Murray Johnstone is the Director at Sagulo Coaching & Mentoring Services Ltd. His mentorship program involves a different approach of coaching, which will enable you to deliver exceptional outcomes, even if you are located in a different part of the world.
Luis: Welcome ladies gentlemen to another episode of The Distant Job podcast. I am your host, Luis as usual in this podcast that’s all about building and leading remote teams. My guest today is Murray Johnstone. Murray, welcome to the podcast.
Murray J.: It’s great to be here, Luis. Thank you for inviting me.
Luis: It’s my pleasure. Murray is the director of Sagulo Coaching & Mentoring Services, and he is a Bachelor of Science in management sciences from Loughborough University. Did I miss anything? Did I miss anything?
Murray J.: You didn’t, no. That was a very long time ago now.
Luis: Yeah, I thought it was interesting because a lot of people that I talk on the podcast and that I meet that are around leadership roles, actually don’t have former management and leadership training. They kind of started like me. That was my case. I started as a creative and as I work more and more as a creative, I started getting more responsibility, and I was eventually offered a leadership position. So basically my leadership education is tricking people like yourself to come on my podcast and teaching me stuff.
Murray J.: Very good and very honest.
Luis: So I guess that because you work as a coach and you coach a lot of leaders, I guess that’s a good place to start and we’ll dive into remote soon. But I’m really curious, what do you think that your formal training in management has brought to the table? Feel free to make the bridge which working with remote teams, because I always say that if there’s something that remote work does is it exposes your weak spots as a leader, because things that you can usually gloss over when you have everyone in the same room aren’t as easy to gloss over when you actually need to lead people at a distance.
Murray J.: No, I understand. So I think that my approach to coaching is somewhat different from the norm with people who have degrees in psychology, for instance. I’ve tended to surround myself with psychologists both in post degree and doctorate, but I myself as you can tell, don’t have a psychology degree. And I think what it does is that because of my management background and particularly my management sciences background, I’m really interested first and foremost in the context that people are operating within, from the point of view of strategic positioning in the marketplace, their offer, their key stakeholders, and then ultimately how they organize themselves. So that’s almost a systemic picture of the world, Luis, if you think about it. So having got that understanding, and I think come down into or link into the management of teams and how the teams support the organization design. Then start to think about the resourcing of the organization design in terms of the right people. Have you got the right people on the bus? And what their skills, capabilities and attributes look like.
Murray J.: So I come at things from a very, very different angle and I guess that management science degree and the systems approach has very much determined how I view work. So when I first moved into learning and development, or training and development as it was called in those days in the mid ’80s, a book, which really resonated with me, was The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge, because a lot of what he’s saying is taking systems, taking calls and loops and looking at relationships. That still forms part of quite a bit of the approach that I take when coaching very, very senior people. Because first and foremost it’s their context that they’re operating within, which is important to them.
Luis: All right, thank you for the book recommendation and I actually might… As you were explaining that, the question that popped into mind is for people like myself that have fallen into this leadership role as a natural progression of their creative careers, what kind of education do you recommend?
Murray J.: Well, I think as with everything Luis, the vast majority of capability is developed on the job.
Luis: Okay, that’s good to know.
Murray J.: No, I would say the first and foremost the education is to see work to see the environment as learning, really. I think linked to that is the importance of surrounding yourself with complimentary mentors and coaches. Now of course I would say that because that’s what pays me. But I do believe that’s an incredibly important link. Then really as a sort of last… and this is going to sound strange from someone who’s built a career around learning and development for 30 years, but the least important piece is really the formal interventions, the formal training programs. You know, so there’s something that you’ve probably come across in terms of a 70-20-10 you know, 70% of learning takes place on the job, 20% takes place through coaching and mentoring and 10% plays through takes place through formal education. So that’s, that’s the emphasis I would put on that.
Murray J.: Then when you come to look at education, it’s so dependent on dealing with the first two components first thing. Okay. So is there a shot in their arm? Is there a boost that I need? What might that look like? And there are so many very, very good programs across the world now that once you really understand what it is that you’re looking for, that you can match a short list of potential formal interventions and get the right one for you. But I certainly don’t see that as the most important component to becoming a great leader. And if I probably go as far as to say, if you never had a formal learning intervention, you could probably still be a great leader. And I’m sure there are many great leaders who had no formal training.
Luis: Yeah, yeah. So I really liked that you mentioned coaching and because actually that is something that is very common on good leaders, is good leaders have coaches. So, obviously again, you are partial to this idea, but that is the reality that I observed. Something happened in the early 2000s where the term life coach was popularized and at some time in felt that everyone who had nothing else good to do in their 20s was a life coach. I think that that was really a low point for coaching because it gave coaching a bit of a bad reputation, and as such a lot of people in business, in good leadership roles didn’t come out to getting coaching even though they were getting coaching from really good coaches.
Luis: But I think that I’m seeing that trend be reversed, and now people like Jeff Bezos, people like Richard Branson, et cetera. They don’t make a big fuss out of it, but if interviewed, they do say that they use the services of coaches.
Murray J.: Yeah, I think that’s right. What I would do on that, Luis, is just extend the idea of coach to include mentors, because there’s a fine-ish line I think between coaching and mentoring. So for a mentor, I would say that the emphasis there is that they are people from whom you believe that there are important perspectives, viewpoints, capabilities that you’d like to draw on. Which is somewhat different from pure coaching where asking great questions in a set sequence… will enable an individual to be successful.
Murray J.: The other thing which I think is hugely important, but this is true for both coaches and for mentors is a basis of trust. If that trust exists, you can have very open conversations. If that trust doesn’t exist, obviously you can’t. Which then leads into the third element both for coaches and mentors, which is availability. Of course the more available someone is, the easier it is to pick up the phone or use video conferencing. In my case are at point of need. And that kind of segues into this whole idea of virtual teams and linking globally.
Murray J.: It was interesting when I set this business up or started to set this business up five years ago, I was having a conversation with a colleague, who worked for I very significant global coaching firm based out of the UK. And she said, “Well how on Earth is this thing going to work, Murray? You say that you want to travel globally, you don’t want to be location dependent, so all of your coaching is going to be via video conferencing.” And I said, “Well, if it works, it works and I’ve got a business, frankly, that’s my business model. If it doesn’t work then I haven’t got a business. I don’t have a business model and I might as well do what most people do at my stage of life and retire. Which I’d find very, very difficult.”
Murray J.: That’s sort of led me into this idea of virtual coaching. Almost in a way, switching in terms of, we’re talking about a virtual team that I support. What I found really, really interesting is that one, the business has flourished. So I’m working with over 20 different organizations and have 30 plus life coaching individuals right now. So it definitely works. I think what I hadn’t anticipated before I start, it gives connectivity at point of need, which is what I was saying just now, but also it gives you 24/7 connection, in a way that you can’t do as a coach who’s traveling to meetings. So you’ve got that 24/7 connection.
Murray J.: All of the 30 people I’m currently coaching, six of them, I looked at it this morning, six of them are either chief executives or MDs of their own business. I coach those people exclusively in their evenings when they’re away from the day job. It’s a more relaxed environment like you and me sitting at home, it becomes a very different conversation in terms of longer term aspirations, longer term goals, longer term issues, rather than having to deal with important in the office. So all of those things really augmented and complimented the work that I do. Unintended consequences in a way, Luis, but that’s-
Luis: Absolutely. There are some jobs where there really is almost no justification for not being remote because it just works so much better. When I was learning about coaching, I did note that there was a very important component of coaching that was building rapport, because you need to build rapport with your clients in order to actually get them to have enough connection with you to trust [crosstalk 00:12:13] and the advice that you’re giving them. I think this is the biggest challenge, the building of trust through video conference as opposed to being in person. This is a big challenge in coaching as in leading, as in managing, you need to build the trust with the person on the other side of the screen with your team as a whole, et cetera.
Luis: I realized that the commitment from your client in part also comes from them paying. In fact that’s a good argument for not getting a cheap coach, but getting an expensive coach, is that the more money you have on the table, the more committed you act. So that’s definitely part of the thing, but trust is essential. Not only in leading but also in coaching. Have you faced this conundrum, or how do you feel you can develop trust through video as if it was through in person?
Murray J.: Right. So I think to me there’s a context which is important before we dive into that. So because of the roles that I had, particularly with PA Consulting, but prior to that as well. What I’d done is built a global network of key people who… with consulting, senior partners and partners tend to move through for a period of time, then go out and run their own businesses is kind of what happens through into their 40s and 50s. Not exclusively. Some will stay to lead consulting firms at that level. So no, I was with PA Consulting for nearly 20 years, and I would say somewhere between 500 and 800 people passed through my grubby mitts during that period of time. Many of which then went out into the broader environment to lead firms, both panel organizations in terms of global panel organization, in terms of sector.
Murray J.: So still today what I’m doing really, Luis, is drawing on that network that I built during that time in PA Consulting. So I don’t do any cold call calling in that sense. I don’t rely on cold introductions necessarily. They’re all referrals. So there’s that sense already of some basis of trust. It was a bit like you were saying to me as we started up this video conference, “Well if Steve thought you might be a good guy to talk to, I was willing to talk to you, Murray.” The same kind of applies coaching I think. You know, if someone says, “You should really have a conversation with Murray Johnstone. I think he’s got something that might enable you to deliver on the outcomes that you’re looking for.” It’s a warm lead and they’re coming in with a basis of trust. So I think that’s the context. Interestingly, I think your point on brand rapport is incredibly important.
Murray J.: For every single coaching intervention and a meeting that I have, I jot down six headings on a piece of paper. I go, build rapport first off. Secondly, a challenge that we’re working on? Third is how much time have we got in this particular intervention? Fourth is, what is our expectation for this particular conversation? Fifth, what’s the agenda based off that expectation, and what style do I think I’ll be adopting in relation to where we’ve got to in the relationship? So if you remember one of the questions I asked you before we set up the video is, “Should we have a pre-meet talk about what the context might look?” You said, “Well, don’t worry. I don’t work that way.” So I said, “That’s all fine.”
Luis: Yeah, we’re much more around here.
Murray J.: Yeah. You can tell. I tend not to be so. So you know that sense of first and foremost on that checklist is, remember it’s all about rapport. As you and I started 10 minutes early and what we were essentially doing was you establishing rapport with me. I was establishing rapport with you. Do we think we’ve got a connect? My sense by the time you went one, two, three, let’s record, there was a sense of connect. There was a sense of free flow dialogue, which I was comfortable with.
Luis: Yeah. Well I mean that’s kind of the point. That’s again why I try to be 10 minutes early and even when I’m not 10 minutes early or the guest is not 10 minutes early… Thank you for that by the way… I usually don’t start recording on the time. I leave some time to banter. So that’s [crosstalk 00:17:17].
Luis: So I want to move on to your experience in managing teams because I was very surprised to learn from our previous email exchange that you actually have been working with global teams since ’98, which certainly beats me. I used to think that I was early and I’d started in 2001, so that’s something. You know, you almost started it before the internet.
Murray J.: Yeah, absolutely. And certainly this facility now in terms of video conferencing, just didn’t exist.
Luis: Yeah, exactly. So obviously you told me that you use the blended approach, that you would meet up from time to time with leaders and teams face to face. I actually think that this is still an important thing today. Certainly doesn’t need to happen as much because again, we have new technology, but I still think that it’s super cool to get the team together and to get the leaders to the team at least a couple of times a year, at least a couple of times a year.
Murray J.: It’s interesting you say that. So that’s what it morphed into eventually, was a couple of times [crosstalk 00:18:31] Yeah, so the context that was interesting when I joined PA in 1998 as you say, the internet was in its infancy. We couldn’t do anything like this. A lot of it was over the phone. The other complication at the time was that five people had had a go at doing my job in five years. So something wasn’t right in terms of the way in which the organization was working. All the head of learning and development, or training and development as it was, hadn’t worked. That context is important because what it led me to do was to spend the first two years actually, jumping on a plane and making sure that I had really great relationships across all of the offices within the PA global footprint.
Murray J.: Whether I would have done that to the same degree if I’d been taking over a team which was more stable state, I was looking to grow to achieve outcomes, which were already highly regarded, and highly valued? I don’t think so. But certainly within that context, I did spend a lot of time on planes with actually more time picking up with the key leaders across the PA world. Because to me that seemed the most important group of people that I needed to get to know, and needed to get to know already really well.
Murray J.: My view there is, my role as that the leader of learning and development was first and foremost, having peer to peer relationships with all members of the senior team. So that included country heads. That included group heads. That included practice heads within the context. I wanted to get to know every single individual within that leadership team, which is about 60 people, and having spent time with them. Because I saw myself probably based on my background as a change agent, whereas I saw my team as partly change agents, but more about delivering really great interventions operationally on a day to day basis and getting strong links with the employees of PA.
Murray J.: If I was to do that today, I would say that I could probably have built those relationships pretty well over the internet, without having to meet face to face. And in fact they may have been stronger relationships because as I said before, we’d have met in the evenings rather than during the day and we’d have just chewed the fat rather than go… You know, I’d go to Hong Kong for instance and be told, “Well I can give you an hour, Murray, but that’s all I’ve got.” So essentially, that was very, very wasteful in terms of resources and my time. I’d literally up and drop down into Kuala Lumpur and then go on down to Australia and into New Zealand. But it was hard work. It was tiring. It wasn’t a great use of my time really, but I felt it was incredibly important to build those relationships first and foremost.
Murray J.: Then lastly, everything was done over the phone after those two years. Actually both in terms of the day to day conversations, if someone had an issue, but also to your point, formally twice a year I would have an hour, 90 minutes against a clear agenda with each of the group leaders. So that’s the company who has the group heads and the practice heads, in terms of, what their experience had been of training and development. What was going well and what wasn’t going so well. Some of the things that we might need to do differently. It was always over the phone. But I think that links back then to, why did it work? And it worked I think, because I had a very, very clear view of the relationship that I need to build with the business heads. I also had a very clear view as to how I needed to manage teams remotely. I can talk about both of those elements if you think they’d be interesting.
Luis: Yeah, I do definitely want to plant the flag and go back to the remote team, to your view on how to manage teams remotely, absolutely. But I wonder, as you talk to those leaders, certainly you met with several kinds of leaders in several kinds of different situations. I wonder, so when you have a leader that is looking to grow, that has the humility to know that they need help, they need to grow. I would imagine it’s somewhat easier than when you meet a leader that’s, let’s say their team runs okay, runs fine. Actually delivers the results that they are expected. But you can see through your experience and just through the general ambient level of team motivation that the leader has a problem that he’s not aware of, that the team will always perform but will never grow. So how do you talk to these leaders? How do you help these leaders understand that what they’re doing is fine to stay where they are, but they kind of need to fix something that’s not broken if they want the team to really shine and deliver exceptional outcomes.
Murray J.: Yeah. So let’s come right back to this outcomes. I think everyone, irrespective of how well they are doing, would like to do better. And in part, that could be driven by a status thing. That could be driven by their view of how they want to position themselves in the world. That could be in terms of, what they say and the contacts they have. But people always have a sense in which they could do better. And of course if the remuneration model supports that, which in consulting it generally does, the bigger they can build the business, the bigger their bonus and therefore, in some cases the happier they are. So I would never start with a very senior individual. I rarely start with, “How can you be a better person? How can you be a better leader?” I start with the contacts.
Murray J.: I think whenever you deal with any contacts, be it leader, be it team, be it individual, we’re really only grappling with four big questions. The first big question is how do I position? And that could be position of business, that could be to position my team. How do I position myself? It’s all about positioning, irrespective of which conversation you’re having, it’s largely about positioning. We explore that, and that raises further questions. I think the other question is if you position in that way, if you position your organization or you position your team, or your position an intervention, or you position yourself, what is it that you have to offer which is differentiated, which the market voice is going to respond to in a way it says, “Hey, you’ve got something here which could be of value.” Or the organization says, “Hey, you’ve got something here which could be of value.”
Murray J.: So it’s a lot about your offer. Of course as you start to talk about your offer, you kind of get into the question of, to whom? To whom, because you don’t offer on your own. So that gets you into a big conversation about stakeholders, key, significant others. Again, whether it’s organization, whether it’s team, whether it’s intervention, and whether it’s you or me as individuals. Who are our significant others that we need to connect with, and how do we do that? I think once you’ve answered those three, almost if it were a market facing questions, facing questions, you’re then left with the final question is, well given what I now know in these three areas, how do I want to organize myself? How do I want to structure the organization? What’s the organization design or how do I want to structure my life? What’s my business model for want of a better word.
Murray J.: What’s interesting to me, Luis, is most people up to including very, very senior people start with the question, how do I want to organize myself? How do I want to organize my team? How do I want to organize my business without necessarily asking those more important questions in terms of positioning, offering and stakeholders. So generally speaking, there’s clear daylight emergence in those other three areas which establish a connect for me. That’s my market voice, if you will. That’s my differentiator. As I said before, my management science degree brings me in, in terms of contacts, brings me in, in terms of strategic positioning, brings me in, in terms of organization design.
Murray J.: But what that tends to do for pretty well anyone is to generate, “Oh well there are areas which I haven’t yet encountered or considered within where I am today, and where I want to get to. You know, that classic gap analysis which underpins coaching, which underpins organization design, which underpins change. Coaching is no more than the gap analysis question really, framed in a different way I think. So I think that’s where it comes from, Luis, if I look at what I do and how I do it.
Luis: Okay. Of course, makes sense. So let’s go back to managing remote teams.
Luis: Hey there, it’s Luis. Welcome to the intermission of The Distant Job podcasts. If you’re listening to this podcast, there’s a very big chance that you’re interested in building a great remote team, and to build a great remote team, you need great remote employees. That’s where Distant Job comes in. So here’s how it works. You tell us the kind of position that you need to fill. We talk to you. We try to figure out not only what are the exact requirements that that person should have, but also we try to figure out who would be a perfect fit for your company culture because we really believe that that matters. Then once we have an exact picture of what we’re looking for, we’re off to the races. Our recruiters tap into their global network, and we filter people very well so that you don’t waste your time interviewing people that are never to be of interest to you.
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Luis: I know that what interests you the most is really the what and the why.
Murray J.: Yeah, probably the other way around. The why first of all, and then the what, and then the how.
Luis: Here’s the thing, the why is less data dependent in my view than the what. I think that the what requires more data gathering. So I think that the what is where more problems arise because when you are dealing with remote teams, you need to look at the deliverables. So that because obviously you can see how they’re spending their time, and you shouldn’t care as long as they deliver the deliverables, right? But the delivering of the deliverables, you as a leader, as a manager, being able to see what your teams are producing is something that despite the breadth of project management software that is available, people still struggle a lot. So, I’m wondering what have you seen that in most successful teams that are good at showcasing the what, and showcasing their work?
Murray J.: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay. Can I just circle back, Luis, and I’m sorry to do that. The reason why I start with the why is because I think that it establishes whether you’re aiming at the right target or not. So if you don’t spend any time on the why, why are we doing this? Which links into actually word you use the outcomes that we’re looking for with deliverables that we’re looking for, you could actually be trying to hit the wrong target completely. And of course that becomes clear further down the track. So in a way the why question positions you into doing the right things from the get go, rather than trying to do things right.
Luis: [crosstalk 00:32:52] So that I can solidify the why more.
Murray J.: So in terms of the why, if you go right… Classic requests from the business. We need you to design I leadership training program to enhance the capability of our leaders. That does lead into the question, why? Because what tends to happen is senior leaders think that they have the solution and they want you to deliver the solution. So it’s all about, “What I want from you is a leadership program.” What I’m going back and saying, “Well why do you need that?” Because if you link that back to our prior, earlier in the podcast, I was saying, look, you and I know that a leadership intervention in terms of building capability of a leadership probably accounts for no more than 10% of what it is that’s going to be important to these leaders. So unless I answer the why question, which gets me into talking about the broader support that’s needed and the requirement and commitment that’s needed from the business, I’m setting off down a path of failure.
Luis: Yeah. And there’s actually an interesting thing of that. I mean, I don’t remember where I read this. I read this in an interview. There’s actually an interesting technique based off that. That’s the five why’s technique, where you ask that first why and then they answer, and you ask why that? And they answer again, and you ask why and you drill down.
Murray J.: So that’s why I think, why is… Sorry, and I know I’m cutting back to you and say, so I think once you’re very, very clear on the why, you can then talk about the what. Actually in arriving at the why, what I’ve always tried to do is link my team with the senior people not just me asking the irritating why question. So we’re doing that together. We’re getting the connect. So one of the things that’s vitally important to me is the team is connected with their client. The team is connected with their business. They’re thinking in a way, a systemically. Of course that’s where I come from and it could well be a practice.
Luis: Here’s my biggest challenge and that I’ve seen over and over in remote teams. I’m not saying the why is not important. I think the why is super important, but I also think that the why is a bit of a Jedi mind trick if we can. Yes, you need to ask the why, but once you know, and once you have the discipline to always ask the why, it’s just a question. You ask, you get the answer and you ask why as much times as you like. Okay.
Murray J.: Correct.
Luis: What requires grunt work? [crosstalk 00:35:48].
Murray J.: Yes, grunt work’s an interesting way. It requires further exploration and evaluation, is potentially the other way of looking at it.
Luis: Well, here’s what I see in a lot of teams, either the manager of the team takes on that responsibility or the team takes on that responsibility. But what happens in a lot of teams that I see is that when they’re serious about the what, they get drowned in documentation, overdoing it.
Murray J.: No, I don’t worry about documentation particularly. So where I would go is, once you’ve got the outcomes clearly established, which is sort of connecting why with what. Once you’ve got the outcomes clearly established, you can then have a very good go at what do the measures of success look like? And that is very, very much a what question. What do the measures of success look like? If you know what the measures of success and the outcomes look like, that gives you a fighting chance in terms of putting together a program of activity, I won’t call it a project plan. I hate project plans, but a program of activity which identify some of the key actions which need to be taken. Because once you establish some of the key actions that need to be taken, you can then agree between you, the team, what your respective roles and responsibilities are going to be.
Murray J.: So quite often tasks are relatively well defined. Respective roles and responsibilities in delivering outcomes in my view, are less well defined and are often very poorly defined. In other words, what are you going to do? What am I going to do? What am I going to give you and what do I need from you? What are you going to give me, and what do I need from you, is a very, very important conversation to get clarity in terms of who’s going to do what. That’s especially true with remote teams, but I think it just becomes a bigger issue largely because you’re not there walking around in the room in the same way. You’ve got to get that clarity.
Murray J.: So once you’ve got the program of activity and roles and responsibilities clear, the only other thing which is incumbent on the two of you to agree is, “And how often are we going to meet? How often are we going to talk, to be sure that the activity that we’re engaged on and your role within it is on track, and what you’re expecting from me, I’m giving you what I need from you, you’re giving me… And vice versa.” So there’s that ongoing dialogue in terms of connection, which isn’t about role descriptions. It isn’t about a formal organization hierarchy. It isn’t about organization design. It’s about what was happening in the moment between you and your other team members, where you happen to be designated as the leader.
Murray J.: I don’t think it really matters too much. You just need someone who is keeping you honest in terms of those components, in terms of the tasks, responsibilities and review cycle. And that’s what I would push a lot in terms of my teams so that they were clear. It started with outcomes. It then looked at measures. It then looked at activity. It then looked at roles and responsibilities and review cycle. And I found those constantly coming back to those in terms of the team is really important. Once I knew those, I was validating that activity with the relationships that I had with the business, to be sure that my team’s view of the outcomes the senior leader’s expectations of the outcome… the two were meeting. Meeting between my team member, me and the leader, or my team member maybe the leader and their team to make sure that they was a grounded approach.
Murray J.: Now I think the exact same applies with external clients as they do with internal stakeholders. Having those connection meetings to be sure the expectation has been met
Luis: Yeah, I mean for sure. No, the challenge for me is what happens when you have one of those meetings. But in order to conduct one of those meetings, you should have some kind of report, you know? I mean, let’s take a software development case where you have-
Luis: … you have X bugs to squash and during the project sprint, Y bugs were squashed. So you have two very simple variables. But what I see a lot in remote teams is, we squashed some bugs. We were kind of busy squashing them. So we didn’t really keep track. And I know that this is a very loose example because the tracking-
Murray J.: No, I go with you. I go with you-
Murray J.: No, I’m with you. So despite my dislike of paperwork, that comes in. So once you’re very clear on the outcomes and the measures of success, what you then need, in my view, is evidence that supports that those measures of success are being delivered, and delivered in the way that you expected. So it comes back to, okay, your example, how many bugs were there? Which bugs did we actually want to squash? Have we annihilated them completely, or are they still wriggling on the floor. If they’re still wriggling on the floor, what do we need to do to squash them completely? So all of that drives out of, and strictly applies to the outcomes, because the outcomes is what you’re ultimately measured by and the measures you need to be sure that you’re delivering against. Those measures, which is the data.
Murray J.: Those conversations, it could be reports, but those conversations around where are we relative to the outcomes? Where’s the evidence that supports that is vitally important. And it doesn’t need to be written down, but it could be written down. It depends on your level of trust. I think the other thing that it gets into is linking into the style of leadership that you adopt, depending on the individual. Which to my mind, is absolutely crucial based on trust and capability.
Murray J.: Generally speaking in any conversation which I have with my team, I will be starting from the point of view of, “What do you intend to do? What are your intentions now? What is your supporting rationale for those intentions?” So in otherwise I’m giving them the responsibility to tell me where they are right now and what they’re doing to deliver on the outcomes. It starts with me acting as a sounding board, because once I know what the intentions are, what I’m doing is checking off in my mind, “Okay, in terms of their intentions, where are we in terms of the outcomes? Where are we in terms of the measures? Where are we in terms of the tasks? Are they doing what we thought they were going to do, or do they need more support or less support, and when do we next need to get a review?” It stops the micromanaging and getting into the how.
Murray J.: Now, if the conversation we’re having at that level, and of course people understand how the conversations work after awhile. If the conversation in terms of the intention is clear and the supporting rationale is perfect, in my view, I would say, “Yeah, just get on with it.” So what I’m doing is moving away from being a sounding board. So yeah, get on with it. It’s a delegated relationship. Just check in with me when you feel you need to in the next period until we have a more formal review, whenever we’ve agreed that’s going to be. But you know, I can leave that conversation knowing that the intention and the rationale is going to achieve the outcomes and deliverables, and the responsibility rests with the individual to deliver on those outcomes. I don’t need to get involved even in terms of the what.
Luis: Yeah, yeah.
Murray J.: You see what I’m saying?
Luis: Absolutely, but then let’s say that time for review comes and that individual is just all over the place. You know, he’s [crosstalk 00:44:43] they’ve done some work, you know? Some work was done, they were working hard of it, but at the end of the day it’s like you get to that meeting, they didn’t come back to you because they thought they were doing good work and then you have that meeting and you realize that, “Oh no, this is not at all what I intended.”
Murray J.: Luis, let me talk about the other… I would only say to the individual, “Get on with it, report back,” if I was absolutely confident that they had the skills and the confidence and the commitment to do what they said they were going to do, and that builds up over a period of time.
Murray J.: If, as I listened to the intention and the supporting rationale and I felt that there were some gaps, that’s starting to raise question marks about capability maybe. What it would enable me to do is help inform their thinking in terms of what they were intending to do and how they were intending to do it. So what I’m doing is I’m slipping back into more of a coaching role, where together we’re building what the future might look like. Together we’re getting a clear understanding of the present and understanding what the gap between the two might be. So that the individual, not me, then commits. So we’ll generate a whole list of possible activities to undertake, and we’ll select from that broad list of activities, a short list.
Murray J.: So this is what you’re going to do, right?
Luis: Yeah, yeah.
Murray J.: So that becomes the task. This is what you’re going to do. Right. Now, given what you’re going to do in the conversation that we’ve had, let’s agree on our respective roles and responsibilities so that we’re absolutely clear what what you’re going to do and what I’m going to do, both in terms of give and take. We need to be absolutely clear on that, and we need to be clear on the review cycle, which given the fact that you and I have talked with fairly significant interventions from me, suggest that there needs to be a shorter review cycle and a longer review cycle. So perhaps we get together in a couple of weeks, may even be a week’s time to see how you’re getting on.
Murray J.: So essentially the review cycle concertinas down to even days if it’s absolutely crucial. If through slipping back into that coaching role, I’m still finding the individuals lacks the capability through dialogue with me to establish a clear future, a clear current position, and a clear understanding of what they’re going to do, I then have bigger concerns. That takes me down into more of a directive approach in terms of, “Well look, we’ve had the conversation, I still have reservations. This is what I would like. This is what I would like you to do, and this is how I would like you to do it.” So this is where I reluctantly…
Luis: be in that position, right?
Murray J.: Yeah, I’m very reluctantly going to the how’s.
Murray J.: Because that’s not my view, but sometimes you have to build individual up through the how space into the what space, coming back to what you were saying before. And that requires direction. Certainly when I was a lad, people used to say, “You know, if you’re having to direct people, that can’t be right. Leadership is all about empowerment.” Actually, under certain circumstances I don’t believe it is. I think distributed leadership as it’s often called these days, in the wrong circumstances is a recipe for disaster.
Luis: Oh yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
Murray J.: So you see what I’m going, but my going in position is always to act as a sounding board. And my desire is to move to a fully delegated approach. My expectation if that’s not happening is I want to move back into a coaching space, where I’m still comfortable. If I have to move into a directing space and I’m doing that on an ongoing basis and I’m not building capability, that tends to lead ultimately into a very different conversation, which is around fit. Is this the right vehicle? Is this the right role for you? Is it supporting your life’s purpose or might you be better off doing something else?
Murray J.: Now of course you get into that in the UK anyway, you get into some dismissal if you’re not careful. But certainly I’ve had conversations where people have left me to become a truant officer because that was a better place to be, because they were never going to be great. They’re never going to be great trainers. You know, people have gone off to do other things. I’ve only ever had to fire a person once, but they’ve certainly gone off to do other things based on the conversations that we’ve had.
Luis: Hopefully. Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s a actually a very important point. I am of the honest belief that when you hire someone for a position, they should know their stuff better than you. I mean, I always say that when I hire people for my marketing team, I want them to be better at marketing than I am because otherwise I’ll just do their job myself, right? I see my job as supporting and coordinating people that are better at specific kinds of marketing-
Murray J.: I agree.
Luis: … than I am, but I find that as I take this approach, it’s easy for me to fall into the mistake of maybe having it too much hands off approach because this approach comes with implicit trust. So let’s say that I hired someone specifically to buy and run advertisement campaigns. I hire that person, you know, and obviously I do my due diligence and I do the interviews and I give them exercises to make sure that they know more about advertisement than I do, you know? But then I run into this place where I find some conflict into trusting that they have the knowledge to do so because I evaluated. So I believe they have the knowledge to do so. But then being underwhelmed sometimes by the results. Then I am forced to confront the idea that, did I make a mistake in hiring these people? Was I not rigorous enough with my testing? And I’m wondering, how do you solve this kind of conflict?
Murray J.: So I don’t think you can solve that kind of conflict, Luis. I think you’ve got to accept that the hiring process is a very inexact science where what you’re doing very, very early on is ensuring that you gave the individual the support that they need to be successful. And through time you understand exactly what their capabilities are, which I don’t think you’ll get 100% at an interview. But you’ll get there in time. So it comes back to what is the appropriate level of support for the individual as they join the organization.
Murray J.: When I joined my last firm all those years ago as the global head of learning and development, the underlying assumption was I could do my job, just need to get on with it. The reality was somewhat different. I hadn’t been in the consulting firm before. The role was loosely defined but wasn’t very well defined as I’ve talked about before. These roles never. The extent to which I truly understood the dynamics of the organization was weak. What I needed, and because I knew I needed it, I got hold of them, was key mentors and sponsors at a senior level. But to give me the support that I wasn’t getting from my direct boss who thought that I could just get on with it.
Murray J.: In fact, when I mentioned to him that I just selected a mentor who is close to the chief executive, he said, “That’s almost Machiavellian, Murray.” I said, “It’s not Machiavellian. It’s actually understanding what the layers of power are right now and how I can support, how it can be supported by me.” So I think the same is true for anyone coming in any organization. You know, what is the support that they need?
Murray J.: It’s interesting you take me off on a tangent, but in terms of performance, I think there are only three questions you ask. One is, is the individual a keeper or do you need to get rid of them? Yes or no, binary. Make that decision. If you decide they’re a keeper, what level? What is it that you actually want them to do? At what level do you want them to operate? What is their task? Second question. Third question is, what support do I need to put in place to help them be successful? That’s it. For me, performance management is very straightforward. It’s those three questions. So of course when you’ve got somebody who’s new to the organization, you’re still asking that question as you would do with everybody. Are they a keeper or would they be better placed living their lives through a different vehicle?
Luis: Okay. So since you talked about support, and I actually read in your bio something that I want to touch lightly on it because it’s actually… This conversation has been going on for a while and I’m mindful of your time, but I couldn’t help but notice that in your bio, it was written that you harness insights from psychometric instruments when appropriate. And one of your instruments are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, steps one and steps two.
Luis: Actually we were enthusiastic about this in our business in Distant Job, everyone that joins Distant Job does the Myers-Briggs personality and we have some fun with it because then we associate it to Star Wars characters, because we are a geeky company. We like science fiction and we like pop culture. So we associate… each Myers-Briggs Type Personality corresponds to a Star Wars character and then we use them as badges on our Slack profiles. It’s fun, and fun is good, but we never really took it past the fun, seriously. So my question is how do you harness the power of these tools properly?
Murray J.: So I think what you do is use all tools, but let’s stay with Myers-Briggs as the instrument, as a starting point for a conversation. I think again, what we often do with psychometrics is fail to ask the why question, and start to get into what does it mean and how might I use it? With Myers-Briggs, the why question is why is it important? That breaks down into the four dichotomies at the highest level. It’s important because it understands in terms of the environment, what your relationship is with the environment, whether you like to move into the environment as an extra, to whether you like to put your arms around it and move it into you as an introvert. That has significant consequences.
Murray J.: Also in terms of the environment, it gives you a sense of, to what extent do you like a world which is ordered and planned and works against a clear methodologies, or are you more emergent in terms of your approach. All Myers-Briggs comes down to the judging preference in terms of planned, methodical, longterm, medium term, short term plans, clear ways of doing things as compared with someone who’s more emerged and let’s see what happens. They’re pressured in the moment and they respond accordingly. Now understanding how that actually works and what the consequences are of that kind of environment is really important. But we kind of stay with the labels rather than look at the consequences.
Murray J.: So that’s the wraparound in terms of Myers-Briggs, in terms of those two dichotomies, the really important dichotomies in terms of decision making are how you understand the world. In other words, how you collect information. That diversion piece in terms of the decision making, how you collect enough information. That’s where it comes into the sensing and insularity preferences. One of the questions you said, “Look Murray, how does your conversation in terms of the why question ground in reality?” That’s a more of a sensing suggestion of a sensing preference. Might not be your preference, but at that point, what you want to do is get a clearer view of what and how.
Murray J.: Whereas someone with an intuitive preference is kind of looking at the connections, looking at the links. They’re very blue sky and intensely irritating for someone who’s sensing. So what you tend to get is, if you’re not careful, you get a mismatch of communication across those two individuals, where they’re just missing each other. They’re not connecting. That’s huge consequences in terms of how you seek to understand the world and whether that’s introvert and extrovert as it happens. And the extent to which you’re genuinely connecting through dialogue.
Murray J.: So again, when people talk about Myers-Briggs, they rarely talk about that opening up phase, that understanding phase. How do I get to understand my world. Once you’ve thoroughly got sufficient understanding of your …, you can then start to move down to, “Okay, I’ve got the database…” Actually coming back to something you was talking about before, “I’ve now got the evidence in front of me. How do I start to make sense of this? How do I evaluate it to lead to the outcome or decision that I’m looking for?”
Murray J.: Again, you’ve got two options. One you can use in terms of thinking preference. It’s all about logic. It’s all about criteria. It’s all about evaluate these against this list. We’re going to arrive at the right decision. That’s the thinking preference. As compared with the feelings preferences. It’s about the people. It’s about whether they’re on my journey. It’s about whether the values fit. It’s valuing them and respecting them and moving them with me in terms of the up.
Murray J.: So what’s interesting in terms of the way you framed it is so what? So what? What are we actually going to do with this instrument? So what is answered in the conversations as I’ve just had for the last couple of minutes, in terms of what are the consequences? What are the consequences? What does this mean in terms of the way you connect? What does this mean in terms of the way you embrace people towards a decision? What does this mean in terms if you have introverts something that someone can’t see what’s going on in your mind, in terms of what you’ve seen, what conclusions you’ve drawn, what assumptions you’re making, what life values you’re overlaying to arrive at the action you’ve decided to take. It surfaces a lot of those things for visibility with others. But to my point, Luis, it’s just the starting point of the conversation.
Luis: Yeah, that’s an interesting point. And this is actually a discussion that I had with a good friend of mine that he was saying that he didn’t see the value in it. He felt that it was just stereotyping people and when you answer a question, the kinds of the Myers-Briggs test poses to you, he doesn’t like it because it lacks context. His answer would vary depending on context, but my response to that is that it’s not a matter of knowing that you are not your Myers-Briggs personality test results. Again, it’s a conversation starter even because what a lot of people don’t realize, and I think you’d agree is that it really is a spectrum. Even if you are, let’s say an INTJ, let’s say that you are thinking over intuitive, you might be thinking over intuitive but just like five points away from intuitive. Whereas your other colleague is 20 points away from intuitive. So there is a spectrum there.
Murray J.: No, I agree. It’s interesting that you used the word spectrum because it has all sorts of connotations of course, but one of the ways of viewing that thinking, feeling dichotomy is the closer you get to a strong thinking preference… In other words, you’re using it pretty well 100% time. The closer you’re getting actually to the lower ranges of Asperger’s in some ways, moving up into autistic because it’s all about the logic and not about feelings. Everything is treated as an inanimate object.
Murray J.: The same is true with extroverts. You know, I have an extroverted preference as it happens, but my extroverted preference is nowhere near as pronounced as some others extroverted preferences. Of course I need time to reflect and bring the world to me and understand where I’m at, but again, one of the beauties, actually of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is it does give you a sense of strength of preference. Not strength of capability, strength of preference. And that of course leads into another conversation about what does this mean for you and what might some of the implications be? Because it gives that variety as you will, in terms of the spectrum.
Murray J.: So to your point, interesting your Star Wars characters come with flavors of other characters because there’s no such thing as the undistilled Luke Skywalker.
Luis: For sure. Okay. So I want to wind down with some rapid fire questions. The questions are rapid fire, but the answers don’t need to be. Feel free to just spend as long as you’d like on each. So let’s say that if you have, if you had 100 Euros to spend with each person working for you, or if you don’t have a lot of direct reports right now, each person that you’re coaching and the one rule is that you had to give the same thing to everyone… It might be hardware, it might be software, it might be an experience. You can pick whatever. What would you give them?
Murray J.: I would give them a book.
Luis: Okay. Any book-
Murray J.: Any number of books. So based on what we’ve talked about and how we’ve talked about it, I would make recommendations from a list and then introduce those over a period of time in terms of relevance.
Luis: Okay, so you would tailor it to the person. Got it. So what about yourself? What purchase has made your work life easier or more productive in the past year?
Murray J.: Same answer, books. I read a huge amount, Luis, I have to confess. So I’ve always got two or three books on the go. I’m looking at Nuance Leadership at the moment as a book that I’m reading. I’m reading another book around distributed leadership. I’m fascinated in this whole thing of ideas. It’s all about ideas for me.
Luis: Can you give me the title of the book about distributed leadership?
Murray J.: I’d have to find it because it’s on a Kindle. I do all of my reading on a Kindle, Luis. So one of the things you don’t get is the sense of… But I can send it through to you after this.
Luis: I was curious because I’ve had some people writing those books on the podcast and I was curious if it was a book from one of my previous guests.
Murray J.: Oh, I see.
Luis: That’s why I asked.
Murray J.: It’s very topical at the moment.
Luis: Yeah, okay. But now I am going to try to actually corner you and get a straight answer because it’s the book question. And my question is, what book or books have you gifted the most?
Murray J.: So it depends on the period of time. The Fearless Organization is a book that I’ve a gifted-
Luis: The Fairness?
Murray J.: The Fearless Organization.
Murray J.: The Fearless Organization. It’s about psychological safety. So that’s one that I recommend a lot. And if someone isn’t buying it, I’ll send it through to them and send them the link. So that’s the one. The second… but that goes back over a much longer period of time, is Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline. It’s The Fifth Discipline Handbook, not The Fifth Discipline, which I think is the valuable one because what it does, it takes The Fifth Discipline and provides a whole bunch of tools, techniques to apply in certain circumstances.
Luis: Do you think reading The Fifth Discipline before using the handbook is required?
Murray J.: I would read The Fifth Discipline because it gives the context and it gives a sense of where Peter Senge is coming from. The Fifth Discipline Handbook sort of says… It’s a bit like Patrick Lencioni’s work.
Luis: Yeah, Five Dysfunctions, right?
Murray J.: Sorry?
Luis: Five Dysfunctions Of A Team, right?
Murray J.: Five Dysfunctions Of A Team, yeah. Again, I use that a lot, but I haven’t gifted it as much as the others. But I think it’s a very powerful book. There is something as an add on to that, which is the handbook that supports it. And again, it’s appropriate to read The Five Dysfunctions Of A Team before you read the handbook. I think.
Murray J.: The risk with that second recommendation is it reflects the way I think. So I’ve got to be very, very careful that it reflects someone who’s probably much harder thinking… preference who needs something grounded for them in a way that makes sense, because what he does, particularly through the handbook is provide a lot of what and how within the context of the why.
Luis: Got it. Good. Okay, so thank you for the recommendations. Final question. Let’s say that you are hosting a dinner in a Chinese restaurant that’s being attended by top execs in technology companies from Silicon Valley, from the UK, CTO, CEOs, hiring managers, people that are going to hold a round table about remote work and the future of work. Because it’s a Chinese restaurant and you are the host, you get to decide the message that goes inside the Chinese fortune cookies. So what’s that message?
Murray J.: Retain the curiosity of a child.
Luis: Okay. Did you come prepared for this? Were you listening-
Murray J.: No. No. Look back at my bio and you’ll see it’s mentioned in there in terms of myself.
Luis: Oh nice.
Murray J.: It’s something that I’ve always… When senior leaders have joined organizations, I’ve said it’s all about inquiry. It’s all about curiosity. If you come with a predefined ounce, you’re going to fail. Adopt and come with the curiosity as a child, is my mantra for want of a better word in terms of the work that I do. So in relation to the fortune cookie, there was a relatively straightforward [crosstalk 01:08:49] as far as that’s concerned.
Luis: You know, I think you were the first person in 65 episodes that wasn’t stumped by this question. Congratulations. All right look Murray, it was an absolute pleasure talking with you. And please, when people, the listeners want to continue the conversation with you, where can they find you? Where can they learn more about your business?
Murray J.: So I’ve got my LinkedIn profile obviously.
Luis: Yeah, I will link to that.
Murray J.: Which is a good place to start. Within my LinkedIn profile I’ve got my email address. So if they’re interested in what they read and the profile and what they’ve heard on this podcast, then there’s an easy way to contact me through my email address. Of course I’ll respond. That’s what I do.
Luis: I will leave it at that. Make sure to check out Murray on LinkedIn. Murray, thank you so much for coming. It was an absolute pleasure.
Murray J.: It’s a pleasure.
Luis: And so we close another episode of The Distant Job podcast and if you enjoyed the episode, please, you can help us out by sharing it on social media. That would be great. It’s how we reach more listeners and the more listeners we have, the more awesome guests I can get in touch and convinced to participate in these conversations that are a joy to have for me, and I hope they’re a joy for you to listen to as well. You can also help a lot leaving reviews on iTunes or your podcast syndication service of choice. Reviews are surprisingly helpful in helping the podcast get to more listeners.
Luis: Now, another thing that you might want to do is go to distantjob.com/blog/podcast. Click on your favorite episode, any episode really, and subscribe. By subscribing, you will get a notification whenever a new episode is up, and whenever we get the transcripts of the episode up, so you can actually peruse the conversations in text form.
Luis: And of course if you need to find a great employee for your team, a great remote employee, you should take the whole world into consideration and not just look to hire locally, not just look to hire in your country. Look around the whole world because that’s the talent pool that contains the best talent. To help you with that, again, distantjob.com is the perfect place to start. You will tell us who you need and we will make sure that you get the best possible candidate 40% faster than the industry standard. And with that, I bid you adieu. See you next week on the next episode of The Distant Job podcast.
In this podcast episode, coach Murray Johnstone explains how to manage remote leaders for the distributed team to shine. His view on managing virtual teams is to focus on getting strong links with remote employees and get the team connected with the business.