Yes, the Oscar season is upon us

Oscars

Normally we don’t like to gush, but as we’re still in the awards season we thought it was OK, you know, just this once… And if there was ever an Oscar for ‘Transforming Sticky Labels into an Art Form’ (you mean there isn’t?) in our opinion a rather unique manufacturing company we work with would simply run away with it.

Manufacturing brilliance

 

 

Through the looking glass

Style over substance – the balancing act

With ‘The Night Manager’, ‘Happy Valley’ – and if you’re into ‘Nordic Noir’ and who isn’t – ‘Trapped’ hitting our screens almost simultaneously we’ve been finding it difficult to tear ourselves away at times.

We’ve been particularly hooked on The Night Manager and the character of Jonathan Pine (played by Tom Hiddleston) who puts an entirely new spin on the role of concierge. Once we managed to focus on work again it brought to mind a recent article we read on organisational productivity, by E McNulty (great name bringing to mind another visual addiction from a while back, The Wire!).

Sadly, it doesn’t actually cover secret agents and government conspiracy but it does give some interesting insights into what businesses can learn from the hotel and hospitality industry. Here are a few theories that we loved…

The complex process of keeping it simple

Simplicity in business is by no means an easy feat – reviewing which processes are actually needed and streamlining functions accordingly can take a lot of time and input. ‘Knowing when to keep it simple’ is a skill in itself – which processes do you need to really drive effectiveness? How can you cut out the unnecessary in order to harness productivity and creativity?

McNulty uses hotel showers of all things to rather neatly illustrate this point;

 

“Have you ever been in a hotel room with stunning bathroom fixtures? They’re gorgeous objects, right out of Architectural Digest. But, as the clock is ticking down to your first meeting, you can’t figure out how to turn on the shower.

Smart organizations do the same. The more time and effort spent wrestling with internal processes, the less energy is available for innovating and serving customers. So how can we root out the disruptions created by unnecessary complexity.”

 

 

Karyn has her our own version of McNulty’s bathroom example; shown into an exquisite Hempel Hotel suite courtesy of a rather stylish client event we were facilitating it did indeed require careful instructions from the Armani clad staff member as to how to operate bath and shower. Unfortunately, what they failed to demonstrate was how to actually open the room door – so minimalist that there was no handle – leading to an almost catastrophic start to the morning’s proceedings as she struggled post breakfast to get into the room for her laptop and notes.

It took the concierge of course to just come and lightly touch a certain spot on the door for it to glide open – that unnecessary and embarrassing complexity!

The concierge and ‘rendering the impossible possible’

Much of the work we do with teams is in helping them align their vision and objectives with the organisational strategy. Defining the vision is one thing, but living and achieving it is another entirely – it requires a cohesive unit with a shared understanding of team and individual priorities, along with honesty, openness and trust…much like a great concierge team.

As McNulty puts it:

 

“A great team at the concierge desk routinely executes complex tasks with ease, and sometimes renders the impossible possible. Team members navigate internal systems and external resources with great facility. Their success is built on relationships that add value for multiple stakeholders.”

 

 

These are competencies we often see teams striving for – perhaps ‘the organisational concierge’ is the missing piece of the puzzle in the work-place?

Inspiring action – cutting to the chase

Processes and systems aren’t the only areas where the right balance between ‘style’ and ‘substance’ pays off. It can also be fundamental in bringing people with you in key strategic decisions.

A recent day we held with an Exec team looked closely at leadership styles and influencing – getting your teams on board during a time of transition whatever your preferred leadership style can be tricky. More often than not you may need to flex and adapt, sometimes way beyond your comfort zone.

Thewhy

If you’re a natural visionary thinker, then the ‘why’ may not be imperative to you but it is to those who like and need a bit more detail. Simon Sinek’s ‘Golden Circle’ is a useful model in emphasising the importance of focussing on the ‘why’, before moving on to the ‘what’ and ‘how’. Communicating the purpose and cause behind a vision can be extremely powerful when wanting to inspire real commitment to change and action.

Post-script – the sudden death of the inspirational architect Zaha Hadid is somebody who, for us, epitomises the perfect balance between style, function and substance.

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‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’, the Olympic motto (and now ours!)

Having committed ourselves, with typical Maier passion, to Fitbits and Lifesum, the sleeker, new look Maier team are taking 2016 head-on. So, not surprisingly, this month’s feature in strategy+ – ‘20 questions for business leaders’ (including our personal favourite ‘What the hell is leadership?’) got us thinking about the top teams we work with and what they’re doing to get in shape. Or as one of our clients puts it, what’s their ‘go even faster strategy’?

We’re in no doubt that winning teams all have that special combination of experience and emotional intelligence that ensures the vision and values extend to every corner of the organisation, no matter how remote. But what should you be tracking as a team if you want to ‘find your fit’?

1. Staying HOT; it’s become our mantra and for the teams we work with it gives the biggest lift to how they think and behave. Without exception honesty, openness and trust are the foundation stones of all our high performing teams and once ‘challenge’ edges its way into the team dynamic then there’s no looking back.

2. Allegiance without question; staying true to your core team (in the case of Executives that’s the top team rather than their operational team which can sometimes be a difficult shift to achieve) meaning you view the business as a whole not in its functional parts – able to represent any part of it at the drop of a hat! There’s something very powerful in a Finance Director seizing the opportunity to tell the story of the company culture with people at the heart of it rather than delivering the numbers. It can feel way out of comfort zone initially but it soon becomes ‘just the way we do things around here’ – second nature without ever losing its impact.

3. Rising above it all; staying out of the detail, letting go, taking the broader view, avoiding the temptation to drill into detail prematurely. In other words, staying with the strategic big picture thinking for as long as you need to. In our work with teams this is often where we have to ask for their patience; helping them get their heads back above water, rather than getting carried away on the deep dive of detail.

4. Ambition = risk; being brave and being prepared to take a risk. Being even more ambitious than you thought possible. No more needs saying, you just have to sometimes bite the bullet and do it, or as one of our clients expressed following a recent event we held ‘Let’s stop talking and start doing!’

5. Your leadership brand; consistent tone, message and style, knowing instinctively when it’s right because you really get it. As a team, having a shared vision on the leadership style that you want to be known for. And importantly, how you can use it to inspire and engage your people.

Rio here we come (we wish)!

The politics of leadership and personal values – stand up and be counted

Ok, we’re back in the zone at Maier with a really busy few months ahead of us in the build up to..shhh…Christmas. As a team we rely on a sense of shared energy to help us maintain our super high standards of design and delivery even when it feels like we’re operating in the middle of a whirlwind – yes, you know that feeling too I’m sure. In thinking what supplies us with some of that energy – no red bull needed here – it comes down to shared beliefs, values and courage.

Here are some prompts and events that provided just that;

LCF #fashionmatters gala on 10th October

We are already working in close partnership with LCF on an ambitious and far reaching organisational wide transformational leadership programme (we will be sharing more of this at a later date) as a result of this we know we share many of the same values and sense of vision. The gala was only the second one to have taken place, a glittering affair held at the Savoy and obviously a fabulous opportunity to go all out in terms of fashion and dressing up (it’s hard but we forced ourselves). Most importantly, it was all about fundraising to provide much needed bursaries which makes it hard not to end up discussing politics around the tables – whatever your views and leaning. The star speaker – I am using that term advisedly – was Grayson Perry known for being outspoken, brave and living his life according to his inner beliefs. He said it as he saw it, took no prisoners and not only made us all sit up and listen he also has that rare ability to make you laugh as he challenges and provokes. There were some real leadership lessons in there; be true to your beliefs, show some courage, but blend some of the tougher messages with some wit and inspiration.

He ended with a great statement and you could almost have followed it with…discuss!

‘I don’t see the next Alexander McQueen coming from Eton. End of’

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The event far surpassed its goal of raising money for at least 29 bursaries (as achieved at last year’s inaugural event). By generating an astonishing 85k excitingly there is now enough to far exceed that original target. Brilliant stuff.

That misogyny speech;

Julia Gillard popped up on good old radio 4 (yes, how could we do our blog without a mention) promoting her upcoming memoir. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04jk364

As a reminder, Julia G became Australia’s first female Prime Minister in 2010, holding tenure for exactly 3 years and 3 days during which time the world witnessed (thanks to Youtube) her now infamous ‘misogyny speech’. It’s the one where she called out some of the less attractive traits of those in office and gave voice to the beleaguered, undermined and misrepresented everywhere…not just women.

She speaks about the difficulty when you’re ‘at the top’ to get the balance right between ‘command and emotion’, between ‘head and heart’ – familiar themes in our work with our own client leaders and ‘top teams’. As those of you who have had the Maier treatment will know there’s no get out, we want to know what people are feeling as well as what they’re thinking. But back to Julia – as with Grayson Perry – you may or may not agree with her politics but the courage and conviction of her message is indisputable. There is no way you can doubt how true she is being to her own values and principles – as every leader should be even when it’s scary. As Julia says; ‘It’s better to keep running in front of the tidal wave and not look back.’

But she also demonstrates a real humility – a character trait we have often heard Nick Robertson CEO of ASOS referencing when sharing leadership values he holds close to his own heart – when she publicly asks; ‘Should I have let myself feel more?’ this is in stark contrast to her adversary Tony Abbot the current Australian PM, when he says ‘it is not his job to emote’. If we expect leaders to show disciplined restraint with emotion tagged as weakness where in the end does the emotion get to be vented? How do we engage the hearts and minds of our organisations and our customers? This business of sharing feelings and emotions runs deep for us at Maier, it provides a unifying theme in so much of our work. It is where we will always be true to our beliefs and show great courage when emotions need addressing however hard it might be. Final word on this goes to Julia G; ‘ We exist in a binary world of good and bad, but this one dimensional portrayal makes it impossible to be seen as a full human being with the normal complexity that comes with being neither perfect, nor evil’. Powerful stuff.

Sharing the love; thanks to some of you out there we felt wonderfully supported in our ‘Stand up to Cancer’ march on October 11th. Your donations and lovely messages filled us with our own sense of conviction as we set off in a magnificent and slightly terrifying full scale thunder storm! Lisa found that walking several miles in wellies is not such a great idea and everyone was amazed that I actually went to the lengths of covering my banner in cling wrap – I am not known for my love of detail – but I did not want my message to those I am supporting to be lost in the rain. When the message is important enough we should all go to any lengths to make sure it is heard.

If you haven’t donated yet – please do tap the link below and throw a few quid in if you’re able. As with LCF, we aimed lower than we should have – we’re 500% higher than our target and have raised nearly £2.5K.

https://www.justgiving.com/maiermarchoncancer/

march

While the sun shines

Quite a summer at Maier – what happened to down time in August? It’s been a full on few months with some impressive organisational wide transformational programmes that have eaten up time and energy but somehow still left us all wanting more.

Plus of course business as usual; coaching, team facilitation, planning and designing. So, not much time so far for summer festivals or ‘glamping’ (shame!)

That also means we haven’t time to write our blog – too bad of us –  cheating slightly here’s a visual shortcut with the Maier week in pictures (the cab driver looked a bit worried as I snapped away at the Maier folder with a seat belt keeping it safely in place)

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With some holidays still to come for some of us – and to remind those of you have packed away the flip flops already – what’s your last thing you do as you’re trying to head out the door and get away? Yes MBTI fans, this is the big reveal…here are some starters for ten from some folk we asked;

 

Feed the fish (do people really do that?)

Rush back to actually take the dog to the kennels as opposed to leaving him home alone

Draw the curtains (or as we said put a sign up saying, ‘We’re away, burglars welcome!’)

Give a little ‘whoop, whoop’ on my way out of the door

Vacuum my way out of the house (literally)

‘Shut down the kitchen’ – same person as above and, yes, she does know she’s a tad OCD

Re-pack case to actually comply with baggage allowance – at the airport

Leave notes for anyone who cares to water the garden

Paint my nails

Leave with empty case with view to filling it up on holiday

Stay at home!

 

Whatever you’re up to for the rest of the summer – enjoy!

Moving images

You know how it is when things just come together; something on the radio makes you sit up and take notice, a piece of film captures your imagination (and heart), a book that you’ve had on pre-order lands on your desk and to top it all you’re blown away by what clients have taken from an exercise (which you know went well, but had no idea what it could lead to). An eclectic mix at first glance, but think ‘moving images’ – with a little playfulness around the literal and emotional connotations.

 

A marathon not a sprint

The images conjured up listening to Kathrine Switzer talk about breaking ground as the first female marathon runner were in every sense moving. 
Listen, here

With all the hype around Mo and his chances of winning (or not as it turned out) in the recent London marathon how extraordinary that, but for the tenacity and bravery of Kathrine and others like her, the event might well have been an all-male affair. We genuinely find it astonishing to think that as late as 1967 organisers truly considered women to only be capable of running a mile and half and they believed this with such vehemence that Kathrine was actually attacked as she ran and they tried to stop her. Although there are days when a mile and half is actually just about my limit – as Kathrine so beautifully put it, for her and other women running is about ‘feeling empowered, feeling liberated, feeling free’. Something we can really relate to at Maier – although just to be clear we’re committed to ‘setting all leaders free’, not just the female ones.

 

If you go down to the woods

We’ve known for a long time just how talented the team at Spindle Productions are, but even we, dedicated fans that we are, fell in love with their work all over again when we saw their latest cinematic triumph, The Woodsman www.spindleproductions.co.uk

A beguiling story and beautifully shot it is the very epitome of ‘poetry in motion’. I think we sometimes accept without question the frenetic, stop-start nature of our lives as leaders – either by our own design or at the hands of others. Perhaps we should be aiming instead for more deliberate fluidity and movement in leadership rather than the knee-jerk reactions we’re all too familiar with. I’m sure this wasn’t part of the original film brief, but it’s one of the things we took from it – amazing where your thinking can take you when left to roam unhindered.

 

101 reasons to be impressed

Frances Book

When we first opened the package containing the new book ‘Why Fashion Matters’ written by client and friend Frances Corner, Head of London College of Fashion – have to be honest – we all said ‘What NO pictures!’ A book on fashion with no glossy pages revelling in the beauty, froth and frippery of the industry – really? But you know, it’s the cleverest of approaches because much of this book is about the social conscience we need so much more of in fashion. It’s about self- belief and emotionality expressed through our clothes and accessories coupled with the skills and wit it takes to create them. It’s referencing the hard commercial edge of fashion but also the fantastic opportunities presented by what is of course a multibillion pound industry. All this in a small book where the beautiful use of text forms patterns in its own right relying solely on a simple palette of red and black on white. It takes the eyes and mind on an intriguing and absorbing journey. In this case, pictures would only distract and in a strange way spoil its beauty – well that’s what we in the Maier crew reckon so there!

http://francescorner.com/my-book-why-fashion-matters

 

A thousand words

We work with clients all the time on how they share the big messages across their organisations and make those all important emotional connections. More often than not we try to tap into visual imagery to enhance the messages, pictures can sometimes be so immediate and stimulating plus the act of creating your own bit of art to tell a story can be mighty powerful. A favourite exercise of ours; ‘heart, body and soul’ reached new heights recently where the client not only transformed their thinking into the most wonderfully vibrant images but managed to capture a sense of fantastic movement. The swimmer driving through the waves with powerful strokes, taking the company with them felt like a pretty unique representation of values and leadership principles. Simple, clear, inspired – wow! We loved it.

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Cut-out inspiration

Matisse

Watch out for the wonderful Matisse exhibition at Tate Modern and his Cut-Outs, the master of movement through simple shapes and vivid colour, fabulous.

http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/henri-matisse-cut-outs

Yes, the Oscar season is upon us

Oscars

Normally we don’t like to gush, but as we’re still in the awards season we thought it was OK, you know, just this once… And if there was ever an Oscar for ‘Transforming Sticky Labels into an Art Form’ (you mean there isn’t?) in our opinion a rather unique manufacturing company we work with would simply run away with it.

Manufacturing brilliance

Sticker bowl

This ‘Oscar nominated’ client of ours had a good laugh at an email I sent to their CEO last week following on from a programme we’d designed and run with his Global Operations Team, ‘Last week was so good, to be honest I didn’t expect to come out of 3 days with a roomful of engineers in a football ground feeling quite so joyful!’

But it was true and it was something to keep us amused across the time zones – a smile to start and end our respective days.

Normally known for his risk-taking, swash-buckling approach to change, when he came into post as CEO about a year and a half ago, his initial thinking was that perhaps he should take more of a ‘softly-softly’ approach this time round. But, true to form his infectious impatience surfaced after about two months in and adventure beckoned. And so the Oscar winning performance began and here we are on this marvellous journey with him and his teams, driving change and realising his vision of ‘brilliance in everything we do’.

California calling

It all began last June in California, followed by other events in Norwich (yes, an interesting and unlikely combination of locations for a global leader – each with their own unique attractions) Nine months later this Leadership Group has become a force to be reckoned with, positive change is evident on both sides of the pond and the company is beginning to reap the rewards of a re-empowered culture.

Which is why we found ourselves at a football ground with the Global Operations Team, engineering types for whom logic, methodology and Gantt charts are the normal order of the day. So, what did we do? We decided to introduce them to world of tarot cards (not the real version), ‘concentric circles’, ‘table talk’ and ‘walking the gauntlet’ amongst other things – we shared a whole variety of interactive creativity with them which we guessed they would either love or hate. Luckily they loved it – helped by the fact that it all led to well analysed, problem solving action plans driven entirely by a focus on their customers’ needs and desires. A ‘sense of urgency’ had come into the room, and later the next day, it went onto the shop floor with an inspired company wide brief worthy of any award!

“An adrenaline fuelled whirlwind that physically and mentally challenged me and has give me a new perspective on what can be achieved. I may never be the same again.”

“Exhilarating, engaging, refreshing and uplifting.”

“It was a pleasure and an eye-opening experience – I came away with a completely new outlook and direction – outstanding!”

They say there’s always a reward when you put in the hard work and ours is working with them again next month, kicking off this time in San Francisco – roll out the red carpet.

Alternative awards

Finally, in the spirit of a bit of shared humour and irreverence (it’s what makes us tick) how about this for an alternative take on the Oscars

http://www.esquire.com/blogs/culture/alternative-oscars-2014?click=smart&kw=ist&src=smart&mag=ESQ&link=http://www.esquire.com/blogs/culture/alternative-oscars-2014#slide-

or

http://www.esquire.com/features/alternative-oscar-awards-2013#slide-1

All things good

What caught our attention this month

Employer of the Year 2013

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We’re feeling pretty privileged to be working with an inspirational organisation, Richmond Housing Partnership (www.rhp.org.uk), who have been awarded Employer of the Year at the prestigious European Call Centre and Customer Service Awards. Even more impressive is that this was not housing industry specific but across all sectors with some really stiff competition.  It doesn’t really surprise us though because as soon as you walk through the doors of their building you get a sense of their creativity and energy. A huge well done to them.

Emotional highs

Through our connections with Women in Retail (www.womeninretail.com), a vibrant network of like-minded women operating across a range of roles and retail sectors we met Anna Pangbourne and her wonderful charity, the Fashion and Textiles Children’s Trust (www.ftct.org.uk). We’ve known about their work for a number of years through our pervious associations with Topman and Topshop, so it’s been great to have the opportunity to connect with Anna more directly.

The Fashion and Textile Children’s Trust is a small charity with a long history of supporting families in the UK fashion and textile industry. Founded in 1853, FTCT supports children aged 0-18 years who are coping with sickness, disability or special needs, whose families are in financial crisis, or where parents are unwell or cannot work. By providing grants for extra-curricular costs, clothing, uniforms, school extras, therapies and more, FTCT support hundreds of children every year.

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It’s also been good to see ‘emotional intelligence’ hitting the headlines again in the form of Lady Ashton and her work in brokering a deal in the Iranian nuclear issue. EI underpins so much of the personal awareness and self- development work we engage with. Daniel Goleman’s belief in the differences between how men and women operate emotionally is always an interesting one to debate; women tend to excel at sensing emotion (empathizing) while men tend to be good at managing emotion (i.e. compartmentalizing or, sometimes, ignoring it. Discuss!

Leadership as art – what’s in your skip?

The recent Reith Lectures delivered so eloquently and wittily by Grayson Perry appealed to Maier’s more arty side (it’s not just shaping organisational cultures that we love you know) His sense of values and the original take he offers on the apparently mundane or ordinary encapsulates a lot of what we aspire to in our own work. The links we naturally made between his style and words to aspects of leadership included; humility, inner confidence, bravery, risk taking and the ability to articulate and share good stories in an individual and unique way. We’re spoilt for choice with his many sound bites, but we particularly like this one;

‘A skip outside an art college is like a pot pourri of broken dreams’.  

Could be our next new leadership exercise…What’s in your skip?

Dancing to the top

Continuing to draw on leadership lessons from more unlikely sources, another hero of ours in the arts world has to be the supremely talented dancer Carlos Acosta. His autobiography ‘No Way Home’ offers enlightening parallels between the determination to succeed against all odds and the resilience we sometimes need to acquire as we dance our way through the organisations we work in.

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Sometimes as leaders we can become too narrow and trapped in a vacuum of the business press and books ‘on leadership’ when the most enlightening and enriching lessons can be drawn from more unexpected sources. Be curious, look in the hidden corners of life!

Lighting the way

Our final thought comes from one of our German clients working in a complex global business where internal competition between the separate business streams can make the ownership of shared goals challenging;

‘I see the corporate business as bringing light and soul to our smaller businesses, the core value needs to be one of competing with trust.’

We liked these words- it’s the joy of coaching when a chosen phrase and set of beliefs stay in your head for a long time after the meeting.