The Relational Lens: Book Launch 24th October, London

Chaired by Lord Hastings CBE (Global Head of Citizenship, KPMG International) and hosted by Richard Godden (Corporate Partner, Linklaters), The Relational Lens book launch will take place on Monday 24th October 6pm at Linklaters, 1 Silk St, London, EC2Y 8HQ.

The short programme will include contributions from the following speakers:

Charles Tilley OBE, the Executive Chairman of the Chartered Global Management Accountant Research Foundation; and former Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants; speaking on "Why financial data alone is insufficient in understanding and managing companies", including his experience of the use of the Relational Proximity Framework and its impact.

Jonathan Labrey, Chief Strategy Officer, International Integrated Reporting Council, speaking on "Integrated reporting: The progress to date", including the need to strengthen social and relational dimensions.

Tim Young, Relational Strategist at Renuma, and Jo Giles, Strategy Implementation Manager, National Grid Gas Distribution on "How using the model has improved stakeholder relationships in National Grid";

Rob Loe, Director, Relational Schools, on "How assessing relationships in schools is improving outcomes";

Roy Childs, Managing Director, Team Focus: and John Ashcroft, Research Director, Relationships Foundation (two of the book authors), on "How unpacking the ‘black box’ of relationships can enable more informed dialogue and more actionable information".

Endorsements of The Relational Lens: 

 

Andy Haldane, Chief Economist of the Bank of England: “There is widening acceptance that organisations – large and small, public and private, commercial and charitable – may be failing to meet the wider needs of their societal stakeholders. This has, in some cases, caused a rupturing of trust, a loss of social licence. To restore trust, organisations will need to look at themselves through an entirely different lens – a Relational Lens. This book not only provides a compelling rationale for doing so. It equips companies with the tools to begin the slow process of rebuilding trust, relationship by relationship".

 

Jean-Pierre Lehmann, D.Phil, Emeritus Professor of International Political Economy, IMD, Switzerland: “Had the Volkswagen engineers and managers read The Relational Lens before installing the software in some eleven million diesel cars in order to cheat emission tests, they might have thought twice… It’s too late for current VW engineers and managers, but I hope future generations of engineers, managers, directors, presidents, deans, all people with multiple stakeholder responsibility will see The Relational Lens as essential reading.”

 

Ansie Ramalho, King IV Project Lead, Institute of Directors in Southern Africa: “The Relational Lens supplements the approach to corporate governance in South Africa beautifully. One of the notions underpinning the King III Code is the African concept of Ubuntu which is captured by the expression ‘uMuntu ngumuntu ngabantu’ – ‘I am because you are; you are because we are’. It is a recognition of the relational nature of our human-ness. As the authors illustrate so well, the relational is pervasive and this is as true for organisational and governmental endeavour as it is for the individual. The value of The Relational Lens lies in taking relationships from the realm of the abstract to the concrete through liberal use of case studies and examples. We all can work towards better relationships for the greater good.”

 

Lindsay Tanner, former Minister of Finance in Australia: "All organisations – whether public or private – are complex webs of human relationships dedicated to a common purpose. The Relational Lens explains how our organisations actually work: it is essential reading for anyone with management responsibilities in government, charitable and corporate sectors.”

 

 

 

The book launch is by invitation and a few places remain. Applications for invitations may be made to: c.barnes@relationalresearch.org

 
 
 
 
 

What time bomb is your organisation sitting on?

Poor flow of information between senior and middle management.  Growing dissatisfaction amongst customers.  A culture of mistrust between Board and shareholders.  A misalignment of values between departments.  Could any of these time bombs be ticking away in your organisation? 

Left unchecked, any of these issues alone, never mind in combination, could mean serious fall-out.  Fall out in delivery, in reputation or in your ability to function internally.  Fall out that is an unwelcome distraction and a real drain on the lifeblood of a company.

Fall out that is mostly avoidable…

Alerts for many issues of culture and performance can be found in your business relationships – indeed it may the relationships themselves that are the issue.  Like the proverbial canary in the mine, signals in the various employee relationships within your organisation and across your stakeholder network can usually give you early warning of trouble.  The issues may be structural or economic but their affect is most likely to be felt and articulated through the connections and interactions that make up any complex organisation.

But relationships are not only your early warning; they are also likely to be a significant part of the solution, if not the mechanism.  Most development, change or initiative requires a level of relationship to implement.  A new service or product is more likely to be successful where you already have great customer relationships.  A new internal process will be quickly and effectively adopted where the relationships up and down the management structure are positive.

So what are the steps to defuse your time bombs?

  1. Identify the warning signs – periodically check the health of your most crucial relationships.  Where relationships are becoming distant, there may be a smouldering issue that needs some more thorough attention.  Where there is a mix of dysfunction and poor communication back up to the Board, you may not begin to notice the impact until it’s too late to resolve.
  2. Explore the source – work with both sides of the relationship to get a clear picture of where things might be going awry and what each party can do about it.  Engaging both sides is a vital step to building greater understanding and trust.  If you are just a consumer of information from your stakeholders, their investment in any solution is low.
  3. Act on it together – the process of articulating the perceived issue to each other builds a foundation of openness and trust.  With a stronger foundation of relationship, solutions both come easier and are more likely to stick.

In the end, the earlier you identify a ticking bomb, the more options you have to disarm it.  Understanding and adjusting your relationships will give you a significant head start.

 

 

Bridge builders and trash talkers

Last week, Hilary Clinton’s new running mate for Vice President (Senator Tim Kaine) likened the upcoming election as one between a ‘trash-talking’ and a ‘bridge-building’ candidate, inviting the crowd to choose which they would prefer.  The roar from the crowd, delighted by Senator Kaine’s warm support for diversity and frequent slips into fluent Spanish, was of course for a bridge-builder.

But how much do we (in the geopolitical ‘West’) really value bridge builders in our running of organisations, our stakeholder engagement and our political life?

The majority of Trump supporters would probably translate Senator Kaine’s trash-talking tag to ‘straight-talking’, a quality they seem to admire.  In fact it’s a virtue the man himself repeatedly champions.  For most people, the ability to articulate honest and straightforward opinions is an attraction.  We value honesty in relationships. 

What is perhaps a disturbing trend is that the more outrageous the opinion expressed, the better.  People in public life shamelessly expressing socially-questionable opinions is becoming effective entertainment – a draw both for those that love to be outraged and for those that secretly share the view but feel constrained to voice it.  Constraint that supposedly comes from ‘political correctness’ allows the likes of Messrs Trump (and Farage, in the UK) a prominent public platform as champions of honest free speech.

In contrast, how might we popularly characterise bridge-builders?  Careful?  Patient?  Inoffensive?  Working tirelessly in the background towards long term gain in place of short-term notoriety?  It seems to me that bridge-building is a worthy task we might want somebody else to be doing, where straight-talking is something we more quickly relate to and even aspire to.  Bridge-building is hard and selfless graft where straight-talking has a glamour and asserts a personal power.

What would you like to be best known for?

The truth is that both qualities have a place in our relationships, as individuals and as organisations.  There are situations that require an outspoken fighting stance and those that need a more diplomatic and consensus-building approach.  Similarly, a single organisation will frequently be operating on both fronts simultaneously – an international development agency building an alliance of partners to effectively lobby government, for example. 

As individuals we quite naturally modify our communication and behaviour according to our assessment of a situation or a particular relationship - it’s a core part of our emotional intelligence.  Our relationships are multi-faceted and we adjust the interplay of the different factors, usually subconsciously.

As organisations, it becomes more difficult.  With increasing numbers of employees and the associated complexity of relationships, it becomes much harder to steer or control that fluid adjustment of approach.  If our internal culture is target-driven and competitive, how might this be affecting how our client-facing departments build rapport?  If our dealings with contractors are remote, do our delivery partners view us in the same way? 

How do we know if we’re bridge-building or (inadvertently) trash-talking?

Getting insight into the richness of how your employee relationships and business relationships are operating can be valuable and in some cases, essential.  Scanning your networks to check that bridges are being built in the right places and by the right people allows your organisation to be known for all the right reasons.  What’s more, using a framework that not only measures but also sketches out the actions you can take to improve, empowers you as an organisation to be doing the important stuff.

Time to have fewer one-way conversations?

The conversation opener “How was your day?” is often answered in our household with “I’ve already told Mum - you can ask her”.  I have an ongoing challenge trying to help my kids distinguish between transmission of information and building relationship!  

Transmitting information can lead to rather one-way conversations, which are unsatisfying. They serve some purpose, but the interaction is minimal and the impact usually short-lived. They may feel like an efficient way to engage your stakeholders or your employees, but what you gain in time, you probably lose in value.  How many online surveys have you completed as a customer that actually started a conversation with a company?  I remember the ones that did, because it is a rare occurrence.

The result of one-way corporate conversations is that many organisations find themselves data rich with regard to information about customers, staff and suppliers, but distant in their sense of partnership and influence.  There may be a detailed record of what has been said and by whom, but little in the way of why it has been said and what to do about it.  ‘Knowledge is power’ is even an ingrained perspective for some organisations, implying that getting what information you can but divulging little is the way to progress.

With interpersonal relationships, we automatically filter and gauge information according to the nature of our relationship with that person.  If my wife says “I’m upset you did that”, my response is automatically different from if a neighbour or a colleague said it.  My wife and I have a different history, a different level of commitment to each other, a different expectation of openness and a different degree of ongoing contact.

For corporate relationships or relationships between two groups of people, the dynamics become more complex.  The principal of filtering and gauging information is the same, but how this is being done is rarely so obvious.  In the absence of a constant flow of two-way conversation (unusual between a company and its stakeholders), the biases with which actions and information are interpreted by either side can first become hidden and then become subconscious.  Both parties develop an internal monologue about the relationship that is rarely voiced but has direct impact on behaviour under pressure or in a crisis.  

What value would there be to you and your stakeholders in bringing these biases and monologues out into the open between you? 

There’s obviously some risk.  There may be challenge involved, possibly even some initial conflict.  Ignorance is bliss insofar as it doesn’t require any action to be taken!  But the development of openness, trust and a common platform of understanding on which to build future involvement could bring immense strategic benefit, particularly for your most important business relationships.  Might it be time to examine whether the conversation has become a little too one-way?

For most organisations with large and dynamic networks of stakeholders, the truth is that they’re not sure how their relationships are doing because it is not something they measure. They may have charts and charts of transmitted information through engagement surveys (employee and stakeholder alike) but have no understanding of the various internal monologues that have generated it.  

The very act of choosing to be more explicit with stakeholders through a more two-way conversation can improve the relationship.  On top of that, having a safe means by which all parties can describe their perspective helps build solid foundations for growth and clarifies what might need to be done to achieve it.

 

How much stakeholder engagement is actually stakeholder management?

Imagine if more of the energy and time you put into interaction with stakeholders resulted in genuine long-term partnership.  Imagine if your annual temperature check of stakeholder views actually enabled increased collaboration and trust.

Without any real thought or strategy, stakeholder engagement can so easily be consigned to a bolt-on reputational must-have.  Stakeholders end up being managed, either as human resources (internal employees), commodities (suppliers, clients etc.) or risks (public, regulators, etc.).  Stakeholder management can inherently take a defensive stance, primarily aiming to protect the functioning of the company.  It’s not much about the stakeholder but all about the management.

Not an especially energising or creative pursuit.

Another approach might be to build real relationship with your stakeholders.  Engagement comes from a desire to listen, learn, partner and grow.  Real value and lasting trust is built as you develop your offer and approach with full involvement of those most likely to be affected.  The process becomes a two-way conversation in which all sorts of possibilities arise.

Such relationships are rewarding both in terms of performance and wellbeing. At a company level, they can also be challenging to develop and maintain. 

Insight is a valuable asset in the attempt. 

We deliver scans of relational capital to do just that – give you periodic, robust insight into how your most important relationships are functioning and how to improve them together.  The whole process involves your stakeholders directly but is as manageable as your annual engagement survey. 

Order a scan that will inform you and your stakeholders of practical ways to improve the relationship more mutual benefit.

Shop Floor Visibility

As a hypothetical Board member of a household name brand, a complex service delivery organisation or an up and coming tech disruptor, I wonder how much attention you would pay to your line of sight to the shop floor, to what’s going on at the frontline?

In the past few months, we have witnessed just how apparently invisible the shop floor has become to the senior management and governance of three household names in the UK. 

The employees of BHS were well aware of the impact of minimal investment in stores, daily engaged as they were with customers who haven’t had ‘a welcoming experience for over a decade now’. There is no sign the C-suite were taking any notice.  A review of workforce conditions in Sports direct is said to have contained ‘unpleasant surprises’ for the CEO, despite clear signs of ‘draconian’ treatment of warehouse employees.  Finally, published allegations from pharmacists at Boots of high levels of stress arising from management pressure to sacrifice professional ethics ‘for the sake of profit’ have been swiftly denied and rubbished by the company. 

There are two sides to most stories, but to assume the problem is down to willfully blind management or malcontent staff will not prevent or improve the situation.

Each story raises an important challenge of how clear your line of sight is to business critical situations developing at the front line of your organisation.  Would you know if this was going on?  How could you reliably distinguish aggrieved troublemaking from systemic rot?

A bi-lateral review of your relationships across silos and strata of your organisation will give you a valuable and reliable head start.  It not only shows you the patterns of relational dynamics up and down the organisation, but also enables you to do something constructive about them.  Order a scan to find out for yourself.

 

The importance of relational risk - a look at healthcare

Poor relationships between management and clinicians.  Staff and patients not listened to. Lack of openness and transparency.  A failure of compassion.  Is this list familiar? 

The Francis Report in 2013 attributed these factors to the breakdown of patient care in the UK NHS Mid Staffs Hospital.  But a quick flick through any number of CQC reports since demonstrates that the now infamous hospital is not alone in having struggled with such issues. In Mid Staffs, many of them went undetected by the governance structures and statutory audit bodies.  Even now, there is a suspicion that it is only formal inspection or a scandal that brings these issues to light elsewhere in the NHS.  Expenditure on clinical litigation is over £1bn each year.

A perfect storm of organisational dysfunction and a breakdown in channels of communication upward leaves Boards with a serious dilemma.  How will they know when something is going awry?

NHS Trust board members will tell you that document overload is part of the job.  There is little opportunity to test out the veracity of each reporting committee’s conclusions.  Clinical performance indicators are useful for pinpointing trends in specific outcomes but poor at explaining context.  Without proper sight of the risks, targeted action becomes difficult.

Boards with a clear understanding of the underlying relational dynamics in their Trust are likely to be at an advantage.  Internal relationships are a useful and trackable marker for operational risk.

For instance, where there is a measurable unfairness in the use of power within a clinical team, there is a risk that staff become disengaged and clinical trust breaks down.  Where a misalignment of objectives between clinicians and managers in a department is identified, productivity is likely to become an issue.  Where channels of communication become blocked or distorted, the risk of clinical negligence increases.

Clear and repeatable measurement of relational risk is possible.  Identifying the potential time bombs is the first step to disarming them.