Dame Mary Marsh

How to motivate your team…Lorraine Heggessey style

Last week Paul Webster (@watfordgap to the twitterati amongst you) & I were lucky enough to take a day out to represent Learning Pool at the Skills Third Sector conference.  The headline theme of the day was Our People, Our Skills, Our Future and we were keen to share with others what we’ve been working on for the past few years in other parts of the public sector.

Dame Mary Marsh addressing the Skills Third Sector Conference

Dame Mary Marsh of the Clore Social Leadership Programme was one of the keynote speakers.  Those of you who are familiar with the voluntary sector will be aware that Dame Mary has recently been appointed by the Cabinet Office to lead a review of leadership and skills which is due to be delivered in Spring 2013.  I was very encouraged that she spoke about now being a time for the sector to be bold and have the courage to do things differently and in a more entrepreneurial way.  Indeed, in a nutshell the key strands of the day that everyone kept returning to were:

  • the sector needs to invest in upskilling its people
  • better use can be made of technology to do things differently and in a more cost effective way
  • an opportunity exists to share more stuff both across the voluntary sector and between different sectors.



Nick Hurd, Minister for Civil Society

We listened to Nick Hurd (a man who has so far been a banker and an MP and who fears he may end up as a journalist or an estate agent) tell us about how he believes the sector must bring in more people with business skills as trustees.  He also made the very sensible observation that everything is always about the people and that leadership is especially important in times of significant change.  I was especially pleased to hear him suggest that the sector should take time to seek what is already out there and make use of it.  I have a dread of organisations or indeed entire sectors reinventing the wheel over & over again, simply because they haven’t taken the time to have a good look at what already exists – let’s face it – we’ve all seen that happen time & time again.

Later in the day Lord Victor Adebowale warned us that 88% of public sector cuts are still to come and he talked about the importance of collaboration and sharing learning across sectors.  Music to our ears.

Lorraine Heggessey, impressive career woman & role model


The speaker I really enjoyed, however, was Lorraine Heggessey, former BBC1 controller and the first woman to ever hold this post (despite the obvious handicaps of not being male, tall or having an Oxbridge background).  Lorraine talked to us about how managers & leaders can motivate their teams and make people feel valued in what they are doing.  These were a few of her suggestions and observations:

  • Think of your people as “talent” in the way that tv does and remember that talent is needy – Lorraine should know as Simon Cowell and Lord Sugar are just a couple of the people she’s had to work with
  • Remember that telepathy doesn’t work as a management tool, you have to rely on communication (Lorraine told us a story about how a colleague used to constantly arrive late for work & then spend 30 minutes chatting to her friend on the phone; her manager tried to deal with the situation by glaring at her & rolling her eyes, hoping she would take the hint.  Eventually the manager lost her temper and there was a big row.  The person simply said “you should’ve said” and from that moment onwards behaved at work in the way expected of her)
  • As a manager your behaviour is observed and noted – people in your team watch who you pay attention to & who you don’t pay attention to – it is noticed so be aware of that.
  • Greg Dyke ran a “cut the crap” programme at the BBC and asked staff what they wanted to change.  They said they wanted to stop tolerating maverick & diva behaviour from people in the team who won awards and critical acclaim.  They became known as the Bafta Bastards.  Greg tackled the issue & some of those people left the BBC.  So – think about who you are rewarding.  Every organisation has its stars but if you don’t manage & reward them carefully, you too could end up with a team of BBs
  • Watch out for people in the team falling out of someone’s favour & becoming “not very good” – it might be because they’ve been badly managed & demoralised.  Lorraine told us about how the BBC had a culture of not confronting poor performance but how managers would instead pass the person on to someone else.  All of us have seen that happen.  Better to address the root cause of any issue.
  • Manage by walking about – if you don’t spend time with your team you can’t manage them
  • Employ the best, not the easiest
  • Always employ people smarter than you when you get a chance
  • Spot when your people need to be challenged – if you don’t provide your team members with challenge they will get bored and leave.

Lorraine left us with a quote that I love “Everybody has a lot to learn from everybody”.  She also told us that she became a much better manager once she was a mother.

Fortunately, most of us are lucky enough not to work in environments like the BBC but still some good learns from Lorraine’s talk that are appropriate to most workplaces and teams.

Lorraine & Lord Victor finished by challenging the conference to start a movement to rename “the Third Sector” and to call it something else.  I’d be interested in hearing any suggestions you have in the comments below.  I know this has been a recurring theme for some years but maybe now is the right time to change to something more positive.