to:

Develop Leadership in Your Organisation

Win the War for Talent

Realise Individual Potential

Align Behaviour with Corporate Values

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Amber Hanna is a trainee Organisational Psychologist at DavittCorporatePartners – Corporate Psychologists

Establishing Key Differences between Coaching and Counselling

Establishing Key Differences between Coaching and Counselling. By Aoife Harrington (MSc, BA Psych, Reg. Psychol PsSI)

Although coaching and counselling represent relatively recent additions to the range of human service professions, both have undergone significant growth and development over the last few decades. In fact it has been reported that coaching is now the second-fastest growing profession in the world, rivaled only by information technology (Williams, 2008) while the uptake of counselling has also seen a sharp rise, particularly in western industrialised societies (McLeod, 2003). Much confusion exists, however, amongst the general public, and indeed professionals alike, as to what the difference is between coaching and counselling – with many people treating them as one and the same.

According to the International Coaching Federation (ICF), coaching can be defined as ‘an ongoing partnership that helps clients produce fulfilling results in their personal and professional lives’. It represents a form of personalised, supported learning undertaken for the accomplishment of goals in a chosen area of focus, be that professional or personal (Goldberg, 1999). In the coaching relationship, the coach partners the client in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their potential. Although it can take many forms, counselling can be broadly defined as a highly skilled intervention focused on helping individuals address underlying psychological problems. Counselling is, therefore, a therapeutic relationship between counselor and client and although it can be viewed as a helping behaviour or a repertoire of interventions it is, most fundamentally, a psychological process (McLeod, 2003).

Part of the reason for the blurring of boundaries between coaching and counselling is because – as disciplines or helping professions – they share many similar qualities. Both are based on a client/practitioner model and, for the most part, are conducted by skilled practitioners. There is also an overlap in terms of their basic philosophies – with both coaching and (many) counselling initiatives embracing the client as the centre of the process and the masters of their own destinies. Both focus on the needs and goals of the client, emphasise the importance of rapport building and active listening and often use goal setting and action planning techniques. Moreover, the core skills employed by the coach and the counsellor are in many cases the same, with emphasis placed on the fostering of trust, respect, openness and confidentiality. In terms of outcomes, counselling and coaching can often result in similar behaviour change or adaptation of behaviour and can help clients to foster a greater understanding or awareness of their underlying thoughts, cognition and emotional reactions in a given situation.

Despite such similarities, however, there are a number of key aspects of coaching that differentiate it from counselling.

–          To begin, the nature of the client/practitioner relationship tends to be different in counselling, as there is a greater power differential. Specifically, the relationship is much more defined in counselling with the therapist typically taking charge of the counselling session, diagnosing the client’s situation and then providing professional expertise and guidelines to map out a path to healing. By contrast, there is more of an equal partnership in coaching.

–          In line with the power differential discussed above, the level of expertise associated with coaching and counselling tends to differ.  Specifically, clients typically come to counselling with a problem and the counsellor is seen as an expert who will attempt to remedy this problem. Coaching is not about what the coach delivers, however, but what the client creates and, therefore, coaches are not seen as experts, but rather as guides and resource providers.

–          Following on from this, the skills set, training and experience of counsellors tends to differ – and often exceed – that of coaches, due to the nature of the issues under discussion and resolution. As counselling often leads to deep and intense emotional experiences, it demands skillful guidance from an experienced practitioner. The need to study complex theories of human behaviour, however, is less important for coaches simply because coaching is more concerned with process than actual content.

–          Another key differentiating factor is the reactive nature of counselling, typically focusing on the resolution of problems, particularly those of an emotional or interpersonal nature. By contrast, coaching is much more proactive and thus tends not to be about solving problems, although, in the process, issues under consideration may become resolved in a way that restores balance to the client’s life.

–          Although both coaching and counselling are goal driven, how goals are actually formed and the role on the coach in goal setting tends to be quite different in coaching. Specifically, the goals of coaching are formulated and determined solely by the client. The coach’s role in establishing goals is to help the client stay focused on working towards those goals (making sure they are achievable, realistic, measurable and linked to a specific time frame). In order to achieve this, coaches must ask key questions of the client in order to gather information, build and maintain the relationship, inspire them to think clearly and creatively and, most critically, to make requests and initiate action.

–          Another key differential in terms of coaching versus counselling is the degree to which the focus is on the past versus the present/future. Coaching primarily focuses on a person’s present, in order to help them create actionable strategies for achieving specific goals in their life while counselling tends to be primarily concerned with exploring past events or issue. While the past may be discussed on occasion in coaching, it is typically only addressed in the context of discovering what is blocking the client from moving forward in their current and future roles and in the context of goal attainment.

–          One final area for consideration is that the boundaries tend to be somewhat different in coaching compared to counselling/therapeutic relationships, with coaching allowing for greater flexibility. Specifically, there tends to be more scope in how and when coaching is delivered, for example, coaching can take place in a variety of locations and often utilizes various media of communication, including email and teleconference facilities. Counselling on the other hand typically takes place in the same location (often a counsellor’s room’s) on a regular basis, with little scope for deviation.

In summary, although both coaching and counselling are person-centered, holistic approaches that are primarily concerned with meeting the needs of the client, in a safe and structured environment – a number of key differences set them apart. In brief, coaching is a future-orientated, strengths based, proactive, challenging, non-judgmental process whereby the coach partners the client in a journey of self-discovery. The process is fundamentally important in coaching, often more so than outcomes, and it is the client’s responsibility to set the agenda and goals for coaching, with the coach monitoring progress and holding the client accountable. By contrast, counselling is a remedial, directive, therapeutic, retrospective intervention and is orientated to the clients past experiences and the resolution of problems. Importantly, what will be crucial for both disciplines going forward will be to educate people on the merit and utility of both coaching and counselling, and most fundamentally, to create a better understanding of when and in what context each will be most appropriately employed.

References

Goldberg, M.C. (1999). Expert question asking: The engine of successful coaching. The   Manchester Review; University of Manchester.

McLeod, J. (2003). An introduction to counselling, 3rd edition. McGraw-Hill, Open University Press London.

Williams, R. (2008). Executive coaching: The secret weapon for high impact leadership. National Post. Vancouver, CA.

 

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To learn more about our Executive Coaching services, please contact the office: +353-1-6688891 or info@davittcorporatepartners.com

Discover how DavittCorporatePartners can help you to:

Develop Leadership in Your Organisation

Win the War for Talent

Realise Individual Potential

Align Behaviour with Corporate Values

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Aoife Harrington is a Consultant at DavittCorporatePartners – Corporate Psychologists

Accountability or Responsibility – The Achilles’ Heel of Leadership

Accountability or Responsibility – the Achilles’ Heel of Leadership by Andrew Harley

There is a blurred boundary between responsibility and accountability. For many people the two are interchangeable, with shared meaning. This paper will examine the clear and profound difference between the two terms. The understanding of this difference is one of the critical factors in differentiating truly effective leaders from those who are only taskmasters.

To illustrate the difference a comparison can be made between two business leaders:

Brian is the Managing Director of a manufacturing business that generates revenues of €60 million a year from products sold globally. He has direct involvement in all aspects of the business and keeps track of progress by the active management of 250 current tasks in Outlook on his computer and Blackberry. His challenge, as he sees it, is to ensure that all the tasks are completed to his satisfaction.

Alan is the Managing Director of a manufacturing business that has grown from sales of €10 million five years ago to €40 million in the current year. Alan’s target for the business next year is €60milloin. He actively monitors eight projects, ranging from cost reduction to innovation. Most of his energy is devoted to ensuring that everyone in the business has a clear and shared picture of the future and are committed to making that picture a reality.

The difference is stark – Brian works almost 100 hours a week and feels that he has no time to relax. Alan averages 50 hours a week and has a good work/life balance. How can we understand this difference? Essentially both Brian and Alan want the same things, to deliver growth and shareholder value. The difference is the way that they approach this. Brian has not yet made the distinction between what he is accountable for and what he is responsible for. Alan, on the other hand, is acutely aware of the difference and refuses to let the boundaries become compromised.

The way that the two terms differ is subtle and sometimes difficult to articulate. The simple and easy way to distinguish between the two is to take the meaning of Responsible as the expression of the direct link between action and outcome. Accountability is the achievement of outcomes by indirect means. Returning to Brian and Alan this is the way that it works in reality: Brian knows what has to be done and how. If he had time he could do everything himself. The time is not available so he instructs others to act as his proxies.

Alan knows what has to be achieved and by when. He believes that others know better than him how to do things – so he builds in others commitment to the result and allows them to determine for themselves the means of achievement.

Alan is comfortable answering to the shareholders regarding the performance of the business –accountability sits easily with him. He understands that it is his duty to make the business effective and efficient. He recognises that this can only be delivered if each individual is effective, committed and takes responsibility for delivering their assigned contribution – not as a set of actions but a result to be achieved.

At this point it might be tempting to leave Brian behind and explore further what Alan is doing. But there are more Brians in the world than there are Alans. If Brian can be helped then his business will prosper and grow and he will get some of his life back. By examining what Brian is doing and particularly what he does not do, we can illuminate the areas of potential development and improvement.

Brian believes that people:

• like to be given clear direction and instruction

• are there to help him do what needs to be done

• are not as committed to the business as he is and accept standards that are lower than his

• do not see things as clearly as he does and he doesn’t have the time to explain

Brian is locked into making process work and getting others to fit the process – results become a happy accident not the common goal! Brian has taken on the burden of both accountability and responsibility. He does not see how he can shift the burden of responsibility to others – he tells them what to do but they don’t seem to get it. For him it is most expedient to keep the responsibility. He has effectively taught his team that he will take responsibility for solving all the problems in the business. This has never been his intention – it just sort of crept-up on him. What should he do?

He need s to begin by deciding where he wants the business to go – to set realistic targets for growth in volume, revenue, market share and margin. These need to be communicated to his team and they should decide how the targets should be met. Brian needs to be comfortable with the general plan and give his team members the responsibility to make it happen. They can solve their own problems – Brian just needs to monitor progress. That is in essence what Alan does and his business grows and grows.

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To learn more about our services, please contact the office: +353-1-6688891 or info@davittcorporatepartners.com

Discover how DavittCorporatePartners can help you to:

Develop Leadership in Your Organisation

Win the War for Talent

Realise Individual Potential

Align Behaviour with Corporate Values

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Andrew Harley is a Senior Consultant at DavittCorporatePartners – Corporate Psychologists

The Importance of Trust in Business

The Importance of Trust in Business by Amber Hanna

Trust in an organisation will be based on trust in the people who make up that organisation. Trust is necessary for effective communication and cooperation without which an organisation could not function. Trust can reduce complexities and costs of exchanges in a more efficient manner than alternative means of managing organisational life.

Corporate communication is the main mechanism for fostering this type of trust. Organisations can be the objects of their employees’ trust, as people generally trust an organisation to behave in a responsible manner and regulate the intentions of its employees to serve its interests.

Research has demonstrated that trust in an organisation can reduce the need for hierarchical controls and formal contracts, as well as reducing the occurrence of opportunistic behaviour. Trust in people and trust in organisations are connected by the functions and positions people have, and the roles people play within the organisation.

This view of trust has been strengthened by research findings indicating that trust and job design are complementary constructs in understanding important organisational outcomes such as job satisfaction and intention to quit.

Trusting and being trusted

Trustworthiness and trust are separate things, trustworthiness is a quality that the person we put our trust in (or trustee) has, while trusting is something that the trustor does. This suggests that characteristics of the trustee will lead to them being perceived by others as more or less trustworthy. The characteristics of the trustor that influence perceptions of their trustworthiness according to research are their ability, benevolence and integrity.

As a relationship progresses and trust develops, both parties gather experience, and a growing body of trust-relevant evidence on which to base their assumptions develops. As this happens different levels of trust may develop across the facets of trust, so within a relationship an individual may trust another with respect to some areas but not others.

An advantage of this approach to trust is that it can lead us to a better understanding of working relationships. In a business setting it is quite possible that a leader may be trusted according to their competence but not trusted in terms of their reliability or openness. This provides a useful tool for managers or leaders in organisations as it is possible to locate which aspect of trust they are deficient in and provides recourse to improve this.However as people we can never be fully sure of another’s motivations, intentions or even actions.

Often trust comes down to a decision to trust or distrust. The inherent vulnerability that we accept when we decide to trust someone causes us to constantly doubt whether our decision is right. Reducing this doubt can help us determine whether the decision we make regarding someone’s trustworthiness is the right one.

Roderick Kramer recently described in the Harvard Business Review (June 2009) seven concrete tips to reduce this doubt and achieve what he calls ‘temperate trust’

1. Know yourself

Think back on your experiences with people you have mistakenly trusted or distrusted, is there a pattern where you have trusted too easily? Or are you the type of person who guards their trust too closely, assuming the worst and holding back?

2. Start small

There is no avoiding the risk that is entailed in trusting, however if you are trying to develop an atmosphere of trust in your business start small. Give your employees opportunities to show they are trustworthy that entail little risk for you. If you begin to meet people halfway by reducing red tape you will foster trustworthy behaviours.

3. Write an escape clause

If people have a clear way out of a situation if things don’t go the way they planned they will be more likely to trust fully and give more commitment.

4. Send strong signals

Your own trustworthiness may be obvious to you but those around you may still need more evidence.  It is important to send strong signals regarding your own trustworthiness, at the same time react purposefully to breaches of your trust to show trust is an important value to you.

5. Recognize the other person’s dilemma

While you are struggling with the decision between trust and distrust the other person in the scenario may be experiencing the same thing. To build good relationships it is essential to assuage feelings of anxiety and concerns you colleague may have.

6. Look at roles as well as people

A given role may provide evidence of a person’s expertise and motivation. But be aware that a position does not automatically confer trustworthiness.

7. Be vigilant and question everything

When we engage in a relationship we think about a person’s trustworthiness, however after that decision has been made we often don’t question it again until our trust has been breached.

It may be psychologically uncomfortable to remain vigilant and question our decisions to trust but it may prevent abuses of trust occurring in the future.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

To learn more about our services, please contact the office: +353-1-6688891 or info@davittcorporatepartners.com

Discover how DavittCorporatePartners can help you to:

Develop Leadership in Your Organisation

Win the War for Talent

Realise Individual Potential

Align Behaviour with Corporate Values

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Amber Hanna is a trainee Organisational Psychologist at DavittCorporatePartners – Corporate Psychologists


A Window on an Alien World: Development Centres in the Context of Director Competencies

Andrew Harley Reports on the experiences drawn from the use of director level competencies in three different organisations

The body of literature relating to human resource management is replete with reports on the use of competency frameworks which are weighted heavily towards blue-collar, administrative and management roles within organisations. In the 1990s a body of work has emerged to establish director competencies. This article will report experiences drawn from the use of director level competencies in three different organisations.

A number of large-scale projects have been undertaken with clients in response to a common question: how can we identify in senior individuals the potential to contribute at board level or equivalent and, having done so, facilitate the development of that potential? This article will report findings from work in three client organisations; the National Health Service where the target level was chief executive of a trust, a large city legal practice where the target level was partner and a major building society where the target level was a supra-functional executive level.

Methodology

In each case an empirical approach was adopted to establish the competencies against which individuals would be measured. At this point it is appropriate to define the term “competency” as it will be used in the rest of this article.

A competency is defined as: “an underlying characteristic of an individual which is causally related to effective or superior performance in a job” [1]. This definition may be further expanded to:

Competencies can be motives, traits, self-concepts, attitudes or values, content knowledge or cognitive or behavioural skills — any individual characteristic that can be measured or counted reliably and that can be shown to differentiate significantly between superior and average performers, or between effective and ineffective performers[2].

With each client organisation competencies were developed using a combination of behavioural event interviews, repertory grid and expert panels. Experience would suggest that the adoption of a generic or externally developed model of director competencies is limited in scope as the definition and associated behavioural indicators critically need to reflect an organisation’s culture and values. The postulate that “values held by the individual should not be incompatible with the values held by the organisation” [3] becomes vitally important at board level where the exercise of personal competences transcends an individual’s functional or technical heritage.

The ensuing competency framework comprises a definition of the discrete competence together with associated behavioural indicators such that observed behaviour can have some meaning in terms of the underlying competences. The competency models range in scale from eight to 13 discrete competences. Although defined individually, evidence would suggest that there is a dynamic between the competences which leads to the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

Having agreed the competency framework, a development centre design was adopted, generally comprising exercises and simulations allowing individuals the opportunity to evidence the competencies. The components of the development centre typically were: a leaderless group discussion, a role play, in-tray and analysis exercise. Additionally, a personality measure was included. In each case, exercise materials were designed and developed in close collaboration with the client, such that they had relevance to the client’s business and would have credibility for the participants. The development centre paradigm was based on external observation and assessment utilising the discipline of observe, record, classify and evaluate. Assessors were drawn from each client organisation’s boards, or in the case of the legal practice, from senior partners. The assessors underwent a period of training in the assessment process. In this way, the exercise materials were validated and appropriate standards set for evaluation of the competences.

In practice, the events were run over three consecutive days. Day one was devoted to participants engaging in exercises and the assessors observing and recording. Day two was devoted to explaining the background of the process to the participants, describing the competency framework and means of assessment. In addition, the participants undertook a number of self-assessed exercises in order that they could rate themselves against the competences. By the end of day two the assessors had completed their evaluations and given feedback to the participants. On day three the participants received feedback from the personality profile (which the assessors do not have access to) and worked individually to assimilate all the information which they had received and to evaluate this in the context of their own careers and the direction which they would wish to take. Syndicate work was also undertaken to elucidate avenues for addressing the development needs which had been identified.

Outcomes

The outcomes from the development centre fall into two broad domains. Sound evidence of individuals’ capability and potential is generated. From the individual’s perspective, they have a personal development plan which will identify the areas which need to be addressed to enhance the prospect of them being contributors at board (or partner) level.

While the above is a reasonably robust framework, it cannot and should not stand in isolation. The immediate benefits of the process to the organisation are clearly apparent and generally immediate. However, there is an acute need to be sensitive to the fact that the participants are people, rather than components going through a process, who by the very nature of the experience may have their values and priorities challenged. Thus, a development centre, while being a valuable vehicle for the release and encouragement of potential in outstanding individuals, may also be a source of cognitive dissonance and de-motivation to others. Demystification as a source of personal discomfort is not new and was reported as early as 1951 [4]. Again, at this point it is worth reinforcing that development centres targeted at director (or partner) level have differentiated substantially from those which may be available to more junior levels within an organization, as they pivot on personal competences rather than functional or process skills. It thus becomes imperative that the preparation of participants before the development centre and the support of them post-event, is given equal weight and managed with a high degree of sensitivity.

The premiss on which the development centre is based is one of exposing individuals to the demands and challenges of operating at director level and, from this, learning where their development needs lie. Given the context of the development centres it is inevitable that the participants come from a sub-director class and tend to be operational managers, functional heads or technical specialists. As a consequence, the main thrust of their current responsibilities lies in the management of processes and procedures directed towards clearly identified goals and outcomes. In the majority of organisations, and certainly the three cited in this article, the means of transition from function head to board level has been via an obscure process, the operation of which is opaque to the participants. The development centre itself clearly articulates a number of criteria which are essential for successful performance at director level and in doing so, informs the individuals both of the nature of the process but, more particularly, of the work which they themselves have to do in terms of development to stand a chance of promotion in the future. In this way the process is demystified and the responsibility burden tends to be transferred from the organisation to the individual.

Individuals could evaluate any potential personal cost involved

As an integral part of each development centre participants are asked to complete a feedback questionnaire at the close of the third day. This is an opportunity for them to give a rating of the event overall, its facilitation and component parts. Unexpectedly, one activity which is consistently rated highest is the feedback from the personality questionnaire. The personality measure used was the 16PF Form A and participants received feedback on a one-to-one basis after they had been given their feedback on the competences. The insight gained from the personality profile aided the participants by elucidating some of the temperament underpinnings of their evident behaviour. From this understanding, individuals could begin to evaluate any potential personal cost involved in changing their behaviour and the relative ease with which it might be achieved.

Through the process of defining the competencies, the organisation is allowed a vehicle for articulating the individual qualities which are of value. This is an important stage in determining those qualities which are of value to an organisation currently and, perhaps of greater importance, those which will be of value in allowing the organisation to position itself in anticipation of future demands. The distinction between standards for director level and the level at which participants are performing is most sharply differentiated in two broad areas.

The first of these pivots on the breadth of awareness of the environment in which the undertaking operates. Universally, participants display a strong grasp of the functional area in which they are resident and the segment of the outside environment which that interacts with. However, understanding the relationship between that area and other areas within the undertaking is not often that well developed. A lack of understanding of the breadth of the environment in which the undertaking operates and the complex nature of the operation of external factors is generally presented by participants as being symptomatic of an inability to synthesize problems and define strategic direction.

The second area commonly evidenced as a development need relates to the control of initiatives. Participants evidence a reluctance to relinquish immediate personal control of initiatives and do not have adequate mechanisms for determining that which should remain within their personal control and that which they can confidently delegate to others. There is little understanding and acknowledgement of the medium- and long-term impact of their personal actions in the context of the undertaking as a whole and the impact of this inhibitor is closely associated with the degree to which an individual can engage a sense of vision and strategic perspective.

These competence areas present consistently as being correlates of successful performance at director level and, for participants, they also present the greatest challenge in terms of development needs. This, in itself, should not be surprising, as a director who is performing at an outstanding level will not necessarily have intimate day-to-day contact with individuals at the participants’ level and consequently their mode of operation will be masked from casual view. It is reasonable to speculate that directors would not have the time or the will to articulate and communicate to those around them the complexity of their thought processes in the divining and development of strategy. Rather, the participants would have a clear view of a single strategy, short- and medium-term goals and outcomes which they and their departments were expected to achieve. By way of illustration, participants will frequently assume that every problem presented in an exercise is a legitimate problem and deal with it. In doing so they become swamped by detail. The competent director, however, will judge those items which are trivial and those which are critical and focus his or her energies on the critical issues, recognizing that the trivial aspects have little impact on the undertaking.

The nature of the exercises is such that the level of structure within the exercise and therefore the prescriptive nature of the exercise varies. In relative terms participants do better on the structured exercises and less well where there is a requirement for them to develop their own structure and impose their own priorities. They do feel less at ease with, and express more criticism of, those exercises that are less structured, while often still being inclined to concede that ambiguity may characterise the matters with which directors’ deal.

Broader issues

From the above it is a relatively simple task, within the context of the centre, to feedback to individuals where their development needs lie and the reasons for them. It is, however, less easy to establish a means by which these development needs can be adequately addressed.

The development centre represents a “rite of passage”

Participants arrive at a development centre with a variety of preconceived ideas and expectations. The commonly held belief is that the development centre represents a “rite of passage” which will open the door to the boardroom. The reality, however, is that it acts as a brief window from which the participant can view some of the complexities and priorities which prevail in a director’s role. Unless the event and the support of participants is carefully managed after the event, that window can become firmly shuttered for a long time.

The application of assessment centre technology as a tool to facilitate the development of individuals towards director level competences is a relatively new sphere of activity for practitioners and one where the body of research literature is relatively small. The experience reported in this article would suggest that there are substantial organizational benefits to derive from such an approach and also serve to highlight the distinction between director-level competences and those which prevail in other levels of an organization. An apposite observation may be that, while development centres have been utilized in other levels of organizations than the board, with degrees of success, it may be argued that this success has stemmed from the development needs being addressed by support being readily identified for the individual and put in place. At director level the development needs which are being clearly articulated and powerfully reinforced by evidence drawn from observation, are not as easily met by a prescriptive course of action to allow the individual to achieve the requisite standard. This is not to suggest that the task is one which cannot be achieved but one where its achievement will rest substantially on an organization allowing individuals more open access to board members and the freedom to learn from broadening their own base of experience.

Postscript

It is apparent that the future success of a number of organizations will depend on those organisations acknowledging that not all able individuals wish to have a career path which is linear and progressive. Able individuals can contribute to an organization in such a way that their performance will be substantially enhanced, if the organization allows them the opportunity for informed selfmanagement of their careers.

References

  1. Boyatzis, R.E., The Competent Manager. A Model for Effective Performance.~ Wiley-Interscience, New York, NY, 1982.
  2. Spencer, L.M., McClelland, D.C. and Spencer, SM., Competency Assessment Methods, Hay/McBer Research Press, Boston, MA, 1990.
  3. Smith, M., “A theory of the validity of predictors in selection”, Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, Vol. 67 No. 1, 1994, pp. 13-31.
  4. Parry, 1.~ “The psychological advisors problems”, Occupational Psychology, Vol. 25, 1951, pp. 124-30.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

To learn more about our services, please contact the office: +353-1-6688891 or info@davittcorporatepartners.com

Discover how DavittCorporatePartners can help you to:

Develop Leadership in Your Organisation

Win the War for Talent

Realise Individual Potential

Align Behaviour with Corporate Values

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Andrew Harley is a Senior Consultant at DavittCorporatePartners – Corporate Psychologists