Does Culture eat Strategy for Breakfast?

It sometimes feels that no matter what you do in terms of strategy,  nothing really changes?

If so perhaps Peter Drucker’s question ‘ Does Culture eat Strategy for Breakfast?’  might give an insight  into what is getting in the way, to understand why it might feel that the organisation is facing in a different direction from the senior team.

Culture permeates through organisations creating the ‘feel’ of an organisation, affecting how things are done.  Often it is multilayered and different  cultures coexisting within one organisation.

If culture has such power what can you do to limit its impact?

There are thousands of different theories about organisational culture and the factors which will align your culture to your strategic objectives.  As fascinating as these theories are they often don’t offer the practical help to allow you to address your cultural issues.

We have found that four key factors that when addressed can make a significant difference:

Leadership approach

Every individual has personal preferences, this includes the leaders in your organisation.  When performing their leadership function they will favour those leadership activities and behaviours with which they feel most comfortable avoiding those which are on the edge or totally outside their comfort zone.

If the culture of your organisation is at odds with your strategic objectives, starting with your leadership team enables you to assess whether the leadership activities which will make the most difference are being performed.  Which these are  will vary dependent upon what you are trying to change and the make up of your leadership team.

Examining your leadership approach will give you a framework within which to develop your team.

Organisational behaviour

The accepted way of doing things effectively becomes your organisational behaviours. Changing behaviour is like breaking a habit.  Anyone who has given up smoking or some other addiction knows how difficult that can be.

Habits Triangle

Attitude is the biggest challenge to changing behaviour.

So how do you tackle attitude?

But consider how well your managers are equipped to manage behavioural performance?  Start by defining the behaviours that you want to see, with examples of positive and negative indicators, so there is a common understanding of these desired behaviours, then manage against them.

Do they have the right knowledge skills and attitude to be able to do this?

Organisational design
Organisational structures often evolve rather than be designed.

When they work effectively supporting the strategic objectives no one really notices.  When they don’t they can become a major obstacle.

Reviewing whether your structure is fit for purpose can make a significant difference.

Performance measures

Following on from the other factors, ensuring that
you are measuring the right things will enable you to encourage the right behaviours to deliver the results you need.

We all know from performance measures in schools and hospitals, if you measure the wrong things you will encourage behaviours which will undermine the bigger picture.

Identifying the right performance measures is the start, but you also need to equip your managers with the skills knowledge and attitudes to manage staff effectively.  Easy enough when the performance measures are being achieved not always so easy when they are not.

Athena professional can help you to ensure that rather than your culture eating strategy for breakfast it becomes the magic ingredient that makes your strategy a Michelin starred full english!.





Cup of Coffee?- A lesson in time management

On the first day of class, a university professor stood in front of his MBA class with an empty jug.

Without saying a word to his students, he started to fill the jug with golf balls.  When no more golf balls would fit, he passed the jug to the class and asked, “Would you say that the jug is full?”  His students looked at the jug and agreed that the jug was indeed full.
The professor then took the jug back and proceeded to place marbles into the jug.  The marbles started to fill the gaps between the golf balls.  After carefully ensuring that every gap between the golf balls was taken, he passed the jug to the class and asked once again if they thought the jug was full.  The class conferred and the general consensus was that the jug was full.

The professor took the jug back a third time and started to pour in fine sand.  Obviously the sand stated to fill the gaps between the golf balls and the marbles.  Once the sand had reached the top of the jug he asked the class a third time whether the jug was full.  This time his class chuckled and replied in unison, “took the jug back a third time and started to pour in fine sand.  Obviously the sand stated to fill the gaps between the golf balls and the marbles.  Once the sand had reached the top of the jug he asked the class a third time whether the jug was full.  This time his class chuckled and replied in unison, “Yes, it is now full!”

The professor took the jug back and emptied two small cups of coffee into the jug.  The liquid completely filled any remaining gap between the golf balls, the marbles and the grains of sand.  He then commenced his lecture.

He started with a question and asked the class what the filling the jug with golf balls, marbles, sand and coffee demonstrated.  One bright spark at the front of the class shouted out “It shows that no matter how full you think your schedule is you can always get a little bit more in.

The professor slowly shook his head, saying,

“I hope you realise that life is very much like this jug.  The golf balls represent the important things in life like beliefs, loved ones, family, health, things that you care intimately about.  If we lost everything else in life, our lives would still be ‘full’.  The marbles are the other things in our lives that are important, but our happiness doesn’t depend upon them.  Things like our work, our house, our car etc.  Finally, the sand represents everything else; the small stuff”.

“If we were to have filled our jug up with sand first, we would not have had enough room for the marbles or the golf balls.  If we use all our life and energy on the small stuff, we won’t have any room for the important things.”

After a brief moment of silence one of the students asked, “Professor, what does the coffee represent?”

“Ah, I’m glad you asked.” replied the professor. “It means that no matter how full your life is there is always room for a cup of coffee with a friend.”

Strategy, expectation and … action?

I keep hearing the same story from all sorts of different businesses; we’ve done the thinking, we’ve got a strategy that everyone agrees with… but nothing has changed!  Amongst those who are leading changes in business structure and profile there is bafflement:  Surely people can see the imperative?  Why do they keep doing the same things they have always done?

It reminds me of the old joke; how many psychotherapists does it take to change a light bulb?  One, but the light bulb has got to want to change.

And there is the conundrum; getting people to change behaviour ought to be easy.  No one is being asked to get into astrophysics overnight.  It should not be that difficult.  But it is.  Moving beyond rhetoric and into action requires individuals to choose to do something differently.

I’m special

OccasionallOld professor with a green apple on top of his head.y I hear about an individual who is driving everyone mad by simply not towing
the line.  Perhaps they refuse to use a new management system or they never turn up to events.  This person believes themselves to be special or different from everyone else.  They are convinced that in some way their situation is exceptional, i.e. change should apply to everyone except them.

Dealing with this person is hard, because fundamentally it means trespassing on the individual’s sense of who they are.  If they are rigidly adhering to a particular practice or excluding themselves from something, then it is likely that the behaviour serves some underpinning value or belief which will need to be tackled if they are to stay in the business.  Not an easy prospect.

The long grass

However challenging the maverick individual is, at least they are visible and the way to manage the situation is fairly easily identified, even if it is unappealing.

Perhaps a more difficult challenge arises when the majority of people pay lip service to the importance of change.  Quite quickly a kind of organisational paralysis sets in.  Those championing change get frustrated; those resisting change may be unaware of the impact of their intransigence, because don’t see the connection between agreeing to a strategy and implementing it through the way they think and act on a daily basis.  Soon the idea of change begins to be a drag.

Creatures of habit

I habitually Habits Trianglemake tea using a teapot.  I am aware that there are other (inferior) ways of making tea, but left to my own devices I’ll do what I always do.  I know that the tea tastes better if brewed in a pot.  I know that reduces the temperature of the liquid.  I have learned that if I warm the pot and the cup I can keep my tea hot.  Doing those things is easy and I chose to do them.  I like making tea this way, because I like hot tea.  I have the knowledge, the skills and the attitude required to make a really good cup of hot tea.  I routinely adapt when I’m out and about.  I can drink tea made in the mug.  I change my expectations and behaviour to suit the occasion.

Ok, there’s not much at stake in my example.   It is true though, that we default to our behavioural preferences most of the time whatever the activity in question is.  Being able to flex our behaviour to adapt to new demands involves being aware of our default position and consciously choosing to shift our ground.  Being self-aware and aware of impact of one’s behaviour on others is a starting point for change.

Time & investment

Creating changes in behaviour takes time and investment.  It requires a planned approach.  People need the opportunity to make changes in their daily work, and they need their efforts rewarded when they do.  Individual and collective evidence of success is crucial.

Bringing strategy alive

Our best successes in bringing strategy alive have been with organisations which are willing to address knowledge, skills and attitudes.  That openness enables us to use online learning, class-room based experiential learning and coaching to ensure that people;

  1. Know what they need to know and
  2. Have a chance to try out new skills and
  3. Are challenged and supported as individuals to make changes

Usually when we are delivering these programmes I have to make my tea in the cup, but you can’t have everything.

Do values matter?

ValuesIt depends on how they are used.

Where they form the lifeblood of the organisation, defined in a way that people understand, values can underpin a culture  to enable an organisation to succeed.  However, if they are just words in your annual report……. you probably shouldn’t bother.

The phrase “Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast” explains why they can be so important.  Attributed to Peter Drucker, albeit made famous by Mark Fields, President at Ford, Drucker used this to describe  the reality of what can happen if a company disconnects their strategy from the culture of their organisation.

Business strategies often look at where an organisation wants to grow, or what business they should be in, but overlook who the organisation wants to be, what they are great at or even what they are at a unique advantage to do.  These latter questions focus on organisational culture.

Many organisations dismiss culture as a bit too “soft and fluffy” to include when considering their strategy, or provide lip service to cultural considerations.  But cultivating the right organisational culture can be a key differentiator.  Managing culture is not easy, as it grows and evolves over time taking on a life of its own.  But there are some key steps to help you harness the beast!

A key tool that can help you cultivate the right culture for your organisations is organisational values.  Ideally with underpinning competencies and behaviours.  These values need to be communicated effectively around your organisation so that your people know what they mean, why they matter and how they need to behave to demonstrate these values.

Values are often created as aspirations the organisation want to live up to, but they bear no relation to what it is really like to work there.  Aspirational values are not bad in themselves, but there needs to be a clear strategy to ensure that behaviours and competencies supporting aspirational values are instilled in the organisation.

Ensuring that your people demonstrate the behaviours that support your values, and thereby a desired organisational culture, is not always easy.

One example we use of how this can go awry is one of a high flying lawyer sacked for making derogatory comments on camera about Liverpool football fans that were inconsistent with the company ethos and values.  This exemplifies how a senior figure in the organisation who does not demonstrate the behaviours underpinning values and culture can significantly impact an organisation’s reputation and its ability to achieve its strategic goals.

In order for values to make a difference to your organisational culture you need to ensure they are:

  • Real – reflecting what it is like to work in your organisation not only how you want it to be
  • Understood – defined in a way that your people can relate to and are able to demonstrate
  • Present – in the fabric of all your organisation does, role modelled at all levels within the organisation

Emotional Intelligence using Lumina

Choosing your emotional response

Having just completed a 3 day workshop at Lumina Learning understanding how Lumina Emotion, their new emotional intelligence tool, works, it got me thinking about how as individuals we can develop our emotional intelligence.

Stewart Desson at Lumina Learning has identified, through his research, that there is a strong link and overlap between personality qualities and the factors traditionally measured to determine emotional intelligence.  Common wisdom has been that personality is reasonably static, but that emotional intelligence is a skill that can be learnt.

I have always been sligEmotion mandala sparks overallhtly sceptical of this approach.

I accept that your underlying personality, once fully developed, tends to be relatively consistent.  However, through my coaching, I have seen some big shifts in the capability of individuals to adapt both their everyday behaviour and how these qualities overextend when they are under pressure or stress.

My big take away from last week is that Emotional Qualities (Sparks) and Reactors are simply an extension to our personality.  Lumina have defined these qualities and reactors in our underlying, everyday and overextended personas.  The research seems to indicate it is how we choose to react to stimulus that makes the key difference between emotional intelligence or lack of it.

Victor Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning) said:

Between stimulus and response, there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and our freedom”

Many people feel that they are hard wired one way or another, i.e. when they receive the stimulus the only option they have is to respond in the way they are pre-programmed to reEmotion mandala reactors overall with no middle - Copyspond.

I am not saying that it is easy to use that space and make a choice.  The easiest option is simply to react.

However, as human beings we do have a choice in how we react to a situation.  It is whether we are self-aware enough to recognise the space exists and to use it.  Knowing our likely default behaviour by understanding the personality qualities we prefer, enables us to consider whether the reaction this encourages is appropriate for the situation or not.

The skill comes from the ability to tune these reactions up and down to suit the presenting situation.  Lumina Emotion gives me a language to explore this with people to help move from intellectual acceptance of emotional intelligence as a concept, into action (ie doing something about managing emotional reactors) to truly develop emotional intelligence.


The Art of Appraisal

It doesn’t matter what you call it; Personal Development Plan, Feedback, PDR, 1-2-1, Appraisal, it is normally viewed as a necessary evil, something that just has to be done.  Many line managers complete appraisals to comply with an HR edict or an external compliance requirement and as a result the appraisal becomes a tick box exercise with which neither party fully engages.

What is the purpose of an appraisal? (or whatever your organisation calls it)

High performing, successful organisations approach performance management (of which appraisals are an integral part) by:

  • Aligning organisational to personal objectives
  • Supporting their people to achieve high performance by recognising and rewarding high performance and structuring work in a way that allows high performance to take place, and
  • Measuring performance, encouraging a culture where feedback is the norm, leading to continuous improvement.

A good appraisal process enables this, by:

Looking back over the previous period and measure performance against objectives, giving feedback to learn from mistakes and encouragement for positive behaviours and activity

Looking forwards to the next Robot con lupaperiod, identifying personal objectives and how these contribute to the organisational performance indicators and clarifying success criteria, and

robot buscandoLooking at development opportunities for the individual and aligning these to future people requirements of the organisation.



Where did it all go wrong?

Appraisal processes have become increasingly complex.  This has been driven by an attempt by well-meaning, risk averse HR functions to corral unruly line managers into a standardised way of conducting and capturing performance management.

However, it has succeeded in disengaging line managers from what should simply be a series of purposeful conversations that taking place over the course of the year.

I accept there needs to be some documentation of the process, for compliance purposes or for the organisation to draw out learning needs etc., but this should be minimal.

The most important aspect is the dialogue between manager and their direct report.  Anything that gets in the way of this dialogue is counter productive.

Should appraisals be linked to competencies?

I hesitate to use the word competencies here as it often results raising blood pressure amongst managers who have used complex  competency based appraisal systems.

Competencies are the skills defined for a person to do their job effectively or to demonstrate the organisational values.  These competencies are assessed by pre-defined observable behaviours for each competency.

A competency framework is often a reasonably lengthy document.  Some appraisals expect managers to assess every competency every time.

It is hardly surprising therefore that this approach leads many managers to a fight, flight or freeze response.  They will fight the HR department and refuse to complete the documentation; bury their head in the sand and hope HR will get fed up of chasing them; or become a rabbit in the headlights trying their best to cover everything but not really doing a good job.

I believe that when competencies are linked to appraisals, it can improve the quality of the dialogue.  Not all competencies need to be slavishly assessed every time.  Using the competencies and the behaviours which underpin them allow the conversation to go beyond what has been or needs to be done.  Talking about behaviours allows a discussion about the how rather than just the what enabling behaviour to be discussed and, if necessary, changed.  This type of discussion will then lead naturally into individual development.

How often should you appraise performance?

It depends.

For some it will be a regular weekly conversation, others it will be monthly or quarterly, but it should not be just a once a year occurrence.  There is likely to be a point in the year when you formally review all the conversations that have taken place and agree personal objectives linked to organisational key performance indicators, but the appraisal process should be an ongoing dialogue throughout the year.

How much documentation your organisation needs for these conversations will vary, but I believe that a formal record should be made at least twice a year.

So how can we make the most from our appraisals?

There are 5 simple steps to making the most from your appraisals

  1. Define some clear competencies relevant to your organisation – There are many examples available online to adapt for your organisation
  2. Incorporate these competencies into your appraisal process. Using a self and/or manager assessment of a selection of competencies can be a really easy way to open up the dialogue around competencies
  3. Simplify your documentation making it simple and easy for managers to complete, no long forms which need to be completed in triplicate
  4. Develop your managers to have purposeful conversations, giving feedback both positive and negative in a way that helps their team to understand what they need to stop, start or continue doing
  5. Trust your managers to do the right thing and have purposeful conversations at the right intervals about the right things for each individual.

If you would like some help to develop managers or some help to create competencies and incorporate these into your appraisal process please contact us on

3 simple steps for managing difficult conversations

What do we mean by difficult conversations?

This includes a whole host of conversations.  Some of the more tricky ones include redundancy, change, personal issues or concerns, poor performance, inappropriate behaviour or absence management. Often these revolve around issues relating to behaviour or attitude.

Why are these conversations difficult?

Each one has its unique reasons, but there are often common reasons why we find all of these difficult.  These common reasons include:

  • Human nature – I always try to avoid conflict
  • Embarrassment – I don’t like awkward situations
  • It might all go wrong – I could end up with a grievance or worse
  • It might become emotional – I can’t deal with tears
  • It will take too long – Isn’t it someone else’s job anyway?

Our 3 step guide will help you to increase the chance of the conversation resulting in an outcome that results in a change in behaviour or attitude

STEP 1 – Understand yourself

Knowing how you tend to react when in an uncomfortable position is a great starting point.  The more you are aware of your reactions and the impact of those reactions on others, the more able you become to adapt your behaviour in the moment.

Psychometric tools can be very helpful to give you an insight into your preferred behaviours both in everyday situations and under stress.  If you have not completed one of these recently we would recommend downloading the FREE Lumina Splash App and completing a quick speed read to give you an insight into your preferences.

Alternatively ask some trusted colleagues for feedback on your impact, particularly when you are under pressure, stressed or uncomfortable.

With this increased self awareness you can begin to make choices around how you behave and how you approach the conversation.

STEP 2 – Prepare

A ‘coaching-style’ conversation is very helpful:

  • ask open questions to build rapport
  • listen intently
  • respond to questions
  • para-phrasing, and
  • adapting your approach to the situation.

This will ensure that a level of trust is developed which is more likely to lead to mutual objectives being defined and commitment to take whatever action is agreed upon.

Following a structure[i] can also help:

  • Set up the meeting appropriately to minimise interruptions or distractions
  • Be clear about the purpose of the conversation, stating the issues and giving evidence explaining the impact on the individual, team or business
  • Instil a level of trust with the other participant by asking questions to understand how the other views the situation, avoiding accusations or being overly polite
  • Ensure there is a two way conversation by using open questions then listening to responses with an open mind, not jumping to conclusions
  • Gain commitment to actions to deal with the issue
  • Document the conversation

STEP 3 – Manage yourself

Considering your approach and having a structure can help enormously, however, how you manage yourself, in the moment, can make or break the success of the conversation.

Begin with the end in mind.

Be clear about the outcome you want from the conversation.  Consider this outcome by stepping into the other persons shoes.  This will enable you to frame the conversation using their map of the world.  Identify what is in it for them to agree to the change.

By being clear on the outcome you want from the conversation you are more able to control your reactions to events as they arise.


Following our 3 step approach will set you up for a productive conversation.

Practise out loud what you want to say and how you want to say it.  You will not use the exact words in the actual conversation, but speaking out loud allows you to filter your thoughts honing down the key messages you want to convey.

Don’t delay unnecessarily.  The longer you leave these conversations the more difficult they become.  Act promptly to nip issues in the bud.

Finally, always, always, always ensure you document the conversation.

[i] ACAS guide on challenging conversations and how to manage them

How can 360 feedback help Law Firms demonstrate “Competence to practise”?

360 feedback is a process to provide performance feedback for an individual (The Appraisee) from their managers, peers, direct reports and any other relevant groups (The Repondents). The feedback given is against a set of behavioural competencies.

Respondents are identified and an electronic questionnaire is sent for completion.  Feedback is usually both quantitative and qualitative.

The resulting report is ideally fed back to the Appraisee by a skilled coach familiar with 360 tools. This feedback session will identify strengths and development areas and an action plan to address the findings.

If the behavioural framework used is aligned to the SRA competency framework  this process can provide an independent assessment of the appraisee against those standards.

If we look outside the legal sector at the medical profession, in 2011, 360 feedback was introduced for doctors as part of their GMC re-evaluation.  They receive feedback from both medical colleagues, other health professionals and non clinical staff.  They also receive feedback from 20-45 patients.  This has to be completed at least once every five years.

On the face of it, using 360 feedback in a similar way within the legal profession, appears to be a no-brainer.

On an individual level, legal professionals will be able to manage their own development based not only on their own evaluation of their performance, but with the balance of a range of inputs from within the firm, and possibly from external stakeholders too.

On an organisational level, strengths and areas for development will emerge enabling more targeted spend on learning and development across the firm. 360 feedback will also help provide evidence of “competence to practise” if required.

Why aren’t all law firms clamouring to conduct 360 feedback on their people?

Some of the reasons we have heard include:

  • It is too difficult
  • It is too expensive
  • We did it once and it didn’t work
  • We don’t want to open a Pandora’s box

Let’s look at these one at a time:

It is too difficult…

With online providers and ready-made behavioural frameworks, it has never been easier to conduct a 360 process.  The SRA have kindly identified a set of competencies against which you can assess your competence to practise.  We have mapped those competencies against a set of observable behaviours to provide a picture of how Respondents view the Appraisee against those competencies.

The challenging part of 360 feedback is ensuring that the feedback is heard, understood and acted upon.  This can be handled in house if you have the right skills, or can develop these skills.  Alternatively you can use experienced coaches to manage feedback effectively.

Either way, it is important to ensure that any gaps between where each Appraisee is and where they need to be are addressed.  Otherwise the report becomes another dusty document on the shelf, read once and never really accepted.

It is too expensive….

The online reports cost from £100 per Appraisee, dependent upon quantity purchased.  Respondents and the Appraisee will take time to complete the questionnaire (typically 10 minutes per questionnaire), which will incur some opportunity cost, however, this is a relatively small up-front cost.

The more expensive part is the 1-2-1 feedback, which, when handled in-house costs time, or when handled externally, costs time and money.

However, if as a result of the feedback:

  • Actual behaviours of Appraisees become aligned to desired behaviours
  • Respondents see a change in undesirable behaviours and an increase or continuance of desirable behaviours
  • Appraisees consider their specific development needs and create an action plan to ensure these are fulfilled

a return on investment can be realised quite quickly.

Typically 360 would be completed for partners on a 3-5 year cycle, as a result this reduces the number of Appraisees needing to complete the process each year.

We did it once and it didn’t work….

Often there are two main reasons why 360 feedback process does not work:

  • Poor communication – The 360 process is not clearly communicated and set up properly in the first place. This lack of clarity will create suspicion amongst the Appraisees and Respondents.  Suspicion can result in very bland results due to the independence and confidentiality of the process being questioned, and Respondents not feeling able to be critical in any way.  Alternatively suspicion can result in the purpose of the process being misunderstood and the 360 being used as an opportunity to vent, and Respondents being overly critical of everything.
  • Poor feedback – The 360 process was not fed back effectively and the Appraisee held to account to take action on the feedback received. This can be overcome dimply by using a skilled external or internal facilitator.

Either way, just because it did not work once, does not mean that, with the right set up and support, it cannot work in the future.  Additionally the SRA framework gives a clear steer on which competencies need to be assessed, enabling the 360 to be targeted more effectively.

We don’t want to open up that Pandora’s box….

If there is no appetite for tackling the behaviours which might lead to the SRA competencies not being complied with, then you are probably better not to open the box.

However, all the firms we talk to recognise that there is need to continually review behaviour to be able to meet the commercial challenges facing the legal sector.  The legal market is changing, there is increased competition, there are increased communication flows, and a seemingly insatiable desire for immediate response.  The old ways of doing business if they are not disappearing totally, are having to rub shoulders with these new ways of working.

360 feedback will enable you to peek inside the Pandora’s box, and help you to identify what needs to change or continue both on an individual and firm wide level.


We have developed a set of observable behaviours which map against the SRA Competency framework.  If you would like some help and advice on introducing a 360 feedback process in your firm please contact Jane or Nicola at Athena Professional.



The Rumsfeld Principle in an Employment Context

Rumsfeld Principle“There are known knowns, there are things we know that we know.

There are known unknowns;  that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know.

But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we do not know.”

United States Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld

This statement was made by Rumsfeld on 12 February 2002 at a press briefing in relation to the lack of evidence linking the Iraqi government with the supply of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups.

The language is a little clumsy, but it is a helpful attempt to describe the process by which you can start to understand an issue that you do not fully understand.  This is often the case in relation to an employment issue, as an HR generalist, or as a manager you often know some of the facts and implications of a situation, but there are often areas which are either totally unknown, or partly unknown.

Thinking about these using the Rumsfeld Principle won’t give you the answers you need, but will start to articulate the questions you need to ask of yourself or others.  These questions will help you prepare the best way to approach your issue.

Looking at the Rumsfeld Principle through the Johari Window

If we consider this principle looking through the Johari window it begins to clarify the point identifying that there is a fourth dimension to consider, the unknown knowns.  This is specialist information that others may have that you do not have that would help your deliberations.  For example:

  • Legal advice in an area that you know exists but do not know the detail, or
  • Practical support for a situation where you have limited experience such as handling a particularly difficult disciplinary:

Rumsfeld Johari

Case Study

A small UK manufacturing operation with a German parent needed to relocate its UK operation as they had outgrown their current premises.

Known knowns:

  • Many of their staff would not want to relocate, but that some would and this would result in some redundancies
  • The company knew they would have to do some consultation with their employees
  • The company needed to be out of their current premises within three months

Known unknowns:

  • They were unsure of the consultation requirements as they had more than 20 employees but they expected less than 20 redundancies
  • They knew that their managers were both reluctant and unskilled in conducting the  consultation meetings
  • You expected some of the employees would be very difficult about the proposals


Unknown knowns:

  • Consultation requirements are clear in the legislation both in terms of how to consult and the timelines needed to be followed but they had no UK HR capability and limited legal knowledge
  • Achieving a completion of the consultation in the three months was going to be very challenging

Unknown unknowns:

  • How the individual employees would react to the news of their impending relocation
  • Changes in the market which would lead to a sharp upturn in sales.

The company knew that they needed to get some advice on the legal implications of their proposed relocation so that they could deal with the Known unknowns and the unknown knowns.  But, in completing this analysis they also, identified they needed some ‘hands-on’ support to ensure that they were able to meet their three month deadline.

The help they received supported the reluctant managers to conduct the consultation meetings, preparing for most eventualities enabling the company to meet its 3 month deadline.

Applying the Rumsfeld principle does not answer all the questions but it gets you a long way down the road to understanding what you don’t know but need to know in order to deal with your employment issue.  Having the right questions to ask of your legal advisor or your employment consultant will ensure that you get the right type of support that you need at the right time whether it be a site relocation, a disciplinary situation, a grievance or some other issue.

If you would like more information on how to tackle these complex issues, or would like some support to handle a difficult issue, contact Athena Professional on 01926 633086






Succession Planning

What is succession planning?

Succession planning is a process for identifying and developing potential future leaders or senior managers, as well as individuals to fill other business critical positions.

Succession planning programmes should start with the business strategy.  Where does your business need to be?  A business strategy can only be implemented effectively with the right people doing the right work. 

Identify the future critical functions and roles for the business to achieve the strategy

  1. Be clear about the values, behaviours and expertise those people need to possess
  2. Identify potential successors
  3. Assess your talent pool to identify
    • current performance &/or potential in terms of expertise, values and skills required
    • gaps in values knowledge or skills
    • development plans to fill those gaps
    • identify any recruitment necessary
  4. Measure resultsSuccession planning

Considering the future requirements of the business rather than existing structure will enable the business to make sure they are creating a workforce which can deliver what the business needs.  This approach can inform learning & development strategy and may include coaching, workshops and learning events, as well as workplace secondments to ensure that gaps in knowledge and experience are filled in good time.

Business continuity

Just as contingency plans address potential crises or disasters, such as IT failure, fire or flood, so the business needs to protect itself against the eventuality of the loss of key people.  To take a rather drastic example, if a senior manager is run over by a bus whilst popping out for a sandwich at lunchtime, the business needs to continue.  A succession plan enables the business to identify critical roles & activities and to identify whether it has the right talent to step in to maintain business continuity.

Any role that is strategic to the future success or survival of the business needs to have a plan in place for how to fill it as and when required.

 Creating change

Succession planning is not about moving around the activities and people already in place.  It is about roles and functions rather than jobs.  When someone leaves we should not automatically back fill with the same skill-set and the same type of job.  It is an opportunity to reassess whether the job and skills it requires are what the business still needs, and will need in the future.

 Factors affecting succession planning

  1. The pace of change. Traditionally large corporations used highly structured mechanistic, confidential, top down succession schemes to grow and develop talent within their business.  However, as the speed of change accelerates this approach is too cumbersome and inflexible.  A succession plan needs to be a “live” document which is up-dated in the light of e.g. changes in market need or IT capability.
  1. Employee movement. It is recognised that as Generation Y mature early, expect a lot from the workplace, and are likely to move job more frequently than past generations.  A job for life is a thing of the past.  Using succession planning to provide opportunity and promote ability, rather than time-served, is likely to attract and retain the brightest and best people.
  1. Retirement is an obvious trigger for succession planning. In the legal sector, the economic downturn in the late 2000s caused some senior partners to delay their retirement to enable them to protect their pensions.  This tier of senior practitioners will be exiting the profession over the next 10 years, which will have a knock on effect on the structure of many law firms.  Whether you are in the legal sector or not your business needs to be prepared for the financial, personal and professional dynamics of retirement.
  1. Dealing with the difficult ones. As the business develops there are occasions when  you need to tackle poor performance at senior levels, for example, a senior individual who may contribute to the bottom line, but upset everyone on the way.  The ability to tackle poor performance of this kind depends on having confidence that the business can do without that person if need be.

Succession planning is a key aspect of people management which can provide brilliant opportunities for creating business change and growth.  In an increasingly dynamic recruitment market it is critical to be able to develop internal capacity, retain high-flyers (or attract them back if they move on) and, above all, to be alive the possibilities for shaping the business over time.