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Dentistry is changing; everything from consumer behaviour through to new technologies are having a significant impact on the modern dental landscape. Join Jonathan Clark and David Neal from The Eighth Mile Consulting as they explain a simple approach to change management with ADANSW’s Head of Communications, Kate Miranda.

Listen Now: https://www.adansw.com.au/CPD/podcasts/dentalpractitioner

Summary. This article explains the importance of finding the right type of leader for the right kind of problem. In doing so it makes an analogical link between athletes and their sports, and leaders and their teams.

When I was younger, I used to be heavily involved in a number of sports, one of which was Karate. During this time, I found myself in the Australian team for Shotokan Karate and would later represent my country in the World Championships. Years would pass and I would find myself in the Australian Army serving in the Infantry (foot soldiers). This too would prove to be a very physically challenging profession. After having a discussion with my father, the topic of what it meant to be ‘fit’ was raised. My father, who has always been involved in competitive sport and leadership, very aptly pointed out that the term ‘fit’ was a relative term and is entirely specific on the task to be completed. This contradicted my limited definition of the term ‘fit’ which I held at the time.

It took me many years to fully conceptualise the utility of what my father had taught me. Furthermore, the concept of being ‘fit for purpose’ has now extended its efficacy into many other areas in my life including:

  • Leadership
  • Understanding of Intelligence
  • Management
  • Processes
  • People
  • Strategy
  • Projects

What Does It Mean To Be Fit?

If I were to ask someone what it means to be ‘fit’ they will immediately conjure up an image of what it means to them. The only assurance we have is that the more people you ask, the more definitions of what fitness means will be provided. For example:

Some people might interpret fitness as being lean, thin and muscular. But what if I challenged that paradigm with an example of a Sumo wrestler, who aims to be as heavy as humanly possible in order to resist their opponent forcing them from the ring? Please note, in Japan Sumo wrestlers are idolised as sporting gods.

Some people might consider flexibility a key facet of being fit and will go on to envisage pilates & yoga instructors, and gymnasts. But what if we challenged this by using the example of body builders who aim to grow as much lean muscle and mass as possible at the expense of much of their flexibility. Are they not fit for their purpose?

Some people might consider endurance to be a key characteristic of fitness, but then we could go on to use examples of power lifters or 100m sprinters in order to challenge that theory.

The term fitness is only relative to the task and scenario at hand and is completely different in each circumstance. The same can be said for other topics like leadership and intelligence.

The term ‘fit’ or ‘fitness’ in this context translates to suitability, utility and functionality.

Being Fit For Purpose – Leadership & Intelligence

My team at The Eighth Mile Consulting often work with organisations in developing their leadership and project capabilities. In doing so, one thing has become reinforced time again. Different tasks, environments and strategies require different styles of leadership. Now some of you are probably reading this and thinking ‘no duh’ but I would challenge you to think back through your professional career and remember how many times you have seen it go wrong. It might have manifested with:

  • The wrong type of personality being forcibly placed within a team resulting in poor morale, miscommunication and high staff turnover.
  • The decision to have a generalist leader in a role that would have been better supported by a specialist of some type. Or vice versa.
  • A risk averse or ‘move away’ styled leader being placed in a position requiring large-scale change management and strategy realignment.

The list goes on…

Suitability is a crucial point that is often overlooked. Too often we are building teams and focusing almost exclusively on people’s past experience or their tertiary qualifications, when history has proven that some of the most influential leaders of our time would never have received a look in had they been forced to go through the same process. Furthermore, many organisations are hiring leaders without having a good understanding of what it is they want them to achieve. This is often because time has not yet been invested into developing a longer-term strategy that will assist in the delivery of subordinating projects or expectations. Even the best leaders will struggle to get wins without a unified strategy or overarching direction. It is a battle that is arguably lost before it has even started.

It is quite often that we hear someone has been placed in a position because they are ‘smart’ or ‘intelligent’. This topic opens up an equally complicated can of worms in so far that there are many different types of intelligence (IQ, EQ, Social intelligence, etc), further exacerbated by the next questions, ‘what do you need achieved by the position’, and ‘how do you measure it?’. Most people would agree that people who are intelligent in one area are often lacking in other areas. Many studies have been conducted in order to determine the exact correlation between IQ and EQ with varying conclusions. What we can say relatively confidently in the meantime is that most people’s strengths often lie towards a bias of one over another.

The point is that people are often very effective when placed in the right type of role, and terribly ineffective if placed in the wrong one. The effects when we get it wrong are teams that are disjointed, confused, unfocused, and ultimately ineffective.

The implications are disastrous when we have:

  • A poor understanding of the organisational problem we are aiming to fix
  • No communicated expectations for an incoming leader or important position
  • No overarching strategy or direction for them to align to
  • A willingness to hire a like-for-like replacement of the previous leader, without considering if it is an opportunity to test a new leadership style or approach

Unfortunately, this investment in determining what we want them to do, and how we want them to do it, is often an afterthought. It is like trying to cram a square peg into a round hole. One could reasonably argue that the time and resources could be better invested by finding multiple round pegs (candidates) and comparing which one is best for our round hole (our problem/need). But it all rests on an assumption that we have invested the time to determine it is a round hole in the first place.

It is morally difficult to get angry at a leader who has been placed in a position, but then be hamstrung by a lack of direction, expectations, and resources. This is not fair or reasonable on the leader, or their teams.

The Way Forward

Understand the problem and the need

  • What is it you are trying to solve? Why?
  • Is this a people, processes, product or profile problem? Or a mixture of all of these issues?
  • What are the expectations of the leader in terms of the organisation’s time, cost and quality outputs?

Understand the leadership effect you are after

  • What type of leader are you after? And, why?
  • Someone who jumps in the trenches and can get stuck in the detail?
  • Someone who can re-link back with strategy?
  • Someone who has a high level of technical, governance and risk experience?
  • Someone who will gel with other members of the team and focus on raising morale?
  • What is the priority personality trait we are seeking?
  • Do we want someone who is not afraid to challenge the way we have always done things? Or maybe not…

Professionally develop your staff

No one is perfect. Even the best leaders have gaps in their knowledge or approaches. It is the responsibility of an organisation to work with their leaders in order to professionally develop and mitigate against known and agreed upon deficiencies. This can look like:

  • Additional education
  • Time designated for professional development or informal education
  •  Allocation of a mentor or coach
  • A budget allocation designated for education gaps.

Note that professional development should not always be geared towards what an individual wants to do, but towards what the team needs. I remember having completed many courses and qualifications that I would rather have not done because the team needed me to do so in order to cover an organisational capability gap.

Be careful to not recreate the same conditions and expect a different result

Albert Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

If the reason you are hiring a leader is because the last one was unsuccessful in achieving the desired results, be careful before:

  • Hiring someone with the same characteristics, traits or style.
  • Hiring someone because they remind you of yourself.
  • Hiring someone and then providing them with the same limited resources and investment you provided the last leader.
  • Hiring someone because they are less likely to push back against the hierarchy. Sometimes you might need this in order to fix the root cause of the original issue, which might in fact be the senior leadership of the organisation.
  • The list goes on…

Do not confuse technical problems with people problems

Many organisations make the mistake of confusing system or technical problems with people problems. What looks like a technological issue may in fact be a communication issue between sub-organisations or individuals. This in turn, has implications on the way we hire in response to the business need, resulting in the wrong type of leader being inducted into the wrong team and situation. If you are interested in this topic, I would encourage you to read an article I wrote previously titled ‘Change Management: It’s All About The Humans’.

In closing I would like to reference a term we regularly used in the military which I believe rings true to this topic, ‘time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted’. Meaning the time spent understanding what the problem is and what/who we need to address the issue is time well invested. Do not underestimate the significance of conducting timely and accurate analysis, and then translating it into a viable and deliverable plan for execution.

If you enjoyed this article, I would encourage you to see some of our other works on our blog.

The Eighth Mile Consulting officially launched in January this year (2019) and our team has been on an exciting roller coaster ever since. Modeled on a belief of ‘Good People, Helping Good People’, we have stepped out into the world seeking to find positive people and support community serving projects.

The purpose of this report is to provide a mechanism to communicate all of the lessons we learnt along the journey so far. In doing so, we hope that it serves other teams and removes the need to learn the same mistakes the hard way. We also hope that it helps them to capitalise on opportunities which we have identified.

This follows a six-month report which we published in August this year, called “Our no BS review of The Eighth Mile Consulting – 6 Months in”. It also includes many lessons that might be of merit to others.

Snapshot

  • Our team has grown from 2 to 11 people.   
  • We have achieved our first-year brand recognition targets. 
  • We achieved our financial targets. 
  • We exceeded our organisational growth targets by 30%. 
  • We have set all the conditions for our next phase in 2020.

Now that we have that out of the way these are the lessons we learnt or have had reinforced throughout our short journey…

Lesson 1: Only supporting positive projects is financially viable

We have conclusively proven that supporting positive projects is a viable business methodology, but it requires consideration of a number of factors to remain sustainable.

Project funding models need to be discussed early in scoping stages and need to be leveraged off of a Return on Investment (ROI) for the customer. The customer needs to feel that they are supporting something which will provide a positive legacy for them, the community and their brand. But, it needs to be clear that the project is ‘for profit’ as we have staff to pay and administration costs to attend to.

Many positive industries are still in the early stages of development. This means that they have not yet fully embraced the idea of consulting being used in support of their existing organisational structures. This can make conversations difficult when trying to find middle ground that will ensure value for both organisations, whilst also delivering positive projects.

The best approach is to be clear, transparent and upfront about everyone’s expectations.

Lesson 2: Plan to scale and grow quickly

All the strategies in the world will not determine how it plays out on the ground. Always have a reserve or something in the back pocket in order to deal with unforeseen contingencies.

We spent significant time preparing a methodology for scaling our services, based on a number of growth assumptions. As it turns out, what we thought were ambitious growth targets were only half of what was required in reality (a good problem to have). A rapid increase in demand required that our strategy be accelerated in areas in order to accommodate the number of projects which were required in a short time.

We are now in a great place with good projects and initiatives in the pipeline, supported by a proportionately growing staff pool. For the meantime we have found the right balance, but admittedly there were some late nights trying to figure out how we can ensure services were provided to the standard we hold ourselves to.

Lesson 3: Leave your ego & pride at the door. Don’t go down with a sinking ship.

It is not always clear what initiatives will land and which ones will not. Linking back to our military careers there was a popular saying among leaders, “time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted”. The same rings true in business.

The time spent conceptualising new ideas, creating a plan for market, and then probing out to determine its value is essential in ensuring your relevance with other client organisations.

This being said, do not put all your eggs in one basket, and do not keep whipping a dead horse. Probing, by its very nature, is used to confirm, validate or deny facts and assumptions. If the data comes back that it isn’t worth the continued effort in a certain area. Stop, learn/adapt, reorientate, and then move again.

Lesson 4: The Sunshine Coast is very difficult to establish in.

One of our aims has been to base The Eighth Mile Consulting out of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland Australia. The reasons for this were based around a growing economy, an acceptance of small businesses, lifestyle, community, technology advancements and great infrastructure.

As it turns out the vast majority of our clients are based in Brisbane. It has been very difficult to break into the cliques associated with the Sunshine Coast despite many efforts to find relevance in the community. In many ways we have found it easier to provide services to other countries such as the USA.

Our company is very keen to support The Sunshine Coast in a more formal capacity but something is going to have to give. It might be a matter of time and pressure making diamonds, but it also might be a venture which is not viable long term. Time will tell.

Not known for stalling, we have a number of initiatives we will test. Depending on the viability of the outcomes we will make decisions whether to officially base our efforts out of Brisbane or Sunshine Coast.

Lesson 5: Build a high performing team, and clients will magnetise towards it.

We are fortunate in that we have access to a unique pool of extremely high performing leaders in which to create our staff base. We have made a deliberate choice to grow the team, prior to knowing all the problems. In doing so, we have actively sourced people which we trust, and we know can deliver incredible services to organisations that need it the most.

The beauty of having access to such people is that they are able to remain flexible and adapt their style, approach and methodology to suit the client and the target audience. The second advantage is that the more high performers we draw into the pool, the more appetising it is for other candidates who may have been fence sitting prior. In essence, it generates its own momentum and energy.

Lesson 6: We remain methodology agnostic

From our inception we have been, and remain, project methodology agnostic.

Due to our tertiary qualifications and history of project management we have developed a strong understanding of different project methodologies. We can use them if requested/required, but you will not see us heavily pushing a specific approach.

Instead, we are strong advocates on developing customised solutions for clients after listening intensively to their stories and determining their needs. We do not subscribe to a one solution fits all approach and we will continue to work under this design. It works for our clients, and it works for us.

Lesson 7: Keep having fun

Throughout this journey we have grown our team, fought through the challenges and have done so with a big smile on our faces. We revel in the complexity and the uncertainty and it has only served to cement many of our friendships in even stronger foundations.

We enjoy going to work and being around our team. We learn and professionally develop from each other and we are good at what we do. I can’t wait to bring in some more equally positive people to the company.

Lesson 8: Continue removing single points of failure

Until now there has been a misconception that The Eighth Mile Consulting team is the ‘Dave and Jono’ experience. This is a perception we need to rectify, as we feel it directly undermines the amazing work being provided by our ever-growing team.

Significant effort will be placed in the next cycle to demonstrate the amazing and unique skillsets which our team provide on a daily basis.

The plan moving forward

Keep trying to find good people by teaming up and partnering with more like-minded and motivated individuals, teams and organisations. 

Continue to scale our services into new industries (watch this space). 

Continue to find our relevance in the Sunshine Coast until it becomes overtly obvious that it is no longer viable. 

Continue supporting veterans, emergency services and first responders as part of an enduring effort across multiple projects. 

Continue to organically grow our follower base on Linkedin without the use of sending requests from the Company page. We believe in creating a community of people who want to be involved, not those who felt pressured to join us. 

Continue growing our team at a rate commensurate with our service demand. 

Continue providing value for free online platforms like LinkedIn, websites and Business magazines in order to help other people, whilst concurrently demonstrating our team’s knowledge base.