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The Future of Leadership and Learning: 2015 and beyond

January 26th, 2015 by admin
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These predictions have been collectively authored by Forum’s leadership team and subject matter experts:

Cindy Stuckey, Managing Director APAC; Graham Scrivener, Managing Director EMEA; Ellen Foley, Executive Consultant; David Robertson, Executive Consultant; Tom Rose, Executive Consultant, Viv Price, Executive Consultant; Nithya Ramaswamy, Design Consultant; Claudette Chagnon, Design Consultant; Ana Bedard, Design Consultant; Mark Edwards, ResNet  and Simon Fowler, Learning Technologist.

1. Widening of Key Skill Gaps

Based on economic growth, skill requirement gaps will create challenges for organisations globally.  Productivity pressures, higher growth and client retention/penetration, innovation of new product/services with more complexity and the expansion in new markets, as well as, increase of market share with many new competitors will be economic challenges companies will experience.  Thus, diverse sets of skills will be needed to respond to these fast changing market conditions.  Organisations and individuals will need to constantly modify and develop new skills in their leaders or the skill gap will widen.  This gap has been widening the past three years and we predict this will continue.

Effective businesses will devote time, energy and resources to develop their people and the organisations in which they perform. Optimising investments in people and organisational development means integrating the development of leadership skills along with the development of organisational practices that promote and reinforce the use of these skills in organisations.

2. Content Shifts from Classroom to Cubicle

Organisations that implement leadership development that tightly aligns with organisational development will get the greatest value for their investment—particularly as the traditional training composition of leadership development evolves. Face-to-face learning, while still vital, will be a premium and focus on delivering impactful experiences and only reference high level content or frameworks. Much content traditionally delivered in the classroom will be moved to the “Align” and ”Sustain” phases and be delivered virtually and on demand. Simulations will be integrated across the learning blend as they become more sophisticated and cost effective. Learning and development happens at work, which highlights the need to sustain and embed learning into everyday work life making learning quick bites, peer learning, online communities of practice, learning labs and other practical approaches even more important in leadership development going forward. Not only training, but ongoing coaching will be essential to maintain high engagement and intellectual stimulation of the workforce and provide leaders with the skills they need to succeed.

3. Employee Engagement Becoming a Business Imperative

Organisations have been attempting to address engagement at micro and macro level for years.  They invest in executing engagement surveys and monitor scores; however, overall little changes in engagement occurred in the past few years.   Organisations which find ways to executive strategies at a business unit level and develop their leaders to drive engagement are the ones who will experience the highest level of business performance. It will become a requirement to drive the organisation, business unit and leader level tactics to drive improved engagement.

Engagement will need to become a business imperative, driven at all levels of the organisation and integrated with all business plans.  Additionally, organisations must provide solid career paths for people, have the right rewards and recognition programs in place, solid feedback and performance systems along with measurement.

4. Shortage of Talent

The talent shortage that exists today will increase and become one of the most critical factors that will keep CEOs up at night.  To address the talent shortage, career paths that address the needs of the local market for excelled movement will need to be established, compensation will need to continue to evolve and become more complete – benefits like flexible time and working arrangements will need to be added, salaries will need to continue to rise even when productivity is not rising, development of internal talent with the required skills will need to occur and organisations will need to develop strong talent retention strategies to deal with the storage.

With new technologies, competitors, innovative products, changing customer needs/expectations, growth occurring in emerging and developing markets vs. mature markets and regulatory changes on a consistent basis having leaders at all levels will require global capabilities.  Predictive analytics will become the norm and organisations will be able reduce to turnover, improve talent forecasting needs, help inform competency requirements for the future, highlight who can be a high performer, reward ideas etc. This predictive data will inform talent strategies and help reduce the risk of talent shortages.

5. The Impact of Technologies

Leaders will access content and coaching through apps which will be regularly updated. Content will be multi-level and can be searched so the leader can work with frameworks, activities, videos, coaching guides and choose their level of detail etc. VILT and e-learning programmes will be the norm as platform bandwidth, capability and flexibility increases, costs reduce and more effective collaboration tools come on line. Every leadership toolkit will include the ability to capture videos of the learners experience and feedback and short ‘how to’ videos to demonstrate the right behaviours in action. Push and pull sustainment tools and virtual coaching will support individual practice and workplace application.

Organisations that develop creative ways to develop people in today’s time-compressed and global business environment will make big contributions to organisational success. While eLearning technology is a low cost way of deploying information, the challenge of translating knowledge into performance lies beyond the scope of current eLearning capabilities. Technology solutions that help people enhance their ability to apply new ideas to work will transform industry.

6. The Performance Management Revolution

Performance planning systems will evolve and the potential of no longer having employee’s evaluate themselves, eliminating the year-end review as we know it today and replacing it with quarterly assessments, and/or feedback submitted by peers at the conclusion of many projects or working assignments, along new rating systems using top box or other rating systems will be introduced and finally forced rankings will be replaced with a more strategic long and short term talent planning system.

The system will also change how development planning for individuals will occur and be managed.   In fact the revolution will take performance management and integrate it into the overall system that will include coaching, career development, feedback on regular basis that is focused on the development of individual, recognition and capability development.  While organisations have been attempting to integrate these various elements into a system, the next step is to optimise these management components into a system to get the most from your talent and to prepare your talent pro-actively.

7. The Rise of Self-Leadership

In the not so distant future everyone will be a specialist – guided by their own experience, preferences, expertise and passions. Self-leadership will be more important; leaders will create their own journey and be more self-directed and intentional in work choices.  Individuals will actively contract across different groups, teams and even organisations as required, finding meaningful work rather than waiting for work to come to them.  Leaders will need a strong virtual presence / profile and use it to promote themselves across their networks around what they are doing / have done and what they are looking for next. Individuals will own and manage their own ‘leadership profiles’ that showcase their experience, interests, availability and peer feedback. Leaders will use their profiles as a passport to attract and gain access to relevant project work. Then update their profiles to capture their experience.

8. Change of the Hierarchy

Project based organisational structures will start to replace hierarchies and project teams will select individual resources to join their teams as required based on their capability, availability and expertise.  Some project roles may be developmental and some may be operational or leadership focused based on the needs of the team. Organisations will need to support this fundamental change to the hierarchical structure and ensure that collaboration is supported, measured and incentivised as well as the outcomes. Everyone can be a leader depending on the needs of the project team and so everyone will need fundamental leadership skills.

Within project teams, leaders will be appointed by the team and be process focused rather than line focused.  Anyone could be a leader or a coach depending on the needs of the project team and it is expected that during the life of a project there could be a number of process leaders active at any one time. Roles will be dynamic, based on the need of the team. Individuals may work across a number of projects and in some they may have a leadership function and in others be a subject matter expert or process support, all depends on the needs for each team. Leaders will need to be agile and adaptable to allow them to flex their roles.

9. Growth through Collaboration

There will be a stronger focus on building leadership communities within organisations that are self-moderated and self-sustaining. Fundamental skill areas for all potential leaders would be collaboration, agility, adaptability, innovation, change, cross-cultural acumen and team-working. The business may also need to have a strong values system that has collaboration embedded at the core. Leaders will need to master these fundamentals and live the values, whether they are an individual contributor, a team member or a leader. More companies will use effective collaboration sites to organise their learning communities, showcase their curriculum and pathways and capture metrics and curate best practice.

Increased focus will be on organisational transformation at all levels. One of the main areas of focus will be language and credibility, empowering leaders to take the key transformational message and ‘make it their own’, adding context, meaning and ownership at their own team level. Working with middle and frontline managers to train and equip them to be the change agents of the future will see more transformation projects succeed.

Research and experience tell us that clarity and focus will accelerate strategic initiatives and promote their ultimate success.  Yet, navigating the complex inter-connectedness of today’s global business environment requires that we also live with the opposite of clarity, ambiguity.  Organisations that figure out how to balance clarity with ambiguity will have a winning formula that leaders can use to drive results.

10. The Evolution of Female Leadership

Women taking on leadership positions are becoming an emerging trend in many countries and organisations. Looking at the most extraordinary female leaders in the world, they are all authentic leaders in their own right and aren’t afraid to think innovatively or lead differently, yet female leaders continue to be pigeon-holed despite their leadership abilities and potential.  Female leaders, despite their capabilities and leadership strengths, are sometimes labelled with varying notions of polarity – weak vs. tough, emotional vs ruthless, masculine vs feminine, and the list goes on.

The future of female leadership holds the promotion of diversity and enablement in order to realise its potential by providing development scaffolds through their leadership journey, such as mentorship schemes and impactful leadership development programmes. The definition of leadership where leaders are not titles or roles waiting to be assumed but an ongoing journey of discovery where one is continuously learning by doing and reflecting, is the approach that will emerge  to increase the pipeline of female leaders in the years to come. Women in the workplace, aspiring to become leaders will need to take charge of their development, understand how to establish credibility, what the common stereotypes are and how to avoid falling into potential role traps by leading with confidence, adaptability and courage.



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The Catch-22 of Female Leadership

January 22nd, 2015 by Nithya Ramaswamy
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In the recent G20 Summit, the topic on female leadership caught my eye. Women taking on leadership positions are becoming a first or an emerging trend in many countries and organisations. Looking at the most extraordinary female leaders in the world, whether it is Angela Merkel, first female Chancellor of Germany, Dilma Vana Rousseff, first female President of Brazil, Sujan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube or Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, they are all authentic leaders in their own right, and aren’t afraid to think innovatively or lead differently. As promising and encouraging as this sounds, the disturbing fact is that female leaders continue to be pigeon-holed despite their leadership abilities and potential.

A recent Gallup poll on leaders in the United States showed that if given a choice between a male and female leader when taking up a new role, Americans strongly lean towards male bosses. The stereotype of the female leader being the “Iron-fisted Ice Queen” who sets targets difficult for any human being to meet still persists. Such stereotype is not uncommon in Asia as well. Yet, the Catch 22 of this is that women who show concern or emotion at the workplace are seen as lacking courage and resilience to make tough decisions and lead change.

Another Catch 22 is where women are often perceived to be single and lonely, resulting in them being “married” to their jobs. Female leaders, despite their capabilities and leadership strengths are sometimes labelled with varying notions of polarity – weak vs. tough, emotional vs ruthless, masculine vs feminine, and the list goes on. When will we as female leaders be freed of these Catch 22 stereotypes and truly be perceived and enabled as leaders in action? Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s advice to women is to be resilient amidst these stereotypes, asserting, “Stop whinging, get on with it and prove them all wrong…it’s only a downward spiral once you’ve cast yourself as a victim.”

There is a long way to go for organisations world-wide in promoting diversity in leadership and enabling women to realise their leadership potential by providing development scaffolds through their leadership journey such as mentorship schemes and impactful leadership development programmes. Forum’s definition on leadership where leaders are not titles or roles waiting to be assumed but an ongoing journey of discovery where one is continuously learning by doing and reflecting, is the approach that I would recommend to increase the pipeline of female leaders in the years to come. Women in the workforce, aspiring to become leaders need to take charge of their development, understand how to establish credibility, what the common stereotypes are and how to avoid falling into potential role traps by leading with confidence, adaptability and courage.

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Why It’s Better to Hire a Trainer Who Knows NOTHING About Your Topic

January 14th, 2015 by Nanette Miner, Ed.D
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Subject matter experts are prized commodities. They are also a wealth of information and can be a wonderful resource for individuals in your company. Very often subject matter experts are turned in to trainers because they’re the ones that know the most about a topic. Contrary to what you might think: The best trainers are people who know nothing about your topic. Why? Because true learning comes from within. Asking learners what a concept means to them, how they might apply it on the job, or what difficulties they foresee in adopting a new practice are all ways that enable learners to process and internalize information; and thereby utilize it on the job. One of Malcolm Knowles basic Adult Learning tenets is that adults need time for observation and reflection. But too often a subject matter expert will simply give the answer. And why not? They ARE the smartest person on the topic.  A non-expert trainer, on the other hand, will be skilled in turning the question back to the audience. For instance, a question such as, “Why take the time to pre-qualify a sales lead?” will be answered by a subject matter expert with a number of reasons which will range from good business practice to not wasting a salesperson’s or a potential client’s time.

A non-expert facilitator will throw that question back to the questioner or the audience in general and ask: “Well why do YOU think that is the first step in our sales process?” By asking these types of questions, participants create reasoning or rationale for the topics and techniques they are being taught. When a learner fully engages him or herself in the learning process, it is more likely that the individual will not only remember, but will be able to implement that knowledge on the job. So while it is helpful to have a subject matter expert design the training – so that you know the content is correct and vetted – it is better to have a non-subject-matter-expert trainer be the one to deliver your course.

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Can a Classroom Trainer “Cut It” in the Virtual Learning Environment? 

November 18th, 2014 by Nanette Miner, Ed.D
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Lately I’ve been doing a lot of coaching of corporate classroom trainers, helping them to transition their skills to the virtual delivery environment. It’s been an “aha moment” for me to realize that some folks just aren’t “cut out” for virtual delivery. 
Purely from my experience, here are some of the techniques that work in the classroom but do not work in vILT (virtual instructor led training).

Asking Open Ended Questions
- In the classroom, open-ended questions encourage participation; online they encourage confusion. “Who has a manager who is a poor communicator?” Crickets, crickets versus “Who has a manager who is a poor communicator? Raise your hand.” Open-ended questions typically get no response in the online classroom – primarily because folks just don’t know how to respond.

An Example 
- While we often look to an expert to provide us “lessons I’ve learned, so you don’t have to,” in the online environment this leads to a lot of talking by one individual, which can become monotonous and tiresome and cause learners to tune out. Online facilitators must talk less and pull the lessons from the learners more – this not only keeps their attention because they never know when they might be asked to contribute, it also encourages them to “buy in” to the learning concepts because they think they’ve come up with them on their own.

Small Group Coaching – 
In the classroom we often send folks off to work in smaller groups and then circulate around in order to answer questions or ensure they are on track. Online we don’t always have the time to visit each small group (breakout) so it’s often wise to “do the first one as a group.”  If you want small groups to work, explain the process both technically and educationally (you’ll use your text tool, and brainstorm the answer to this question) and then do a practice round in the large group to ensure everyone “gets it” before you send them off to work on their own. You’ll find you get much better results and much faster group activities.

Ask for Volunteers 
- In the classroom we almost never directly single a person out to answer a question or contribute to a discussion – this is because we can read their body language and determine who is engaged and willing to participate. It would be just as easy for us to call on the person who does not look eager, but we rarely do. In the online environment we must “enforce” participation by randomly calling on people to contribute. This eliminates the long silences discussed earlier; keeps people engaged in the learning
and moves the class along by never pausing to wait for participation. It would be kind to allow one “pass” per person per class, however.

Don’t Follow the Leader Guide
 – (Remember, this is a list of things that work in the classroom but NOT in vILT).  A great classroom facilitator does not want to have his/her nose in the leader guide. He/She should master the course content well enough to be fully engaged with the audience. But in the online environment timing is everything. Many topics or activities are allotted 3 minutes or 5 minutes. Additionally, in the classroom it is easier to “regroup” if a discussion runs longer than planned, but it is much harder to redesign on the fly in the vILT environment when activities and discussion are much shorter and have to hit their “aha moment” much more quickly. While the facilitator most definitely should not sound like they are reading, they must carefully follow the script and timing in order to provide the best learning experience and end the class on time. Some seasoned classroom facilitators simply cannot adapt to this new way of conducting themselves and end up delivering classes that are more like webinars (one-way presentations) or leave their learners confused about the purpose of the class. If you are looking to facilitate in the “new world” of virtual learning, take these cautions to heart and practice, practice, practice.

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Women in the Workplace: Egg Freezing and Alternative Benefits

October 30th, 2014 by Janine Carlson
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Apple, Facebook and other tech companies have recently garnered headlines with their policy to offer company insurance coverage to women who wish to freeze their eggs. Apple’s spokeswoman said Apple wants to “empower women at Apple to do the best work of their lives as they care for loved ones and raise their families.” Yet many see it as going too far.

This debate is focusing on companies that already have the most comprehensive benefits packages available and misses an important point: at many companies here in Asia Pacific, the need for the “basics” for women is still not met.

Attracting and retaining female talent requires benefits that demonstrate an organisation is family friendly, shows they understand that some women don’t want to have to give up components of their personal lives to achieve or excel in leadership roles, and provides opportunities for leadership advancement. Some examples of how companies are addressing the desire for this include:

  • Work-life balance – flexible schedules (job share, telecommute, flexible work hours)
  • Family-friendly benefits – adoption assistance, health screenings, maternity leave extension, parent care leave, on-site child care
  • Talent development strategies for career advancement

Attracting and retaining women in all levels of leadership goes beyond a benefit package. Women seek organisations that provide solid talent development strategies for them. Strategies such as mentoring, providing opportunities for them to be engaged with executives, providing places for executive presence when they reach certain levels, visibility to major imperatives, skill development, etc. all make for a work environment conducive for both women and men to succeed.

Cynthia Stuckey, Forum Managing Director, Asia Pacific, was interviewed as an expert on attracting, retaining and developing women in the workplace on First Look on Channel NewsAsia. The discussion revolved around the new benefits tech companies are offering, such as covering the costs to freeze eggs, as well as starting to explore the broader perspective on women the workplace. You can view the interview here.

*This interview originally aired on Chanel NewsAsia on 20 October 2014.

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How to Make Gamification Meaningful in Learning

September 26th, 2014 by Ana Bedard
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Gamification is such a big phenomenon in today’s business world that this decade has been dubbed “The Decade of Gamification (O’Brien, 2012).”Companies use gamification to promote interaction with and ultimately loyalty to their brand.  Learning professionals are integrating game elements into learning solutions to motivate learners to engage in learning.

Sounds simple – incorporate game elements, motivate learners! What are some game elements? Think about your favorite games. They most likely have rules, challenges, and competition. They have leader boards and points. They have awards.

While it is relatively simple to identify these types of game elements, in order to use them correctly a designer must think beyond them and ask what about these elements makes them motivational, and who they are trying to motivate. A designer who does not engage in this level of inquiry risks winding up with awards that no one is vying for or challenges that no one cares about.

Gamification expert Sebastian Deterding argues that a key – and generally undistinguished – element of successful gamification efforts is meaning (2011). What is meaningful depends on the audience. In order to be meaningful, the experience must connect to the goals and passions of both individuals and a meaningful community of interest.  People are motivated to seek bragging rights, but only if they care about what they are achieving, and if their peers care about it, too.

As an example, we are finalizing two digital learning solutions to accompany to our Consultative Skills course. One of the learning solutions is an eLearning course in the form of nine 10-minute learning bursts – this course can be used both to provide training to an individual who is waiting for a scheduled class, and it can also be used for sustainment purposes post learning.

CLOSERWe had a series of discussions about offering awards to participants who pass the eLearning course. A generic award did not seem motivational. “Congratulations! You receive the Gold Cup Award for passing the course!” Who cares? Unwilling to give up the idea of awards, however, we searched for something more meaningful. The question that drove us forward was, “What kind of award or achievement would be meaningful to this audience of salespeople?” This question allowed us to develop an idea for an award that we believe will be motivational to the audience. The highest level of achievement a user can obtain is “Closer,” a designation that any salesperson would love to have in real life. By providing a designation that is meaningful to salespeople as individuals and a community, we have injected the kind of fun and games into our eLearning that will motivate learners to achieve learning accomplishments.

So next time you are injecting points and awards into your learning solution, think about the community of users and ask yourself, “What kind of award or achievement would be meaningful to this audience?” It will help you to connect with your users and will bring the kind of fun and play into their experience that they will want to engage in.



Deterding, S. (2011, January 24). Meaningful Play: Getting Gamification Right (Google Tech Talk). Retrieved from

O’Brien, C. (2010, October 24). O’Brien: Get Ready for the Decade of Gamification. San Jose Mercury News. October 24, 2010. Retrieved from

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Engagement + Accountability = Performance that Matters

September 15th, 2014 by Tom Rose
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Webinar Graphic - insights (1)In our recent survey, we responded to client interest in accountability and what drives it.   We undertook this work because we see a connection between accountability and engagement.  We believe that Engagement + Accountability = Performance that Matters.

Let me give a brief explanation.   Engagement- namely the motivation to exert extra effort to achieve results- and accountability- taking on the difficult challenges that makes a real difference- lead to outcomes that advance organizations and strengthen their cultures from “business as usual” to meaningful, sustained progress.

Our survey revealed an accountability gap that parallels the engagement gap that many experts have observed.   Roughly just under 20% of the work force is highly engaged and a slightly lower percentage is fully accountable.

How do we close a gap that is critical to business success?  At Forum, we call the capabilities that lead to performance that matters, 6 for 60. It’s called 6 for 60 because by focusing on these 6 capabilities we can harness and focus the potential of the 60% of talent that lies below most engaged and accountable members of our work force.

6 for 60 includes:

  1. Establishing clear and well-aligned goals organizationally & individually
  2. Admitting mistakes in way that protects credibility, advances problem solving and helps us to the right and difficult thing
  3. Advocating for the resources & abilities needed for success
  4. Addressing differences in approach to goals we have with key stakeholders
  5. Resolving dilemmas that underlie challenging business issues
  6. Coaching others how to take accountable action to achieve results

With focus and commitment and the right dosage of support and challenge to leadership and followership we can create the conditions that lead to performance that matters.

Want to know more about accountability, engagement and performance that matters? Join me on Tuesday, September 23 at 1pm ET for a webinar that looks at the results of our survey and why engagement + accountability = performance that matters! You can register here.

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Learning in a Company with Diverse Cultures

August 20th, 2014 by Melissa Chiew
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OccupationI am about to reach my one year mark on board with Forum, and it has been, and still is, a learning journey for me every day. The biggest change for me was the transition from working in a local company to a global, regionally structured company. Forum is based in the United States with offices in Europe, Asia and Australia so my colleagues are truly spread across the globe! Taking up the marketing role which covers Asia Pacific (APAC) and Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) was indeed a challenge for me versus marketing locally to Asia in my previous roles.  Below are two of the biggest transitions I had to go through, and how I learned overcome them.

Diverse Cultures

I remember as part of my onboarding plan, I was not able to meet much of my immediate team in person and had to call because they are located in other offices across the globe. Speaking to colleagues with different accents became a norm for me.  As it was my first time, I learned by giving more attention and effort to listen carefully to what they were saying. It was also difficult because I could not put a name to a face immediately. It took me awhile to get used to it, but now I enjoy  talking to them every day!

I get to learn more about the working styles of colleagues from other countries, as well. For instance, I experienced that Asians, in general, tend to be serious at work, whereas Brits and Americans, on top of serious discussions, sometimes like to add jokes to move things forward in a lighthearted way.  I even learned to understand the different kind of jokes between regions, which are really interesting. I found Americans to be more obvious in their jokes while Brits tend to be more subtle. I still remembered an American colleague in the team used to humourously describe me as “noisy” when I was very quiet at work. I ended up finding myself sometimes in a day putting on different “hats” to differentiate them. It wasn’t easy but was fun at the same time. If you have an example of differences in global humor, please share in the comments, I would love to see more examples!

Time Zones Differences

It is part of my role to regularly attend meetings with my marketing team who are sitting across the globe in the United States and the United Kingdom, I have come to appreciate technology more since our main communication tools are email, phone and video chats.  Even though we are not able to meet in person, it is great how sometimes we can see each other through video chats and don’t feel the distance at all. This was a new experience for me. When setting up  campaigns or hosting live webinars, I have to be mindful of the time zone differences especially when it is a regional or global campaign taking place across multiple countries. With the different time zones and daylight savings time happening in certain period within the year, I have to rely on meeting planner online to ensure I get the time correct.

I recently read a piece of article written by my colleague Andrew Shapiro, Forum EMEA’s vice president and sales director, on “How to Deal when Employees are scattered across the World” In this article, he makes a great point:  

“Today’s office environment is becoming obsolete. With companies expanding globally and seeking talent across time zones, the workplace environment is evolving and, as a result, so is the way employees interact and collaborate with each other.”

What lessons have you learned working in a company spread across the globe? Share in the comments below or join the conversation on social media.

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1 Basket, 2 Arthurs, and 25,000 Employees: How Trust and Employee Engagement Drive (or Kill) Business Results

August 12th, 2014 by Claudette Chagnon
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“Leaders can no longer trust in power; instead they rely on the power of trust. “ - Charles Green, Forbes Magazine

In a small corner of New England in the United States, a huge workplace revolution is taking place.  And it is being talked about over the water cooler and dinner tables as the hottest “reality show” of the summer.  (A welcome relief from the Bachelorette…just sayin’.)

Market Basket, a privately held and family-owned grocery chain with estimated annual sales of $3.2 billion, is embroiled in the eruption of a long-running family feud that has lasted for decades.  In the latest episode on June 23, Arthur S. Demoulas led the company’s board to oust the current CEO, his estranged cousin Arthur T. Demoulas, and replace him with two consultants. His firing continued the battle of two namesake cousins struggling to control an empire of 71 supermarkets in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. When eight middle managers, some of whom had been with Market Basket for 30 years, protested the change, the company fired them for “attempting to create a worker rebellion.”

In the days that followed many of the company’s 25,000 workers refused to report to work, a clear sign of worker solidarity against company bosses they distrust. Butchers, baggers, cashiers, and clerks came from all over New England to rallies at the chain’s headquarters, carrying signs and shouting in megaphones and risking their jobs. Warehouse employees stopped working, stores stopped accepting deliveries, and local legislators, local media, and employees encouraged customers to boycott the stores using the power of social media. Customers not only complied, but joined in the protests.

In result, over the past month, sales have dropped by as much as 75%, stock has been depleted as drivers refuse to deliver, stores have been forced to temporarily close, and the company is experiencing drastic losses. Workers and customers have promised to continue this “rebellion” until the former CEO is reinstated.

Why the Intense Loyalty to Arthur T?

Sure, Market Basket has better-than-industry norms for compensation and benefits but the employees at the rallies are not talking about compensation and benefits, and that is why business schools all over the country are watching closely. Posters of fired Arthur T. DeMoulas have appeared in store windows with the slogan “Believe!” scrawled on them.  One employee had “In A.T.D. We Trust!” sprayed onto his car.

Clearly, Arthur T. DeMoulas was a CEO who was pro-employee and pro-customer.  Making money was only one reason for running his business. DeMoulas was both a friend and a father-figure to many employees.  He gave employees battling cancer or having serious family problems time off with pay, and when somebody was in crisis, he was there for them, literally.  He attended their funerals. Entire families work there.  They trusted him.

Trust Correlates with Employee Engagement and Drives Business Results 

There can be no doubt that trust in leadership has a massive impact on workplace culture and business results. Take Market Basket…despite its reputation for low prices and high wages, Demoulas’ operating margins — 7.2 percent in 2012, were higher than most supermarket chains, under Arthur T’s leadership

Research shows that employees who have high levels of trust in their leaders tend to have greater loyalty and higher business performance than those with less trust. For example, one study linked companies’ trust levels directly to their price/earnings ratios. (Andy Atkins, Fast Company, August 7, 2012)

Some leaders are able to build a solid foundation of trust among their employees and experience the payoff of a loyal, engaged team that delivers results. Work units in the top 25% of Gallup’s  Q12 Client Database have significantly higher  productivity, profitability, and customer ratings, less turnover and absenteeism, and fewer safety incidents than those in the bottom 25%.  Further, Gallup’s research also shows that companies with engaged workforces have higher earnings per share (EPS) and seem to have recovered from the recession at a faster rate. (“The State of the Global Workplace,” Gallup Consulting, 2013)

Who Will Get the Final Rose?

Trust sets the foundation for high performance by creating an environment in which employees are willing to take risks, learn continuously, support and motivate each other and strive to meet challenging business goals. Put simply, leaders build trust and trust leads to engagement, which drives business performance.

Leaders have an opportunity to close the “trust gap” and enhance engagement and results by building trust and avoiding the behaviors that erode trust. So…. whoever is going to run Market Basket–the two consultants, the former CEO Arthur T, or a new owner—will want to focus on building trust.  If it is Arthur T, then he has a great start!

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High Performance Team Working – Breaking the “Log Jam” with Senior Teams

August 6th, 2014 by David Robertson
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It is surprising that many senior leadership teams, even those that are quite mature, do not take advantage of one of their greatest opportunities for improving their effectiveness: confronting the behaviours of the people who comprise the team. Team work is a dynamic that needs to be nurtured and evolves through the active input and ownership of the whole team.

Everyone knows about the importance of team development but do they understand the importance of maintaining healthy teams once they have been developed and matured? In Forum, we believe there are three stages of team development:

  1. Membership
  2. Control
  3. Cohesion

Most of the time, mature teams are moving between control and cohesion stages; re-contracting around who has influence and control, how they will handle conflict, how they will proactively measure results and thinking about how they can improve the way they work as a team. The diagram below outlines the types of questions asked at each stage. If the team does not have explicit alignment around the control issues then they will find cohesion difficult, i.e. they won’t build the open, honest and trusting relationships that are necessary to drive high performance or progress to the next level. They get log jammed in the control stage.

log jam image 1Senior teams evolve their working practices over time and these are strongly influenced by the level of open commitment to the team process modeled by the team leader. A leader’s behaviours and actions strongly influence the team climate. For example, if a leader does not encourage the team to regularly to review how they work together and make adjustments, then the team will default to focusing exclusively on task and business accountabilities. Their own development will take a backseat.

Without explicit leadership of the team work process, people find ways of getting by or coping, such as not providing feedback, not managing conflict, silo behaviours, poor communication, not speaking up, not sharing or collaborating, etc.Any of these behaviours can be real barriers to effectiveness, and thus the team performance levels off and results plateau.

Senior teams need agility to navigate the complexity they deal with every day and a key component of this is an explicit and aligned team process, that has everyone’s buy-in  and commitment; most senior teams assume this is in place.

The key to unlocking this potential for higher performance is twofold: The sponsorship of the team leader and the focus of the team. Sometimes teams need to go backwards to go forwards and if the sponsor is prepared to take some time to encourage the team to have some strong conversations and get to know the people behind the roles, then they are starting to clear the log jam. When helping senior teams break this potential log jam we have found that it is important to gather data on different perceptions of the team. This helps them focus on how team members experience the team and allows behaviours and emotions to be examined openly by the team under the guidance of a strong facilitator.

Role models of high performance team effectiveness need to be cascaded throughout the organisation so that teams can cross-functionally collaborate more effectively and drive the business outcomes with agility. Below is a general process map we created for working with intact senior and functional teams to help them break the log jam and cascade this approach through their business.

log jam image 2

So if you want to break the team working log jam with senior teams you will need an engaged sponsor who will support each step in the process. You will also need to understand the teams effectiveness issues which are often linked to their team development stage, and gather a range of perceptions about the team’s effectiveness to help you focus team actions once the log jam starts to break. You need to bring the team together and agree some ground rules and then have a structured experience that opens up the issues and embeds the framework for leading high performance. You will also need a strong facilitator who can get beneath the issues and behaviours through contracting with the team and who can sense when to hand back the team process and accountability for key behaviours to the team so they can own the journey forward whilst achieving a new level of cohesion.

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