All posts by HCI


Leading change in a VUCA world – ahead of the Berlin Change Days Conference

I’m in Berlin to facilitate a workshop at the 2017 Berlin Change Days Conference that has the theme: Power and Trust- Leading Change in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to learn from and contribute to this flourishing community of organisational change agents – facilitators, coaches, leaders and People and Culture professionals.

My session on Creating a Coaching Culture will explore how organisations can embed a peer coaching ethos that provides the scaffolding for leaders navigating change. Having grown a thriving executive coaching and leadership development practice for 14 years, I’ve recently joined Human Capital International (HCI) as the first female director – gaining access to a broader capability offered in the nexus of strategy execution, culture development and leadership.

At HCI, I’m committed to nurturing consciousness and creating coaching cultures that enable leaders to influence and engage organisations. While leaders, particularly at the most senior levels of organisations, value and invest in executive coaching, a disconnect happens as they get lost in “doing”. Under pressure to drive performance and innovate in a VUCA world, they default to a “telling” or advising style with their teams, rather than facilitating others’ capacity for reflection and insight. This has a two-fold negative effect: it undermines psychological safety, so their peers don’t feel trusted to offer ideas without fear of judgment, and it means the leader gets stuck with the weight of problem-solving.

Using peer coaching to create a coaching culture becomes paramount. By crafting a safe space for leaders to share their thoughts, test ideas, challenge beliefs and ask for and act on feedback from their peers, we can transform how organisations build capacity to manage the complex interplay of relational, personal, commercial and political issues that can derail performance and wellbeing.

I’m taking this thinking to my session at the Berlin Change Days conference and hope to challenge and tap into the experiences in the room. Ultimately, if we can build our capacity as change catalysts we can help embed trust and empower thriving organisations and communities to navigate a VUCA world.

Kerryn Velleman

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7 Top Takeaways from the Chief Innovation Officer Summit

Last week I was the chairperson for the Chief Innovation Officer Summit in Singapore. This attracted a regional group of experts on innovation within the corporate space. The speakers and attendees bought a range of experiences and innovation approaches and shared these over 2 days. The summary below, is my short list of key takeaways:

  1. In many ways the safe approach for large companies is to separate innovation away from the business into a hub or even a funded start up. Their downside here is manageable, and largely known, and the possible upside although low in probability, is large. The more courageous “play”, is a transformation of culture & leadership (and corresponding structure and business practice) to create a genuine commercially innovative organization that is nimble enough to respond to commercial disruption and capable to generate its own breakthroughs.
  2. Notwithstanding the above, every organisation is going to have to find places and spaces for entrepreneurs within or alongside their business. These people will at a minimum provide a new healthy disruptive voice, and possibly lead the discovery of bold new ways.
  3. There is an opportunity for systemic innovation or, what Georgio Mosis from Reinsurance Group of America called “Ecosystem”, -lead innovation. Multiple co-invested groups joining an ecosystem to push for new boundaries and systemic opportunities.
  4. Bridging innovation strategy from the organisation’s vision or purpose, will be core to getting leadership alignment and will allow the people charged with the change, to make sense of the new ways. This will give innovation the best possible chance of success.
  5. Current innovation strategy comes in many shades and shapes. Different speakers at the conference presented many possibilities, however with their own justification based on personal experience and mindset. The challenge for a coherent and robust innovation strategy will be effective team or group decision making, that goes beyond a series of campaign pitches.
  6. Talent, culture and people matters. Innovation may in the future happen machine to machine, however for the next decade we will still rely on high quality talent, leadership and teams for innovation to be effective and for successful execution to occur.
  7. Disruption is not all positive. There will be an increasingly large cost both at an individual & collective level from new technologies and new business structures. How do we turn innovation around and consider more creative responses to the human cost of rapid change both at a corporate level and at a community level?

Mark Powell


Team Innovation: Introducing LEAP

  • Is innovation one of your major business imperatives?
  • Is connecting Innovation to your existing core business an important goal?
  • Is responding to a rapidly changing market the focus of your strategic conversations?

If the answer to any of these is “yes”, you may benefit from the LEAP Team Innovation system. This page provides you with more information about what LEAP is and how it works: our Introducing LEAP brochure and a short video by our lead LEAPer Mark Powell in which he explains the system, illustrating with client examples.

If your interest is stimulated and you want to find our more about how we can help you meet your challenges, check out our Introducing LEAP brochure here, and contact us to arrange a conversation.

ASIA: Mark at +65 90181976 or
AUSTRALIA: Steven at 0411 704 328 / or Peter at 0408 272 076 /

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“I found HCI to be fantastic thought-partners and practitioners, helping both myself and my executive team shape clear strategic direction and deliver leadership programs to drive implementation over 18-24 months. The program was a key factor in maintaining high staff engagement scores before, during and after a period of significant transformation.”

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Why Strategy Execution Unravels—and What to Do About It.

Have you ever found yourself in a team that you thought had the potential to execute your company’s strategy, but experienced delays and frustrations?

Organisational capability may be part of the problem, but often it’s due to a lack of cohesion in the C-suite. Executives can be aligned in voice at the table, but not aligned when it comes to the implementation of the strategy. If this sounds familiar, consider how you might develop your leadership culture, rather than focusing on further defining your strategy and systems.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article1 , it was found that executing a strategy would “typically consist of translating strategy into objectives, cascading those objectives down the hierarchy, measuring progress, and rewarding performance.” And when asked how they would improve execution, the executives: “cite tools, such as management by objectives and the balanced scorecard, that are designed to increase alignment between activities and strategy up and down the chain of command.”

In these managers’ minds, execution equals vertical alignment, so a failure to execute implies a breakdown in the processes to link strategy action at every level in the organisation, rather than looking across the leadership team and their functional areas.

Managers were asked how frequently they could count on their peers to deliver on promises and found that only 50% researched say they can rely on other areas to deliver most of the time. And paradoxically, it was found that when managers can’t rely on colleagues in other functions and units, they compensate with a host of their own dysfunctional behaviours that undermine overall execution.

For some, this raises the issue of accountability and of how to get executive teams to engage in more robust discussion around alignment, where KRA’s, their individual and departmental performance metrics and personal agendas are more transparent. Then once agreed, to hold each other to account for the delivery on their commitments.

Whilst important to ensure clarity of accountability, perhaps the focus should also be on building executive cohesion. Identify where leaders and managers are not really connecting and collaborating with each other and then begin to generate an appreciation of the importance of cohesion and a sense of responsibility to one another. This is consistent with the view of a T-shaped manager2. This is a manager who collaborates to share knowledge freely across the organization (the horizontal part of the “T”) while remaining fiercely committed to individual business unit performance (the vertical part). When this approach becomes instilled in the C suite, the leadership culture can create horizontal value, which will:

  • Increase efficiency through the transfer of best practices
  • Improve the quality of decisions through peer advice
  • Grow revenue through shared expertise
  • Develop new business opportunities through the cross-pollination of ideas
  • Make bold strategic moves through the promise of well-coordinated implementation

These cultural shifts can be reinforced by the systems, but the systems will not work without first having the culture to drive them.

So how strong is your sense of executive cohesion – being one team? How well do members of your executive team assure that cross-functional cohesion cascades through their middle management teams? Is the whole company ‘one team’?

Steven McInnes

1Homkes R, Sull C & Sull D. Why Strategy Execution Unravels—and What to Do About It. Harvard Business Review, March 2015
2Morten T. Hansen and Bolko Von Oetinger. Are You Managing To a ‘T’? Time To Break With Tradition. Harvard Business Review, May 14, 2001

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Learning to Change … and Changing to Learn

When culture gets in the way of executing strategy, something has to give. Some organisations undertake large-scale change programs; some – either as part of that effort or instead – use Dynamic Development Projects.

Dynamic Development Projects (DDPs) are an evolution from the action learning process first popularised by UK management professor Reg Revans, who said “There can be no learning without action, and no (sober and deliberate) action without learning.” DDPs emphasise a performance goal for the organisation while providing a safe(r) environment for leaders to experiment with new behaviours. People test different ways of working with others while working on real opportunities to add value or to address an “itch” that the organisation has not been able to scratch through traditional means.

In other words, organisational change is driven through the projects that are chosen – ones that will have a significant impact in terms of strategy and/or customers – and the reflection required by leaders to see potential solutions and themselves in a different way. And through this, the new culture emerges.

DDPs are not for technical problems that need traditional linear processes and more expert thinking. Rather, they are for those more complex, uncertain or ambiguous situations; the “wicked” problems that leaders today face more and more frequently.

What needs to be in place for DDPs to be successful? In my experience, there are several prerequisites:

  • Executive sponsorship is critical. Project teams need guidance as they work through adaptive rather than technical challenges. Sponsors provide clarity around project scope and deliverables. They also have the organisational know-how and “grunt” to be able to remove the barriers that slow teams down. And perhaps most importantly, they serve as mentors to the team as a group and to individuals within the team.
  • DDP team leaders need to be on the same page as the executive team. In some cases, self- or group nomination of the leader can work. We have found that this role is vital to the development process; team leaders must be on side with the change agenda or at least ready to challenge the status quo. Otherwise, the process will revert to a technical problem-solving exercise, rather than an exercise in leadership.
  • Reflection and experimentation are the hallmarks of action learning. Project management disciplines will guide project team delivery, and thus achievement of the performance improvement. They are best supplemented by a process facilitator or coach – someone who encourages personal and group reflection, asks effective questions to promote deliberate risk-taking, and helps work through the issues of team dynamics that drive leadership capability building.
  • Clarity around the end game is crucial. DDPs need to be:
    • Clear on their strategic purpose – what performance gains are sought,
    • Consistent in their definition of the cultural behaviours that need to be dialed up or dialed down, and
    • Focused on the leadership behaviours necessary to sustain the strategic and cultural changes.
  • Language and symbols are important. Leadership team language can make or break these projects. If teams get the sense that there is “wiggle room” in commitment to the process or the expected deliverables, performance will suffer. One of the CEOs we worked with wanted his teams to understand he wasn’t looking for fluff solutions, so the phrase “lipstick on a pig” became the mantra for clarity of thinking and risk-taking.
  • Mutual benefit matters. In my experience, overcoming the fears and protests that can accompany the introduction of DDPs requires that people believe that what they are doing is valuable to the organisation’s health and well-being as well as their own.
  • Launches and celebrations aren’t always necessary. Big dramatic launches with declarations of new aspirations may be exciting, but may also set up a “here we go again” cynicism in staff. We find that the best changes come about because the leaders just get on with rethinking their roles, changing how they operate, and let the cultural shift and performance improvement cascade through the organisation.

Choose the right projects, led by the right leaders, and backed by leadership team courage; you may find you’ve implemented organisational change by stealth. You will have improved performance, and in the process, established new cultural orientations and new leadership practices.

How have you seen DDPs work in practice?

Marsha Sussman

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Organisational Gardeners – How well is your talent nursery growing?

What happens in your organisation when a senior leadership role needs to be filled?

Often, in my experience, there is a scan completed across the rising talent, and a realisation that most potential senior leaders are just that i.e they have ‘potential’, but are not quite ready to move up into the role. Two things happen next; mostly, the organisation goes outside at significant cost and attracts some talent, or less often the internal candidate is still promoted and they stumble rather than glide into the more senior role.

Should we develop our own senior talent or attract / import?

The answer may not be as obvious as ‘a little bit of both’.

GE’s retired chairman, Jack Welch once described himself as a gardener, providing water and nourishment to his top people, and Welch regarded the main purpose of his role as ‘developing talent’. There is more to this surprising statement than at first glance.

Home grown leaders dominate the executive teams of some of the world’s most successful and innovative companies, and these companies are distinctive in the way they think about developing talent and effective succession planning, which is viewed as long-term and building a series of feeder groups up and down the entire leadership pipeline.

For these companies, the development of internal talent is systemic and deeply embedded in the way every leader thinks and acts and there are strong cultural traits that make growing your own senior leaders a core part of how to go about business – traits such as:

  • The talent strategy is tightly aligned with the business strategy
  • There is a well-defined CEO and executive succession plan to ensure top team continuity
  • The CEO owns and sets the talent agenda
  • The agenda is integrated into the way the company conducts its business
  • There is a clear understanding of the role of line leaders in the development of people
  • There is a higher value placed on leadership development and less tolerance of inappropriate behaviour aimed purely at hitting targets
  • There are regular talent conversations at executive level and an appreciation of ‘apprenticeship thinking’

So, if I want my company to more align with this thinking and be better at developing our own talent, how do we get on the right road? To enhance a cultural shift in how to grow local leaders, our experience points to the following:

  1. Scheduling a structured talent development and succession planning conference and include all senior leaders to design the leadership development process
  2. Cascade this process thinking through the company
  3. Design and implement leadership development programs that build depth across every critical position
  4. The CEO leads the initiatives and holds senior managers accountable around their commitment to leadership development
  5. Embed the expectation that the leaders of each business unit own the leadership development activities, and not ‘Human Resources’
  6. Move rising stars throughout the company in a structured way and expose them to the full range of business experiences

It is timely to consider the expectations the new generation might have of organisations and business leaders when it comes to talent. Are they happy to be bought and traded or will organisations that plant the seeds, tend to the nursery and harvest well win the engagement and performance prize?

“Growing your own” might have held a very different meaning in the seventies. In this new millennium it is proving to be a fertile field for future proofing your company.

What is the one piece of advice that you would offer regarding successful development and maintenance of a ‘talent nursery’ in an increasingly complex and connected world?

Brian Buchanan

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How Do Leaders Thrive In Constant Turbulence?

If you feel like me, it seems that it wasn’t just the recent festive season that has been making things seem busier. The whole world is moving faster. A.T. Kearney’s ‘Turbulence Index’ shows that our operating environment is nearly twice as volatile as it was a decade ago. We are experiencing more frequent volatility in energy prices, share values, food prices, foreign exchange rates and commodity prices.

So how do we lead most effectively in such a turbulent world?

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“Best thing I have done for development in my career. To see the business invest so heavily in this level of staff development provides me with an enormous amount of optimism for the future of the organisation and my future within it.”

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“We are absolutely thrilled by the level of service from HCI. If anyone is looking for a senior level leadership development service provider, HCI will be top of my recommendation list.”