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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 32 – Make A Difference, Whatever Your Situation

18/01/2021

Dear Leaders,

Monday’s are not always anyone’s favourite day. Sunday night blues kick in, you realise you probably have numerous video calls that fill you with dread or only going to bring problems not solutions.

There is something I believe you sign up for when you join a company or sign up to be a leader and that is:

Make a difference.

Make a difference seems simple enough but many of us are wrapped up in the day, we are brought into another back to back or we are brought into other people’s political fights and we move away from making a positive difference.

Previously I wrote to you and confirmed it is always ok to move on as a leader, so today even if you know it is time to move on or you know you want to start looking for your next challenge, remember to question what difference can I make in the time before I leave?

Making a difference can be with the company as a whole, it could be making a difference for your team, it could be making a difference in someone’s career by helping them to improve or they deserve your time with coaching or mentorship.

Decide to make the difference today, take 30 minutes to identify how and where you can and take it on as a personal project to make the difference in the next few weeks.

Have a great week making a difference.

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 31 – Interview Training & Practise

11/01/2021

Dear Leaders,

Today I am writing to you to help you think a little differently about personal development and team development.

We will see a reduced amount of hiring for most businesses, we will see the number of jobs available reduce by around ~50%, the first order is less staff turnover, this provides a great opportunity to improve company culture, especially with your teams to get to work better and ideally more effectively together.
Remember experts suggest it takes six months of no change (no new staff or staff leaving) for a team with training to be able to operate at the highest level.

The second order is how this will impact your team and personal development of your teams. Less interviewing means less development, less gained experience, less finding out what you and your staff are worth.

Netflix is huge advocates of understanding your value and knowing the market rates (Read The No Rules Rules newsletter for full info). Netflix even encourages staff to take interviews, which many companies have a fear of but the way Netflix is set up is to embrace this and allow their teams to know they are paid at the top of the market as they are the top of the market.

This process is likely not happening within your business, your teams will be stuck in their way of doing things and will struggle to ask great questions when hiring is back on the agenda.

Recommendation:
I strongly recommend you and your best-interviewing staff alongside HR, arrange internal interviews, build out on a selection of questions, share and co-develop a selection of tasks and presentation to interview each other on and run dummy runs.

Some of the best organisations I have worked in or programmes I have created is around creating great interview questions, creating exciting and challenging tasks and personalising interview question and techniques to improve your departments.

This week start putting together a training guide for interviewing. Ensure you add interview training into everyone’s personal development plan and help people of all experience levels to improve their experience and their interviewing techniques. Some of the worst interviewers are the most senior staff, keep this in mind when setting up these activities.

Something to always keep in mind, you might be an attractive brand to work for, you might be well known but your interview processes is what will convert someone who is interviewing at many companies to someone who will want to work for you and your organisation.

Have a good week and let me know if you have any brilliant interview challenges, questions or tasks.

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

PS, my favourite interview question ever asked is what pizza toppings are you and why? Remember bland can be good or bad, you will understand how you got on instantly with your answer and the social cues received even virtually, so keep alert to these.

Recommended Reading: Ten ways to improve your remote management skills.

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 30 – Leadership Principles

04/01/2021

Dear Leaders, happy 2021, I trust you are energised and refreshed from your recent break.

Leadership teams spend hours every week in management meetings, you sit there working through weekly or twice a week meeting and discuss a number of recurring themes.

Many inexperienced leadership teams fail to create a dedicated leadership improvement plan, even with annual planning sessions and reviews, these leadership teams neglect having an agreed set of principles to improve the company and improving their management.
Yes, we are all busy, but there should be no excuse when it comes to improving your management team and management skills.

With clients, I recommended leadership principles for the year ahead and ensuring one member of the leadership team keeps you honest and reviews regularly to ensure you are on the right track.

If you are returning to the office or in a place to use the office safely, print out the leadership principles and post across your office, if you have a virtual or digital HQ where you share and pin announcements, pin these, refer and reference these continually and return to the leadership principles to ensure everyone is onboard and reminded of them.

Remember good leadership is ensuring old messages resonate and gain constant cut through.

Example Leadership Principles

Improve Communications – Share knowledge. Reduce unknown knowns, gain cut through to all staff members and customers 

Develop Leadership – Bring the next leaders through with a dedicated program 

Build EQ – Build emotional intelligence between leadership team and their direct reports 

Commitment – to beliefs and bets and pillars 

Focus On Listening – two ears, two eyes, one mouth 

Seek Feedback – improve feedback loops, seek out feedback not opinions and address these flaws and weak points 

Participation – Always ensure we are present and participate in every conversation, every meeting, every event.

Relevance – improve our relevancy and our positioning 

Customer-Centric – show up every day and put your internal customer and external customers first.
It is important to note: Internal good company culture has to be considered customer-centric.

Improve The Status Quo – remove the average and create a movement forward to improving output

Growth Mindset – embrace change, ask what can we do, how can we grow, what’s the change we can make.
A good read on the growth mindset and leadership is business lessons from Jeff Bezos 

Challenge X – we are going to promise to show up in x number of times in y ways.

This week concentrate on creating the right leadership principles, sharing these and ensure your teams are empowered and live these. Here are five focus points for success in January 2021.

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

PS, You will want to read business lessons from Jeff Bezos today.

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Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 29 – Rally Cry

21/12/2020

Dear Leaders,

This is the 29th leader’s letter of the year. Thank you for reading every week.

You have likely had your remote or virtual (zoom based) Christmas (or seasonal, festive or end of year) party, you have likely written and read your speech to your department or to your company and you have hopefully signed off the budget and the action plan for 2021.

The end of the year is something we all look forward to, there is something about finishing up for the year and being able to rest, recharge and come back fresh, with renewed fight and optimism.

The time between Christmas and New Year is often a quieter time and ‘admin time’ for those who continue to work.
For others, it is ‘returns session’ after what was likely the busiest online Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas period for your company.
However, for most, it is the time you truly know how your end of year numbers came out and I hope you can celebrate with momentum into the new year.

Looking Back Leader: For certain leaders, they like to look back, recap and celebrate the achievements, with a thank you for your work, dedication and flexibility for 2020.
Next year is the next fight but needs a refresher mind and clarity of thought on the 4th of January to rally the troops.

Looking Forward Leader: For others, they like to only look forward, driving forward with more energy, more intensity. The rallying cry is for more, for better, for bigger.

Neither is wrong, but being able to say thank you and know your plan for 2021 is set and going to provide many different possibilities and avenues is something to look forward to and gather around.
Sharing that one-page strategy plan between Christmas and New Years might just be the difference between a flat first few weeks back and a joined-up company ready to stand together and win 2021.

2020 is the year that will stand out for all of us, the year we didn’t know the answers, we were unsure of what the next week looked like and the year we learnt so much about our friends, colleagues, managers and bosses.

2020 was the year of some good, some bad and a lot of ugly.

2021 Rally Cry

2021 has the opportunity to be brighter, an opportunity to challenge the status quo, to build something new, something different or even build something yourself.
2021 has to be the year you own, you lead, you empower and a little challenge, where you can; seize the day as many times as possible. You shake up your management teams and implement management pods.

Set up mentorship, set up coaching sessions, entrust givers not takers, set yourself up for success by performing your personal and professional SWOT and find your hidden leaders embrace them and empower them to take your company up another level, optimise your meetings, help people become smarter not harder and commit to communicating clearly, lastly do not forget to listen to your future seers. Why not action 21 for 2021.

Thanks for reading and supporting leaders letters this year, go and have a great Christmas break.

My own personal rally cry and the north star of the focus manifesto:
I will fix the broken world of work.

Yours sincerely,

Danny Denhard

PS if you agree, give this newsletter a share on Linkedin or to your leadership team on Teams or Slack.

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Leaders Letter 28 – The Management Cult of CCF

Confusion, Chaos, Fear

14/12/2020

Dear Leaders,

I have been speaking to a number of different leaders in forms of meetings, panels, private slack channels and text (yes even text, remember that anonymous text helpline I offered).

The hottest talking points apart from the banned C-word and performance is leadership and leadership styles.

One leadership style I have always despised is the cult of CCF:

Confusion, Chaos and Fear.

There is a particular age range of members of the bad managers club aka CCF club, and they have allowed the tactical and channel-ification of work to hide behind.

Confusion

There are many leaders who actively choose to lead by confusion. Yes, confusion.

Confusion is based on lack of or poor communication. Other traits include hoarding information to protect themselves, make themselves feel indispensable and they make everyone else constantly second guess themselves.

Confusion can mean handling everything on their time vs when it makes sense on others.

Confusion to Chaos

Once the confusion is worked out by individuals or team, they actively create chaos (just like politicians).

Chaos is often created by making changes to projects, to budgets, to headcount, and ‘shuffling the pack’ as there was a ‘bad egg’ or someone just wasn’t at the level they wanted.

Chaos is a way to control situations for weak managers, anyone who decides to use confusion or chaos as tactics to lead are not leaders.

Chaos To Create Fear

Once chaos works, they create fear around themselves and then the deliverables that have to complete. Fear is often inherited by rank or title but can be leveraged in situations to create uncomfortable working environments and deliberately build a horrible working environment for everyone in and around your team or department.

These managers have learnt these behaviours and believe this is the way to take control vs building the right team and environment to hit targets and develop their team. It takes a while for businesses to gain enough insight into this or takes a few brave individuals to come forward and address with the company.

Management styles shape company cultures, do not allow these behaviours to shape your organisation.

If you are in the position to, I recommend reviewing your management roster and see how they manage their team or department and if you are a manager and believe you have adapted this, I would highly recommend addressing this ASAP.

This week focus on improving your layers of management, remove this selfish and ignorant style of management and reduce the level of the stress by clearly and proactively calling out these behaviours.

Have a great week ahead,

Thanks,

Danny

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Leaders Letter 27 – Review Your Managers Reviews

07/12/2020

Dear Leaders, Happy Monday.

You likely have only three more Mondays of 2020 left.

This weeks leaders letter concentrates on reviewing your team of managers feedback from their team.

Performance can be tricky to understand. As a leader, your performance is based on how the teams underneath performance and how close you are to the targets you set at the beginning of the year.

You have likely heard of skips, skip catch-ups and skip 1-2-1’s are commonplace in large organisations but have you considered how you review monthly reviews and quarterly reviews?

Something that can be frustrating is how you can understand how your management team and the set of managers underneath are performing. It is also an area many busy managers don’t see as important as attending more meetings or replying to more emails.

Being able to proactively review and receive unfiltered feedback can be difficult but not impossible. Your teams are likely providing feedback to their line manager in the form of a monthly or quarterly review.

Something I am a huge advocate of is opening up and reading your direct reports reviews and the feedback provided by the team. You will see a variety of feedback you likely don’t see yourself and you will see how they interact with the different members of the team, especially when in their one to ones and behind closes doors / closed video calls. This will work for teams leads, department leads and management team members.

You may also undercover your hidden leaders, those in management positions or those speaking up and informing their managers of potential issues and where to drive the business forward.

This approach could help with mentoring and coaching opportunities, a way to proactively improve company culture and an opportunity to improve company-wide communications.

You will likely see patterns of feedback, often ignored by your managers, these are areas you cannot overlook and have to proactively manage and nurture your managers into the right areas or bring in external experts to help evolve your business.

Moving forward consider in on focusing in on making the time to review the direct feedback your managers are receiving and help them to improve their management styles, their management approach and improve the working environment for your middle management and their teams.

Your next set of leaders and the teams around them deserve your time and experience to guide the people and company forward.

Thanks and have a proactive week.

Danny

P.S. If you are looking to improve your team, reach out to develop your management team.

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Leaders Letter 26 – Productive Working Relationships

30/11/2020

Dear Leaders,

How are you shaping up for the end of the year?

In today’s leaders letter, I am going to cover working relationships. What could come under company culture or company performance.

The older you become, typically the higher you progress, the more likely you have to proactively work on your working relationships between colleagues and fellow members of management and leadership teams.

If you are not working on this, you are, unfortunately, likely losing.

Often you will have to develop “productive working relationships”. In life, there are going to be people you just don’t get on with and in the professional world you will encounter this (I know I did) and you will have to proactively work on ensuring you can work together for the best of the company and for the best of your colleagues.

I personally would struggle with two behaviours.

  1. Colleagues who would be ‘independently motivated’, those who would work behind the scenes to put their interests first or proactively work to have dedicated time with the HiPPO to force their agenda through. Providing you get Face-time and zoom-time and build a relationship, you will beat those who don’t work on this.
  2. I would also struggle with people who would be CC warriors, say one thing and then pounce on any opportunity to CC in leaders or leadership teams into emails. This is and will always be unprofessional behaviour.

We all face these behaviours and have to develop our own approach.
The most professional and the best way I found to tackle this is to speak directly to said person and make them aware that their behaviour can and likely will cause issues and typically you both decide how you move forward.

With some individuals, their motivations will not change but it is something you have tackled and typically allows you both to be on the same page and will be able not to let this behaviour creep into your interactions and with your teams.

Throughout my career, I have seen many co-founders drift apart, some co-founders proactively take each other apart, build a CC warrior culture, and lose the company around them based on their working relationships.

One, in particular, was so messy it went into administration from misalignment and distrust of each other. Part of the culture became deciding which founder you would side with and proactively back. For the younger and less experienced it was unfair and uncomfortable. For the older, it became more than work.
This behaviour filters through the business and this behaviour can become the norm if not managed correctly.

When the chips are down and performance is struggling, you need to come together and coordinate fighting external factors, not the internal factors.

Working on relationships is an essential part of the business world, it doesn’t have to be political or have an agenda other than wanting to improve your working environment and remove poor behaviours and subcultures within your business.

In the coming weeks leading up to Christmas focus on:
Planning in sessions where you get to know each other professionally and personally, understand the motivations of your colleagues and when you feel comfortable to have feedback sessions where you have open discussions around how behaviours and actions can influence the company and causes rifts.

As recommended previously, create agreed principles and share throughout the business. Reduce company anxiety levels by reducing friction points, 2021 will hinge for many businesses on company culture driving company performance and how you will fight for the same cause vs internally fighting over many.

Have a good and proactive week,

Danny

PS if you need help with company culture, happily get in touch below

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Leaders Letter 25 – Google’s Answer To Preventing Burnout, No Meetings Week

23/11/2020

Dear Leaders,

2020 has been one hell of a year. Hopefully, we will not have to live through another nine months like we have had to again.

December is notoriously difficult, wrapping up projects, delivering the most critical product rolls outs, historically December is when companies start turning profits and when staff can feel the pressure the most and work-related illness increase double digits.

This week Google announced their approach to preventing employee burnout.
The first is providing those who ‘can’ with two extra days off, the second is no meetings week.

Both sound like good measures right?
From a headline perspective these sound good measures and potentially the right steps to take, unfortunately having lived through both options there are some downfalls and here are a few things to consider when looking to roll out similar within your teams or organisations.

Extra Days Off:

  • Extra days off work if your colleagues are in a place to take the time off and can finish their work, if not you add additional stresses and can feel particularly unfair to those who aren’t in a place to take the extra days off.
  • Many colleagues struggle to use up their annual leave additional days annual leave requires more management and processes. Does your organisation allow days to be rolled over? Consider how this could be helpful within your business. Is there a way you could reward staff with afternoon’s off?
  • While working remotely the line is blurry, the pressure to check emails, instant messages and check-in are found to be much higher, it is important as leaders you manage this and allow colleagues to actually take the extra time off.
    The always-on generation struggles to shut off as do many leaders.
  • Recommend Action: Proactively manage these steps and allow colleagues to take the time off and manage expectations that they will likely have to finish projects and campaigns before they take these extra days off.

No Meetings Week:

  • Have you worked in organisations where no meetings day work? The likelihood is they struggle to make these stick or work, the typical reason is like I call out in the Focus Manifesto this is where so many decisions are made or the only way decisions are made. Help your teams know how you are going to replace decision making and how you will let your colleagues know what the decision is and how you are going to collectively action it.
  • The question for many businesses will be what constitutes a meeting and what doesn’t. Especially in the remote world of work we operate in currently, anything on Zoom, Teams or Hangouts would appear to be a meeting. Help the teams to know what a meeting is and is not and how to replace. A meeting subculture can often have a long term effect on company culture.
  • Help your colleagues to understand how to communicate your actions if meetings are used as status updates and the actions you are taking for the week ahead. Standup’s, sitdowns, wrap up’s, are all technically shorter meetings so think about how you could replace with video or audio updates and centralised.
  • Management teams have to follow this and have to proactively promote following the no meeting week. Without this, you will see meetings take over again.
  • Recommend Action: With meetings etiquette, even the most forward-thinking companies have meetings and follow similar patterns to the most traditional and out of date companies, consider this an opportunity for a small SWOT team to come together to rethink meetings for 2021 and how to reduce reliance on meetings and roll out recommendations to address meeting fatigue and burnout.

I applaud Google for openly calling out these steps to reduce burnout and burnout within their companies, there will no doubt be many smart people who consider the first to third order effects within Google.

Moving forward many of your colleagues will likely read the headline, share internally and feel like this is something you should be following, manage expectations, explain why this likely won’t work within your org and how you are tackling to make it better within your own business and the steps you will be taking to reduce burnout in December and for 2021.

Thanks and take some time to consider your approach to burnout and optimising the end of the year for a better more proactive 2021.

Danny Denhard

P.S, Read my hybrid perks should be on your agenda ASAP

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Leaders Letter 24 – Turning Being Strategic Into A Company-Wide Playbook

16/11/2020

Dear Leaders, Happy Monday.

Over the past six months, I have written to you weekly on important topics, leadership, company culture, trust and strategy.

I truly believe that beliefs and bets (leaders letter 5 is a great read on why beliefs and bets are essential) are the best way to frame and building a long term successful company-wide strategy.

A strategy is supposed to be hard but reworking work for the year ahead, in short, the strategy is the act of deciding what not to do, it’s agreeing on the actions you are going to take, the steps you will take and the tactics you will follow.

As soon as you add in layers and layers of tactics you are moving away from the top-level leadership piece a strategy has. Details are essential at a department and team level but sharing all of this information makes a strategy a detailed playbook, and this is actually a great way to breakdown a complicated business for everyone within the business to understand the steps you and fellow teams are taking. This also ensures everyone knows the next steps forward and where it all aligns, and if the playbook needs updating it can be and send out notifications tactical elements have changed.

Recently I have heard be strategic, being strategic and strategically minded as ways to explain acts of being deliberate or making the time to think clearly and plan.

This is not directly bad, however, allowing teams to hide behind being strategic by planning means many take this as a strategy when it is being deliberate and rolling up or into one company-wide strategy.

A strategy is not a list of tactics or channels its the action plan for the business, a strategy is being able to:

  • 🧠 Think 5 years ahead, understand the lay of the land,
  • 📝 Plan 3 years with firm bets and beliefs of where your market and products are going
  • 💪 Act 1 year, being absolutely ruthless for the year head and the exact actions you will take.

The playbook is an essential part of connecting this all together.

Moving forward focus on removing the confusion around strategy and tactics.
Enable teams to understand they are part of the bigger company-wide strategy, their plans of actions are essential in company success, however, ensure they roll up and align with the core pillars you have to serve and hit and should all be found and updated in the centralised playbook.

An action to take is to write the beliefs and bets out, serving a small number of pillars and then ask the teams to create their plan of action and ensure it reads simply for the wider business so it can fit into a company-wide playbook for the year ahead.

One recommendation I have for all of my consultancy clients is to have one person who leads the playbook project and ensures update are made and communicated.

Thanks and have a good week,

Danny

PS, Take a read of its time for management pods.

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Leaders Letter 23: Remote Work Influences On Company Culture

09/11/2020

Dear Leaders, 

I trust you had a good weekend and feel refreshed for the week ahead. 

Company culture is difficult, it is a process and something we all strive to improve. 

In what company culture is I dive into what company culture is and what company culture is not. 

A framing and a guide are always going to be helpful to businesses setting out to improve their company’s culture and embrace the important journey you and your colleagues need to go on.

Numerous leaders have commented that remote work feels more transactional. This negatively impacts the company culture and productivity.

What leaders mean by this is having meetings and getting straight to the point and onto the next meeting.

You miss the hallways conversation, you don’t get those brilliantly timed breaks between meetings, you miss that time with the team where you might spitball an idea and it turns into a campaign or a product tweak. 

You have less time and opportunity to talk for three minutes before or after a meeting and you often have to virtually dash between back to back videos calls without making time to talk to your colleagues outside of the product or project you are working on.

I have heard from leadership teams outside of SMT’s, their team meetings and 1-2-1’s leaders are not getting to check in with those who they might have spoken to or actively sought out when in the office previously. 

One manager commented they haven’t spoken to someone they used to see daily in six months. 

A handful of leaders have said they have felt time and work shift to “being more transactional” less personal. 

On the surface, this might have sounded like a proactive step taken from some organisations to ensure work while being at work, but diving into transactional, what professionals really mean is they are not checking in those they were close with. 

Those who might provide a different opinion or perspective or given a guide on what the impact might be to the group of users they might look after. 

With the way you are working currently, are you alienating a number of team members or stifling cross-departmental collaboration? Or is it personally decreasing your ability to make quick and important decisions away from email or a chat tool? 

Is there a solution to checking in or battling back to back transactional meetings?  

Yes, a couple of simple ideas. 

The first dedicate a section of time to be open in your calendar where you have an open room (Zoom/Meets etc) where people can drop by or bump into you. 

The second would be to book in coffee breaks and buddy up, 10-20 minute slots where you find time to chat, discuss projects and enable different conversations. 

A third might be to use an open document (think shared PowerPoint, Google Slides), a mural or miro where you can have some ideas or post-it notes. 

I trust this is food for thought for you and your leadership team.

Thanks and have a good week,

Danny Denhard