In Episode 5, I speak with world class leadership consultant, Dave Llewellyn, Partner at LeadCI. Dave explains how LeadCI helps fix problems for leaders, the importance of strong organisational culture, what it is, and how effective leadership is crucial in culture building. You need to get this right before growing and scaling.
Mark Engelmann: Alright, welcome to today's episode of "The Go For Growth Show", my name's Mark Engelmann and I'm your host today. On today's show we've got David Llewelyn the managing partner from Lead C.I. consulting business.
Dave, welcome to the show!
David Llewellyn: Thanks, Mark.
Mark Engelmann: Look, Dave, let's get straight into it. Can you tell me a little bit about what Lead C.I. does?
David Llewellyn: Sure, well, we've got a broad range of capabilities, Mark. But you know, as the owner of a business, or potentially a senior leader in business, there's always something that just isn't going quite the way you want it to and either you're not sure how to deal with it, or you're just not getting to it.
Well, that's where we come in.
Mark Engelmann: K, great. And, you know, I know you pretty well personally, I know you've had a pretty long and varied career to date, can you tell me a little bit about how you came up with the idea of Lead C.I.?
David Llewellyn: Yeah, well, I'll try and keep it short, but it is a bit of a long tale. But, I left a long corporate career in a large Australian firm about 8 years ago. And I, I was really not doing much and on a fishing trip I met a couple of guys who asked me to do some consulting, with them. And it turned out to be largely overseas, and largely in the leadership space.
During that time, I spent a lot of time in Houston. I ran into another Australian guy, who was about my age and had a similar history to me, and over a bunch of dinners we kind of agreed that we had the similar view on, and a passion for, driving continuous improvement. Improving performance in organisations, developing leaders, and creating change. Like, that's the sort of thing that we like to do.
And when we got back to Australia and sort of settled back in and started to build our own businesses back here, we got together and we developed Lead C.I. and ya know, Lead C.I. and it stays after it "leaders in continuous improvement", it's a bit of a play on words because we feel that we are leaders in continuous improvement. With all our collective experience and the other consultants we have working with us now, with all their experience. But also, we think that's where leaders just should be. We think, ya know, leaders should just need to live in continuous improvement. If they're not, you've got a question, well, why do we need them?
So, it’s about taking businesses forward.
Mark Engelmann: Yeah, great. And, just generally how would you describe the organisations Lead C.I. typically works with?
David Llewellyn: Yeah, it's a massive variation, Mark. We don't niche on industry, per se, or size of company. What we niche on is, is what we do. And I said before that, you know we like to get in and help companies whose senior leaders or owners have something that they think could be running better and are just not getting to it.
That's the same for every consulting business. What we like to think that we do differently, is we actually don't do the work. We go in and facilitate for the people in the business to learn the craft of driving improvement so that when we leave they're equipped to be able to do that in the future.
So, that's our niche. And we work with startups, single one-man-bands, entrepreneurs whose organisations have grown really quickly and the growth is just stalled. We also do some work with large, quite large, you know, publicly listed companies working in small parts of their business to drive improvements.
Mark Engelmann: Yeah great. And, I guess you kind of answered this question just in that response but ... can you drill down a little bit more on what some of those patterns and common challenges you see your customers having?
David Llewellyn: Yeah, that yeah, that's a good question. And, I think that probably when we arrive, or are referred in, or we get to start talking to someone in an organisation, one of the things that strikes us the most is that, people are just making do. You know what I mean? Normally when we arrive the issue or the areas of improvement that they want to work on didn't just emerge in the last 24 hours. It's been going on for some time and they've been doing whatever they can, hobbling stuff together with the capabilities that they've got in their business and just getting by. And so that's probably the first thing we notice. And what they, I guess they don't realise, is that help is out there. They also probably, and we're not sure about this, but, we think that they feel a little bit nervous to ask. So, that's the first thing we notice.
But another common challenge we see, is with organisations who are in their growth phase, after they've been a startup, they've grown quite well, they've been though a few valleys of death, where profitability has waned a little bit. And, they might have the most inspiring vision. They might have the most inspiring owner/entrepreneur/leader. They might have a great strategic plan. They might have great products and services. But, they hit a stage where they've grown to a stage where the owner steps away from the coal face. And what they're now left with, is that their fate now sits with the managers, middle managers, and front line managers who are trying to drive people forward and trying to drive the business forward, and they may not have the skills to actually execute the strategy.
So, that's a real problem because you can't go back. It's impossible at that stage for that inspiring leader or owner to go back and step into that coal face and sometimes they try to and sometimes they hope that their skills and their infectiousness and their inspiration just wears off on their people, but it just doesn't work that way.
Mark Engelmann: Mmm.
David Llewellyn: So, at that point, we talk about valleys of death, well this is an awful one because this is really people just can't see a way through it. Um, so that's one of the common things that we see and we're certainly coming across when we're working with entrepreneurs.
The good news is for them is that all of the things that they need, that their front line managers and middle managers need to execute on strategy, it's all teachable. It's not stuff that you have to be born with.
Some people are born with those skills but some of it's teachable and that's probably, that's probably the best message is that, you can get through that. So, yeah, that's, I suppose that's the answer to my question, that's one of the things we see emerge a lot.
Mark Engelmann: Yeah, great. And so, you know we get a few people on this show who specialise in various sorts of, I guess, business functions you know from marketing and finance, operations that kind of thing I guess I've always seen your specialty in that leadership and culture piece. How does, that training address those challenges that you just mentioned?
David Llewellyn: Yeah, OK good. You're right we, there are a bunch of other technical areas that need to get right and we have some capabilities in that space but we think our sweet spot, clearly, is in this leadership and culture space. Probably, because it is so critical.
Well, let me also just say that we do do some training but we are not a training organisation. Often, our solution will include a component of training by necessity. My, our belief is the training in and of itself actually doesn't work. It's when you train people and then you follow it up afterwards with coaching that actually makes a big difference.
So, how does it address it? Well, what we normally do with an organisation is we take them aside at the senior level for a start and just be really clear what this strategy is and the issues that they have.
What we then do is we develop, help and develop a vision for what does it look like on the other side of this issue when it gets better. And what are the strategies that need to be put in place to get them through that.
What we then do, is we use that as a vehicle for developing the leaders in the business. So, the training, if there is training to teach them some frameworks and techniques it's fine, but it's all put into practical application on the strategy of the business.
So, in doing that not only can you resolve some of the issues that the business is confronted with, but you're actually leaving the business with the capabilities to do it again in the future.
Mark Engelmann: Yeah, great. And um, I guess you know, before you mentioned that sometimes these culture, issues, problems have been in these businesses and organisations for quite a long time so I imagine it's not as easy as just going and doing a quick half a day, or three day, or five day workshop with all the staff and then expecting everything to be rosy. That you actually have to do that ongoing sort of, conditioning I guess, overtime to improve the culture and get those productivity gains.
David Llewellyn: Yeah, you're right. It's not, some people say "can you come in and fix our culture? And we'd like it done by next Thursday." And it doesn't actually it doesn't quite work like that. It can, and there's no telling how long it will take because at the end of the day the senior leaders or the owners of the business need to really buy in and support what we do. The more support we get from the leader or the owner of the business, the probably, the less time we need to be there. And so we like to make it lightest touch as possible going forward. But, yeah, you're right it, some of these skills for frontline and middle managers and the skills are driving culture, defining and driving culture, they can't be learned overnight. You know, it's normally a process of teaching them some techniques and frameworks but then coming back and then coaching them through that in practical application on the job. That can take a number of weeks or months.
Mark Engelmann: Yeah, great. Another question I wanted to ask you, Dave, is that you know, I speak with a lot of people, lot of business people, and you know the focus tends to always, in terms of growing their business, tends to always be on things like sales funnels and in-depth marketing, new technology to streamline processes and systems and all of those sorts of things. And I think, leadership and culture's often overlooked as a growth driver in a business. Probably because, I don't know businesses either think it is too hard cause it involves dealing with people or you know, we generally think that, these things are under control. How does a business know if it has leadership or culture issues?
David Llewellyn: Yeah, that's a good question, Mark. And I wanna start answering that question by just talking briefly about the word, culture. Because it's possibly one of the most misused or misunderstood words. Certainly from a corporate perspective or a business. Some people think that culture is how happy their people are. Well, I understand that is important. Really important. And if you don't have happy people they're not going to support their customers very well. And that's quite clearly born out in research. But it's not just that. Culture actually, in a business sense, is a collective set of values and beliefs which drives a pattern of behaviours. And those behaviours are actually what define the culture. If those behaviours are there all the time and if you like are self-managed by the people within that culture then you know you have something that you have a culture.
Is the result happy people? Often it is. I've got no problems with that. But what's important is that that culture or that collective set of values and beliefs and behaviours needs to be such that it will support the strategy and success and that's when you know. So, once you understand this direct causality between culture and performance well it's really easy then. Because the way you tell whether you've got a cultural leadership issue, is, you look at those things. You look at whether the strategy is being executed and if deadlines are being missed. That's one sure sign.
The other one is: if the companies not performing well, when they actually should be. You know, they've got a great product and services. They've got plenty of opportunities in their market and they're not performing well, that's a really good sign.
Another sign is oscillating or varying results. Good month, bad month. Great quarter, bad quarter. That's another really clear sign that culture, the formula for success either isn't known or isn't being put into place regularly and habitually and hasn't just become the way we do things around here.
So, there's some really clear indicators for us if there's a cultural leadership issue and it will almost always be the case if you're seeing those things. Of course there's other ones which, follow that which is unhappy people and misconduct issues.
But, you know that's really when you've got real problems.
Mark Engelmann: Mmm. The thing I like about, what you just said then, Dave, is you sort of, are kind of talking about culture as being a system in a sense or a process. And I think a lot of people don't think about culture like that because they think about well culture equals people and people are chaotic, I guess, and unpredictable.
Can you tell me a little bit about that sort of system process thinking that sits behind your idea of culture?
David Llewellyn: Yeah, sure. So, let's start with if you don't have that in place. If you haven't got a way of thinking about culture in an organisation and defining it and going after it. Then what you are, what you almost always will have is a culture, which is a reflection of the values and unconscious biases of the most visible senior leader. So, what that visible senior leaders likes, dislikes, what they should pay attention to, don't pay attention to, actually finds it's way into the culture. That's why often really inspiring people and entrepreneurs who start their business, they actually have a great culture. Because, it's a reflection of them. But then they step away from the coal face, and now no longer the most visible present leader.
So, what they're left with is a bunch of subcultures emerging, which is based on those values and unconscious biases of the leaders that they leave in place behind them. Now is the time that you've got to define your culture and then go after it. So, yes it is a process, and it starts with defining what is the culture that we need and what are the elements in that culture that we need to support our strategy. And then, putting in place some leadership techniques and frameworks to actually go after it. It's very difficult to explain that, what that process is in a meeting like this. But, it's quite clear, when people see it for the first time and see the map. They just shake their head and go "why weren't we doing this all along?"
Mark Engelmann: Yeah, great, great. And it seems to me from what you've said and from, certainly from my experience, that, you know if you think about all of the different growth drivers in the business, none of them really mean much unless you've got that leadership and culture piece sort of, as a foundation and working really well for you.
David Llewellyn: Yeah, that's right. You can work on all of the things that you've mentioned before: sales funnels, processes, systems, all that sort of thing, they're all important and we do work in that space. They're all critical, but unless you've got that leadership they won't go very far. The people in the business that can drive change. So, but yeah, it is a foundation.
Mark Engelmann: Great. And I guess my last question to wrap up today, Dave, is what is your best tip for businesses looking to take on the next stage of growth or improve how they're doing things?
David Llewellyn: Okay, so, well first of all, help is out there. So, that's one of the first things. But, I would suggest probably the most important thing that you can do is take some time out of your business with your senior leaders and some really high performing trusted people from every level of the organisation, a minimum of a day, possibly two days to, and that's an investment I understand that. But to stop and think about where the business has come from. What they’ve learnt, where it's going, what you'd like to achieve over the next little while, and how you're going to pull that apart and come up with a plan to do it.
Once you go through that process, the rest of it's possible.
So, that's my first tip. Is to actually spend the time to step aside and determine what your strategy is.
Mark Engelmann: Yeah, great.
David Llewellyn: Oh by the way, have it facilitated by someone.
Mark Engelmann: Maybe by someone like yourself?
Mark Engelmann: Alright that's great, Dave I really enjoyed that interview today. Thanks for coming onto the show.
David Llewellyn: My pleasure, Mark.
Mark Engelmann: And I'll talk to you soon.