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Jennifer Morris

07 September 2011

Position: CEO Orijen Group, a diversity and talent consultancy specializing in mentoring.

Picking trends in organisational change, establishing strategies to deal with those trends, and understanding what that tells us about the successful and unsuccessful functioning of our workforces can be a fascinating, rewarding and sometimes disappointing business.

Orijen Group founder Jenny Morris has a career well-positioned to give us the warts-and-all inside story on leadership, diversity and whether change can actually happen in business.

Beginning as a teacher, Jenny went on to discover school counselling, did her masters in psychology and, through a progression of steps (including designing stress management programs), as well as some lucky breaks, moved into learning and development where she consulted for 10 years. Then, in 2000, she took a step back and with her partner surveyed the lay of the HR landscape.

“We could see the baby-boomer-retirement-talent shortage was shaping the next stage in HR needs and challenges,” explains Jenny about what they saw from their vantage point.

Firstly, there was this huge number of people with experience and talent preparing to swap the control and power of their working life for the “golf course”. Alongside this, were all these young people being fast-tracked to fill the vacancies left by retiring baby boomers. Recruits who had the academic knowledge, but nowhere near enough corporate knowledge or experience.

“What we identified was the need for mentoring and mentors. Here was a bunch of retirees, people who thought 30 or 40 years of retirement sounded fun but who had in reality given no thought to how much stress that amount of close-contact time could put on their relationships, their levels of boredom, and their health. Running in parallel with this, was another group of people taking on positions for which they were ill-prepared,” says Jenny, explaining how she came to be running her diversity and talent consultancy – focused on leadership mentoring – to build diverse teams and inclusive, sustainable workplaces.

Her programs, designed for and used in national and global organizations in the legal, professional services, telecommunications, IT and finance sectors, are award winning and throughout the 11 years she’s worked in the area, Jenny has formulated and developed a number of theories about what makes leaders and decision-making teams tick, while determining the very specific needs of female executives and potential female executives for success.   

“There’s new research showing that contrary to popular belief, the world’s smartest minds put together in a room do not predict the ability to achieve. Instead,” says Jenny, “it comes down to how many women are in the group decision making process.”

Referring to ‘Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups’ by Anita Williams Woolley, Science 29 October, 2010, she goes on to point out that: “The research shows, it’s the groups where everyone has their chance to speak that are more successful than groups where a few people dominate the conversation.

“In two studies with 699 people, the researchers found evidence that a group’s performance is correlated with:
The average social sensitivity of group members;
The equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking;
The proportion of females in the group.”

It’s a result she finds fascinating and perplexing because she still wonders why, with all the mounting evidence about the need for and benefits of diversity, change at the levels that count, the executive decision-making levels, has not really begun?

“If the state we are in globally is anything to go by, you’d have to think there can’t be balanced decision–making teams in operation,” says Jenny, her voice tinged with bitter humour.

As for mentoring, Jenny believes, contrary to some, the process is by no means simple and that while women are more than welcome to and may want male mentors, who are easily accessed, they actually need female mentors.

“I’ve been to businesses where they say mentoring doesn’t work and when I ask what the process has been, invariably I find they’ve put some names up on a board and asked people to choose a mentor.

“How does a junior staff member approach a senior staff member for mentoring, let alone know they’ve approached the right mentor for them? And why then does everyone just expect the mentor to make time… as soon as one appointment gets cancelled or is missed the trust is gone.

“You have to have structure, training, accountability, commitment, and you have to be able to measure it. If you can’t measure, you won’t know what you are doing. That’s hardly a sustainable or successful situation,” notes Jenny.
As for women needing female mentors, Jenny is of the belief that women do things differently and to find an authentic leadership style, they need to be able to work with other women.

“Men are great mentors to help you learn how to navigate the organisation but they mentor in their own image. Those areas that are more uncomfortable for them: areas around emotion, for example, they usually won’t go near these. Most women won’t challenge men in terms of their own emotions and so a whole part of the way a women works is often kept hidden in male female mentoring. To develop true confidence in who you are and to be able to successfully express that, you can’t be hiding part of yourself. Everything needs to be validated.”

The theory feeds into the work Jenny has done on unpacking mentoring to really analyse and understand what is going on within the relationship and in the workplace, especially if change is to happen.

“One of the things with mentoring is it is a gradual process. It’s an ongoing process as against coaching, a process that builds and builds and you often lose track of where you came from and the gains you’ve made.

“I went to the conscious/unconscious competent/incompetent behaviours model and then I thought, if Daniel Goldman can use a Q and call it ‘EQ’ then I can use Qs as well,” says Jenny.

In the process she developed her IQ, EQ, PQ, No Q dashboard, which women can use to measure their progression and understand the gains they’ve made. The dashboard also highlights what’s changed, how that’s helped them and how the drip down effect to those coming through the ranks will facilitate greater organisational change.

“Let’s just talk about women,” says Jenny by way of explanation.
Women, she says, are consciously competent at IQ (getting the job done).

IQ competencies include: output, results, multi-tasking, performance, etc, and women rely on them and that works because in the first half of a career it gets you noticed and promoted. However, what happens in the second part of a career, says Jenny, is not about the IQ stuff. Most women, however, keep going back to these IQ competencies – the head-down bottom-up, work, work, work stuff – not realising the game’s changed and they get left behind.
“Women,” continues Jenny, “ are unconsciously competent about their EQ (how to get the job done): relationships, collaboration, nurturing, innovation, etc. These are all the leadership capabilities, competencies and qualities they don’t validate or value in themselves, but instead take for granted because that’s just who women are. In the mentoring process, these competencies are what we surface and highlight. We get women to build on these strengths rather than ignore them.”

But it’s the conscious incompetence and unconscious incompetence areas where the fun begins, according to Jenny.

“Women are consciously incompetent when it comes to PQ (personal brand): networking, assertiveness, professional development, well being, etc. But because they are aware of the incompetency we can direct them to workshops or training modules, books, etc, to clear up the incompetency.”

The key thing in mentoring is to deal with unconscious incompetence. The No Q (no clue) area is the way Jenny refers to it: the area tied up with playing the game, politics, power/influence, asking for what you want, etc. In the work cycle, it’s the area where women have absolutely no idea about what is going on and where their careers begin to falter and we start to lose them.

And all of this is because women don’t realise the game has changed.

“Now, it’s about playing politics, lobbying, being visible, self promotion, understanding power and influence. It’s about going into a meeting having lobbied everyone before hand with your idea so when it comes up it is immediately accorded credence and more often than not accepted and accredited to you,” Jenny explains.

“Executive mentoring is about what is happening in this area: what women are doing and not doing while also finding an authentic way of dealing with the PQ and No Q areas so women retain their integrity. Once women successfully master this area they begin to reach those executive levels in a way that suits them and what they can bring to the job. Inevitably, more women doing it their way forces change at the executive decision-making levels and then throughout organizations.”

Of course, admits Jenny, there are all manner of other factors and roles women have in their lives that affect their career outcomes and the outcomes of others.

No one said Rome was built in a day. But if you’re interested in trying…