Pack up your Porter – Make room for Entrepreneurial Thinking

I’ll admit to feeling warm and welcoming about Rita Gunther McGrath before she uttered a sentence of her CIPD 2014 Conference Keynote. I was glad to have a woman Keynoting. It feels like a rare experience.  Along with that gladness always comes a small voice of hesitation:
Please let her be good. Please?
No Death by Powerpoint.
No self-effacing stuff.
No Tub-thumping – “Guilt-be-upon-you-HR- types -You-Are-Doomed-for-Your-Uselessness” rhetoric.
Just be good.
Show me how it’s done.
Show me how to be a decent, warm, informative expert – generous with your knowledge, inclusive and humorous.
Show me how to make a Profession sit up and think without chastising them like children.
Go on.
I needn’t have worried.
Curated Tweets and Photos from the session are available here.. please check it out for yourselves: Are we all Entrepreneurs Now?

For an hour, she talked with grace and humour, brought in examples, stories, made suggestions for the future. She was funny and subtle and thoughtful and gentle, yet still packed a punch. Broadly, the message was this: Our old strategies for taking business forward and winning competitive advantage– the strategic models we roll out at Away Days and in planning meetings – are not fit for purpose any more, but it’s OK – here is a New Strategy Playbook to look at. This playbook doesn’t hold matrixes or promise cash cows, particularly; it asks for flexibility, adaptability, emotional understanding, different modes of management and leadership. Yes,  it’s a big ask in many ways, but the world is complex and evolving – so sure, solutions to work within that complexity are unlikely to be straightforward.
The components of this Playbook are words which need a little reading into:
Continuous Reconfiguration
Healthy Disengagement
Deft Resource Allocation
Innovation Proficiency
A New Leadership Mindset
Entrepreneurial Career Management
You can read more about Rita Gunther McGrath’s thinking here:
And look more deeply into some of The Death of Competitive Advantage stuff here:
There was nothing in the Keynote that I could or would overly disagree with. I get a little concerned when that happens sometimes – like a kitten getting it’s tummy tickled and losing awareness of everything around it… am I nodding and closing down my ability to be critically evaluative of what is being said because it rings true? Do I have the warm n fuzzies because I like the speaker? Would this sink in more if I was outraged and cross?
So to test it a little, I waited a while to see what stuck.
What stuck was this:
If you want to work and lead and flourish in this particular moment in time, especially (but not exclusively) if you are a huge business, you have to stay open and aware. That is Open in every sense. Open to new ideas. Open to deleting & scrapping stuff. Open to mistakes. Open to ditching old models of thinking and behaving. Open to being generous to your staff. Open to Learning. You can’t manage a Secret. You can only manage or work with that which is known. I liked this bid for transparancy very much
The Future of work requires leaders who can surrender ego and intellectual or experiential “knowing” in order to give someone or something a true opportunity. Do that.
Portfolio careers are here to stay – few if any people now will start a job when they are young and continue to work for the same company for 20, 30, 40 years. With a transient workforce comes the need to lead and manage with increasing flexibility. You might need to make Job Roles up as you go along ( to be fair, I suspect many of us have been doing this for a while… just don’t tell the Job Description etc)
In this environment, Leadership is about being able to build alliances – not just steering your team forward from the front  yelling “c’mon team! New world!” or engage servant leadership as you enable the best possible environment for them to flourish. This is adaptive leadership – being alert and responsive to the environment around you – success relies on building relationships and understanding the context you are working in with exquisite attention – it is less about What You Know, more What information You Can Access, the Who You Know and how successfully you can use these two things to conjure up something magical……
Packing up your Porter
Along side this Future, I’ve been thinking about the here and now….. what it takes to Pack up your Porter or Bin your Boston Matrix. From an L&D/ Strategic Away Day facilitation point of view, I know there will be some among us who will resist. These models are stalwarts – we have the laminates and the handouts, the processes and we have designed the away days to allow this type of thinking (I have, in my time, done my fair share of PESTLE analysis. Mea Culpa. If it helps,  they were jolly good Away Days and they allowed us to draw very pretty pictures on walls, with post it notes and produce lovely 5 year plans.)
I guess what I”m thinking is this: on the L&D / OD side of the Profession, we have a responsibility to future proof ourselves as much as anyone – we can’t look at business strategy and claim that’s not on us – we are training & developing the minds & management styles of the folk in our businesses through the content we share and tolerate. Let’s think about that. Because sit strikes me that’s kind of important. In the spirit of what Rita Gunther Mcgrath talks about – ditching old content and thinking is as necessary as bringing in the new stuff. Perhaps it’s time to look at what we are allowing and encouraging, thought wise, process wise, through what we design and deliver.
I think that is good stickiness.
I’m thankful that I got to hear an excellent, articulate, intelligent speaker who offered more than just theories, but offered solutions and evidence. I’m glad that speaker was a woman, because I like seeing positive female role models.
I’m glad some important stuff stuck, days after, without being yelled at or provoked (I don’t mind being provoked, especially, but it feels good to have a range of ways to absorb information – having Provocative Pills rammed down your throat all the time is as unpalatable as syrupy saccharine Consensus Tablets, I find).
So my challenge now to myself & my fellow L&D/ OD Practitioners is: what will we throw out and what will we adopt to support this future way of working and thinking?

11 thoughts on “Pack up your Porter – Make room for Entrepreneurial Thinking

  1. Great stuff Julie – possibly the only thing I’d disagree with is your dismissal of STEEPLE (ex-PESTLE, and before you ask I can’t remember what the extra E is, possibly ethical). My big problem is that HR people (in their broadest sense) don’t often lift their heads up from their own organisations to consider their industry, the business and economic environment and the big wide world. So a tool which forces them to do this is still helpful, even though I wish they’d do it without needing to be prompted…

  2. Ah, well fair enough – if it is clear this is a tool for thinking things through carefully and not for making massive plans, I can go with it.

  3. Hi! I wish I had been there sounds great! Looking up, letting go and getting out of the way are, I think, essentials of leadership now. From my experience that is much more difficult to get your head around, and do well, than it sounds. I found it feels wrong, and can be hard to stick to when pressure is on, but does produce amazing results. What will we throw out? Throw out the idea that a learning experience is a finite about of time – aim with everything to extend that experience beyond the morning / afternoon / day and help people to make lasting connections with others. Perhaps?

    • HIya Emma
      There is another blog brewing about what it takes to lead this way and what that means for L&D and how we teach/ train and talk about leadership. This is about emotional maturity, sophistication, the ability to hold uncertainty and not FREAK OUT!!!.

      As ever, I seriously like your thinking.

  4. That does sound like a good keynote. Thanks for writing about it. Perhaps part of continuous reconfiguration is about broadening the repertoire of models and frameworks for thinking, not just changing the script. There are times when PESTLE/STEEPLE is a good tool, times when you need a different frame to help you see a different aspect of situation. If you only have one tool, on the other hand, you limit the way you see the world: “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”.

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  6. Ah.. perhaps I was a little hasty in my mini-mock of PESTLE – a tool is a tool is a tool to some extent, so I’m good with the invitation to not throw out everything.
    But certain things.
    Old pervasive unhelpful things?
    Let’s find em and get rid.

    • Your challenge is a good one. It’s not so much to the tools themselves as to those who wield them, to be open to new thinking and willing to learn to use new tools. That both allows and requires those doing this work to be aware of the result and the purpose it serves – or else the same old hammer will do, whatever the problem. Thoughtful-making – thank you again.

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