Mar­garet Har­ri­son: Lead with your story

Like most busi­nesses, Our HR Com­pany has a mantra – a phi­los­o­phy by which it de­fines it­self. For Our HR Com­pany this phi­los­o­phy is to con­nect em­ploy­ees with their em­ployer’s busi­ness jour­ney and over­all cor­po­rate strat­egy. Jonathan Jackson speaks with Our

Business First - - CONTENTS -

Busi­ness First speaks with Our HR Com­pany Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor Mar­garet Har­ri­son about how to put strat­egy into ac­tion.

Our HR Com­pany was es­tab­lished 13 years ago and is led by Mar­garet Har­ri­son, who be­fore con­sult­ing in change man­age­ment at Price­wa­ter­house-Coop­ers and the RACV, was a lec­turer at the Aus­tralian Catholic Univer­sity.

“I started my life as an aca­demic at the Aus­tralian Catholic Univer­sity, and af­ter be­ing there for many years, I was asked to be part the in­au­gu­ral Mel­bourne In­ter­na­tional Cham­ber Mu­sic Com­pe­ti­tion. Af­ter that I couldn’t get my head around go­ing back into a lec­ture room, so I de­cided to move into the busi­ness world.”

It is a mod­est ex­pla­na­tion of the lead up to start­ing Our HR Com­pany. When you look at her CV, clearly Mar­garet had some in­flu­ence with ma­jor or­gan­i­sa­tions. We have men­tioned PwC and RACV, but there was also the role as Hu­man Re­sources Di­rec­tor at adi­das Aus­tralia to con­sider.

“One of the at­trac­tions to HR for me was to make things hap­pen. I started Our HR Com­pany to help busi­nesses put the right peo­ple in the right jobs, and also to help man­agers man­age their peo­ple well.”

Un­der­pin­ning this, and some­thing that Mar­garet has had through­out her ca­reer, is an un­wa­ver­ing be­lief that the fun­da­men­tal ad­van­tage an or­gan­i­sa­tion has is its peo­ple.

Our HR Com­pany’s Story method­ol­ogy de­vel­oped af­ter many years con­sult­ing in busi­ness strat­egy and de­liv­er­ing man­age­ment train­ing in large or­gan­i­sa­tions.

“Work­ing with clients the likes of Crown, ANZ, IOOF, Wynn Ma­cau, Save the Chil­dren, Rus­sell Ath­letic among oth­ers, we could see how man­agers were strug­gling to get re­sults, be­cause of a lack of clear di­rec­tion from the se­nior man­age- ment team. There were con­tin­ual dis­cus­sions in train­ing ses­sions about con­flict­ing di­rec­tions from their lead­ers and how they ham­pered clar­ity of di­rec­tion. That in turn ham­pers pro­duc­tiv­ity.”

From that in­sight, over a cou­ple of years Our HR Com­pany de­vel­oped a unique way of help­ing busi­nesses im­ple­ment their strat­egy with a method­ol­ogy which de­liv­ers one clear, con­cise mes­sage to ev­ery­one through­out the busi­ness. “Un­der­stand­ing we are all en­gaged by great sto­ries, we based our method­ol­ogy on turn­ing a com­pany’s strat­egy into a Story to en­gage ev­ery­one both ra­tio­nally and emo­tion­ally to the jour­ney the busi­ness is on. Sto­ries are also strong driv­ers of hu­man be­hav­iour and our habits, be­liefs, at­ti­tudes and cul­ture are formed as a re­sult of the sto­ries we tell.”

De­spite the dis­par­ity in busi­nesses who have used Our HR Com­pany’s ser­vices, there are some com­mon chal­lenges that arise when deal­ing with CEOs, although these chal­lenges may not be overly ap­par­ent.

“The most com­mon chal­lenge is keep­ing the mes­sage sim­ple,” Mar­garet says. “In our ex­pe­ri­ence there are too many mud­dled mes­sages float­ing around or­gan­i­sa­tions, ones that are too com­pli­cated and usu­ally de­liv­ered us­ing te­dious Pow­erPoint pre­sen­ta­tions.

“A clear and con­cise com­pany Story gives ev­ery­one an im­me­di­ate and com­pelling way to process the mes­sages.”

“I can re­mem­ber be­ing in one large or­gan­i­sa­tion in a strat­egy de­liv­ery meet­ing and ev­ery­body was in­ter­ested while the CEO was speak­ing. Im­me­di­ately the CEO’s

slides went on, peo­ple started look­ing at their phones, read­ing work they brought with them, and their ab­so­lute con­cen­tra­tion was not on the CEO and the mes­sage.”

Mar­garet says another chal­lenge or­gan­i­sa­tions have is an un­aligned lead­er­ship team. An un­aligned team de­liv­ers the strat­egy mes­sage through their own in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the mes­sage and then passes that down to their teams. The mes­sage be­comes di­luted and con­vo­luted as it goes down through the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Fur­ther­more, long-term cyn­i­cal em­ploy­ees are also a chal­lenge to any new strat­egy.

“They’re the di­nosaurs of the or­gan­i­sa­tion and ev­ery­one has a story about them,” Mar­garet says.

“It’s im­por­tant to com­mu­ni­cate the new di­rec­tion in an in­no­va­tive way us­ing sim­ple words (no man­age­rial speak), pic­tures and an­i­ma­tions to con­nect ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing long-term em­ploy­ees, and bring them on board. This group of em­ploy­ees re­ally needs spe­cial at­ten­tion be­cause they can sink a strat­egy quite quickly. Our Story method­ol­ogy has been ex­tremely suc­cess­ful in get­ting ev­ery­one in­volved and com­mit­ted to a new di­rec­tion.”

Any­where from 61% to 73% of com­pa­nies strug­gle to im­ple­ment their strat­egy. This can be due to cost, im­ple­ment­ing a strat­egy for strat­egy’s sake when there is no com­pelling need, and some­times due to CEOs who won’t im­ple­ment what a project team or con­sul­tancy has rec­om­mended be­cause they don’t like the re­sults.

“The CEO of one of our lead­ing re­tail or­gan­i­sa­tions showed me ten years of strate­gies de­vel­oped by dif­fer­ent con­sul­tan­cies all sit­ting in a cup­board in his of­fice. It was a very long cup­board! None of the strate­gies had been im­ple­mented be­cause they were too hard and too com­pli­cated and the CEO con­fided in me that he and former CEOs had hardly been in­volved in the de­vel­op­ment at all, which is re­ally quite in­ter­est­ing.”

This not only says a lot about the CEOs, but also the strate­gies de­vel­oped.

For a strat­egy to work, Mar­garet says the CEO and se­nior ex­ec­u­tive team have to be to­tally com­mit­ted and in­volved in the strat­egy de­vel­op­ment, but then most im­por­tantly, fol­low up with the same com­mit­ment and en­thu­si­asm when im­ple­ment­ing the strat­egy.

“The other thing is that mid­dle and ju­nior man­agers and ev­ery­one in the or­gan­i­sa­tion need to know their lead­ers are united and com­mit­ted to suc­cess, and that they’re all trav­el­ing in the same di­rec­tion. They want to know that the CEO and ex­ec­u­tive team are in charge, that they have con­trol. Then they feel free to ac­tu­ally do their work and know they are contributing to the end re­sult. They hap­pily be­come en­gaged and work en­thu­si­as­ti­cally.

In the op­po­site case there is a feel­ing of un­cer­tainty.

“I’m sure you’ve heard peo­ple say, ‘They haven’t got a clue what they’re do­ing’. That’s an ex­am­ple of why it’s a big chal­lenge for CEOs to get their strat­egy right. When there’s a new strat­egy or there’s a change hap­pen­ing, lower level man­agers need to know how to de­liver the strate­gic di­rec­tion and the mes­sages. They also have to be given the tools to do so. One of the things we pride our­selves on is hav­ing the tools to help peo­ple im­ple­ment the strat­egy way down to the last per­son on the or­gan­i­sa­tional chart, so to speak.”

Our HR Com­pany spe­cialises in im­ple­ment­ing change in an en­gag­ing and ef­fec­tive way. Their pro­gram is de­signed to en­sure that a CEO de­liv­ers the strate­gic mes­sage in a com­mit­ted and in­spir­ing way.

They have to be a change leader and clearly tell their Story. Peo­ple want to hear their Story!

“Sim­ply, all peo­ple want to know who’s in charge of the change and they also want to know that if the Board says there’s a new di­rec­tion or change that the man­age­ment team and the se­nior man­age­ment team have ac­count­abil­ity for mak­ing it hap­pen – that they will be held ac­count­able. Mes­sages about change have to touch each per­son within the busi­ness.

“I’d say the im­por­tance of peo­ple en­gage­ment is of­ten over­looked in times of change. En­gage­ment can’t hap­pen overnight, es­pe­cially if there’s low morale in an or­gan­i­sa­tion. En­gage­ment is di­rectly linked to be­ing con­nected to where the or­gan­i­sa­tion is go­ing. Know­ing that your man­ager has con­trol and is also con­nected to the same di­rec­tion of the busi­ness, is how we help or­gan­i­sa­tions through our method­ol­ogy.”

As we have touched on, not all change is suc­cess­ful and for var­i­ous rea­sons. Aca­demic Ken Blan­chard says up to 70% of change ini­tia­tives fail.

“He’s amaz­ing,” Mar­garet says. “He says that peo­ple’s nat­u­ral re­sis­tance to change is a ma­jor fac­tor and even in this fast-paced world we’re liv­ing in, peo­ple still re­sist change. Of­ten there’s a lack of un­der­stand­ing of the busi­ness case be­cause it’s been com­mu­ni­cated poorly and there’s in­abil­ity to achieve buy-in. Peo­ple want in­for­ma­tion. They want hard cold facts and re­al­i­ties and hon­esty in telling ev­ery­one what the change will in­volve – it is ask­ing peo­ple to change be­hav­iours in a way that makes sense and not just change for change’s sake.”

“A key point that Blan­chard makes right through­out his writ­ings and speeches is the align­ment of the lead­er­ship team. He’s def­i­nite about that point.”

And that is the an­gle from which Our HR Com­pany comes from; to align ev­ery­one’s agenda and pri­or­i­ties so that a mes­sage is de­liv­ered clearly and then acted upon.

“If mem­bers of a lead­er­ship team tell con­flict­ing sto­ries and each mem­ber tells their own ver­sion, strat­egy or change mes­sage, it’s doomed to fail. This is why we’ve made align­ing the lead­er­ship team a key mile­stone in our method­ol­ogy. It’s one of the first things we do. We hold them ac­count­able to each other, not to us, not to the CEO, but to each other, so that when they start telling gob­bledy­gook around mes­sages and around strat­egy di­rec­tion to their teams, they can be called out on it. It’s won­der­ful see­ing up to 20 peo­ple in a se­nior man­age­ment teams to­gether in a room and they all get it and they all com­mit to it pub­licly. It’s a very strong mes­sage. The strat­egy will very rarely fail af­ter you’ve got that com­mit­ment.”

The CEO of a large govern­ment in­stru­men­tal­ity was de­lighted to see the se­nior man­age­ment team aligned af­ter this process. “Be­fore we started the process of de­vel­op­ing Our Story, the ex­ec­u­tive team were di­vided – they didn’t trust each other nor did they share in­for­ma­tion. His­tor­i­cally si­los had been built be­tween di­vi­sions

and the align­ment process led to changes in the way peo­ple worked. Se­nior man­agers were en­er­gised and ini­ti­ated work­ing groups across de­part­ments to share in­for­ma­tion and staff. The en­ergy and en­ter­prise was demon­stra­ble.”

It is im­por­tant for busi­nesses im­ple­ment­ing a new strat­egy or di­rec­tion in any part of the or­gan­i­sa­tion to re­lay their sto­ries in a clear, con­cise, and at­trac­tive way.

“Peo­ple need to know where the busi­ness has been and where it is go­ing. What are the key chal­lenges the busi­ness is fac­ing, and what do they need to do in­di­vid­u­ally and as a team to make it suc­cess­ful?”

As each busi­ness is dif­fer­ent, Our HR Com­pany takes a be­spoke ap­proach. Mar­garet says the com­pany’s great­est skill is in lis­ten­ing to a CEO’s needs, whilst ask­ing ap­pro­pri­ate ques­tions and lis­ten­ing to and de­duc­ing the an­swers.

“In our process we ac­tu­ally ask the same ques­tions to the dif­fer­ent peo­ple in the lead­er­ship team to gain a very quick and clear un­der­stand­ing of who’s on the CEO’s bus and who isn’t quite there. Un­less you have them all on the same bus, you’re not go­ing to make any­thing hap­pen. It’s quite amaz­ing how many dif­fer­ent ver­sions of the same strat­egy are told in these ses­sions.”

It is from there that Our HR Com­pany de­vel­ops the theme of the Com­pany’s Story, clears away the cob­webs and builds a clear and con­cise ver­sion of where each client wants to go.

“Each in­ter­ven­tion, each part of our method­ol­ogy is linked to the client spe­cific needs.”

Mar­garet’s aca­demic back­ground has been in­valu­able to this jour­ney as her un­der­stand­ing of how peo­ple learn has been vi­tal to the method­ol­ogy im­ple­mented. Her un­der­stand­ing of how tools should be used has also been in­valu­able and now as she looks back to the jour­ney her own busi­ness has taken, and why it has been suc­cess­ful she says her big­gest achieve­ments have come via her clients’ suc­cesses and one client in par­tic­u­lar.

“One of our clients has had huge suc­cess. The turnover of man­agers dropped from 80% in the year prior to the in­tro­duc­tion of their story, to 5% af­ter two years. Can you imag­ine if 80% of your man­age­ment team is turn­ing over each year, it’s pretty di­a­bol­i­cal. They were an or­gan­i­sa­tion that couldn’t at­tract any ap­pli­ca­tions for job va­can­cies, and now they don’t need to ad­ver­tise. Peo­ple come to them, so in their own area they’re well­known for be­ing a fan­tas­tic or­gan­i­sa­tion, they’re all on the same bus and they’re all go­ing in the same di­rec­tion. They will at any time ac­credit our story telling method­ol­ogy for mak­ing that hap­pen.”

Mar­garet is proud of the story she has de­vel­oped for Our HR Com­pany and those she has cre­ated for oth­ers and like any good story, she wants it to linger and con­tinue to make an im­pres­sion.

Mar­garet Har­ri­son

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