Understanding Difference: Neilson

Individuals on leadership teams can think too alike

Leadership teams often under-perform because they over-conform. As a result they miss out on the strength of thinking differently.

Context

Over the past 10 years we have worked with the active holiday company Neilson, who were owned by Thomas Cook until they bought themselves out last year.

No-one does summer adventure holidays better than Neilson, who design and deliver every single dimension of the customer experience. A Neilson summer holiday is a premium experience for adventurous, premium families. Neilson also has a profitable winter holiday business.

Neilson had promoted key individual managers to a widened board of directors. All were expert in their individual fields, such as operations and customer service, but none had been on a board before. The business needed to help the new Executive board to develop its strategic leadership skills at pace to guarantee the success of the newly-formed team.

Purposeful Coaching

We began with a ‘Day on the Rack’ for the two leaders of the business, twin brothers Pete and Pip Tyler, to understand in confidence the opportunities and problems they saw within the new team. We then interviewed all the individual team members to understand their perspectives on being leadership team members, and profiled their personalities.

We identified two key issues. First, there was a strong bias towards Myers-Briggs personality type (ESTP – ‘The Do-er’), which meant most of the board was optimistic, fun-loving, high energy, impulsive, and pragmatic. Second (and closely related to the first) there was an unhealthy imbalance between Task (achievement) and Maintenance (cultural feeling) in favour of the latter.

We coached the board in defining and living new ‘Stretch Values’. Accountability (team and individual responsibility) and Integrity (courage and open-ness) were combined with the existing values of Passion (for customer care) and The Individual (personal values) in order to drive cultural ‘Crackle’ (the sweet spot when both Task and Maintenance are maximised). Importantly, living the two new values meant that personality types very different from ‘The Do-er’ were respected and motivated, within the board and beyond.

Result

The Neilson board has closed the ‘Crackle gap’ and works as a high-performing team of individual talents that understands, and exploits, its differences.