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Big bangs don’t create culture

Big bang change processes don’t work.  Change that is sustainable has to be gradual and continuous.  Big bangs simply generate resistance, resentment and, sometimes, revolutions.

The secret of change is that everyone who will be involved in achieving the change must understand not only what the vision of success looks like, but what the values are that underpin it.  This isn’t a quick fix; it’s a slow, but powerful process that depends on a 360 examination of the principles, values and beliefs that will create the organisation culture.
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Push, coach and empower

(Photo courtesy of Stefan Wagner)

When you take on the challenge of becoming the leader of an organisation you’ll almost certainly be faced with things that need to change.  Depending on what state the organisation is in will influence whether you dictate, direct or delegate.

It’s important that a new leader defines the way forward so every member of the team has a clear vision of where they’re heading for.  If the organisation needs radical change in order to succeed, that can be very different vision to the one that the team have had in their sights.  In fact, if the company is struggling part of the problem is probably that the original vision has become so hazy that it’s impossible to see.
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The name of the game

wales-australia_1123492cI recently watched the Welsh rugby team play Australia – a team they have only beaten 4 times in 40 years.  They didn’t win, but they did look like a team who could win.  In the words of one of the Welsh players “We have put the basics right, made sure we went onto the pitch with heart, spirit and aggression.”

As the recently appointed CEO of a company that has been hit hard by the recession these words resonated with the situation I find myself facing.
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Communicating with the runner’s feet…

running-shoesSometimes when I am out training I wonder about the amazing machine that is the human body.

  • How do my feet know to jog around my running route?
  • How do my arms know to work in rhythm?
  • How do my heart and lungs know to increase their work rate to provide the power?

I am an engineer, not a physician, but I do find it fascinating that the communication and coordination between all of these separate functions appears to be effortless.
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Does your company need an urgent blood transfusion?

aug blog blood

My son is currently enjoying work experience with the blood transfusion service. Each millilitre of blood donated is measured and treated as a precious contribution to someone’s long term health. Blood is a critical ingredient of a healthy body transferring energy around the body and increasing the supply where extra power is needed.
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To boldly go …

trekyThe CEO of a major company asked me how he could drive growth in his organisation, “I’ve tried everything,” he said.

“Really? Everything? Including the crazy ideas?” I replied.  “How brave have you really been in exploring your business from every angle?”

We were in a conversation with his global colleagues about the importance of driving challenge and change through their organisation – not just from time-to-time, but regularly.  My point was that it is not about market share; it’s about opportunity share.
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Look out for killer whales!

Kevin Gaskell PhotoOn our recent North Pole expedition we knew that the competition would include intense cold, moving ice sheets and hungry polar bears, so we prepared for all of those challenges. The unexpected competitor was the one which eventually caused us the biggest concern – the killer whale that would come through the ice in anticipation of a fleece wrapped hot meal on skis!

Back at work half my time is spent working closely with new and fresh young companies.  Straight out of business incubators these exciting businesses identify a new market niche, rush in with an innovative proposition – often employing fresh technology or an application of social media – try out new ideas, make mistakes, try another idea, learn quickly and begin to grow rapidly.
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What inspired you to get to here?

KG-may-blog-photo-1Two weeks ago I stood at the geographical North Pole – the roof of the world.  With me were my son Matt and my sisters Jayne and Clare.  Matt was standing next to me; Jayne and Clare were there in spirit and in the photographs we carried with us.

It was Jayne who had inspired Matt and me to walk to both the North and the South Poles, although she never knew it.

Jayne died of cancer eight years ago leaving behind a devastated young family. I vowed to discover how treatment could be enhanced so other brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, parents and children might not have to suffer the loss of someone they loved.
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Does the leadership hat fit you?

Kevin Gaskell PhotoTwo years ago I sponsored a young guy to help him to achieve his dream of building ‘the best gardening destination in Britain’.  I liked his clear vision of what he wanted to create and his plan of how he would do it.

Did we envisage that the worst British weather on record would stack up as a serious business challenge?  No.  Did my protégée sulk, complain or decide to give up when the recession meant that the market dropped by 30%?  No.  Instead he stepped up, put on the leadership hat and made sure it fit him really well.

What does that mean?  It means that he has proved that he has what it takes to engage his team, inspire them to tackle the challenge and support them in overcoming it.

A leader has commitment to his (or her) vision and the commitment to achieve it.  A problem becomes an opportunity to demonstrate how it is possible to succeed.  A leader focuses on the problem and is creative, determined and single-minded in solving it.

A leader acts.  He sees the big picture and is ready to take a new approach to transform the business.

A leader won’t acknowledge that ‘it can’t be done’.  He doesn’t quit when things get tough and his positive approach is the pattern that the team follow.

A leader recognises achievers and removes those who hold back progress and aren’t actively moving things forwards.  Making tough decisions is all part of the role.

Leaders have vision, but are realistic; they are relentless, compassionate, focused and inclusive.

Every successful leader is also a dreamer.  They turn their dreams into achievable goals and inspire ‘followership’ to help achieve them.  Does the hat fit you?

North Pole Au Revoir

The weather in the UK is freezing and so I’m off on vacation – to walk to the Geographic North Pole with my 22 year old son Matt.

In 2006 I walked to the North Pole and then in 2009 Matt and I walked to the Geographic South Pole to raise funds for the North Wales Cancer Treatment Centre. This was in memory of my sister Jayne who died of leukaemia. As a result of the generous sponsorship we received we were able to support the construction of the Eria ward (snow in Welsh) at the NWCTC.
The ward is now up and running and providing critical treatment to thousands of patients each year.  So a huge thank you to everyone who helped.

This time we are doing it purely for fun. A quick two week run in, each pulling sledges with 80kg of supplies and then, hopefully, a lift off the pole by a Russian Scientific Survey helicopter. We will phone back by satellite phone each day and provide a fun filled update. We can’t send photos but will give you an idea of our holiday with photos from last time – the snow hasn’t changed very much! See you in 3 weeks or so. Enjoy the cold. Downside is it is minus 30C before wind chill at the pole today (your home freezer is at minus 18), upside is no emails for 3 weeks!


5 Tips For People Performance

Kevin Gaskell PhotoLeaders who excel know how to help people to grow and achieve.  These are five tips that I believe are the foundation for success.

1. High performance begins and ends with engagement.  The leader’s role is to lead improvement and change and to make sure the team fully understands the vision of success.  What will that success look like, what will it sound like, what will it feel like when we get there? Share the vision and excitement with the team and describe it carefully and you’ll find they will get excited, motivated and engaged.

2. Challenges are opportunities for growth.  Address the fear of change by openly discussing the future of the company and the results you are striving to achieve.  Examine the opportunities and the marketplace and use these to excite the team.  Encourage enthusiasm about the opportunity and talk about their role in driving real and substantial change.

3. Make it easy for the team to contribute.  Build a clear, but simple, plan and share it. Excite the high performers who will become leaders at every level in the organisation and invite participation. Be totally inclusive of talent and ideas – let people dream!  Focus on driving positive change and quietly identify low performers and address the issues that are preventing them succeeding.  Provide support once, then twice, but don’t carry passengers.

4. Praise first, challenge later.  Provide regular feedback and a positive approach. Make heroes of the high performing teams by praising their approach to a challenge.  Leadership is not always about being at the front, but about creating a positive culture of ideas and making room for future leaders to step up to the challenge.  If it goes wrong, it is not the end of the world – focus on what has worked and lessons learned rather than what went wrong.

5. Recognise that people are amazing. Leading teams to high performance is about creating an environment where people thrive.  Set a positive example, be approachable, consistent, and make champions visible. Positive belief is an energy which transfers to others. Given the opportunity and a supportive culture an inspired team will surprise themselves and other with how much they can achieve.

Please don’t try to motivate me…

Kevin Gaskell PhotoDespite all the management guru speak and various models of personal motivation I don’t believe you can motivate someone else.  Business leaders often ask me “How do I motivate my team to …” They’re usually taken aback when I tell them that they can’t!

You can’t motivate someone else because motivation comes from within.  The leader’s job is to inspire people to contribute their creativity and talent.  Inspiration creates the environment for motivation to develop – the ‘want to’.

When people want to make a difference and are invited to do so, that’s when the magic happens.  People who are working in an environment that inspires them and who have been invited to step up to the challenge of achieving positive change become high performers.

So, what is the corporate leader’s role?  Corporate transformation is based on inclusion.  People who are involved become so much more committed. If everyone in the organisation feels inspired, involved and invited to take action, the organisation will be revitalised.

The role of the leader is to create the excitement around the challenge, to embrace the team members and stimulate their creativity.  Most people want to do a good job – and be recognised for doing it – giving them the opportunity to make a difference and see the results they can achieve is the jumping off point for a really high performing team.

Empowerment and trust are strong words which lead to stronger actions; “Give me a challenge, make it fun by showing me what success looks like and then let me explore ways (good, bad, crazy, inspired) to find what is possible and you will be surprised by the creativity we have in the team”.

So where should corporate leaders start their transformation process?  Start at the end and work backwards. Illuminate the opportunity, shine a light on a clear picture of an exciting future and then quietly stand to one side and let the team create the new way. You will inspire, they will achieve.

Leadership Masterclass

Kevin Gaskell PhotoKevin recently spoke for the Centre of Leadership Performance,sharing with the audience his advice based on 25 years experience of managing significant companies and achieving extraordinary results.
Using his unique style, Kevin was able to give practical advice on management performance and staff motivation including how do managers get the best performance from their teams, how to manage difficult or disengaged people and what approaches to performance are most effective.
The feedback was extremely positive from the group – in fact, it was the first time Kevin received a 45 minute Q&A after the session!
Kevin pitched his input perfectly to the audience in the room, there was humour, honest humbling accounts of his professional career with some real ‘take aways’ for everyone in the room.” – Lesley Bowen, The Centre for Leadership Performance (CforLP).

Forecast: Storms and high pressure – with sunny periods

Kevin Gaskell PhotoThe economic storm continues to hammer businesses and too many organisations respond by closing the windows and battening down the hatches.  Despite evidence that the current strategy is not working, the idea of making change strikes fear into the hearts of management.

Ask any manager “If you could wave a magic wand and change anything what would you most like to change to improve your business?” and the responses indicate that they would rather do anything – except change.  Hanging onto the familiar ‘furniture’ with tooth and nail is the norm.

The opportunity for change should be one of the most exciting and interesting offered to any manager.  It’s an opportunity to search for the sun and for the organisation to make real progress:

  • To reconnect with customers to demonstrate the value proposition offered
  • To review the business model
  • To inspire teams to embrace change with excitement
  • To explore opportunities ignored by competitors

A smooth sea never made a skilled mariner.  New businesses that have spotted a gap in the weather, or those progressive companies that are using the stormy conditions, and the strong winds it produces, to make rapid progress will be the winners.  They are looking hard for opportunities to change and grow, listening aggressively to the market, asking key questions:

  • Which way is the storm blowing?
  • Which way are the currents flowing?
  • What are the trends?
  • What are new ships in the sea doing?
  • What new opportunities exist on our current course or in potential new dynamic sectors?

Good people are inspired when they are given the opportunity to contribute – and I mean really contribute.  When they can see the leaders are committed to real change the team will begin to believe that they can look out of the window and see patches of sunlit opportunity beyond the storm.

As a friend who has her own new business said recently; “Yes, I am aware of the economic crisis but I have decided not to play. If I change my perspective I quickly find that I’m too busy prioritising all the new opportunities it’s bringing me!”

The storm will pass and the best captains will have enjoyed the energy it delivered and the progress it enabled.



‘In the News…’

Kevin Gaskell PhotoKevin is often interviewed by the media both in the UK and overseas on all areas of business and in particular leadership. After a recent business trip to Malaysia to speak at an event organised by the Malaysia Productivity Corp and Malaysia Automotive Institute, Kevin was interviewed by John Loh from ‘The Star Online’

In the article, entitled ‘Up close & personal with Kevin Gaskell’, Kevin shares his experiences in business, his involvement in leading Porsche UK to become the country’s most profitable automaker and his love of planning and completing life-changing expeditions in some of the remotest parts of the world.

To read the article click here


Extreme Classrooms

tesOver the past year Kevin has been working with the Springfields Academy in Wiltshire, UK. The academy is helping children aged 11-16 who have suffered in extreme situations and who need very special support and care if they are to become positive, contributing adults. The results have been amazing with the school being recognised as the national 2012 ‘Overall outstanding school of the year’. The leadership team’s focus and patience has to be seen to be believed.

The skills of some of the team have been highlighted with Deputy Principal James Lynch photographed for the front cover of the Times Educational Supplement, a magazine with a global reach of 7.5M readers. There are no prizes for guessing what the previous job of this kind, gentle giant was but he is an extraordinary member of a team who demonstrate an absolute clarity of purpose and share a real vision of success for the academy. Kevin has been invited to join the team and demonstrate how to bottle the magic that this teaching team create and to share it with other schools all over the world. .