A few words with… David Meade
18 Sep 18
Consultant, mind reader and keynote speaker at the ACT Annual Conference, David Meade talks to The Treasurer about how to influence others and effect change
Many corporates are adept at recruiting talented and professional individuals; and most individuals operate effectively day-to-day within the parameters of their roles. But what happens when organisations – or treasury functions – need to shake things up?
Influencing individuals and effecting changes, large or small, are among the most commonplace but intransient problems in management. For David Meade, the question of how organisations get individuals to meaningfully engage their time and attention with a change agenda has been a perennial focus. Meade is a business consultant and former university lecturer with an international blue-chip clientele. He is also a mind reader – or mentalist – and broadcaster, who performs to sell-out audiences. In his research work at Ulster University, he has investigated how high-performing teams, individuals and organisations operate compared to less effective ones. Appearing as a keynote speaker at the ACT Annual Conference in Liverpool in May 2018, he provided delegates with an entertaining primer on how to influence others – how to increase the ability to engage those around them and embrace change.
Meade’s presentation at the conference focused on some quick wins around influencing desirable outputs from colleagues. “Influence is simpler than you think,” he told delegates, before going on to address questions such as where to position the choice you want people to make in a list of options (three is always the magic number, he revealed); whether to set out a task another person won’t want to undertake as a first or second option (delivering it first is more likely to elicit a “yes”, since giving bad news early builds trust); and why you should emphasise the dangers of not taking a particular option rather than trying to sell the benefits (bad news is “delicious” to humans, Meade said, and selling losses or dangers of not following a particular path is much more likely to elicit a “yes”).
Picking up on the theme with The Treasurer, Meade explains that, in essence, change programmes, of whatever magnitude, require acts of persuasion and influence on a grand scale. However, while senior management teams and boards must thoroughly own the overall direction and strategic vision behind a change programme, individual employees need to understand each stage of the process and their own involvement in detail. “They need that vision broken down into digestible chunks. Often, leaders forget the basics of communication and try and sell a change programme by vision alone. They overlook and underestimate the importance of selling the detail of how change will be delivered,” says Meade. “At grass-roots levels, individuals are focused on the day-to-day and want to understand the next tasks, the bite-sized elements of their role. Relying solely on the vision or five-year strategy is ineffective, because everyone feels like someone else is responsible. Change is iterative and needs to be expressed at an individual level, so people understand the steps they need to take.”
Organisations that effect change programmes well have a clear distinguishing mark. “The single most effective driver of change is co-authorship – giving a real participative voice to all members of your organisation,” says Meade. “It is very easy to say your people should have a voice, but failing to ensure that that is the case is the most common mistake organisations make when they embark on a change programme.”
What this means in practice is giving individuals genuine responsibility. “It starts with empowering people to make good decisions. Every employee should be operating as if they were running their own business, with reasonable responsibility for their own budgets, outcomes and targets,” Meade argues.
To demonstrate the effectiveness of co-authorship as a means of bringing about change, he describes one law firm client that issued a challenge to its employees. “They asked how they might collectively arrive at a four-day week and they found that people came to work with a completely different focus, so 90-minute meetings became 20 minutes in length and, in fact, all meetings and conferences were reduced in length.”
The senior management team also empowered its people to be decision-makers, running their own area of responsibility as if they were a business owner. The newly focused firm became 30% more effective as a result, and enjoyed a newly embedded sense of shared responsibility. “If there were crises or issues that came to a head, they found that employees would double down to address them. This is the psychological phenomenon of reciprocity: if we feel we’ve been given to, we’re hardwired to give back.”
Handing over decision-making to individuals and getting their input on how to effect changes does not mean that managers and boards can abdicate their own responsibilities. Co-authorship does come with certain watch points, says Meade.
Where people do take independent actions, they should be celebrated, and leaders should avoid falling into the trap of taking quiet credit for the achievements of others. “Bringing ideas forward can represent a big risk for the individual, so it is essential they feel empowered to do that.”
Leaders also need to analyse mindset, he says. “Essentially, there are two kinds. A fixed mindset says I can only achieve x, so that person spends all week ticking those boxes, self-monitoring and living within self-imposed expectations. There may be a tendency for finance professionals to say ‘we’re good with numbers, but we don’t do presentations; we help others to do that’, for instance. A growth mindset takes a ‘yes, and…’ approach. These individuals seek out failures and see them as learning opportunities. Our role in management is to set big, audacious goals, because people will live up or down to our expectations.”
About the author
Liz Loxton is editor of The Treasurer