Personal Development Tips told through Short and Sticky Stories
E12 - MBM Expert Interview with Professor Damian Hughes
Professor Damian Hughes: A Change Management Catalyst and Professor of Organisational Psychology and Change
Read the Interview Transcript Below:
Jo Palmer: 'We are doing an expert interview, and today I'm with Damian Hughes. We are talking largely about organisation development. So rather than me introduce your credentials, Damian, I think you'd do a better job than me.' Damian Hughes: 'Well, thanks for inviting me on, Jo. It's a real honour to sort of chat with you. For anyone listening it's probably easier to explain the jobs I do, to give some context. So I'm a professor of organizational psychology and change, that's my main role. But I work as a consultant psychologist across a wide range of organisations from business to sport to education. And then the third job I do is I write. So I've done a number of books very much around the topics of high performing cultures and how and how to make change happen.'
The Barcelona Way
Jo Palmer: 'Fantastic. Before we get into organisational development, let's touch on your most recent book, The Barcelona Way, which is currently ranking on Amazon's best sellers. Damian, what was your inspiration for writing this book?' Damian Hughes: 'Yeah, so I got approached a number of years ago by a publisher who asked if I'd be interested in writing a book on the topic of culture. And I said I'd love to do it. They said, would I be interested in trying to make it a little bit more accessible by viewing it through the lens of a sports team?' DH: 'Now, while that sounded an intriguing challenge, the reality is, like a lot of businesses, a lot of sports teams sort of pay lip service to the topic of culture. So they'll tell you how important it is. But their genuine level of investment, or interest, or focus tends to be quite minimal. So we narrowed it down to three teams that genuinely use culture as a competitive advantage. So the first one was the New Zealand Rugby Union team. The second one was the New England Patriots in the NFL. And then the third one was FC Barcelona.'
Damian Hughes: 'So I think it was air fair costs that meant the publisher said, "Choose Barcelona." But the reality was, it was the one that I felt had almost been unexplored and it was really rich to link it. So what the idea was was, I looked at culture through the lens of how Barcelona had decided to follow this process known as a commitment culture. And a commitment culture is where you have a really clear set of principles or behaviours, and you've got a really clear sense to why you exist. And what all the evidence says from all the research on the topic is a commitment culture tends to be a lot more successful over a sustained period than any other type of culture.' DH: 'So I look at the different types of cultures, but then specifically this idea of a commitment culture and how that can be used and harnessed within any organisation, so anywhere where people are coming together for a common cause, how you can use it to then drive competitive advantage.'
How Long Did it Take?
Jo Palmer: 'Fantastic. Brilliant. How long did it take you to write it, Damian?' Damian Hughes: 'It ended up being about three years. So I was back and forth from Catalonia for about 18 months, back and forth doing interviews and things like that. But a lot of the research in terms of the most recent research and the papers, that took an awful lot of wading through to be able to give people sort of the idea that it isn't just about sport, it's about people that just happen to work in sport in this case. I'm lucky enough I've done a number of books, Jo. So what I've realised now is that you have to really be intrigued and love the topic, because it ends up dominating an awful lot of your waking hours. So it was a real three-year labour of love.'
Jo Palmer: 'Wow. Out of all the books you've written, Damian, which has been your favourite and why?' Damian Hughes: 'Oh, that's a difficult one, that's like asking to choose your favourite child. I love them all they're all subjects that I really am passionate about. They often remind me of certain times in my life. The book I wrote previous to The Barcelona Way was a book called The Winning Mindset, and that was a whole series of interviews that I did with elite sports coaches, but looking at the topic of engagement, so how do you get people switched on and engaged? But we again, we viewed it couldn't lens of the sporting world. I'd probably say particularly fond of that because I almost wrote it... So it's a bit of a love letter to my dad.'
'A Love Letter to My Dad'
Damian Hughes 'My dad's quite poorly now, but he was in elite boxing coach all through my childhood. So my background is I grew up in a boxing gym. While he's poorly now I wouldn't to sort of pay tribute to some of the stuff that I'd seen him do. So I include some of the stories from his own career as well. But in my head, it was a bit of a love letter to my dad and the sort of work he'd done.' JP: 'Oh, how lovely.' DH: 'Yeah. But I'd say The Barcelona Way is a love letter to my professional life as well because that's where I've ended up spending a huge proportion of my working life has been working around this topic of creating high performing culture. So yeah, I'm just as fond of that as well.' JP: 'Yeah. Well, I won't make you choose one then, Damian. That's fine.' DH: 'You won't what? Sorry.' JP: 'I won't make you choose one.' DH: 'No, yeah, it's a brilliant question. I've never really thought about it. But like you say, when I reflect on it it is like choosing your favourite child, which is not something you could really do.' JP: 'I get it. Because if someone said to me, "Jo, pick your favourite child." I wouldn't be able to. I love that answer.' DH: 'Thank you.'
Jo Palmer: 'Thanks for that, Damian. Let's talk about organisational development.' Damian Hughes: 'Okay, brilliant.' JP: 'What is organisational development and what are the key values?' DH: 'So organisational development is the idea of how do you create an environment where people can flourish and blossom, and subsequently perform at their best? That's the purpose of it. Now, the best way I would describe that is it's like an ecosystem. There's a whole series of different strands that have to come together to be able to facilitate people for performing at their best. So there's no silver bullet answer to this. There's no one size fits all. It will always be unique to the organisation. This will range from things like your guided behaviours. It will be about your speed and ability to transition quickly. This will be the things that you get that are most important in terms of delivery, people development, leadership development, all of this comes together. So it's quite a complex area.'
'Start at the Idea of Behaviours'
Damian Hughes: 'But I think that when you work with teams, a lot of organisations that are looking to understand organisational development and how it can be a competitive advantage, the place I would urge anyone to start is start at the idea of behaviours. Now I make a distinction here between organisational values and organisational behaviours. So what I mean is that values are quite an abstract term. You can say that you want people to adopt a value of being fair or demonstrating trust. But the reality is people can just say, "Yes, I agree with that." Without ever needing to give you any evidence of it. A behaviour is something that you have to clearly demonstrate.' DH: 'One of the big things that I find often inhibits performance in organisations, Jo, is ambiguity. So when things are ambiguous or when things are a little bit opaque and not particularly clear, you get confused reactions, people behave in a subjective way. When people behave subjectively, you get lack of consistency, which is a big frustration, whereas high performing organizations consistently deliver.' DH: 'So that's why I think behaviour has become really important to be able to articulate, what are the non-negotiable behaviours? So the phrase I use is I talk about, what your trademark behaviours? So the behaviours that define you when you're at your very best.'
'What Elite Cultures Do Is They Prioritise'
Damian Hughes: "The second mistake I see a lot of organisations do is though they might go down the behavioural route, they come up with a big long shopping list of all the behaviours they want people to adopt. What elite cultures do is they prioritise. So they don't have any more than three behaviours, three non-negotiable trademark behaviours. And a nice way of doing this, if there's anyone listening to this that think they'd be interested in maybe adopting it in their world, the exercise I encourage everyone to do is something called success leaves clues." DH: 'Now, what that means is you start by answering the question, "When we're good, why are we good?" When you're able to articulate what good looks like in your world, you will find consistently present behaviours that exist. And then they become almost your foundation stone to build the culture on this. So the idea is, how do you then create an organisation that facilitates the delivery of those behaviours at the highest level as consistently as possible?' JP: 'Wow. So it's about simplifying it to get the best of the behaviours.'
Types of Cultures
Damian Hughes: 'Yeah, and that's often a big challenge for all of us, like I say, that what you find is that I've made reference from, we're talking about different types of cultures, and one type of culture that often can exist is a bureaucratic culture, the bureaucratic culture is almost where it's driven by rules and regulations and policies and procedures. So decisions tend to be made by a consensus. So you're trying to keep as many people happy as you can. And that means you often end up being quite political about behaviours and that's where you end up getting a really long list.' DH: 'Now commitment cultures, as I say, they simplify it. So there's a great phrase that we were talking off-air before about organisations like Disney. And one of the things that Disney often talk about is that they say, "When you joined Disney, you don't join a business, you join a culture."' DH: 'And the idea behind it is that they've got three non-negotiable behaviours. If you're in a customer service role, they give you three behaviours, and they take it a step further, they even give you the behaviours in order of priority. So they say that if you're ever confused if you're ever in a situation where there might be a number of options you can take if you applied the behaviours in the order that they've ranked them for you, it gives you a clear way of being able to know how to respond and have confidence that everyone else will respond in the same way as well.'
Jo Palmer: 'Wow. Okay. Fabulous. Why is change important in an organisation?' Damian Hughes: 'Well, change is important just because, I mean, change affects all of us in every possible way. One of the things that I say, I encourage people to look out for in their organisations is, you'll often hear people that resist change, and they'll do it in subtle ways. So they won't say, "I hate change." But they'll tell you things like, "It was better back in the day or years ago." Or, "This place has changed." And it's often not said as a compliment. I encourage anyone that's charged with the responsibility of making change, not to allow comments like that to go without comment.' DH: 'So when there's somebody say, take a silly example like when you hear people say, "Oh, kids are different these days." I often stop and say to them, "Compared to when?" And you'll stop people in their tracks, they'll say, "What do you mean?" You say, "I'm asking you, when do you think kids are different compared to when? When are you comparing it against?"'
'Well, When I Was a Kid...'
Damian Hughes: 'What you'll often hear is grown adults saying, "Well, when I was a kid." And these may be people that are in their 50s. And you go, "So you're talking about your childhood, which was 35 years ago." And they go, "Yeah, yeah." And you say, "So do you not think society has moved on? Do you not think society has changed? There have been no other changes in the world around you in those 35 years?" And the answer is, "Well, of course, there has." You say, "Well, why do you expect children to react in a different way?"' DH: 'So we all deal with change, like when we become parents or when we embrace new technology, we got a new phone or something like that, we're actually skilled at dealing with change. It's when change is done clumsily or we don't feel that we have any input in it that people will often try and resist it.'
'All Organisations That Need to Be Able to Adapt and Transition Quickly'
Damian Hughes: 'So one of the things that all organisations that need to be able to adapt and transition quickly, because the question of, so how well are you equipping people to make change take place? Because what might appear common sense doesn't always appear to be common practice. So actually invest in people with the skills to understand how they have already successfully dealt with change, but equally the replicable skills that they can use to deal with change again and again and again is a really necessarily scale for all organisations. Unfortunately, he's not always recognised as a priority. It's almost a case of, tell people what to do and then try and deal with the fallout of them not doing it. Whereas if you can give people the skills before you ask them to change, you can often make it happen a lot easier.' JP: 'Yes. So the change happens, then it's the fallout after, it's quite difficult then to get everyone back on side.'
Targetting the Right Problem
Damian Hughes: 'Yeah. Yeah. Very much. I'll give you an example, I'll sometimes get calls from organisations that the theme of what they're looking to develop amongst their staff is resilience. And the first question I always ask, or the challenge I give to them is, "Well, tell me because I've yet to meet anyone that needs to be resilient in the face of kindness or decency or understanding. But I've met plenty of people that need to be resilient when they're in an organisation that is pretty unforgiving, relentless and unpleasant.' DH: 'So is it genuinely resiliency you need? Or is it a cultural problem that you possess?" Because the challenge is what you're suggesting otherwise is you're going to armour plate people to deal with a difficult environment. So the reality is, if you can give people the skills to manage change, but do it in a sensitive manner that still acknowledges the human being underneath the role, that's how you create high performing cultures that can adapt quickly.' JP: 'Yeah, right from the start as opposed to having to try and do it after the fact.' DH: 'Yeah, exactly.'
Jo Palmer: 'Damian, what are the main objectives for any company going through a change?' Damian Hughes: 'Wow, that was a really good question. So I'd say the main objectives for any company is, first of all, be able to articulate why the change is happening. Because what you often find is that one of the big frustrations in organisations where change is often happening is, they say that people can gossip about it. When I hear people gossiping about the reasons behind change, I would challenge the leaders to say, "You haven't communicated good enough or effectively enough." And in the absence of your communication, people are making up their own stories of what was going on instead." So if you can articulate why the change is happening and not just give people...'
The Three Fs
Damian Hughes: 'So a big mistake I see is, people use fear, facts or force to get people to change. I call it the three Fs. So you frighten people into changing to say, "If we don't do this, we won't exist." So you have that ridiculous phrase of creating a burning platform. The second reason you do it is you just give people stats and facts and figures, that doesn't mean really speak to them. It is the emotion that we need to tap into. Or the third reason is when you just tell people, "You'll do it because I've told you to do it."'
The Three Rs
Damian Hughes: 'Now all three of those tactics work in short term situations, but they are not sustainable for long term change. So instead I counter it with almost like, for an organisation that wants to induce change, you talk about the three R’s So, first of all, you have to relate to people and give them the sense that you understand them and you tap into that. Then you have to reframe it and get them to understand the benefits of what you're looking to change. Then the third R is you need to repeat it, repeat it, repeat it, and repeat it, so people are comfortable with it and getting to grips with it.' DH: 'So what most organisations do, to summarise the answer to that is, they use the three Fs to induce change. What successful cultures and organizations do is, they use the three Rs to remedy it instead.'
Jo Palmer: 'Do you know what, that's really resonated with me because in a previous company we went through quite a big change, it wasn't communicated well, we were all talking about it between ourselves, it almost feels weird because you don't know what's really going on.' Damian Hughes: 'Yeah, yeah, exactly. So you think about it like an easy way to illustrate how people gossip is you think was like conspiracy theories. So when an attack happens or there's a disaster, one of the first things that you will hear is people's conspiracy theories emerge to try and give you a story of why it happened. The reason is is because the human part of our brain, our prefrontal cortex doesn't compute that the world is random and chaotic and occasionally a dangerous place, so to counter that we try and make up stories that allow us to navigate through change in a comfortable way. If we can justify it and understand it, we can deal with it a lot easier.'
'Gossiping Is the Equivalent of Conspiracy Theories'
Damian Hughes: 'So when I see it in organisations, gossiping is the equivalent of conspiracy theories. So it's about being able to communicate the why of change just as much as the what.' Jo Palmer: 'You're absolutely right. It's good to know.' DH: 'Well, thank you. I'm glad it resonates.' JP: 'Because I've been through it myself, it all makes absolute sense. And then subsequently I ended up leaving because I didn't like the change, and at no point was it communicated well, so I had quite an impact on my life because of a change not being communicated.'
Applying the Three Rs
Damian Hughes: 'Yeah, exactly. I said, you often see, like I say, if you applied the three Rs to it, and you say, "Did they relate to me? Did they understand my affairs as a human being? Then did they reframe what the change was about and what benefits I'd get?" And then finally it's that idea of, "Did they repeat it and repeat it until they knew I was comfortable with it?"' Jo Palmer: 'Yeah, no, you've simplified it. You've made it so it's just easy to understand.'
'I Do Try and Invest a Lot of Time Trying to Think of Ways to Explain It'
Damian Hughes: 'Yeah, well thank you, cheers. But again, I appreciate your kind feedback there, Jo. But a lot of this is about, I do try and invest a lot of time trying to think of ways to explain it, because like you say, often what appears common sense to a leader, for example, because they're immersed in the reason behind that and they understand the subtlety and the nuance, the ability to communicate is a different skill than the ability to understand why you've done it in the first place.' Jo Palmer: 'Wow. Absolutely brilliant.' DH: 'Well, thank you.' JP: 'Fantastic. You've really simplified it. I get it. I really get it. And I can now be sitting back and thinking back what five years ago for me, where it all went wrong.' DH: 'Right, okay.' JP: 'Yeah, fantastic.'
'Well, Why Did It Happen?'
Damian Hughes: 'And again, once you understand that, the idea is, what you're doing, what you're describing, the process you're going through is, you're engaging in that reflection to say, "Well, why did it happen?" So when you understand that, that then gives you the skills to be able to say, "So how would I deal with it again next time?"' Jo Palmer: 'Damian, had I not spoken to you, I would probably never have thought about it again. It's only speaking to you now, and I've been able to relate to something that happened to me in my previous position, to gosh this is why I was where I was because of that. At no point did anyone speak to us about it. No one checked to see if we were okay with it. It wasn't communicated at a level we understood. It was communicated at a very top level. And what came across too, the whole thing was that they were doing it because of the needs of the business as opposed to the needs of the people.'
Damian Hughes: 'Yep. So some of the predictions that you can follow up again, so without knowing the example, because I know we've not spoken about this before the callers, I guarantee that some of the dysfunctional behaviours that followed from colleagues on not was that some people went into freeze mode, which is very much we're all being very apathetic and stop caring. Some people would have gone into a very cynical mode and been aggressive and abrasive, which is the fight response. And some people like you've described, went into flight mode, which is disappearing, gone off. The sickness rate goes up, and then some people decide, "You know what, I'm better than this, I'll go somewhere else."' Jo Palmer: 'Yeah, absolutely. It was absolutely like that. They were trying to change our contracts and a lot of people didn't agree with it. Some people just went along with it, and they subsequently left because they didn't want the changes but wasn't prepared to stand up and say, "Actually, don't like your changes." But there was a good proportion of staff that did say, "Actually, I'm going to stand up for my rights." You're not going to change this, that and the other." Because they were entitled to do that. But it then caused, believe it or not, between the team, it divided, so some people agreed, some people didn't. So all of a sudden these people that are your team, you almost feel individual and alien to them.'
How Much Time Did They Invest in the Understanding Change Bit?
Damian Hughes: 'Yeah. But then again, that goes back to the idea that I'm sure those people were smart, intelligent people that had a clear rationale. But then the question I'd ask is, how much time did they invest in the understanding change bit? So they would have understood what the change they wanted to implement was. But how much time did they do the bit that proceeds it of understanding the human impact of how change fails and how you can mitigate and do your best to put plans in place that you make change appear a smoother transition.' Jo Palmer: 'Yeah. Well, it's really made me think and made me understand as to why I was where I was at the time. But yeah, thanks, Damian.' DH: 'That's great.'
Who is Responsible for Organisational Development?
Jo Palmer: 'Who's responsible for organisational development?' Damian Hughes: 'That's a great question. Again, this goes back to that ecosystem answer that I gave you, that there's no one person. So if you relied on just one person to do it, you've got the culture that develops there is an autocracy. So you're relying on one or two people to force change through.'
Damian Hughes: 'Again, a commitment culture says leaders play a big part in it, but I like quoting the stat to leaders that says, it was done by a Dutch economist that said that he'd looked at the question of how much impact the leaders have on the bottom line in terms of the ultimate performance of an organisation. And what he found was it was about 10%. I like that stat for two reasons, because one, sometimes you can use it with some leaders that maybe have a bit of an ego and stop them getting carried away, because you say, "You're important, but you're not that important."' DH: 'Or the other reason I like it is because he allows leaders to focus and say, are you maximising your 10%? So they play a big part in it, but then what I also say is that it is the role of the... Another phrase from that research I was telling you about Barcelona is, cultural architects. These are people in an organisation that are leaders, who just don't have the title of being a leader. But they're people that when they speak, they speak with real credibility, that people engage and switch on and listen to them. So you need to develop people like that, that really identify with the culture, that care about it, and that are prepared to champion it as well.'
Jo Palmer: 'Thank you. When and why should an organisation use a development plan?' Damian Hughes: 'When should they use it? It should be a constant thing. So if you think about, when I was talking about interviewing those coaches for that book, The Winning Mindset, we were looking about how sport does it. Sports coaches don't deliver feedback once a year in an annual appraisal or do it every six months. They're doing it constantly. So they build feedback loops into their whole environment.' DH: 'Feedback loops are if you give people evidence that's directly relevant to the job that they're doing, and it has a clear consequence, it either delivers results or it doesn't, you give people the opportunity to change their behaviours a lot quicker. So if you can think about like we have a mental model in our head of development plans are often sitting down in an office and having an afternoon's worth of conversation, they're valuable, but they're not developing plans on their own, it should be a constant process.'
A Simple Analogy
Damian Hughes: 'So I'll give you a really simple analogy for it, or one that works for me is if you think of road safety laws, so how do you get people to stop speeding on roads anywhere around the world? What they've found is the most effective way isn't punishing people with speed cameras or having police officers try and catch you.' DH: 'The most effective way is using radar displays. So when you drive through a radar display that flashes up your speed and gives you a smiley face, what we know is that people stick to the speed limit for about 7.2 miles longer than any other method. And the reason is is because you're going through a feedback loop, so you're getting evidence of the speed you're driving at. The relevance of it is about the road that you're travelling on. The consequence is if you're going too fast, you might hurt somebody or yourself, and therefore you've got the ability to just take your foot off the pedal and change your behaviour. So it just gives you a reminder.' DH: 'So again, in organisational development terms, I often encourage people that are looking or are interested in this to say, how can you develop feedback loops all the way through your organisation that tell you whether you're on track to deliver good performance or not? And get people to think about ways in which they can do this.' JP: 'Fabulous. Thank you.' DH: 'Pleasure.'
Techniques For Change
Jo Palmer: 'What key techniques do you recommend during the change process?' Damian Hughes: 'The key technique I'd advocate, I know we referenced it before, so apologies for doing it, but I would start with this idea of success leaves clues. So I would start in any organisation by asking the question, "When you're good, why are you, good?"' DH: 'Now, whether you want to analyse it through, it might be the best feedback you've ever had, or it might be the best year's results you've ever achieved. Whatever it is, rather than take it for granted, do a proper dissection of it and have a look at the DNA of, "When we were good, why were we good?" Like I say, out of that, you will get a series of behaviours that have been consistently present, and that's where you start the process of saying, "How do we deliver those behaviours more consistently across the board? Because when we deliver those behaviours, if we marry that up with the ability we have to do our job, those two factors will drive foolproof performance."'
How to Find out More
Jo Palmer: 'Thank you. What extra material could you recommend for people wanting to find out more?' Damian Hughes: 'Extra material. I'd encourage people just to read, read, read, and read. It almost doesn't matter, I wouldn't particularly advocate any specific book for it, because that'll be dependent on the individual and their interests, but I would say, there's always something you can learn if you're prepared to read about it. So even if it was, you're interested in reading, for example, autobiographies of successful people, find out, read it with a discerning eye to say, "Well, what lessons are they sharing with me here? What were the behaviours that they were constantly demonstrating?"'
Damian Hughes: 'Or just pay attention when you go into places where service is good. So it might be you go to a restaurant and you get really good service. Rather than take it for granted, stop and think about it, "Well, what was that service? What was it that made it good?" Because what you'll find is that a lot of high performing cultures will often bring people in from outside of their industry because they're not hidebound with convention or rules.' DH: 'So this is a nice way of articulating, the role I play sometimes with sports teams is, my job isn't to be there to make technical... So say, for example, working with a rugby team, my job isn't to go and make some comment about the rugby playing ability of the players in that environment, because that's not my job. My job is to maybe come in and share ideas from different organisations about how you can create a culture where those rugby players can get the best out of themselves.' DH: 'So just pay attention to where success is happening, when good performance is happening in any context, I'd encourage people listening to say, either read about it or go and explore it in more detail.'
Three Take Away Tips
Jo Palmer: 'Yeah, I like that. Thank you. Last question, if you could give three top take away tips, what would they be and why?'
Damian Hughes: 'Wow, that was good. The first tip I'd give is, be kind. I know that might sound a little bit unconventional when we're talking about organisational development, but I think kindness is such an underrated virtue in organisations. I made that observation before about, people don't need to be resilient in the face of kindness. So when we start by being kind and showing a level of understanding and decency to both other people, and just as important, to ourselves, I think that's a really powerful way of getting people to embrace change, because they will naturally do it if you know that you've got their best interests at heart.'
DH: 'The second tip I'd give is, this idea of starting from the premise, when you're good why are you good? Because I find that that's an inclusive exercise rather than exclusive. You're not looking to punish anybody, you're looking to involve everybody in answering that question. You'll find that most people have got an opinion on why success happens, so it's worth listening to them and involving them.'
DH: 'And then the final quality is courage. What do I mean by that? I mean, it's just a willingness to actually do something different. So not just following the herd and doing what others do. It's having the courage to ask questions without knowing the answer or go and explore something without necessarily knowing the result that you want to get. Because it might take you into an area that has some real value for you.' DH: 'So they're the three things I'd say, Jo. First of all, be kind. Secondly, look at you're good, when you're good, why you're good. And thirdly, just have the courage to act on your intuition and your understanding.'
Jo Palmer: 'Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. I resonate with all of that, absolutely.' Damian Hughes: 'Well, thank you.' JP: 'Damian, thank you so much for your time today, it's been really nice to speak with you.' DH: 'Yeah, likewise as well. No, thank you, thanks for inviting me on.'
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