Case studies

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Management Styles

The Lifo® Method has been the instrument of choice of both Exel plc for their Global Leadership Programme and T-Mobile in their extensive Management Development Programme. The Lifo® materials, including 360° Feedback surveys, form the backbone of ongoing individual development programmes.

Many public sector organisations too, including Oxford City Council, the Royal Town Planning Institute and The Liberal Democrats have used the Life Orientations® method as a cost-effective way to gain great effect on management courses.

These programmes run through a range of management issues including time management, team building, communications, motivation, delegation, handling work performance problems, and stress.

The Life Orientations® model is introduced to gain an insight into participants' personal behavioural preferences and strategies and how these impact on the way they manage. By recognising that everyone has individual needs, comfort zones and stressors, participants come to understand how these affect the ways in which they might be best communicated with, motivated, and so on.

The emphasis on individual needs and tailoring approaches to individuals is a theme throughout the programmes and a means to providing managers with a broad tool-kit of appropriate behaviours. It emphasises that particular actions will not always receive a uniform response.

In the time management section they identify time blocks that naturally follow on from particular behavioural styles and encourage course participants to seek solutions to those blocks that they will actually carry out because they fit within their behavioural preference.

The Life Orientations® method fits well with the Belbin Team Roles model as a way to identify how people prefer to operate in a team environment. It also highlights their likely strengths and allowable weaknesses. Participants are able to identify how the dynamics of conflict and co-operation within teams are affected by their own preferred behaviours and their automatic responses to behaviours in others which they do not share. It also gives an insight into likely team culture issues, given the style of the team leader.

This is a key issue when looking at barriers to communication and how people prefer to get and give information: why some people prefer very structured and detailed explanations and others are content with little information and a broad overview. The Life Orientations® method highlights the likely communication gaps of the different styles.

The Life Orientations® method is also important when looking at management issues surrounding change and stress, particularly demonstrating that one person's exciting challenge is another person's worst nightmare. For example, a manager seeking to create a democratic, participative and creative work environment may create intolerable strain for colleagues who require a structured and predictable environment.

Course participants also find the Life Orientations® method invaluable in unlocking some of the reasons why they may have particular difficulties with individuals within the workplace - not just those they manage but also their peers and their own managers.

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Increase Bottom Line Profit Through Your Culture

In his book The New Leaders Daniel Goleman identifies climate and leadership resonance as key to creating feel good companies. His analysis suggests that, overall, how people feel about working at a company - can account for 20 to 30 percent of business performance. If climate drives business results, what drives climate? Roughly 50 - 70 percent of how employees perceive their organisation's climate can be traced to the actions of one person: the leader.

Leaders dictate climate and climate is a huge component of culture - so how can we measure it? The Lifo Organisational culture survey can do just that and the results can then be translated into leadership behaviours needed to walk the talk. A combination of clarity of values, leaders embodying those values, strong communications and aligned processes deliver improved employee engagement which in its turn delivers productivity.

For example, in order to integrate 5 acquisition companies rapidly, an organisation in the Thames Valley used the Lifo organisational culture diagnostic to understand the 5 different cultures so that it could map the leadership styles and communications needs of each of the acquisitions, as well as understand the gap between their core values and the values of the companies that were coming on board. Every employee was asked to complete the survey on-line or using the paper version "The Organisation as I see it". The results were analysed per company and then matched against a second diagnostic completed by the senior team of the acquirer "The Organisation as I would like to see it".

We found that in 2 of the acquisitions there was a high take up of the paper survey option, and these surveys were returned anonymously. The cultural diagnostic indicated that both these companies had a very high controlling style - leaders would shoot from the hip, people didn't want to try innovative ideas for fear they failed and "got shot". There was slightly higher than average productivity but low engagement - leaders reigned through fear and punishment which led to above average turnover for that industry, demotivated employees, low emotional intelligence (which meant that a large section of the workforce came to work just to do their 9-5 and earn their money, no discretionary time), higher than average levels of stress-related sickness etc.

These two cultures were a clear example of over-played strengths: actually the main company wanted a high controlling culture because it delivers edge, speed, innovative, bottom line focus but they realised that overplaying the leadership styles associated with that culture would result in attrition, demotivation and a constant battle with performance management.

In another company, we used the culture diagnostic to try to understand why graduate recruits were leaving. It became abundantly clear when we compared the results of the graduate surveys "The Organisation as I would like to see it" with the completed surveys of the senior managers "The organisation as I see it". The graduates had been sold a non-existent picture of the company and had bought into something that just couldn't deliver - the company's expensive milk round efforts were all in vain. This reality gap enabled the company to reassess the way they sold themselves and also the personality types they tried to attract. Since they have made the changes, they experience less attrition and their graduates "walk the talk" because their personal values and behaviours are aligned to the way the organisation wants to do business.

Time after time the Lifo model has been used at the individual, team and organisation level to drive performance, increase productivity and improve communications.

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Team Development Workshops

The Life Orientations® method is an excellent tool for team development workshops because it can raise awareness of so many things: individual self-awareness; understanding the team leader; communication styles; strengths and weaknesses of the team as a whole; team perceptions of its effectiveness; team culture vs. organisational culture.

All these areas were covered in a project carried out for a public health team in an NHS trust.

Each of the 7 members of the team completed a Personal Style Survey on themselves and Personal Style Feedback Survey on the team leader. The team leader completed Personal Style Feedback Surveys on each of the team members.

An experienced consultant who is licensed to use the Life Orientations® method spent two hours with each team member, giving them feedback on their profile, discussing issues such as stress levels and communication problems, and establishing agenda items for the team workshop to be held at the end of the process.

It became clear from these discussions that the two managers in the team found communications with the team leader (a director) straightforward and efficient (although they didn't meet as often as they would have liked), the team members (all themselves well-qualified doctors) found communications with the team leader insufficient and too sporadic. They found her to be facing more towards the organisation than towards the team, which, whilst this was clearly a major part of her role, was difficult for them as a relatively new team.

The consultant also observed that each team member had their own office along a corridor, sharing a team secretary, which also created communication and social issues.

The consultant and the team leader then analysed the Personal Feedback Style Survey responses from the team on her: they were all pretty close to her self-appraisal. However, her Personal Style Feedback Survey scores for the team members, apart from the managers, were not as they saw themselves. In discussion, the theory that emerged was that the team members would adapt their behaviour to suit the highly Controlling/Taking-over, task-focused nature of their boss. They would have preferred meetings that talked around issues, giving the pros and cons of options, and sounding her out; she preferred short, sharp, bottom line discussions "don't bring me options - choose one and justify it".

This incongruency of communication style explained quite a lot about the levels of stress the team members were facing. It was a very interesting and useful piece of feedback for the team leader because she realised that she wasn't seeing the "real" team members when she met them: she immediately decided to flex her behaviour to improve the communication congruency.

At the team workshop, the team scores were analysed in some depth and many conclusions drawn that focused the team on issues such as:

  • how to run team meetings in future, to incorporate all their styles
  • how the team leader and managers' styles were dominating the cultural direction of the group, which ran counter to the preferences of the team members - and what to do about it
  • how the team culture needed to flex to meet the organisation's preferred style of operating
  • how the lack of Adapting behaviour in any of the team's scores had to be addressed, particularly as one of the department's roles was to network across a wide field, using diplomacy and persuasion

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Negotiating Styles

A group of Lifo® Licensees developed a Life Orientations®method-based Negotiating Skills programme for a London Borough that had been criticised by the Audit Commission for dealing with contractors in a uniform style. The Commission pointed out that whilst the Council might achieve a low initial price for the contract, they were subsequently running into difficulties in developing long-term relationships essential for creative flexible solutions to mid-contract problems.

The Life Orientations® method as a negotiating styles model is particularly useful when negotiators are required to respond to different styles of negotiating culture and need to clear the blocks created in the negotiating process by individuals' own personal agendas and communication needs.

Individual behavioural styles have particular strengths in negotiating, e.g. the Controlling/Taking-over behavioural style is particularly objective-orientated and drives the process forward; the Supporting/Giving-in style maintains high ethical standards in negotiating and avoids opportunistic win-lose scenarios; the Adapting/Dealing-away style pours oil on troubled waters and is able to avoid or minimise unnecessary conflict, whilst the Conserving/Holding-on style with its focus on structure, logic and facts ensures that detailed resolutions are recorded and all options are explored.

The programme provided opportunities for role playing realistic negotiating scenarios from the first ice-breaking session to a half-day complex negotiation at the end of the course which required participants to use a wide range of behaviours in pre-negotiation planning, developing best result and fall-back positions, identifying who should take what role as a negotiating team and how to deal with conflict or unexpected changes in the dynamics of the situation.

The identified aim was to enable course participants to understand that developing long-term relationships with contractors, internal or external, required a recognition of formal and informal needs and a willingness to adopt a co-operative win-win approach rather than a confrontational approach which could lead to early trench warfare and impasse.

The Life Orientations® method enabled the negotiators to recognise how their own styles helped the process of negotiation but, when inappropriately used, could also cause conflict and difficulties. The Controlling/Taking-over orientation's emphasis on competition can degenerate into win-lose confrontation; the Supporting/Giving-in's high ethic can lead to intolerance of others' agendas; the Conserving/Holding-on orientation can become data bound and inflexible; whilst the Adapting/Dealing-away orientation's desire for harmony can lead to too much being given away or leaving the final results of negotiation vague and open to re-interpretation later.

Course participants, used to what they believed to be an organisationally imposed negotiating culture with which they were not comfortable, found the Life Orientations® method useful in developing a range of negotiating behavioural options. These allowed them to understand "the other side's" needs and objectives and allowed them particularly to avoid or use conflict constructively as appropriate.

Those participants who often negotiated as a team also found particular insights into how to play to each other's strengths and identify weaknesses where particular communication styles might cause misunderstandings.

There is also an interesting international cultural dimension. Research using the model has shown that Western negotiators tend to operate in a high Controlling/Taking-over and competitive way whilst, for example, Japanese negotiators' styles tend to be more balanced with an emphasis on long-term relationships with an ethical base built around co-operation. Life Orientations® materials are available in many different languages and cultural trend data is available.

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