Engagement

WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP – THE IMPORTANCE OF KNOWING YOURSELF

Our Leadership Development Programmes often generate much discussion around the difference between how men and women lead; do women need to take on more qualities traditionally associated with male leadership and how to break through the “glass ceiling” or not fall off the “glass cliff” are just a few of the topics.  We decided to turn to some of the brilliantly talented women leaders we know and ask them to give their perspective on the challenges facing ‘Women in Leadership.” In the first of a series of blogs, Debbie Simpson, talks about her approach to leadership that took her from a young police cadet to the Chief Constable of Dorset Police.

When I was asked to pen some thoughts about my time as a woman who has held a senior leadership position my immediate thought was how to share something of my experience which allows people to take something from it, whilst remaining personal to my journey; so, I’ve decided to write about one aspect of leadership I refer to as “knowing yourself”.

My career started in Bedfordshire back in 1983 as a police cadet. It ended when I retired this April as Chief Constable of Dorset Police, nearly 35 years later, having been responsible for leading and caring about a workforce of 2,200 people who delivered services to the communities it served. When I retired there were only five other female Chief Constables.

When I started out in my career I had no great ambition to lead a force. In fact, for the first 5 years I did my best to fit in and just be “one of the team”. You will notice I said one of the team, not “boys”, as even though it was, and to a degree still is, male dominated (now about 30% of officers are women) I really did not feel any pressure in having to fit in by losing ‘me’. Did I feel pressurised in changing in any other way? Perhaps, not really by individuals, but by the organisation. When I joined, women officers were not allowed to wear trousers unless on night duty, our protective equipment was not the same as our male colleagues and as Cressida Dick (Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police) says, you could not be a dog handler unless you had a wife!

This organisational culture made women fight to have the same opportunities and equipment as our male colleagues. Not wanting to be seen as different, in reality meant ‘not wanting to be treated less favourably’ and so there was a tendency to suppress some of our female qualities: I did not want to be the sympathetic female officer left to look after children, so I did not do anything that could have led to me being stereotyped. Yet, I now know one of my stronger leadership skills is my emotional intelligence, the ability to read people and find a way to connect. So, counter-intuitively I worked against one of my strengths in a bid to perhaps conform to the majority. We live and learn because over the last 10-15 years as a senior and latterly Chief Officer I have specifically looked for the “difference” people bring to a team not the “sameness”. I believe this has built some strong teams around me. So, to women who feel they compromise themselves to get on I would say two possibly contradicting things: flexibility, negotiating and creativity are skills that women have in abundance and I have found if you can use them to fight the bigger battles you face, it can pay dividends in the longer term but equally you need to know yourself and be authentic.

One of my greatest achievements was to support my organisation to move from competency-based promotion/selection processes to a values-based one. My HR colleagues were nervous as it seemed harder to assess but I persisted. For many years I have been involved in senior selection for policing in the UK, overseeing the process nationally and I have found women are better at knowing themselves, although sometimes they have a tendency to be rather guarded in describing their strengths and abilities.  What I mean by knowing yourself is –  I know what really offends some of my core values and I know that if I was to take on a role that offended those values I would be unable to cope, or I would be miserable unless I had the ability to change what was offending me – and sometimes you can’t. At those times it’s worth letting a role or position go rather than taking it and having to work against yourself. I did this on at least two occasions, one of which was my dream job! There is a real skill, I think, in knowing an opportunity when you see it (and how many women rule themselves out if it – because “I’m not 110% ready” – rubbish – have a go!) and knowing which opportunities you need to let go.

Knowing what you can live with is a key issue when considering senior roles as there is often a need to compromise, within the board room, with stakeholders or partners. I found my female colleagues were usually more vocally honest about their challenges and development areas than my male counterparts. Values based competency assessments done well attract the right people to the role and women tend to perform more comfortably than if just asked about their technical competency areas, which they tend to play down. Somehow there is a more honest relationship between applicant and role and you as an employer when you understand where values align, support, or challenge what needs to be achieved. You can spot where the differences may prove problematic. Technical competence to lead is just not enough, in my view, there needs to be more.

An example of this in action is as a Chief Constable working alongside an elected PCC (Police Crime Commissioner). The PCC may have been elected on a particular mandate which means they want a police force to do something specific; I saw colleagues really struggling especially if that direction differed from their own view of where the force needed to be. If you are confident in yourself, know your bottom line, (not offending core values) being open, clearly explaining your rationale, will mean a relationship can be maintained and each party can respect differing positions and points of view, even if they do not agree. Saying ‘no’ without listening, over explaining and not working to find a solution is, I think, lazy leadership. I’m not ashamed to say uncomfortable or difficult conversations never became easy for me, it does not matter how senior you are they still provide a challenge. However, my experience is that women tackle the difficult issues more readily than male colleagues at all levels and I often wondered whether that came from a position of being in a minority and being aware of what needs to be said and done even when people do not necessarily want to hear it. Women also seemed prepared to find a solution or compromise and did not see it as losing.

In essence the variety of experiences we have because of difference, in my case being female, provided solid foundations for building transformational skills for the future and as a leader, the key is identifying what they are, and amplifying the positive. Never forgetting your role as a leader in supporting others to develop and reach their potential!

Debbie Simpson QPM

As Chief Constable she was also the South West regional Chief Constable lead for serious and organised crime. Nationally she was the lead for police forensics, leading a transformational approach to deliver new technologies across all forces and law enforcement agencies. She led the UKDVI (disaster victim identification) team and coordinated deployments alongside forces and when necessary the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She was co-director for the police national assessment centres from 2014 and in 2017 and 2018 she was Director of policing’s Strategic Command Course, the flagship course for development and learning of future leaders of policing. In 2014 Debbie was awarded the Queen’s Police Medal for services to policing.

 Debbie is a Mum of two teenage daughters and wife of a serving police officer whose fantastic and unwavering support (taking 5 years off work to look after their daughters and then being the one always there for her and the girls) enabled her to be the best she could, even if she can’t cook and doesn’t understand why her family find The Big Bang Theory funny.

Many thanks to Debbie for her contribution to the discussion surrounding ‘Women in Leadership.” Look out for future blogs where we will be sharing the thoughts and experiences of other successful and inspiring women leaders.

 

“WHO DID WHAT TO WHOM?” THE LOST ART OF STORYTELLING

In its simplest form storytelling is a connection of cause and effect. A narrative helps us make sense of the world around us. In fact, our informal conversations are dominated by stories; researcher Jeremy Hsu found 65% of our conversations are made up of personal stories and gossip – “who did what to whom?

Great stories surprise us; they have the ability to spark emotions, whether it’s happiness, anger, trust or guilt. They have compelling characters. They make us think and make us feel. They stick in our minds and help us remember ideas and concepts in a way that numbers and text on a slide with a bar graph don’t.  Fundamentally our brains are more engaged when listening to stories and studies show that when information is communicated in this way people will better relate to and remember it.

Story telling has been used successfully in brand advertising for years.  Guinness has come up with some great marketing stories such as their “Empty Chair” ad where a bartender leaves a pint of Guinness at an empty table every night.  No one sits at the table, and the woman shoots a dirty look to anyone she catches eyeing one of the empty chairs.  Without fail, the Guinness is there every night. It’s a powerful image that serves as a sign of hope for the bartender. But we aren’t exactly sure who the beer is for until the very end. Everything comes together when a soldier finally returns home to claim his Guinness.

Lego’s “Let’s Build” ad is another great example of storytelling in advertising. The ad features a father and son bonding over their Lego; it shows the two of them creating fantastic skyscrapers with their enormous Lego collection. For a second you forget that it’s advertising toys because all you see is the perfect home life parents and kids are always dreaming of. And so a story unfolds.

Although storytelling is a timeless human tradition, unfortunately it has become a lost art in many businesses. Instead of taking the time to craft captivating stories, most people in business create dreary Powerpoint presentations; you could say Powerpoint has killed our ability to tell good stories, and this is a habit we need to change.

However, a word of warning! – storytelling works on a spectrum – at one end you have BIG stories – like legends, epics and fairytales – at the other end you have small stories such as examples, recounts and anecdotes.  When starting out in storytelling it’s best not to try too hard – start small with your stories until you get more confident.  And try to build a bank of stories – funnily enough they don’t always pop in your head when you need them.  In the meantime here are a few of our top tips to help you on your way:

 Surprise your audience

When you set out to create your story, it’s always good to start by revealing an important fact or detail that isn’t common knowledge or includes an unexpected turn of events. Try to hook your audience by sharing something that no one would expect because when it comes to storytelling, predictable plots won’t engage anyone.

Get to the point

Although you need to hook people in, it is also really important to get stuck into your messaging as quickly as you can. Stick to relevant details if you want people to listen to your entire story, as most people don’t have the patience or the time to hang around! Choose two or three main points that people will actually care about and focus on those — things like money saved, number of users, growth over the years are all effective examples.

Think about your purpose

What’s the point of your story? Are you informing or teaching your audience, are you trying to sell them something or are you just engaging with them to make them feel inspired to act? Make sure you have a single message that you want them to take from your story.

Be honest

Everyone makes mistakes or does embarrassing things every now and then, but being honest about those less than perfect moments will make you and your message easier to relate to. Share those painful lessons you learned. Even the simplest things like a spelling mistake in a text can show your human side.

Overcome the odds

Talk about a few of the challenges you have overcome, such as rejection or setbacks. Tell your audience what you learned from each challenge, how it motivated you and inspired you to get better.

Don’t forget humour

Using humour will engage your audience and make your story more likely to be remembered and shared. Laugh at yourself or a situation you found yourself in, never at someone else. But do run it by a few friends or colleagues first, just to make sure it is actually funny as well as appropriate.

And finally … Hold something back

As well as the tips above about being honest and open, you shouldn’t reveal everything all at once. Keep people interested and wanting to come back for more by finishing on a cliff-hanger. Make sure all your content can stand alone but getting your audience to think you have something more that they need to hear will keep them hooked.

And on that note, I invite you to join us at our free breakfast seminar “Powerful Persuasion – The Art of Storytelling” on Tuesday 20th March at CitizenM Hotel, Tower Bridge, where the Change-Gear team will share with you their secrets on how to finesse this age-old skill.

To book your ticket please follow this link: ART OF STORYTELLING BREAKFAST SEMINAR

We look forward to seeing you there.

 

IN DEFENCE OF SNOWFLAKES

“Snow is falling all around us ……” well, it certainly has this weekend for most of the country. As I threw the curtains open yesterday morning I was greeted by a beautiful sight – thick snow on the ground and the park opposite my house looking like a set from “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Watching the falling snow my thoughts turned to a different type of snowflake; one that has generated a huge amount of column inches in the press recently – not the soft, white fluffy stuff but the human variety.

Much has been written in the press recently about the “Snowflake Generation” – the group of millennials who are often described as over-sensitive, work shy and possessors of an over inflated sense of entitlement. The term “Snowflake Generation” is thought to originate with US author Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 book, Fight Club, which contains the line “You are not special. You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake”.

While young adults in particular appear to take offence to the ‘snowflake’ label, the majority of adults also agree that the term is unfair and unhelpful and overlooks the significant stresses that our young people now face. Research by insurance firm Aviva found that 72 percent of 16-24 year-olds think the term is unfairly applied, while 74 percent think it could have a negative effect on young people’s mental health. The research also found that young people are more likely to have experienced stress, anxiety and depression in the last year.

We work with many different generations but one of my favourite groups to work with are the 16–24 age group and recent experiences have encouraged me to stand up to the critics and challenge the judgements and stereotypes peddled by the press. At the end of the Summer we facilitated a conference for nearly seventy new apprentices and we were blown away by their energy, positive attitude, thirst for learning and commitment to their new organisation and careers. Likewise, at the last set of employability workshops we delivered for the University of Essex, every student took a responsible, strategic approach to their work placement, setting specific goals to grow and enhance their already considerable skills.

So, instead of using derogatory terms about our young people, let’s celebrate what is good about this generation, who in my experience are overwhelmingly kind, humorous, creative, thoughtful and hardworking; who navigate their path through the minefield that is social media – something our generation never had to worry about. Personally, I can’t wait for my own “Snowflake” to come home for Christmas from her year-long placement with Jaguar Land Rover and have some down time; she’s achieved so much this year, it’s time to be spoiled by Mum – as long as she keeps her room tidy that is!!!

If you would like to hear about the work we do with Early Years Careers, please get in touch at hello@change-gear.com – we would love to hear from you.

Hot Topic – Are we doing enough to support young people joining the workplace?

Our new “Hot Topic” posts look at what is currently trending either nationally and/or globally, allowing us to share with you our unique Change Gear point of view. In our first “Hot Topic” Carrie shares her thoughts about how employers can do more to support young people entering the workplace – a very real hot topic for everyone waiting for their A-Level and GCSE results to be unveiled!

As a mother, whose son is about to get his long awaited A Level results today, this question is certainly one that has catapulted to the front of my mind recently. Having been very clear that university was the way forward for him, a sudden last minute change of heart (high expectations and the thought of being saddled with a huge debt from university fees) had him announce that he was going to get a job instead.  I’m all about encouraging my children to make good decisions and choices and do what makes them happy but knowing the employment arena as I do, this new revelation has made me a tiny bit anxious on his behalf.

Recent research is suggesting that as much as 80% of young people finishing education feel they are not being taught the right skills before they leave to help them successfully find work.  So it’s no surprise that today over 900,000 people aged between 16-24 are unemployed in the UK.  The ratio of youth unemployment is far higher than adult unemployment and this gap does not seem to be decreasing.

Yet in order for organisations to future proof themselves against a back drop of an ageing workforce where knowledge transfer is critical they are going to have to start actively promoting the recruitment of young talent into the workplace.  There are so many positive reasons for businesses to employ young people; it’s certainly more cost effective to invest in your own young talent rather than buy in more expensive, skilled people later.  It also adds to workplace diversity – young people bring with them different perspectives, fresher ways of looking at things and usually their technical and digital knowledge far outweighs that of older generations.  It’s also a fantastic way to boost the PR of your business.

So how can your business help transition young people from education to work?  Here are Change-Gear’s 5 top tips to help you on your way:

  • Start to form relationships with your local schools and colleges to bridge the gap between your business and education. Careers offices are always keen to meet employers.  Offer to run workshops or taster sessions for them giving young people information and advice about what a career in your industry would be like. Share your stories and expertise with them.

 

  • The Apprenticeship Levy has forced many employers with an annual pay bill of over £3 million to think differently about hiring apprentices into their workforce. Faced with spending 0.5% of their total pay bill they are keen to make sure they use their £15,000 allowance each year by taking on apprentices into their businesses and providing on the job training and coaching using this allowance.  Whether the levy applies to your business or not, offering apprenticeship schemes is a great way of attracting young talent into your business.  Many bright students are opting for an apprenticeship programme as opposed to facing huge uni fees, so you are likely to get some great young recruits.

 

  • Provide high quality work experience opportunities giving young people the insight and skills they need to work in your industry. This can also be a great way to “try before you buy”.  Plan out the work experience so that the student really comes away with something useful and a good impression of your organisation.  Do remember you are as much on show as a business as they are!  Social media will make sure the message about how good or bad their experience was will spread wide and far!

 

  • Question whether you definitely need someone with previous “work experience”. We often make assumptions that taking on a young person straight from education will be a lot of hard work for us and time consuming “showing them the ropes”.  How many times have you hired someone who didn’t have enthusiasm and energy (even in their first few months) and you ended up spending far more time dealing with their lack of motivation and commitment?  Often young people are really keen to show what they can do and work exceptionally hard to prove themselves.

 

  • Consider whether the recruitment processes in your business actually are “youth friendly”. Think about your own interview questions and whether you adapt your interview style to bring out the best in them during the interview process.  This may well be a first interview for a first job – so make sure you are giving them the right environment to relax and be the best they can be.

 

So hopefully that’s given you some food for thought and if you’d like to learn more about how we help our clients with induction programmes for apprentices and graduates or some of the one to one work our coaches do with young people looking for work, please get in touch.  In the meantime, here’s wishing all the students getting their results tomorrow the best of luck.

Death of Appraisal: True or False?

As the New Year begins many organisations aim to complete their yearly Appraisals or Performance Reviews. It is a time to calibrate results, check the distribution curve and hand out any bonuses before the end of the financial year. However, in the past few years much has been written about the demise of this tried and trusted method of performance management. But is the death of the appraisal myth or reality?

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