Leading Insights. Michael Says…

…part of the Diamond Dozen 2016 series


Michael Jenkins, Roffey Park Institute talks about

diversity  .  productivity  .  influence


Elaine…  In 2015 I heard you speak at an Economic Development Conference (really enjoyed your presentation by the way) and you raised the point that leaders need HR to help bring a ‘focus on the human dimension of productivity’.  Please could you expand on this and explain why it is important.

Michael…  I think a lot of good work has been done on understanding systems and processes as a way to improve productivity. There is clearly a link between investment in new plant and machinery when it comes to understanding how productivity can be improved. And yet there’s another dimension which I think needs to be included – and that is all about human relationships at work. We know from surveys and anecdotal evidence as well as exit interview records that more often than not, people leave their job not because they hated the work or disagreed with the values of the company or organisation – but because they just could not get on with their line-manager: the chemistry just wasn’t there and/or the way in which they were managed just didn’t work for them.

This has many implications, not least the cost to the organisation of sourcing new talent, but perhaps more crucially it points to how or even if leaders in organisations are keen – or even equipped and able – to address the fundamentals. So, for example, if a sales manager is hitting her targets month after month, but attrition rates are sky-high and her sales team is haemorrhaging staff – are we simply going to turn a blind eye and think: well, we’re bringing in the money, perhaps things will eventually get better? I think we can be very clear that without analysing what’s wrong and taking action, things will not miraculously improve on their own. We need to: review our values and check that they are fit-for-purpose; hold people to account for living those values; offer development opportunities to leaders to enable them to learn how to have those (often difficult conversations) with their reports – and encourage them every step of the way.

Expert leaders – which would include scientists and clinicians– often find that they are victims of their own misplaced (and good intentions): so for example, hesitating to give a junior member of the team a stretch assignment or task because of one’s own anxieties about the job being done to perfection (or at least “my way”) – and ending up doing it yourself – results in a missed opportunity to delegate and develop another person plus another unwanted additional work burden and potential added stress. This is just one example of how things can be when leaders aren’t supported or developed in a “human way” to try to do things differently (and better).

In summary, the human dimension of productivity is about engagement: do we have the inputs for great engagement right (namely: good leadership, good management, good communications and a (challenging and supportive) culture) – and if we have, are we seeing the following as a result: the well-being of our people; that they have energy and are energised; that they are able to go the extra mile and finally, that as an outcome, we have better productivity. I think that if any or all of the inputs are missing or lagging, then we will find productivity gains are elusive. If, however, we are willing to ask ourselves some hard questions about what needs changing, improving or enhancing, then the sky’s the limit.


Elaine…  Working with cultural differences and diversity are at the heart of your career, what advice would you give to emerging leaders who wish to successfully operate in multi-cultural environments?

My first thought is that one needs to have the following three things: resilience, a non-judgmental approach to life, and a good sense of humour.

  1. Resilience:  Why resilience? Well, when you are working in different cultural contexts, frankly it’s hard work. What seems normal to you might not seem or even be normal at all to someone who doesn’t share your cultural or life background. So being able to see things from another perspective, or multiple perspectives (which in turn is part of being non-judgmental) is therefore key.
  2. Non-judgmental:  Being non-judgmental can also be a tremendous challenge too. What is ethical business to people in the UK might look very different to someone else in another geography. What might be seen as normal “incentives” in some cultures are quite simply bribes when seen through our cultural lens. So the whole experience can be significantly situational and highly context-specific. We need to be able to balance a sensitivity and appreciation of the way others work in a different culture with our own need to stay true to our core values.
  3. Humour:  And so all of this will require a good sense of humour too: the ability to laugh at yourself (part of being self-critical, and some might say, being self-aware) is something I’ve found to be helpful to me in navigating often harsh cultural environments (environments which are either mentally exhausting or physically draining, and sometimes both). For example, eating (literally, hard to stomach) delicacies so as not to offend your hosts can often require you to take a deep breath and close your eyes, with a promise that you will laugh about it later. This is what I had to do once at a business dinner in Japan when invited to drink/eat a tumbler of warm sake containing the charred remains of fugu (poisonous puffer fish) testicles.

Having said all of this, working in a different culture is a fantastic experience and one that I would recommend unreservedly.


Elaine…  As someone who is respected as an influential thinker, what are your 3 top tips for people who wish to become recognised ‘thought-leaders’ or influencers?

Michael…  I think I would suggest the following:

(1)  Talk to lots of people at every opportunity. You might have some great ideas or have developed a terrific hypothesis about something – but they won’t be of any use if they don’t produce/provoke a reaction in others – in other words, is the thought leadership I’m offering up, any use? Does it have meaning?

(2)  Talk to people at every opportunity. My second top tip is the same as my first top tip 🙂  Why? Well the best source of information I find are the stories that others have to tell which enrich your own knowledge and experience and at the same time give you the impetus to think of things in a way that is different to how you might have thought about something had you not discussed your ideas with others. So this can be seen as a rich source of input as well as a wonderful way to reality check what you’re working on/thinking about.

(3)  My third top tip would be to read widely and deeply. That includes scanning the internet but it also means trying to read books, magazines and journals too. All this needs to be done against the background music of healthy scepticism: don’t believe everything you read and look to test your assumptions in a variety of ways. That way you are more likely to arrive at a balanced and fair view of something – and be comfortable in the knowledge that the position you’re taking will stand up to pretty rigorous scrutiny.

Last but not least (maybe a fourth tip) is: recognise when you might have missed something, misinterpreted something or simply got it plain wrong: I think the worst thing if you aspire to be a thought-leader or influencer is the inability to change your mind in light of new or better information. Being dogmatic and unbending is something that those who aspire to be long-lasting, durable thinkers should avoid at all costs. There is nothing worse than hubris when it comes to thought leadership.


Diamond_DozenLearn more about my Diamond Dozen 2016…

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