Taboo subjects

In his penultimate feature former Hasbro international president Simon Gardner looks at some ways to increase efficiency as a manager and a motivator, while avoiding some taboo behavioural practices?.
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The game of Taboo is all about discovering a particular word whilst avoiding certain related words. Imagine describing the guess word ‘memo’ whilst being unable to use the words ‘reminder’, ‘note’, ‘office’, ‘write’ and ‘message’. These taboos are always carefully constructed to make achieving the goal a real challenge.
In this month’s feature I want to focus not so much on industry strategies and insights, but look more towards Personal Effectiveness and share from my experience seven taboos that I believe undermine our personal effectiveness and contribution.

So now let’s play the game of Taboo using the word ‘ineffective’ as our guess word at the top of the card. What might be the related words or taboos that would be associated with this word?

Ineffective – seven taboos to avoid
• ‘Controlling’

It’s a shame that over the last few years the word empowerment has been so over used and abused, as it does lie at the heart of some of the issues many of us face in working with over-controlling and interfering leaders and managers. We have all met the DIY boss who wants to control everything, and although superficially seems to be delegating, is in reality not letting go of anything at all.

Some of this is a delicate balance between actively managing and over-controlling. The difference is whether a leader is supporting and releasing individuals, or in reality is not giving people the freedom to experiment, explore, develop and grow.

The great thing about the toy business is that it is not a science with absolute rules of success and we have the wonderful opportunity to allow everyone to explore and express ideas and possibilities – but within a firm framework, thus enabling others to develop and truly contribute.

Another way of looking at this is that many leaders do other people’s jobs because they haven’t yet discovered what leadership is all about so they fall back into the comfort zone of doing what they did on their way up the hierarchy.
• Chaotic

I have been amazed over the years with all the varying characters I have known how many of them work in a totally chaotic manner. This results in them always being late for, or cancelling meetings, they are always in a panic or a rush, and often display high levels of stress that spill over to others and it clearly affects their ability to achieve.

We are all very busy, but we don’t need to be busy fools.

It is worth asking yourself the question, what level of chaos do you display to your colleagues and business partners?

It is also true that many of us have met very busy people who are highly effective, who always seem to have time for you, displaying a cool, calm approach to their business style. How might we capture some of this?

o Regular and proactive management of the diary is fundamental. This means sitting down each day and reviewing a three month horizon on your diary, working back from critical deadlines and dates to actively plan time to fulfil these obligations – it means inserting specific time to do important things so they don’t get crowded out by events that simply take over. The old saying, “It’s all about managing the important rather than the urgent” rings true.

o Walk, don’t run – be more cognisant about the pace you set for yourself and others.

o Use the resources available to help you manage your time. For some this means sitting down with their PA and/or colleagues very regularly to develop an appropriate time plan – the old stitch in time syndrome works. For others it means taking full advantage of software packages and diary planning aids.

• Avoiding

Very few of us enjoy confrontation or facing a difficult issue head on. It is always easier to ignore the problem, hope it will somehow resolve itself or will move on enough for it not to be a real issue.

I have faced many circumstances which have been difficult ranging from lay-offs, legal issues, man management challenges, abusive behaviour and personal crises. My natural inclination has always been to hope things will simply get better and the crisis will be averted without my direct intervention. However, I was helped immensely by working with a particular colleague who simply confronted tough issues head-on with courage and sensitivity whenever they arose. It was an example to me and taught me that tough issues have to be addressed – they don’t go away. They often get worse if left alone and furthermore it is more honest and fairer on the individuals involved to get the issue on the table.

Ask yourself an honest question, what issues are you currently avoiding? Are there issues you are hiding from that you know are sapping effectiveness?

• Unbalanced

Many of us will remember the tag line ‘A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play’. I’m not sure our five-a-day nutritionists would support this concept now but I can certainly agree with the sentiment. Finding a better balance between work, rest and play is I believe critical to being effective.

Once again we can all point to examples of where individuals or organisations lack good work life balance, in fact, most of the toy industry is full of workaholics. However, it is harder to identify or know when a positive work life balance is being achieved. I was very fortunate in my career at Hasbro to work with a company that had the philosophy of ‘work hard, play hard. I am a firm believer in this type of culture but it doesn’t happen by accident. Individuals and/or organisations have to proactively facilitate it. At Hasbro we developed Summer Hours which then led to Hasbro Hours - re-orientating work hours to be more flexible to provide Friday afternoon’s off. Casual dress was introduced a few years back along with Give as you Earn schemes, allowing employees time off to work in the community, and many other holistic initiatives.

Often people’s initial reaction to these types of initiatives are concerns over productivity and abuse of the system. I have to say in my experience the overall benefits have more than outweighed any minor issues.

Furthermore, we have a personal responsibility to manage our time and lifestyle to create better work life balance. My own experience has been that the best way to counter excessive travel and a highly demanding job is to have an equal and opposite force of a highly demanding family life and an alternative musical career to counter the stress of the one dimensional and blinkered disposition of the workaholic.

• Compromise

We have all been in an interview where we have been asked to describe ourselves in a few words and the sort of response that trips off the tongue is often ‘hard-working, creative, team player, and competent’ - these attributes are somewhat technical and can be examined and measured. Words like ‘trustworthy, open, honest, secure and reliable’ are less typical and less quantifiable. However, in my experience these softer attributes and qualities can often be more important and make for highly effective individuals.

Although these personal characteristics are more fundamental to our make-up and can’t be necessarily trained, it is about how high we set our standards and how we as individuals adopt a code of personal integrity and transparency in all that we do.

Again, we have all come across leaders that have double-standards, show favouritism, take short-cuts, bend the rules and are deceptive for short term gain, but in the long term this behaviour only cultivates a lack of respect and trust and develops a culture that does not ring true.

Highly effective individuals in my experience always display integrity and a respect borne out of refusing to lower their standards and take the easy road of the short cut.

• Self-Interested

We too often correlate effective individuals with people who have got the most to say.

Let’s not confuse quality with quantity, and let’s not make the mistake of so liking the sound of our own voice that we fail to hear the ideas and contributions of others. The art of being a good listener does not come easy to many individuals.

Finding the ability to be truly interested in others’ opinions, being able to draw them out and encourage open debate and the creation of many possibilities is an art to be cultivated.

The best way of looking at this is not to think of it in terms of extremes, i.e. Being a good listener versus being a good communicator/contributor, but seeing it in terms of the ‘and’ - being a good listener and a good communicator/contributor.

• Bland

I love the strap line of the Bratz dolls ... A Passion for Fashion! It makes me think about what passions we display in our business life. I truly believe that effective individuals should have a passion, have an angle, have a stance that governs a lot of what they do and drives them towards their goal.

I will never forgot when John Harper joined Hasbro UK following a period when the UK company had gone through a particularly hard time with the whole OFT investigation and had consequently become very internally focused and insular. On virtually John’s first day he announced to the company that he was going to spend at least 1 day a week out and about with customers and in the retail environment, and that his expectation was that every member of the sales and marketing department would be out and about more than him.

This wasn’t a soundbite, this was a passion. Through John’s stance and determination the company swiftly turned out on itself and once again discovered a customer-centric way of doing business.

Others I have worked with have had a passion for creativity, a passion for possibilities, and a passion for getting things right first time.

Ask yourself the question, what passions do you display? What is your stance? What are the things that others would say sum you up?

Until recently Simon Gardner was President of Hasbro Europe and the Chief Marketing Officer of Hasbro Inc. Having experienced the highs and lows of the toy industry for over 20 years, Simon recently made the decision to use his experience and expertise in the wider world of consulting both within, and outside of the industry.
His primary activities are intellectual property and brand development where he is helping companies take the raw ingredients of good ideas and helping to shape them with his knowledge of building global brands, major licensing and entertainment deals. He is also helping companies find new ways to innovate in both product and process, and providing leadership mentoring and personal coaching.
Simon can be contacted on or 0791 7773850.



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