Knowing when to let go

Do you believe that the measure of a successful negotiation is when one party walks away with all their demands met and their opponent lies defeated and bleeding? Surprisingly a winning strategy may involve giving in. 

Next time you see two kids fighting over a toy, pay attention. This is negotiation at its most basic. Both children want the toy, and both are prepared to pull, push or cry to achieve their objective. There is usually a lot of noise, waves of emotion and inevitably one of them will dissolve into tears while the other runs away gleefully with the toy. Or the toy ends up in tatters, and the crying is broadcast in stereo.

Children rarely have the ability to consider the bigger picture – the imperative of keeping the toy intact and the possibility of sharing “toy time” with each other. All too frequently inexperienced corporate negotiators fall into the same trap. They enter the fray believing that an outright victory is the only successful outcome. However, often the most important aspect of the negotiation may be to preserve the relationship, even if that means surrendering one or more points.

Negotiation experts will tell you that preparation is the most important aspect of any negotiation situation. Beyond the seating arrangments, the displays of power, the tactics of interaction and verbal sparring it is the team which prepares best that usually achieves its objectives. And part of the preparation is understanding the priorities of the outcomes – which minor points are worth conceding,  what is the relative value of the deal to all involved, what mandate both parties have to engage and most importantly how important the long-term relationship is. In many instances, the relationship survives the negotiation process, and while certain concessions may seem like a short-term loss, but it is sometimes better to lose the battle in order to win the war. Remember that this negotiation may not be your last interaction with this opponent and your behaviour now may influence the treatment you get next time. Behave responsibly now, and your chances of a fair fight in future are far better.

Take a deep breath

Another reason the children end up in tears is their lack of self-control. The negotiator’s ability for self-management is as important as their ability to manage the negotiation process. Reining in those emotions, controlling tone of voice, avoiding knee-jerk reactions and rigorously maintaining an understanding for the bigger picture are all essential aspects of win-win negotiations. When tempers flare the balance of power shifts, and a clear perspective is compromised.

To outsiders, a negotiation session may seem to be shrouded in mystery. The two sides seem to be employing hidden tactics, poker faces and brilliant acting techniques. But there is more science than art involved in the process. There are at least five clear strategies that can be employed and five equally predictable outcomes. There are even tools to help one select the best strategy to use depending on the expected outcomes. Professor David Tweed, an experienced negotiator and company director, shares his insight into the negotiation process as well as examples which illustrate each strategy in this webinar.

David is currently a member of faculty in the School of Management at Massey University having previously served in two Director roles and as an Associate Dean (APVC).  He worked with The Treasury for three years in the design and delivery of an advanced governance programme for the directors of boards of New Zealand’s SOEs.  David has management experience in turnarounds, executive education, and delivery of large research contracts. He is a graduate of the Senior Executive Programme at the London Business School and a member of the Arbitrators’ and Mediators’ Institute.  Adding value to organisations and their people in collaboration with managers, councils, boards, and trusts, is what he most enjoys.




New Massey University portal tracks GDP in real time

Massey University has launched a real-time gross domestic product (GDP) tracker, which is believed to be the first of its kind in the world. Called GDPLive, the online portal uses  machine learning algorithms and the most up-to-date data possible, including live data sources. It allows users to instantly see estimates of how the New Zealand economy is performing on a daily basis, and provides GDP forecasts.

“GDP measures all market-based transactions, so it’s a very good indicator of how well an economy is performing,” says Professor Christoph Schumacher from Massey University’s School of Economics and Finance.

“GDPLive has been developed with the most up-to-date data from government sources and a diverse range of partners, including PayMark, KiwiRail and PortConnect, so we can get a sense of how the New Zealand economy is tracking in real time.”

Companies need real-time information

Professor Schumacher says GDPLive’s use of cutting-edge machine learning technologies provides informed forecasts, making it a valuable supplementary decision-making tool for businesses. He says it will be a significant improvement on government reporting, which currently releases national GDP figures quarterly and regional figures annually.

“We’ve been told by companies that relying on three-month old data is too much of a lag in this day and age and they want live data to enhance their decisions,” he says. “This is what inspired me to come up with an alternative using real-time data. Our forecasts should also help businesses to look into the future to determine what their industry might look like in two or three months.”

The GDPLive project has been developed by the university’s Knowledge Exchange Hub, a multi-disciplinary research hub headed by Professor Schumacher. Massey University computer scientist Dr Teo Susnjak developed the predictive models and says GDPLive will only become more accurate as additional data sources are added and the algorithms are refined.

“What we have noticed over time is our forecasts have improved as we’ve worked on the models,” he says. “And we’re really confident that, as our data sources become richer and more descriptive, those forecasts will continue to improve.”

Varied data sources

Users of the interactive GDPLive portal can view historic data, current national and regional GDP figures and forecasts, as well as getting an overview of the performance of a large range of industry sectors.

GDPLive’s datasets include consumer spending through PayMark payment transactions, freight movements via PortConnect, which includes container movements through Ports of Auckland and Ports of Tauranga, goods moved throughout the country on the KiwiRail network, traffic flows, immigration and import/export data.

The GDPLive portal can be accessed at:  

A premium version of the portal has also been developed to allow companies to access GDP at granular level with more sophisticated predition and data refined to Territorial Authority levels. For a trial access to the premium system please contact Christoph Schumacher directly.

GDPLive project leaders Professor Christoph Schumacher from the Massey Business School and Dr Teo Susnjak from the College of Sciences.

Listen to Christoph Schumacher discuss the journey to creating the GDPLive Tracker in this Webinar.

Professor Christoph Schumacher is Professor of Innovation and Economics at Massey University and Director of the Knowledge Exchange Hub.

Christoph holds under- and postgraduate degrees in Engineering and International Business as well as a PhD in Economics (game theory). He has also recently completed a course in Big Data Analytics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA).

Pampered, picky and powerful – is the new consumer beyond the reach of retail?

“The consumer is the product of a conspiracy hatched by corporate executives in the bowels of the Ministry of Truth, then imposed with diabolical cleverness on a passive population.” The helplessness implied this description has certainly changed over time.

From the early 1900s the trend in USA advertising started to reflect a change in consumer mentality and power. Jackson Lears suggests that there was “a shift from a Protestant ethos of salvation through self-denial toward a therapeutic ethos stressing self-realization in this world — an ethos characterized by an almost obsessive concern with psychic and physical health defined in sweeping terms.”

The shift from self-denial to self-realisation has reached a new peak. Today the consumer is king. Although they may be stressed and over-worked, the consumer is pampered, cajoled and “encouraged” rather than pressured. Once the marketing effort shifted from a production focus to a consumption-oriented society the importance of the consumer shifted upwards and that elevation would continue to this day.

Not only are consumers powerful and pampered, they are bored. There is too much choice, they have too much money, and they want more for less – all the time, right now. The psychological needs of the consumer is more powerful an urge than their physical needs. They have more than enough food – they want to be persuaded by clever packaging, by convincing stories and transparent labelling. They demand more information about their food and its origin, they insist on the primacy of their health and well-being, and they refuse to pay more for any of it.

If you are a consumer (and you are) then this is great news. If you are a producer or a retailer you could be worried. Your customer has more choice than ever before. In the UK around 25% of all retail transactions now occur online. Price transparency is now a global phenomenon – and shipping is usually free! Not only do ingredients need to be itemised their origin needs to be stated and proved. There are eagle eyes on pack sizes, on the amount of packaging, on the recyclability of packaging, plus the option of bringing your own packaging. For an industry whose metrics are traditionally based on bulk sales, uniformity and speed of through-put all of these demands pose real problems. In the New Zealand context, there is the additional threat of global retailers licking their lips in anticipation of sweeping up the local market.

A whisper in your ear

The glass certainly looks half empty. Unless… one can understand and meet the needs of the all-powerful consumer. They are stressed and need the ability to give themselves mini-indulgences. They need to go to places where they can feel pampered. Every action needs to give them a sense of self-justification and to improve their self-worth. Savvy retailers and manufacturers believe they can satisfy these needs as well as any psychologist.

You stop by the shopping centre on the way home – just to pick up a salad for dinner. Why not buy just a little bar of chocolate after a tough day at the office? After all, it is dark chocolate ethically sourced from the jungles of South America where a percentage of the profits are re-invested? In fact, on the recyclable paper packaging is a picture of the farmer on whose land the cacao was harvested – he has a name and a story and a very grateful smile. Not only are you buying a well-deserved treat, you are doing good at the same time. Why not wash it all down with a glass of milk? Real milk, full-fat milk, natural, healthy milk from a farm in the Waikato, not even two days old. You might have driven past the farm, you might have spotted the actual cow! You want to make sure your money benefits the local economy too, not just the South American cacao farmer. And look! There’s a bar of soap for that long, hot bath tonight. To soothe those over-worked limbs we have a soap-free, naturally-fragranced compound in the shape of a cloud. It contains no nasties, has moisturising coconut oil and a slightly abrasive texture because of small quantities of very fine river sand from the Rhine, carefully washed and gently blended with the soap.

By the end of the shopping trip your imagination has travelled the globe, your generosity has benefited farmers in two countries and your environmental footprint is microscopic. The chocolate will evaporate from your hips within a few seconds of stepping into the gym and you will feel on top of the world – you’ll feel like the all-powerful consumer you are. Doing good while pampering yourself. Now who’s to say that retail is dead?

Listen to Prof Jonathan Elms discussing a range of trends in this webinar entitled “Key trends in Food Retailing and Marketing”.

Jonathan is the Sir Stephen Tindall Chair Professor in Retail Management at Massey Business School and leads the Bachelor of Retail and Business Management (BRBM), New Zealand’s only retail degree.

Jonathan is the Founding Director of the Centre for Advanced Retail Studies (CARS), New Zealand’s centre of excellence for retail research, education and scholarship. Jonathan has also conducted research and is a regular keynote speaker at national and international conferences on retail change, strategy, and innovation.

Reference: Lears, T.J. Jackson 1983. From salvation to self-realization: Advertising and the therapeutic roots of the consumer culture, 1880–1930. In The Culture of Consumption: Critical Essays in American History, 1880–1980, ed. by Richard Wightman Fox and T.J. Jackson Lears, New York: Pantheon Books, 1–38.

Why can’t we capture the meaning of leadership?

For centuries philosophers, mystics and the clergy have argued about the meaning of leadership – without a definite conclusion. Business people have devised their own tantalising question which has spawned an entire industry.

“How do we define a great leader?” seems like a simple question. But according to eminent leadership scholar James MacGregor Burns, leadership is the most studied and the least understood concept in all of the social sciences. Waxing eloquent on leadership has made many authors famous and rich. It has perplexed many students and continues to intrigue academics.

It is sometimes easy to spot incidents of great leadership, single acts which most people agree on. These are glimpses of greatness and can be seen on a kids’ soccer field, in battle, in a boardroom, during an earthquake, in a riot and among the sick and dying. A gesture by a politician at a time of crisis or a thoughtful act in a moment of calamity are celebrated on social media and the word “leadership” is bandied about energetically.

Moments of great leadership can be identified but how can the concept be defined? Enter the wordsmiths who cobble together the “essence of leadership” in a few phrases: courage, vision, humility, communication, inspiration, authenticity. Yet at the same time we could each think of a great leader who has some but not all of these virtues. Are they still great?

The challenge of course is that to define something as elusive as leadership cannot be done scientifically. For every attempt there are many examples which defy the description. Every time you imagine you’ve nailed the concept a new leader emerges who acts in a way that makes a mockery of the definition. Add to the mix the conundrum of a leader who some people consider a saint and others deem despicable, but he or she is the same person and we are observing the same actions.

Leadership as perception

And that is the core of the problem. Leadership is not a characteristic, it is a perception, an impression, an idea which changes over time, geography, context and culture. One person’s hero is another person’s criminal. A hero in ancient Greece might not be considered a great leader today – their misdeeds could land them in prison.

We also know that a paragon of leadership rarely transfers from one context to another. A great leader on the rugby field is not necessarily a good political leader because the rules of the game are fluid, the relevant audiences are not the same, the opponents’ tactics differ, and more. You might be safer in the scrum than in parliament!

In a sense leadership resides in the eye of the beholder. Maybe a great leader is nothing more than someone who meets the expectations of leadership among their followers. So, a leader in one remote village is great if he or she are hailed as a great leader by their villagers. Problem solved!

Global leaders?

Of course not. Within a connected world where a revolution can spread from one corner of the globe to another in a few seconds, the actions of any person are unlikely to remain purely local. A leader has to think beyond the village, because the village is global, it is powerful, not necessarily well informed, open to bad influences and savagely critical. Leaders are created, elevated and dashed to pieces within the space of a week. The perception of great leadership changes with the tides. Fame can germinate from a YouTube clip and can be extinguished by a baying crowd in the comments, fuelled by hype and expressed in emojis.

No wonder the books on leadership keep selling. Every leadership guru refines or expands the concept and their work is based on evidence and therefore they tell the truth. Every counter-argument is based on different evidence and is also true.

Where does this chaos leave us? Where do we find the real truth and which recipe must we to follow to become great leaders in our own context? Should we embrace one author and follow their guidance? Should we abandon the whole lot and do what comes naturally?

Prof Ted Zorn discusses these and other leadership challenges in his webinar entitled “What we keep getting wrong about leadership.” Watch it here.

Ted Zorn is a Professor of Organisational Communication and Head of Massey Executive Development. He is both a scholar and practitioner of leadership, with more than 80 publications and numerous awards for his research. And, for more than 20 years he’s held leadership roles in universities, professional associations and community organisations, including as Dean of Massey Business School and Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Massey University. He has a record of creating positive changes in each of his leadership roles. His more than six years as Dean at Massey Business School saw the creation of multiple new, successful education programmes; doubling of research output (while improving quality);  and placing Massey at the top of NZ business schools in the Shanghai International Rankings for business management and finance.

From avoidance to anticipation: coping with Change in our work and lives

Most people think change is a great idea until the change affects them.

Change, viewed from a distance, is mostly seen as a positive thing. Any progress is the result of change. Any development involves changing what already exists. In nature, any growth follows change. Not even mighty mountains remain unchanged eternally. So, if change is progress and is generally seen as good, why are we so afraid of change? Why do our hearts race, and why does our anxiety soar when we are faced with unexpected change? If we know that remaining stuck in a rut is usually a bad idea, why are we afraid of movement?

The answer, according to Prof Jens Mueller, lies in what we have been conditioned to think. “It is not the change we fear but the consequences.” Assuming we are all competent, high-performing people who regularly produce outstanding work and achieve our targets, we naturally want to maintain the environment and the circumstances which have led us to excel and which highlight our outstanding performance. When things change the chances of our maintaining perfect performance are threatened, and we start dreading what we believe to be one of life’s greatest risks: failure. We are forced to contemplate a speculative, uncertain vision of the future in which the chances of failure are higher than the present.

“We are conditioned by our cultures to dread failure, to see it as an embarrassing shortcoming, something which will threaten our careers and possibly our well-being,” says Mueller. But no great innovation has come without change, and many corporate failures have stemmed from avoidance of change. The example of Kodak is often mentioned in this regard: the company that invented the first digital camera did not anticipate the popularity of the medium nor the speed at which traditional film processes would be abandoned.

Similarly, for people who are afraid of change and try to avoid it, there is usually not a pleasant outcome because the world is defined by change. Corporate survival depends on change (called innovation); individual survival depends on growth; social progress follows upheavals; learning is itself a changing of existing knowledge. To avoid change is not only futile; it is dangerous.

“The companies that thrive are those that create the environment and culture in which change is embraced and encouraged,” adds Mueller. “When failure is seen as a learning opportunity innovation blossoms.” And where a culture of change dominates the corporate psyche, the company becomes the innovator, the entity that creates and dictates the change rather than the rest of the industry which follows and reacts to the change. Because progress usually follows experimentation, which inevitably includes several failed attempts, the most innovative companies are the least risk-averse. At very worst, a failed experiment is a learning experience; at best, it creates a revolution.

Change in a corporate environment could be echoed in our personal lives. If we avoid the change we will be its victims, if we anticipate the change and gear ourselves to meet the change (through up-skilling, appropriate thoughts and actions), we become the beneficiaries of change and have an opportunity to determine the outcome. We also need to permit ourselves to fail if that is a possibility. “We can move from a mind-set of believing that ‘change happens to me’ to one where ‘change happens through me,’” concludes Mueller.

Listen to Prof Jens Mueller discussing “Change is great as long as I do not need to change.”

Jens blends his teaching of MBA students and corporate leaders as Professor at Massey University and at universities in the USA and China, with a 30+ year career as founder/leader/director of global firms, often in the technology/health sectors. He is the longest-serving director of the $1 Billion PHARMAC medicine buying agency in New Zealand and has advised Crown Ministers and Ministries in health, business and global positioning of New Zealand. Jens’ work focuses on turnaround strategies to assure the long-term growth of organisations in competitive markets. Jens holds two Doctorates and three Master’s degrees, is a Member of the NZ Order of Merit and has authored/edited seven business text books. He lives in Tauranga – and in airplanes…


Outstanding performance? It’s all in the mind

How would you define “performance”? Getting stuff done according to plan, cost and time is usually the answer. Management theory used to be based on the practical, measurable outcomes of a job – getting people to produce as much as possible, as quickly as possible and with as little expense and as much accuracy as possible.

But today we make greater demands on people’s creativity. The routine roles have been delegated to machines with a far greater capacity for repetition and accuracy than humans. We now constantly ask people to be imaginative, to think outside the square to be innovative and agile. We expect them to dig deep and to perform at their maximum whenever they are at work. Problem solving, creative thinking, critical analysis are on-going activities in the workplace and they place high demands on people.

But what does it take to perform at maximum capacity? How can leaders support their teams to deliver consistently above expectations? Massey’s Dr Patricia Bossons explains that research into the workings of the brain have revealed some interesting facts. “The brain, though not a muscle, has the ability to develop through use. For example, in order to improve one’s memory, one can train the brain to develop its memory zone (the hippocampus).” Repetition helps to carve out neural pathways and extension exercises helps to define new pathways. Most areas of the brain can be trained to improve, or to shut down, as needed.

Although the brain is a wonderfully flexible instrument that can adapt and grow, it also has some very primitive functions and in many cases these functions still have an impact on human behavior. We still refer to “fight, flight or freeze” reactions when faced with a threatening situation. Although there may no longer be sabre-toothed tigers on the prowl the brain initiates such reactions when faced with highly stressful situations from any source – even in the workplace, even from your boss or your colleagues.  Bossons explains that the “panic reaction”, in neuroscientific terms, occurs when one’s amygdala lurches into action and overpower the activity of other parts of the brain. Under such circumstances people revert to the most primitive instincts, and none of “fight, flight or freeze” encourage productive workplace performance. Those three instincts have subsequently expanded to include “tend and befriend” which is a more typical female reaction to external stressors. Either way the person in a state of stress needs someone who can help them to put their amygdala into neutral and work with them to contextualise the situation and re-focus on the solution, not the problem.

Only when the amygdala is under control and the person has access to their whole brain can they be expected to perform optimally. They need to be in a position of psychological safety, they need to feel a sense of well-being and confidence. Agility comes from a base of stability.

The brain, though wonderful, cannot simultaneously tolerate activity in its emotional and its task-focused areas. We have to prioritise one or the other, we cannot pay attention to both at the same time. But this does not mean we need to be victims of our socio-emotional cortex or be slaves to a task-focused orientation, convenient though that may be. Agility in action requires agility in mind, where people can switch quickly and frequently between the task and the emotional content of a situation in order to maintain a perfect balance and to achieve the best possible outcomes.

Leaders have an important role to play in ensuring that their demands for innovation and excellence are matched by an environment in which people feel confident, secure and able to perform at their best. Executive coaching is one of the best techniques for identifying and solving performance challenges in the workplace. Through coaching (and in particular through creating a coaching culture) we can help people to become unstuck in tricky situations, to feel that they are able to perform well and to give them the tools to better use the power of their whole brain to excel at what they do.

Listen to Dr Patricia Bossons discussing Neuroscience and Coaching, a user’s manual to the brain.

Well Formed Outcomes Use this tool to help define better outcomes for yourself. Outcomes help you think beyond goals to the ultimate ahcievement.

Patricia Bossons is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, and has worked in Executive Education as a leadership development specialist, business psychologist and executive coach throughout her career.

She has recently taken up the role of Director of Executive Qualifications at Massey Business School, Massey University, NZ. Before this, she was the founder, and Director, of the Henley Centre for Coaching and Behavioural Change at Henley Business School, UK.

Patricia is currently designing and developing qualification programmes in this field at the professional master’s level for delivery in New Zealand through Massey Business School.



When flexing helps with connecting

What happens when rigid structures are set in place to manage fluid situations?

The concept of hierarchies is as old as human civilisation itself. In any tribe, there is a pecking order, a boss, a lesser boss. There is deference to age, wisdom, experience, title, salary, suit. This rigid hierarchy was applied to early businesses too and has served corporations well since the first industrial revolution.

The company manager sat at the top of a pyramid with a set of senior staff responsible for each business function. They, in turn, had their mini-empires of staff, structured in pyramids which represented the hierarchy of decision-making and communication. These function-specific silos were constructed to serve the primary purpose of management in those days: control. Organisations of a certain size threatened to become unwieldy if allowed to operate without a rigorous structure and lines of control. Workers delegated decisions upwards, and lines of responsibility were cast in stone. Many companies saw the military as the perfect example of how to ensure that an organisation ran according to plan. That is why we still have military terms such as “Officer” in some job titles.

The need for governance was immediately clear. Corporations required oversight from a group of people who knew enough about the business but were sufficiently removed from its daily operations to make unbiased decisions and to set a strategy that would be for the long-term benefit of the organisation’s shareholders. The duties of board members were described in legislation, and the relationship between board and management became enshrined – solidified, immovable, fixed.

Rapid Acceleration

As the second, third and the fourth industrial revolutions took place, the speed of change accelerated beyond anything experienced before. Communication became more fluid. Opportunity lay not in formal planning but in exploiting fleeting confluences of circumstance. Planning and control became less important than carefully considered action that resulted from rapid, real-time communication across various layers of the organisation and between people with the necessary skills rather than the highest rank. The military approach to “defending the bastion against onslaughts from competitors” gave way to concepts such as “frenemies” and “co-opetition”.

The hierarchies changed shape. They became flatter, and the notion of a network started taking hold. A network with its multiple nodes allows for more efficient communication and decision-making. A network defies hierarchy and promotes nimble movement. The opportunity could take any range of shapes and success depended on how different networks could collaborate with each other. While collaboration was taking place and while networks in different companies were humming one aspect remained static and immovable: the company’s governance.

Still rigidly structured to manage a hierarchy the board is becoming a dinosaur in the fourth industrial revolution if it insists on setting the strategy and approving the actions of the organisation on a microscopic level.

Network of networks

“What has developed,” says Malcolm Fraser, Executive Director of The Collaborative, “is a network of inter-connected networks that morphs constantly.” Where interoperability, virtualisation, decentralisation and modularity become the pillars of business, the overwhelming need is for a responsive organisation with a responsive governing structure. Collaborative networks form, thrive, deliver rewards to all involved and then fade over a short time span. The governance structures that were initially set up when the business had a more predictable format seem irrelevant now.

“What we need is empathetic governance,” says Fraser. “We need boards that are attuned to the flexibility in the environment and can understand the need for design thinking in the organisation. While collaborative teams in the organisation empathise, define, ideate, prototype and test products as well as relationships, the Board needs to follow a similar approach to remain flexible and valuable.” For the organisation to succeed executives will require fluid action and rapid thought without a rigid governance structure.

To find out more about Digital Transformation and Collaborative Innovation watch Malcolm Fraser’s webinar here. You can also download his PowerPoint slides here.

Malcolm works as a Collaborative Entrepreneur, acting as the catalyst for forming multi-party collaborations across organisational boundaries to ‘join-up’ organisations, identify solutions to problems and support sustainable social and economic growth for all.

This work is based on his international development experience gained from operating in over 30 countries where he has worked with technologists, local communities and scientists to build collaborative programmes and their associated governance models in partnership with local/regional governments, the World Bank, Asia Development Bank and global networks of innovation centres.


Good research means better business decisions

I’ve taught a business research methods course to MBA students for many years at two New Zealand universities. These students are all experienced business managers or owners. And one of the challenges I have is convincing them that research competencies are not “academic” skills that are irrelevant to their workplace but are basic to making good business decisions.

Business, research

Managers rely on carefully conducted research for understanding market opportunities, for evaluating campaigns, and for testing initiatives, among other things. And managers need to understand good research practices to get the best value from such research. I recently had as a guest speaker Tracey Bridges, co-founder and director at the Good Registry (and formerly Managing Partner for Senate SHJ). Tracey emphasised the importance of managers not just letting the experts plan and do the research, but instead getting involved and carefully scoping the project to ensure you get the outcomes that will be useful. I couldn’t agree more. Managers should work to explain carefully and clearly their aims and objectives for the research, and the questions they want answered. And if others do the actual research for them, managers should ensure the research plan – even down to the questions to be asked on surveys – is likely to produce credible answers.

Credibility of research results is the key. There’s little point in point in doing research that can be picked apart for having used shoddy data or analysis. Another guest speaker I had recently in my MBA course was Dr Andrew Peterson, Head of Data Science at the Warehouse Group. Andrew focused on avoiding being fooled by random variation – that is, thinking we’ve found something significant when we’ve really just gotten certain findings by chance. For example, you may think your new pricing strategy produced an increase in sales, when in fact the increase could be due to seasonal fluctuations or some other factor unrelated to your pricing strategy. So, Andrew says it’s critical to carefully construct experiments and use controls that give us confidence in the answers we’re getting from research.

Beyond carefully designed, formal research initiatives, good research competencies instil a discipline in evaluating available evidence in making good business decisions. Managers often lack the resources – including time – to commission all the market research they may need or to conduct careful experiments to test initiatives. But even so, good research practices teach us to be disciplined in questioning the available evidence and constructing careful arguments to make better business decisions.

Learn more about the Massey Executive MBA here.

Prof Ted Zorn is the head of Massey Executive Development and he teaches Applied Research on the Massey Executive MBA. A professor of organisational communication for nearly 30 years, Ted held positions at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Waikato University before joining Massey University in 2012. His research in recent years has focused on the use of dialogue and other forms of communication in leading change.

Finding out “What’s right with people?”

Have you ever seen a rugby prop doing ballet? Was Shakespeare any good at algebra? Could Einstein sing well? Is Bill Gates any good at carpentry?

In business today, our first instinct could be to question how people differ from what we consider the norm. This person is louder than we are comfortable with, that one does not speak as eloquently as we expect, another is too quiet and does not make eye contact, and the guy from marketing does not understand how to read a balance sheet. Not one of them matches our personal definition of “normal”. They are not like us, so there must be something wrong with them. Any leader who adopts this approach is sure to mould their team into miniature clones of themselves. The leader will hear what they want to hear (as opposed to the truth), the team will behave like the leader (rather than in the most appropriate manner), and precious talent could be lost while obedient avatars replace them and strive to do nothing more than “keep the boss happy”.

There is strength in unity, but that is not the same as suggesting that there is strength in uniformity. In any successful team, there are players who contribute to the victory with a variety of strengths. Some are fleet-footed sprinters; others are rock solid immovable objects; all of them need to work together to bring about a triumph. Business is no different. Diversity provides the greatest chance of success because it builds in the combined personalities and strengths of a group of people.

Tim Kloppenborg, Emeritus Professor at Xavier University in Cincinnati and an expert in strengths-based leadership, explains that the work done by the Gallop Corporation was significant in the area of identifying peoples’ strengths. “Following a very comprehensive study Gallop identified 34 different thought patterns in people across organisations, at different levels of management and in different cultures.” These patterns were grouped into four domains, namely executing, influencing, relationship building and strategic thinking.

Once the strengths have been identified the next step is to construct the team’s roles in such a way that complementary strengths are grouped together. A studious introvert may need someone to engage with customers on their behalf. A verbally confident influencer may need someone to look after the written or admin parts of the job. A strategic thinker may need someone to implement their grand plans and ensure that the detail is taken care of. Such actions enhance the diverse strengths of a team to construct a formidable engine, capable of responding to a variety of circumstances and resilient in the face of unpredictable challenges.

And what about the strengths of the leader? What does the team expect of them? The four elements identified by Don Clifton (the father of strengths psychology and inventor of the Clifton StrengthsFinder®) as crucial to all leaders supersede their personality. The four elements are trust, compassion, stability and hope. No matter what your strengths as a leader these aspects of character are important for your team to observe in your words and actions. While the team can contribute a wide range of skills, knowledge, behaviour and talent, they will look to you for honesty and trustworthiness; for understanding and compassion; for predictability, trust and stability; and for hope through your ability to generate a vision and steer the vision.

To find out more about Strengths-base Leadership watch Tim Kloppenborg’s webinar here. Tim will also be presenting two powerful workshops in Auckland in April. Find out more here.

Timothy J. Kloppenborg, PhD, PMP is a Professor Emeritus from Xavier University. Tim has over 100 publications to his name including 12 very successful academic books on various aspects of Project Management.  Tim has worked closely with the authors of over 30 books including Stakeholder-led Project Management: Changing the Way We Manage Projects and Developing Strengths-Based Project Teams.

Tim has worked in manufacturing, construction, and research, as well as being a retired USAF Reserve officer. He has lead thousands of people in consulting, training, and university classes on six continents, many of these assignments dealing with project management and/or strengths-based leadership.

He holds a BS in business from Benedictine College, an MBA from Western Illinois University, and a PhD in Operations Management from the University of Cincinnati.

“Do you really belong here?”

Take a look at the foot traffic at a railway station in any of New Zealand’s main cities and the multi-cultural nature of our workforce will become evident. The diversity is astounding and encouraging. The variety is not just about gender or about ethnicity. It is not uncommon to find four generations, five languages, many ethnicities and a spectrum of worldviews in any workplace today.


For Shireen Chua this diversity is not only interesting, it forms the key focus of her career. Born in Malaysia of Chinese ethnicity and raised in New Zealand, Shireen is acutely aware of the challenges and opportunities facing the diverse workforce. “There is no doubt that the differences are greater than ever before,” says Shireen. “This leads to a complexity which can be daunting for the individual and for the company as a whole.” At the core are the individual’s personality, beliefs and values. These factors influence their perceptions of the primary human characteristics such as age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, race, gender, physical and mental ability. To a large extent people in the workforce have become accustomed to diversity of these characteristics and have at least a basic understanding of how to react appropriately.

When it comes to secondary characteristics such as marital/parental status, social status, nationality, language, accent, appearance, location, hobbies, educational background and religion the fluency with which the “average person” interacts in the workplace is placed under some strain. All of these characteristics influence how we behave and respond in our interactions with each other. However, take this to another level: if we move from diversity (encouraging the hiring of people of diverse backgrounds and diverse primary and secondary characteristics) to inclusion (making all people feel part of the organisation) then the challenges are significant. In an inclusive organisation the opinions, worldviews and values of all the employees, no matter how different, are respected.

Compromise or negotiate?

Some may frown at the concept that interactions (and in a sense values and norms) are not fixed but negotiated. “It does not mean that we need to compromise on what determines our identities or our personalities,” adds Shireen. “On the contrary, these diverse ways of thinking are very valuable to the organisation and they all need an opportunity to be heard.” But we need to acknowledge that the best solution to any problem can come from any source and that our behaviour should encourage all employees to feel comfortable enough to share their insights and to contribute to the best possible solution.

As Csaba Toth, Founder of ICQ Global and developer of Global DISC™ put it, “Diversity is the mixture of differences; inclusion is the right mixture of people managed with cultural intelligence. One is a minefield and other one is a gold mine.” The movement from one to the other requires building the necessary skills not only among people in the workforce but within the very core of the organisation. Cultural Intelligence means having the ability to interact effectively in any culturally diverse setting.  It helps us understand the impact of organisational characteristics such as hierarchies and the placement of people at different levels, how different functions of the business interact (because, after all, marketers and engineers are diverse breeds), how one location deals with another (for example head office and a branch office).

Tolerate or belong?

What is the ultimate proof that we have successfully included people in the way we run our businesses? People feel they belong. Belonging is what happens when the level of cultural intelligence (CQ) in the organisation is high and pervasive. When people feel they belong, they have ownership of their work and they contribute at unprecedented levels.

Success comes when CQ influences how we communicate, how we see ourselves (both as individuals and as groups in the workplace) and what we focus on (i.e. the balance between task and relationship). People feel they belong when they are heard, included in the problem-solving processes (where appropriate) including how we process and share information, how we give explanations and the conclusions we reach. The highly effective organisation is attuned to its composite workforce and its growing diverse markets. This influences the decision-making cycles including the locus of control, how we interpret time, and how we distribute or constrain power.

Interacting, problem-solving and decision-making are the most subtle measurements of inclusion and the most effective companies strive towards constant improvement of these behaviours.

Watch this webinar where Shireen Chua discusses various tools which can be used to measure and improve the CQ of your organisation.

Look at these videos to learn more about the Four CQ Capabilities that lead to individual success, and more about the CQ Wheel and how it can be applied in your business.

Then have a look at these TED Talks for more on CQ:

diversity; inclusion; cultural intelligence; CQ

Shireen Chua is the Director of Third Culture Solutions Ltd.  She is a Malaysian-Chinese Kiwi who has been educated in New Zealand completing her degree at Massey University (MSc Nut.Sci) Her MBA from Southern Cross University, Australia included a research project focusing on Culture Matters: How NZ Organisations develop Intercultural CompetencyShe is a certified Professional Coach, gaining her ACC with the International Coach Federation and is also certified by the Cultural Intelligence Center as a CQ Trainer (Advanced).  This allows her to facilitate the Developing Cultural Intelligence workshop using the Cultural Intelligence (CQ) assessment tool.  She is also certified to train using the Global DiSC. Shireen is a lecturer on Massey’s Master of Advanced Leadership Practice (MALP).