Malcolm In Conversation With Amber Sherlock

Malcolm Dawes, Australia’s most sought-after authority on people performance and effectiveness for senior executives is interviewed by television news presenter and reporter Amber Sherlock of TV’s Nine News. They discuss the success he’s had in his career, his book, Team Performance: Why Can’t We All Get Along? and why he wrote the book.


Amber Sherlock: I’m Amber Sherlock and welcome to the Trusted Authority Alliance Experts Series Show. We’re here today with Malcolm Dawes. Malcolm is The Most Sought-After Authority on People Performance and Effectiveness. Malcolm’s experience has been drawn from a passion for helping people get along and work more effectively. In Team Performance: Why Can’t We All Get Along?, Malcolm activates his passion for getting people to understand each other, thus, tapping into their true potential and energising their business. Welcome to the show, Malcolm.

Malcolm Dawes: Thank you. Amber.

Amber Sherlock: Can you share with our audience a little bit about your story and success that you’ve had in your career?

Malcolm Dawes: Yes. I started my career as a nurse actually for eight years back in the UK. And I realised I wasn’t going to get any further in that career for all sorts of different reasons, I’ve moved into the pharmaceutical industry. It was there in various different roles and an outsourcing, which was outsourcing to the Pharma Industry. So I did sales, marketing, and training. And that’s really where my passion has been for a long time. Came to Australia in 2000 with an organisation I worked for in the UK. And again did a couple of different roles, but primarily, in that learning and development space, which is again, when I was able to continue my passion of helping people in the learning space. And then 2003, I went back to the UK as a franchise partner of DTA worldwide, which is the business that I now run. And that’s been going since 1982 but I bought it back in 2008 and continue to work with organisations on that sort of training and development front.

Amber Sherlock: So why did you decide to write this book?

Malcolm Dawes: Well in my career I guess I’ve come along, come across all sorts of different situations. And perhaps unwittingly had spotted the good and the bad and the best and the worst managers and leaders. And I thought, well, there must be other people out there who’ve experienced that and maybe there are managers and leaders now who perhaps struggle a little bit with how to get a team to work together because I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of good and bad managers. And so I thought, well, what is it that makes the difference between those good and bad people? And I sort of thought about that. And at the end of the day it’s just being able to get along with somebody and understanding them. So the sort of passion about wanting to help other managers and leaders to do that was what caused me to write the book I guess.

Amber Sherlock: So who specifically is the book for?

Malcolm Dawes: It’s for, I would say the informal way to describe those people, as the ones that feel the pain when things go wrong. The more formal way is to say, I guess the senior managers, the senior executives who are responsible for creating and maintaining high performing teams. But it really is those people that when things aren’t going right, they are the ones that feel the heat and feel the pain and had the sleepless nights to try and resolve what the issue is.

Amber Sherlock: What would you like some of the big ideas that you would like your readers to take away from this book?

Malcolm Dawes: Well I think the book looks at 10 myths. Things that managers, and I’ve been a manager of people myself, and made the same mistakes. It’s the 10 things that we try and do to get teams to work together, which fail. A quick example would be a lot of managers think, let’s get the team to work together. We want them to collaborate and to work with each other. So we’ll take them 10-pin bowling. So everybody goes 10-pin bowling. And of course if you’ve played 10-pin bowling yourself, it’s a competitive game. So they put the team on different lanes and of course the teams are shouting at each other, “we’re going to beat you.” So how does that actually bring people together?

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t play 10-pin bowling as a good team building exercise, but it’s not an exercise which gets people to understand each other. So really the key message is how do people in an organisation, in a team, whether that’s the senior management team or a functional operational team, how do they understand each other? What can we do to work more effectively together? So the book focuses on what not to do and really therefore what should you do? And that is about having people who collaborate, understand how to communicate, know how to deal with conflict and confrontation in the workplace and how to have a culture of feedback in an organisation or a team.

Amber Sherlock: So how will your book make an impact on your reader and help them?

Malcolm Dawes: I think the experiences I’ve had so far on the experiences that my clients have had in reading the book is that it resonates with them. These are common issues. One of the biggest challenges I think is that in organisations, people will be trained on how to do their functional role well, how to sell, how to run a marketing campaign, but people aren’t trained or developed as to how to work with other people. So I think that’s the one of the key things, is to look at that aspect instead.

Amber Sherlock:  Can you share one or two success stories of clients that you’ve worked with who have actually followed your approach?

Malcolm Dawes: There’s several, but one that springs to mind would be an organisation which is in the cinema industry. There was a team of maybe 60 people altogether and headed up by a guy who had eight direct reports. So he was the head of the IT department, that’s what is called it. And he contacted me because he was having some issues with these people. And he gave me some examples and as many workplaces are these days, they’re open plan. And he described at least two of his quite senior managers shouting at each other in the open-plan office and disagreeing. And so what sort of message does that send to their teams? Not only that, one of those managers also over a period of nine months lost every person in his team. So the senior manager, the head of IT asked me, well, what do I do about this? Because these people are great. They’re great at what they do functionally, but they are dysfunctional as a management team. And as a consequence, their people who report to them are also dysfunctional because they witness this going on all the time. So my approach was to work with them and one of the things that we do is to get them to understand by using a diagnostic tool, what their leadership competencies are. And the gentleman I mentioned who lost all of his team in a nine month period had some of the lowest scores I’ve ever seen. But that creates then for us and for the team, a benchmark of what they need to do to improve and to put things right. So the example there of that cinema group was we worked with that team. We help them to understand exactly why these issues occurred.

And it came down to not understanding each other, different behaviours. The chap who lost his team was very direct. So if somebody didn’t do their job properly, he would tell them rather than asking them how they could do differently and how they could improve. We actually did a workshop on interpersonal skills. One of the key things that helps people to understand each other is the behaviours that they have. And the guy that lost his whole team wrote an email to his boss and said, I wasn’t going to turn up this morning, but I’m so pleased I did because I now understand how I am wired to behave the way I do, but more importantly what I need to do differently. And that was a great success story because then that cascaded through other parts of that business because not surprisingly, that issue was common across the organisation. And it often is because it starts at the top.

Amber Sherlock: When you’re selecting a client to want to work with, what is some of the criteria that you’re looking for?

Malcolm Dawes: When selecting the clients? I guess the thing is that the people that I work with have to believe two things. One is they have to believe there’s a problem and they have to recognise it. And second thing, is that they really have to believe it’s down to how they work with their people that puts it right. Because if they don’t believe that and they think it’s something which is a bit abstract, then that client won’t be the right fit for what I do. And those clients that have worked with me over the years have, you know, there’s been several success stories, which is great, but those clients have to really understand themselves possibly and this can be a really challenging thing for them. It’s possibly down to them to put it right. In other words, it all starts at the top. Somebody once said, I think a fish rots from the head down.

Amber Sherlock: So what do you think some of the biggest challenges that you face now or in the future?

Malcolm Dawes: There are two key challenges. I think one is the fact that the training industry is so fragmented. So consequently people look at training as being just that, just training. And I often differentiate between what I do, which is to develop people from training. That might sound like I’m playing with words, but training really is about giving people direction and telling them how to do something. You know, do this, do that, practice it, get it wrong, I’ll teach you how to do it better again and so on. Whereas development and the things that I do is to try and work with people that have already got some skills and want to improve them. I mean, DTA for example, the name of my business means developing the achievers. So I work with, people are already achieving and I’m trying to develop them further so that they can stay one step ahead of the game, if you like. So the fragmentation means that everybody sees training as being one in the same, when in fact there’s different aspects to what I do to what maybe some other trainers do.

The second thing I think really is around the advent of technology. It’s a great thing now that we’ve got access to anything we want online. I lived through the advent of what used to be CD-ROM training and those sorts of things which was essentially a word document on a screen, but it was the best thing ever. Now we’ve got fantastic interactive modules that people can learn from and that’s great. However, the things that I do don’t lend themselves to that technological approach because understanding people, understanding how to communicate, how to resolve conflict, it doesn’t necessarily get learned very easily by reading something off a screen or doing an interactive thing with an animation. It requires us as people to sit with each other, to see the body language, to understand the nuances of the behaviours that we have, and to actually ask each other questions about why do you see that in that way? What do I need to do differently to help you? So I think the challenges for, again, for people to understand that technology definitely has a place, but that needs to be blended with something which is more face to face and in an environment where people can actually challenge each other, which isn’t necessarily easy, but that’s what makes us grow and makes us develop.

Amber Sherlock: What would you say is the single best piece of advice that you’d give to your clients?

Malcolm Dawes: The single best piece of advice, I guess, really is to understand each other, to get people to understand each other. I had a client just very recently who all of a sudden dawned on him that what he had been doing wasn’t necessarily the right thing. And he came back into the room when I was having a meeting with him and he said, it’s just dawned on me. I need to understand people. I said, I’ve been telling you that for six months now. We’ve made great headway into the work that we were doing, but it was the, it was the dawning realisation to him that now I understand why this person behaves the way they do and this person behaves the way they do.

And equally as importantly, the way I behave towards them as well. And so, you know, if there was to be one phrase, it would be understand how to work with each other.

Amber Sherlock: What would you say is the most fulfilling aspect of the work that you do?

Malcolm Dawes: It’s the satisfaction of seeing how business has changed. It’s what drives me to get out of bed in the morning and go to work. When I see organisations, such as the cinema example, and on two or three very recent examples where the structure of the business has changed for the better, where people are now staying in the organisation for longer. There’s less absenteeism, you know, the so called a Friday Monday syndrome where people were fed up with work and their manager. They phoned in sick on a Friday morning, and then strangely, they’re still sick on a Monday. That’s not because they’re actually sick. It’s because they’re, well, they’re sick of their manager. So when I see that, that type of thing stops, when it productivity increases, the whole point of what I do is to help organisations and teams to be better performers and therefore have better productivity. So that’s what really drives me.

Amber Sherlock: Well, your book is Team Performance: Why Can’t We All Get Along. Malcolm Dawes, thank you so much for your time today.

Malcolm Dawes: Thank you.