Speakerlife – Business Speaker Musings

Neil Fogarty is a business speaker, writer, facilitator and critical friend to boardrooms and their leaders

Reflections of a Business Speaker…

As a business speaker, I’ve always been a fairly self-sufficient sort – in Emotional Intelligence terms, I demonstrate optimism, resilience, self-actualisation… all that good and healthy stuff.

Over the years, I have learned to prioritise better so that I am able to balance my professional ambitions with the things in life that make you a more-rounded person (namely, family).

It wasn’t until I went to live in Egypt in 2012 that I was able to take stock of where I was in life – yes, I had done well building a few businesses up but this had led to high blood pressure, teeth grinding (bruxism) and a generally dysfunctional personal life.

I went back to the UK at the end of the summer of 2012, missing most of the rains and floods of that year but still in time for the London Olympics closing ceremony. The plan was to go to the Welsh coast: run first thing in the morning, shower, work on my next book, walk in the late afternoon, light dinner, beer in the sunshine… repeat until the book was done. It was to be a solitary time but after a bruising few years, solitude appealed!

Curveballs can be great!

But then life throws curveballs – and this curveball happened on a Welsh beach (in the rain, naturally) where I bumped into the lady who became my wife.

Six years’ on, and here we are: married with 8 children between us (the youngest three being entirely ours) as well as a beagle and numerous cats.

Life was rebalancing nicely and, in that time, with someone there to support me, the business grew.

And that’s where life switches curveballs for ironies.

Now that I had found a fantastic relationship that meant I wanted to stay close to home, I began picking up more work abroad – and, courtesy of Brexit, my entire order book is outside of the UK. One option available to us would be to move and, at one point, we had considered Barcelona as it was where we got engaged to marry.

But Catalonia has it’s own issues.

Whilst this is all fizzing around, we took the view that I really needed to do something that I had historically struggled with: delegation.


Learning To Delegate Again

It’s taken a while but Eskil now has a strong cadre of partners (a few time wasters along the way, but we took that to be an occupational hazard) and so I decided to also engage with a speaker bureau to source and manage my speaking engagements as opposed to doing it all myself.

So I got myself a business speaker reel, spoke to people who had seen me on stage, tightened up my web site and made the leap – I contacted a speaker bureau that had been referred to me by another speaker.

LinkedIn did it’s work, contact was made, bio was sent… I uploaded the speaker reel to the contact. And waited.

And… waited.

So I contacted them again… their response being, “can you resend it?”

Well of course I can – no problem.

And then… silence.

Joss Wheedon says you suck

Don’t go blaming the bureau

OK, now I’m mature enough to know that I won’t win every time, but I have seen some of the business speakers who are represented by bureaux and, being honest about it, they suck. I wouldn’t mind if they sucked a little but some of them suck a LOT.

I’ve sat through the dinners where experienced speakers do battle with each other’s  egos through constant oneupmanship and war stories.

But… at the end of it all… they suck.

One business speaker was telling everyone (whether you wanted to hear him or not) that his measure of the success was being asked to go back for more work. In that time, I had 3 invitations to go back and 2 pieces of work.

The loudmouth? Well he had complaints made about his conduct and, as far as I can tell, very little in the way of work.

Yet… he’s represented by a bureau.

Maybe there is a critical point, a bit like a football manager, where, no matter how rubbish you are, there’s always another job around the corner.

Discovering a professional pride

So the frustration isn’t necessarily with the lazy bureau who can’t be bothered to get in touch but the standard of people out there.  Professional speakers with old material, old delivery styles, and old attitudes seem to care less about the level of satisfaction as long as they sell their books and get paid.

In the past, I’d not really been one for professional pride but, in the context of speaking, I AM proud of how I can stand up in front of 500-1,000 people, make them laugh, tell them a story, give them something new to play with in their heads. The problem is that this could easily become pride in what I do as an individual and not pride in my peers.

So I guess it’s back to the beginning – self-sufficiency, resilience, self-actualisation and the rest of the good and healthy stuff because it seems that it’s the way forward.


To book Neil as a business speaker at one of your events:
Email: enquiry@eskil.co
Telephone: +44.1926.497.211

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Shaping The Board

Here is the latest article published in Business In Gulf magazine about shaping the board – asking if your boardroom is fit for future purpose.

If you are interested in building boardroom and leadership capability, then contact Neil for an informal discussion.

Shaping The Future Board

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Driving The Future Boardroom

Eskil is a Boardroom Development Company supporting Chair CEO Director and Senior Leadership Teams (SLT) in Europe, Middle East, Africa and The Americas including The Caribbean - we focus on driving the future boardroom
As a boardroom development company, there are some fairly standard questions that we look to be answered when meeting with a client for the first time – what was fit-for-purpose in 2007 is not the case today. Are you driving the development of the future boardroom?

“How ethical is your leadership?”

It’s fair to say that Corporate Governance was truly defined in 1991.

Following such financial malpractice as money laundering at BCCI (the 7th largest bank in the world), the misappropriation of a large pension fund by Robert Maxwell and the fraud of Polly Peck, there was a greater call for the ethical (and legal) management of businesses.

Let’s not forget that, in 2002, The Sarbanes–Oxley Act resulted from the fraud-driven Enron collapse in 2001 and was used in the case of the bankruptcy of USA’s second largest long distance telephone company, WorldCom in 2003 (again due to large scale fraud).

More recently, we see the Ponzi scheme of Bernard Madoff in 2008, business malpractice with Barclays (2012 revelation of manipulating inter-bank lending rates) and Volkswagen (2015 admission of manipulating emissions data) – as ever, corporate governance is all about ethics.

In many cases, malpractice happens because of weak regulation being exploited by unethical leaders. Whilst boardrooms have some influence but not necessarily authority of how the regulators work, the boardroom DOES have control over it’s own destiny.

“Are you handling mega-change?”

If we look at the statutory compliance associated with Corporate Social Responsibility (profitability, impact on people / communities, impact on the ecology / planet) which encapsulates corporate governance then many organizations are doing their part. However, to take the competitive advantage we need to go further – we need to be proactively exceeding the bare minimum expectation.

During the course of a facilitated board session, we are interested to see if the board members are solely focused on the past & present (governance & compliance) or if they also have an interest in what’s waiting over the horizon for them. A key question to be addressed is whether or not the boardroom is anticipating and influencing the future.

Organizations tend to look at what is going on within their own immediate spheres of influence – their own boundaries – and this is reflected in governance and compliance activities. Beyond these boundaries, however, is a world of massive change.

The modern boardroom needs to be aware of so many external factors and their future implications:

  • Climate Change – for example, how will oil markets respond to the social push for clean energy and how this affect national revenues which, in turn, impact your customers?
  • Population Demographics – younger people are accessing intellectual properties for free – how do you sell to them? They are also more ‘values-based’ – will they choose you as a supplier / provider or employer?
  • Social Change – the developing world creates new issues and opportunities: the growing middle class in China sees a new customer base but we also see a growth of ‘western diseases’ and the impact of pollution – what can your organization do to leverage this?
  • Shift Of Global Economies – financial boundaries and economic strengths are shifting. Are we seeing the rise of African economies? How long will the UK struggle post-Brexit? Is China due for another surge of growth? How will the Middle East deal with declining oil demands?
  • Technology – how will your organization be impacted by artificial intelligence and automation? How will this affect society as a whole and what will your organization do to benefit?
  • Digitisation – there will be an inevitable impact on your organization as digitisation grows – shorter feedback loops inside and outside the business; collaborative tools; big data turning into big information – all of these things call for a leaner-thinking enterprise that can ‘join-the-dots’ to not only see the bigger picture but also influence the new world.
  • Disruptor Culture – all too often, the next competitor to your business is going to be a startup – are you managing this risk? Do you encourage innovation within the organization (or do you penalise those who try to be different)?

In many cases, some board-level thought has been given to this, but there is still only small percentage of boardrooms with an assigned Transformation Director in the C-Suite. Whilst the examples above look at what is happening outside of the organization, there are also issues to be considered internally.

“How agile is your boardroom?”

Accepting that the world outside of your organization is in a state of flux, you will need to be developing an agile and forward-looking boardroom. Some of the aspects on your mind will probably include:

  • Join-the-dots – reasonably, your boardroom excels at ‘doing the right thing’ – complying with laws and regulations, running the business in an appropriate manner according to your corporate governance. However, mega changes will have an impact: strategic thinking is required. If you look at reports from all of the major management consultancies, you will see them referring to how little strategic thinking takes place in the boardroom – to survive in times of volatility, you need to see patterns of opportunity where you can influence and benefit from change.
  • Ambiguity – continual change can be confusing for everyone concerned and the convergence of industries contributes to the confusion: for example, is Facebook a technology company or a media company? The French telecoms company Orange is launching it’s own bank following the 69% acquisition of Groupama Banque in 2016. Are we equipped for digital disruptions that will eat away at our competitive advantage? Are we aware of competitors from non-standard areas? Are we genuinely innovating at all levels in the organization?
  • Political Cycles – many governments are subject to election cycles (e.g. half of the UAE Federal National Council serves 2-year terms; the first general elections for the Consultative Assembly in Qatar are due c. 2019, etc.). Crucially, the election cycles of other countries impacts on your own (e.g. Germany, USA and Iran are every four years whilst the UK is every 5 years). Government changes lead to policy changes (home and abroad) – and the impacts are ongoing. Political sentiment can end large-scale programs. In the UK there is a program called HS2 (High Speed 2) – a new high speed railway – which will be completed in 2033. Consider that, 2 years’ ago, Britain was not considering life outside of the EU and the first noticeable effects has been talk of another recession – do we think that HS2’s 2033 goal will be reached without a hitch? How is the board exploring volatility: are there short- mid- and long-term strategies in place and are we able to explain this to the media if required?
  • Talent – succession planning is an ongoing issue. According to Business Insider magazine, the typical timeframe for publicly announced technology companies to source a new CEO ranges from 2-10 months. Some transitions are planned and (for example, Uber) some are a little more sudden. Whether it is planned or otherwise, finding the right talent can be problematic. How well is the board executing current plans and do we have the right people in place for the future? Are we investing in their education and support (mentoring)?
  • Regulatory shifts happen all the time – in the UK, the push now is for a public declaration of a CEO’s salary in comparison to the lowest-paid workers. Such incidents as Volkswagen and Barclays shows us that regulatory bodies need to be strengthened and this will impact upon your boardroom.
  • Composition – Diversity is a huge issue at the moment – family-owned businesses are expected to include non-executive directors for balance (with the NEDs reporting into your chair) – but does your board accommodate the reasonable expectations regarding sexuality, ethnicity, physical ability, and more?
  • Stakeholders – the word is changing and, with the growth of social media, there is a need for closer stakeholder engagement. This includes having stakeholder representation on the board.


The Future Boardroom

It’s not surprising that there is a renewed focus on improving corporate governance (particularly when the fallout from boardroom malpractice goes far beyond the walls of the organization and into different stakeholder communities).

Change is not only here to stay but also demands that corporate leaders guide, lead and benefit from them – and this calls for a boardroom that looks to the future as much as it does to the past and present.

Is your boardroom fit for purpose?

Feel free to contact Neil for a confidential discussion about the director of your organisation.

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Are Framework Agreements relevant?

Are procurement frameworks relevant to the 21st century?

Framework Agreements have their place – specifically when it relates to the acquisition of commodities. The question is this: with a rapidly-evolving commercial landscape, and a strong technology platform culture, with services taking up a larger percentage of what is procured, do we need framework agreements in the 21st century?

There have always been preferred suppliers in one form or another but, if we are to be innovative, there can be no sacred cows. It may be that the way procurement teams operate is such an instance inasmuch as the operating model may benefit from change.

Certainly, with commodities (stationery, telecoms, etc.), we can apply some pretty standard measurements in terms of what is being solved and what is being sold.

But does the current economic landscape allow for this?

Uber has no cars whilst Airbnb has no rooms – yet one of the companies provides driving services and the other accommodation.

In the late 80s, I worked for a freight company and we had a preferred supplier for local taxi services that didn’t just take people to-and-fro but also carried some of the lighter parcels as it was quicker than processing them through the depots and sorting office. How would this work now when Uber has the capacity to provide the service, as long as all of their sub-contracted / zero-hours drivers do their part?

With more than 50 professional buying organisations, potential suppliers to public sector, for example, almost have to have a dedicated resource just for the monitoring and management of tenders. So a framework agreement may save an organisation time and money – but what about the suppliers having to track different sources? Maybe (and this is just a thought) organisations feel that they are doing suppliers a favour by awarding work rather than accepting that the relationship is equal?

In a recent delivery meeting, the client team spent an entire meeting discussing which framework agreement they needed to access in order to deal with their chosen supplier. A discussion then followed about how they may be paying more for a specific framework but it was OK as long as it gave them the supplier they wanted.

When working at Tribal Group, I saw how much time, resource (and money) was spent on tenders – and it wasn’t until almost a decade after formation that there was a focus on bid / no-bid reviews. Within three months, the amount of tenders had gone done but the level of success had risen.

There were many times where an individual consultant was needed but, as a framework agreement was in place, the client would be paying high-end management consultancy fees with almost 50% of the margin being paid to the talent doing the delivery. But it was OK for the UK public sector to pay over-the-odds, because it complied with the framework.

I was speaking to an Associate in December 2016 – someone highly regarded in local government with extremely impressive credentials – and she was bemoaning the fact that, while public sector organisations talk about their desire to nurture startups and SMEs, the reality is that procurement frameworks are more of a blocker than an enabler. If the public sector wants to work with this person, they have to pay extra to a ‘preferred supplier’ for the privilege.

When did this become logical?

Can technology help procurement frameworks become better-for-purpose?A conversation with a Partner in Denmark in January 2017 introduced a new approach: a technology platform for large corporations to access individual consultants. To be a supplier to the platform, each independent consultant is vetted and qualified.

For one-off, quick-hit projects below a threshold, rather than refer to the consultancies who could afford to go through the tender process, each client organisation has an option to post their engagement / project on the platform and the qualified consultants have the option to pitch for the work (akin to a procurement framework mini-competition).

Risk is managed, contracts are managed, financing is managed.

Yet, at the same time that this is taking place, I have been working on a retainer with a local council who has to put work out to tender if they hit a £10,000 threshold. The timescale for the mini-competition to award the next £10,000 is over 2 months which delays delivery and consumes the time of all parties.

The Denmark model is interesting as IR35 reforms come into play – whilst there seems to be scaremongering about its impact on the UK economy (“failure to comply presents serious risks to your organisation: you could be face rate increases, claims for employment and workers’ rights or see your highly skilled resources leave the public sector altogether” – same as it ever was, people!).

IR35 has been a topic of discussion since 1999 and it has always been about self-determination and replaceability (the person delivering work could be offsite and a replacement provided). Equally, if the person working as a freelance resource is basically, doing the full-time job of an employee, then they can’t really be considered to be a contractor.

Personally, IR35 doesn’t affect me – the main complaints seem to be from freelancers who have been working long-term on a client site in one fixed role – they’ve been on to a good thing!

Maybe the Denmark model is a way to work with IR35 – ensuring that there are rules in the platform as from 6th April 2017 so that hiring organisations responsible for evaluating the IR35 status of all limited company contractors can provide a timestamped assessment and sign-off. And as it supports the IR35 ruling, it also opens up access to a highly-qualified professional resource pool without the restrictions and workarounds of old-style procurement frameworks.

The old arguments for a framework agreement (fast access to approved organisations, reduction in procurement timescales, reduction in procurement costs) may work for pens and paperclips – but if your organisation is trumpeting the fact that you’re ‘different’, ‘innovative’ and your issues are ‘unique to us’… how can you know that a framework that you’re only halfway through is still fit-for-purpose?

I’m sure that there are many viewpoints and angles to this – feel free to contact me and we can chat.

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Leadership Empathy

Published in Business In Gulf magazine’s January 2017 edition on the subject of employee engagement as a vehicle for growth – this is the start of a new series of articles on how leaders can use emotional intelligence to develop their organization. This first article is about leadership empathy – how you can empathise to optimise your business.


Contact Neil for a confidential discussion.

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Two Minutes’ Silence

ContemplationFrom the perspective of organisational health, there’s an increasing focus on the emotional intelligence associated with leaders and their teams.

When you look at Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence, you will see a continual reference to the importance of a focused silence: imagine that… a team meeting with silence involved – no mindless chatter, no space-filling, no clicking of laptop keypads… silence.

The thing is, silence can be painful.

The common (ironically, unspoken) argument against a silence is that it feels uncomfortable: it becomes awkward and this can cause anxiety in the room where someone folds first and succumbs to the pressure to speak.

Research in 2012 by Drs. Michael Bittman (University of New England) and Mark Sipthorp (Australian Institute of Family Studies) argued that “the need for noise and the struggle with silence is a learnt behavior.”

As a Generation X guy, my memories are of the TV and / or radio always being on – background chatter is there during our formative years. When all is said and done, we can’t blame social media for having a distracted brain.

Embrace the silence

[pullquote]Mia: Don’t you hate that?
Vincent: Hate what?
Mia: Uncomfortable silences. Why do we feel it’s necessary to yak about bullshit? In order to be comfortable?
Vincent: I don’t know. That’s a good question.
Mia: That’s when you know you found somebody really special, when you can just shut the hell up for a minute, and comfortably share silence.
(Pulp Fiction)[/pullquote]
So what drives the need for something to fill the silence?

  • Continuous background nice has created a norm that serves to make it’s absence (silence) feel strange;
  • Unexpected silence can invoke a sense of nervousness (where did that come from and why?!);
  • There is an assumption that noise = busy and, therefore, silence suggests inactivity;
  • We over-analyse – and so, in the silence, our mind races and churns and spins; and
  • We feel that we are there to ‘solve & fix’ instead of sometimes accepting that we can contemplate rather than mend

Do you recognise any of these? Have you got others to add to the list?

[color-box]On November 11, I was midway through a mentoring session with a local government director and the clock struck 11:00 – a time for two minutes’ silence as we show our respect to people defending the rights of people in various countries (in past and current conflicts).

In that moment, we had complete silence – no electronic devices, phone calls or conversation – the only sound was the ticking of the clock on the wall.

What was obvious after this time was how different the dynamic of the conversation was – there was a re-energised feeling to the time left and it was obvious that the client was more reflective in her thinking.[/color-box]

Here’s the thing: if we can accept that ‘talking’ doesn’t necessarily equate to ‘engaging’ then silence is a fantastic management tool.

Some of the benefits of applied silence include:

  • Encourages a sense of being ‘centred’ as people refocus themselves;
  • Disrupts the routine of meetings and encourages agile thinking (adaptability);
  • Offers an opportunity to explore active listening;
  • Some people’s communication and thinking styles are more reserved and welcome the chance for contemplation;
  • Your colleagues may prefer to observe than speak – and silence is a way to connect with them;
  • Meetings are time bound and can race along – sometimes without pause for thought;
  • Conversations can move along too quickly, or in too scattered of a manner; and
  • Sometimes people are wanting to talk, but not finding a chance to ‘get a word in’

After a 1-2 minute silence, as head of the meeting, invite each person around the table to state a key understanding / key learning / key action that they will take away (allowing everyone the chance to speak) and then move on to the next agenda point and the final half of the meeting.

Think about the power of silence in your next meeting, and use it wisely.

When we use silence strategically, it can be a powerful collaboration and communication tool whilst building your team’s emotional intelligence.

Contact Neil to discuss emotional intelligence and leadership in your organisation.

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Business Ethics = Work Ethics

Business EthicsAs an advisor to public and private sector organisations on the subject of organizational health (how an organisation lives and breaths), the issue of the capabilities of the employee is of keen interest to forward-looking CEOs. The thing is, Business Ethics = Work Ethics.

Strong work ethics creates strong organisations

The concept of the strong work ethic being simply a reflection of working hard (according to the instructions of your superiors) is outdated – it is so much more than this.

In the 21st century, a strong work ethic still acknowledges the need to be a focused worker, but an individual hard worker will only temporarily increase productivity in a limited area or field whereas a collective work ethic helps to develop a consistent and sustainable environment for success.

Basically, a strong work ethic is vital for achieving your objectives and every employee needs behaviours and values to maintain this corporate health.

Work ethic means nothing without a business ethic

Many leaders ask me to run workshops on work ethics for their staff but won’t consider their own business ethics – but how can you expect staff to show exemplary work ethic if the organisation doesn’t actually believe in it?

Business ethic determines the landscape of the organisation:

  • business ethics (e.g. don’t be the next Enron!)
  • ethical leadership (how to develop and encourage both business and work ethics)
  • workplace ethics (applying corporate ethics in real-world situations)
  • workplace behaviours (how your people think & act on a daily basis)

[pullquote]Your business ethics incorporates values, morality, cultural beliefs, views on consumer rights and your commitment to corporate social responsibility.[/pullquote]

Business ethics drive work ethics

Business ethics form an important part of any industry and we see clear lessons writ large in the global press including a workplace where moral codes are slanted (Barclays and the Libor-rigging scandal) or general dishonesty (Enron).

Unethical behavior creates legal risks and damage to reputation, brand and revenue – and these ethics are driven by your leadership which filters into management and teams.

Customers expect integrity, honesty, transparency and fairness – and your business and work ethics needs to satisfy this demand.

Work ethics enable business success

From an individual perspective, values drive behaviours and so it is important for Leadership and HR professionals to work together to identify the (informal and formal) value systems within the organisation:

  • Integrity – being trustworthy is a key relationship building block (with colleagues, suppliers, customers)
  • Taking responsibility – rather than make excuses, the responsible individual takes personal responsibility for job performance, timekeeping, etc.
  • Exceeding expectations – rather than do the bare minimum, a strong work ethic drives overachievement – and this means not checking the clock, but checking that you did a great job
  • Mindfulness – focusing on the task in hand and avoiding distractions in order to complete assignments
  • Collaboration – a well thought out performance management framework should be aligning individual objectives with team / departmental / divisional and corporate goals – and so everyone should be working together to achieve them. Simply: everyone is responsible for success; everyone shares the pain of failure
  • Respect the code – I run a business with a casual dress code – but, on client site, we dress to suit the code of the business – I’m not saying that you become a clone / drone… but you DO need to respect the wishes of the organisation
  • Consistency – playing favours with colleagues doesn’t work: it creates resentment and doesn’t usually deliver the corporate objective (merely satisfying personal agenda)
  • Respect – stressful situations bring out the best and the worst in people and, in many cases, it can be hard to be diplomatic but this is when people are under the closest scrutiny: being respectful whilst delivering on your promises
  • Reliability – being on time for meetings, running well-prepared meetings, keeping promises, working within budgets, delivering on time (every time)… being dependable means that your team knows that when you say you will do something then it will be done
  • Remember the customer – whether this is internal or external, you are usually doing something for someone else (a report for the boss, feedback to a client, paying an invoice to a supplier, etc.) and customer service is crucial

Some of these traits can be taught in workshops (e.g. time management, effective meetings, powerful communications, motivating performance management).

Many behaviours are the product of belief systems and it is important to build a coaching and mentoring program that helps to dismantle the attitudes and mindset that blocks change.

In my experience, workshops work in partnership with coaching / mentoring but are worthless without strong leadership.

Basically, if your leadership is flawed, don’t spend any money on training your staff until leadership development is in place!

If you look at the collective values and behaviours of your people, you can put it under the general concept of ‘work ethics’ – whether you are an introvert, extrovert, leader, manager or individual… are you focused on achieving success?

Contact Neil to discuss work ethics in your organisation.

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Mindful Critique

Here is the latest article published in Business In Gulf magazine – outlining the concept of critical friendship within the discipline of Executive Coaching.

Using the leader psychology as a foundation point, the Executive Coach can challenge (critique) and then nurture the client.

If you are interested in experiencing critical friendship, then this article is worth exploring.





To speak with Neil about executive coaching:
Email: enquiry@eskil.co
Telephone: +44.1926.497.211
Eskil: eskil.co


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Curing Organisational Toxicity

Toxicity by BohdanDrop

Toxicity is the degree to which a substance can damage an organism – and so it’s fair to extend this analogy and say that a toxic team can damage an organisation. With culture being such an important aspect of organisational health… an enterprise body with too many toxins can rapidly wither and die.

[pullquote]Culture is a crucial aspect of organisational health and can be a fairly fragile thing – toxic teams can quickly corrode.[/pullquote]

If you look at any organisation, there is reference to ‘culture’ and it’s interesting to see the difference between the type of culture referred to in their marketing collateral and the feedback from such employee insight websites as Glassdoor.

Accepting that acrimonious feedback on an insight website is coloured with negativity, there is very rarely smoke without fire.

In fact, when preparing to meet with any prospective client, I check out their Glassdoor more than their LinkedIn.

So if culture is so important, why does toxicity develop? If the logical thing to do is to avoid organisational toxins, how do they not only enter the corporate ecosystem but also flourish?

Well let’s consider ‘bad’ culture as a mosquito – it seems to be a small thing but you always hear it buzzing around – and if you do nothing about it, you can be bitten. The mosquito is multivoltine – a species that has two or more broods of offspring per year with the female laying 100-200 eggs. Even with high egg and intergenerational mortality, over a period of several weeks, a single successful breeding pair can create a population of thousands.

To fend off the diseases from the mosquito, we have insecticides but over the last few years they have stopped working. In fact, mosquito-borne diseases are on the rise and this is mainly due to insecticide resistance: the mosquito breeds quickly and genetically modifies over generations until survival-of-the-fittest means that the insecticide stops working.

There’s a point to this: a single untreated cultural abnormality can rapidly replicate and corrode a corporate culture.

The results of a toxic culture can be significant: lowering of productivity; poor customer service; impacted morale; increasing absenteeism, etc.

What enables a toxic culture – and how do we go about curing organisational toxicity?

As someone specialising in leadership development, I see that, fundamentally, culture comes down to the strength or weakness of leadership.

Weak leadership enables the toxic culture
I’ve been active in organisational culture change since 2001 and, for a multitude of reasons, people’s vested interested can be toxic – and they don’t care as long as they get what they want. At times, this selfish focus undermines the best efforts of colleagues and ruins morale. Yet, for some reason, this goes unchecked.

If the culture sucks in your organisation then there is a good chance that you will see a mix of the following traits in your leaders.

  • Lack of communication between leaders, leaders and managers, and leaders with the teams – people don’t know the vision of the enterprise and don’t understand the context of change (e.g. a UK-based telecoms company where the CEO refuses to respond to requests to address employee grievance, and the HR Director declines to identify ways to ‘fix’ the problems – using passive aggression to drive employees away as they try to reposition the business as a services company);
  • Plays favourites which creates a sense of ‘unfairness’ in the organisation – people realise that some colleagues are bullet-proof with no rationale as to why;
  • No clear sense of direction creates a listless, random and almost confused approach – KPIs are inappropriate / irrelevant, rewards & recognition don’t really apply, people don’t know why they are doing what they’re doing;
  • Double standards as ‘one rule for one and one for another’ applies;
  • Authoritarian / bullying leadership where people are afraid to speak their mind which leads to the best ideas going elsewhere (people going to competitors or setting up their own enterprise). Bullying in the workplace is a clear sign of toxicity. If the leaders adopt an authoritarian stance then those working beneath them are likely to do likewise;
  • Close-minded attitudes where the answer will always be ‘no’ – frustrating people into submission;
  • Lack of transparency and morality creating a workplace where moral codes are slanted (e.g. the CEO of Barclays, Antony Jenkins, noted that there were “cultural shortcomings” at the bank for problems that led to the Libor-rigging scandal where the bank had become too focused on profit and bonuses rather than the interests of customers);
  • Dishonesty can lead to corporate closure (e.g. Enron’s collapse could be attributed to a culture of greed, aggression and illegal behaviour that was nurtured by the senior management team);
  • Resistant to change where the desire for the status quo disregards change driven by the needs of strategy, regulation, competition, etc.;
  • Fails to discourage gossip / rumour-mongers which engenders misunderstandings, resentment, covert conflict, declining performance, etc.;
  • Encourages conflict as the belief that internal competition is good for the business is supplemented by an attitude of ‘divide and conquer’ of competitive parties within the organisation;
  • Accommodates under-performance as long as it’s people within their clique;

MosquitoThe amazing thing is that people put up with it.

This may be down to the current state of the economy but, in my private mentoring practice, I hear stories from people who are long-term employees and don’t appreciate that there is something better out there.

There are fixes and cures for toxic cultures – but it always starts from the same place: swat that mosquito – sort your leadership!

Contact Neil to discuss your current culture and how you would like to see it improved.

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Introduction to BMC

Here is the latest article published in Business In Gulf magazine – introducing the Business Model Canvas.

If you are interested in using BMC in an entrepreneurial or intrapreneurial capacity, then contact Neil for an informal discussion.


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