Monday, 9 December 2013

How does your boss make you feel?

Maya Angelou the famous author once wrote that people will forget what you said, they will even forget what you did, but they will never forget how you make them feel. In the context of Leadership, this observation is particularly true. I have worked for many bosses in my time who have evoked a range of emotions in me some have made me feel important, valued and understood while others made me feel disregarded, unsupported and even bullied. The issue here is that our feelings ultimately drive our actions. So if we feel valued, understood and important we are far more likely to go the extra mile for our boss than if we feel that they do not trust or respect us. The leaders I have had most respect for in my career had the ability to: • Understand my perspectives • Feel what I felt and • Sense what I needed from them The first point came from a genuine desire from my boss to understand me, what I do, what worked and didn’t work for me. The second came from their skill of understanding their own feelings, which then allowed them to understand the feelings of others. What they were extremely adept at was reading the external signs of emotions in me and other people. The last point which is closely related to the second, was that my boss sensed not just how I felt about something but what I needed from them, whether it was support, guidance or perhaps a decision. In my experience the bosses that I worked for who were most adept at doing these things enabled me to feel was a valued respected member of the team. At the other extreme I have also worked for a number of bosses who lacked the ability (or motivation) to understand me, feel what I felt or sense what I needed from them. The consequence of this was I felt that they did not trust or respect me. Did I go the extra mile for them? Certainly not!

Monday, 12 August 2013

Managing Conflict at Work

Over the years I have observed that many managers struggle with dealing with conflict at work, and I include myself in that. I have had to deal with personality clashes between team members, resolve instances of harassment and dealt with conflicts with another manager over competing priorities and resources. Managing conflict is never easy but there are some practical steps that you can take as a manager to minimise the likelihood of it happening in the first place as well as deal with it when it does. I find that the following are particularly useful: • Set clear expectations. It is vital to be clear with your staff that you expect them to behave professionally and work in a cooperative and effective manner with their colleagues. I do not expect my staff to be ‘best friends’ but I do expect them to behave professionally and find it unacceptable when someone complains that they cannot work with a colleague because they ‘don’t like them’ or ‘cannot get on with them’. • Monitor team relationships. Being clear about your expectations is one thing, but you also need to monitor the interactions and behaviour of team members too. It is important to keep an eye on what is happening in the workplace, and during meetings etc. • Deal with issues promptly. I have found it invaluable to intervene quickly in cases of conflict and confront the problem head on. My own experience has been that people generally don’t resolve the conflict on their own, and it more often that not escalates into something far more serious. • Learn to act as a mediator. One of the most effective things I have learned is how to act as a mediator to resolve a conflict between team members. Mediation is not about taking sides, it’s about facilitating discussion and agreement. In a mediation situation, it is not you that makes the decision; it is the two parties that agree to the decision. • Use official procedures if necessary. It may be necessary to invoke the use of disciplinary or grievance procedures. Being prepared to use official procedures demonstrates how seriously complaints and issues are taken. • Watch your own behaviour! As a manager it is important that you maintain a professional presence by not engaging in office gossip, backbiting or inappropriate behaviour, and keeping any issues confidential. I remember once working for a guy who was very unprofessional in the way he dealt with issues and it had a big impact on the behaviour and morale of our team. Many managers struggle with managing conflict at work as managing conflict is never easy. However, I have outlined above some practical steps that you can take as a manager to minimise the likelihood of conflict happening in the first place as well as deal with it when it does. Conflict is inevitable and managers need to have the skills and be able to manage conflict. Our conflict management training courses enable managers to successfully resolve challenging conflict at work. To find out more click here: Or contact us on 0845 409 2346 / click here:

Thursday, 8 August 2013

How Not To Get On in Your Organisation!

Today there is intense competition for products and services and even stiffer competition for jobs. The one thing no one needs to do is make matters worse by shooting themselves in the foot. Over the years, I've noticed a number of behavioural traits that really annoy the hell out of managers, and particularly senior executives. I’m not talking about things that might annoy slightly but career-limiting behaviour that's actually bad for the business, and far outweigh whatever benefits the employee thinks they bring to the organisation. I have seen bright, intelligent and capable people dig deep holes for themselves when they thought they were doing the right thing, but they weren't! While I've typically been on the annoyed side of the equation, I have to admit, I'm not a paragon of virtue and I have been on the annoying side several times myself -- and really, really wished I hadn't. So be forewarned. Here's are the some types of employee you really don't want to be: • Know-it-all. Everyone dislikes a know-it-all, but it's particularly annoying to managers who didn't get to where they are by not knowing what they don't know. And they know you don't have all the answers, either. • Buck passer. This type of person won't engage and he won't be held accountable. You tell him over and over to take responsibility and get on with it and he says okay, but it never happens. When you follow up, all you get are excuses, and the things that he didn’t deal with just end up on your plate! • Similar to the above is the ‘Trust me’ person. If you're a star performer who has proved your worth time and again, then you're one of an elite group of trusted individuals. But if you're not in that category, saying "trust me" or "don't worry" to a skeptical manager sends up a red flag a mile high. Just don't do it. • "I can do anything you want." For some reason, some employees think that, no matter what you want or need, all they have to do is smile and say, "Sure, I can do that" - whether they can or can't. They mistakenly think that's a "can-do" attitude. It's not. It's promising what you can't deliver! • Similar to the above is the "yes" person. Say what you will about managers wanting their staff to kowtow to them, but successful managers want to know the truth, and they want it straight. To them, sugar-coating "yes" people are simply a pain and not worth employing. • Talk, talk, talk, Most senior managers are pressed for time. They want you to tell them what they need to know, listen to what they have to say, and then leave them! If they want a social chat they will let you know! • The Victim. Most things ending up being a drama, whether it’s a personal issue, a co-worker who is out to get them, or a litany of excuses. Whatever it is, it's more important than getting things done. • Bureaucrat. Responds to every request with a boatload of inane reasons why he or she can't do it or arcane things that must happen first. The opposite of a flexible, “can-do” attitude. • "This is how we did it at XYZ company." It's one thing to apply your experience to new situations, but you can't just blindly assume that because it worked there, it'll work here. Every situation is different; there are lots of ways to do things, and one size rarely fits all. Besides, it's really annoying. As I mentioned above, I've noticed a number of behavioural traits that really annoy the hell out of managers, (and me!), and while I’m sure the above isn’t an exhaustive list it’s important for us all to recognise these annoying habits and avoid them as ultimately they are bad for the business and can be very career limiting! Some effective managers have recognised these traits in themselves and sought the help and guidance of one of our experienced coaches and are amazed by the impact that our coaching has on their work satisfaction and career as a whole. We have lots of case studies and testimonials on our website so visit to find out more.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Is ‘Cost Leadership’ an effective long term strategy?

Many companies experience a roller coaster ride of success. Some years they have great successes while other years can be very challenging and there can be a host of reasons for the challenges from prevailing economic conditions to new technologies disrupting markets. The question however, is how should a leader respond to these challenges and is ‘cost leadership’ a long term strategy for success? Over the years I have worked for a number of manufacturing companies where ‘cost leadership’ or ‘lowest cost producer’ was the strategic response to market challenges. These organisations faced falling income and so to make the company’s results look as best as possible the leadership team slashed investment and assets in an attempt to cut costs. However, this only succeeded in providing a poorer choice and service to customers, who added to the pain by purchasing their products and services elsewhere! I accept my examples are a small sample and not statistically significant. However, a more scientific study was conducted by Raynor and Ahmed and published in April’s issue of the Harvard Business Review. Raynor and Ahmed undertook a statistical study of thousands of companies to identify what made the exceptional performers just that. They discovered that the strategic choices of the exceptional performers over decades of success have been consistent with three elementary rules: 1. Better before cheaper. In other words it’s best to compete on differentiators other than price. 2. Revenue before cost. It is better to prioritise increasing revenue over reducing costs. 3. There are no other rules. Change anything you need to but you must follow 1 and 2 above. These rules can serve as an antidote to any leaders instinct or intuition. As with my own personal experience when income is ‘declining’, for example, it is tempting to make the business results look better by cutting assets and investment to reduce costs. But excellent companies, the research shows typically accept higher costs as the price of excellence, putting significant resources over long periods of time creating non price value and generating higher revenue. So in conclusion, drawing on my own experience and evidenced by significant research, cost leadership is not the right strategy to follow if you want long term exceptional performance.

Friday, 3 May 2013

The two most important words – Thank You!

I read a great article the other day in April’s issue of HBR by Robert Eckert about the two words that he considers most important – thank you! Eckert spent 23 years at Kraft Foods where he started at the bottom and worked his way up through the ranks before moving on to Mattel to become their CEO. During his career, Eckert experienced every layer of organisational life, and recognises that although he worked very hard, he also had a lot of help. The majority of his line managers supported him to develop his career and taught him well. In the process he found himself saying thank you a lot, and as he progressed learned to say thank you even more, because the effect to him was obvious. When he was at Mattel, he set up their Rave Reviews program, which allows employees to recognise and thank one another with a simple e-certificate for a free soft drink or coffee. He also gave out a Chairman’s Award to exceptional senior managers at their most public gatherings. He firmly believes that habits like those above are key to Mattel having been named for six years running as one of Fortune’s Best Companies to work for. Eckert’s top tips are: • Set aside time every week to acknowledge people’s good work. • Handwrite thank you notes whenever you can. The personal touch matters in the digital age. • Punish in private, praise in public. Make the public praise timely and specific. • Remember to cc people’s supervisors. Don’t tell me tell my boss. • Foster a culture of gratitude. It’s a game changer for sustainably better performance. I echo Eckert’s views above. While my own corporate experience is not as significant as his, I have found that the small things can have big effects. My own view is that recognition and rewards have the greatest impact when they are seen as being personal and are not expected (as opposed to a bonus – ‘if you do this you will get that’), and I have added some other tips of my own: • Seek out the good people do – it’s too easy to pick up on what’s not being done well. • Remember a thank you from your boss or your bosses’ boss will have much impact on your staff that one from you. This doesn’t excuse you from saying thank you but to add impact write a thank you letter from your MD or CEO and ask them to sign it. • Use small gifts to recognise people’s efforts. It could be a bacon buttie, cake or bottle of wine. Be creative and make the gift personal. • Consider giving a gift that will remind people of what they did well – a mug for example, or a box of chocolates of half a case of wine. Each time they use their mug, eat a chocolate or open a bottle it will reinforce what it was they were recognised for. To paraphrase Eckert - foster an ‘attitude of gratitude’ - it’s a great way to sustainably improve performance.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Putting your People First

The other day I heard the former chief executive of the bakery chain Greggs on the radio talking about executive pay as well as other current issues. One of the things he discussed was their staff profit share scheme, and how every year a certain amount of Gregg’s profits were shared amongst the staff. He said that in his view Greggs always put their people first. He was challenged about this by the radio presenter who said ‘surely you mean you put the customer first’, he replied no, people first, motivated staff mean happy customers. This led me to think of the adage ‘the 3P’s’, which stand for: People before Product (or service) before Profit (or performance). The sequence and the word before each P are extremely significant. In other words, if you ensure your that your people are capable, creative and engaged, they will in turn produce great products (or services), which will lead to a successful, high performing and ultimately profitable business. While I have never worked for Greggs and don’t know what they do to ‘put their people first’, I have seen and worked for businesses who got it wrong. They engaged in too much ‘top down’ thinking. They strived for profit and performance without even thinking about whether they had the right people engaged in doing the right things. We have all seen businesses pay huge salaries and big bonuses to focus staff on what needs to be achieved (e.g. sales and profit), and while bonuses may act as an ‘extrinsic motivator’, in reality they only provide a short term effect, they do not truly engage staff and are soon forgotten. Indeed recent research suggests that paying large bonuses for achieving specific goals may reduce performance as it can undermine our intrinsic motivation to achieve. So what does putting your People before Product and Profit mean? I believe that if a business is going to truly put their people first they have to do a number of things. For example, they need to:  Be clear about what the purpose of the organisation or business is.  Understand the innate skills and capabilities of the people they have.  Support their managers and staff to develop skills that will make them more effective in their jobs.  Trust their people to do their job and give them the freedom to make their own decisions (within guidelines).  Involve their staff in decisions that affect them more.  Listen and pay attention to what their staff say, their concerns, and ideas for improvement, and ACT on them.  Respond flexibly to the needs of their staff.  Pay people the ‘going rate’ for their work In addition, they need to recognise and understand that the culture of the business is dictated by the behaviour of its leaders and managers. The business must therefore work hard to support their leaders and managers to develop the necessary behaviours to enable them to act as excellent role models, and demonstrate on a day to day basis that they put their people first. If a business truly desires to improve its performance, it must start with its people, their skills, capabilities, motivation and level of engagement.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Leadership Research Finds Managers Lacking Fundamental Skills

I recently read the leadership institute Roffey Park’s annual Management Agenda report which provides indicators of emerging workplace trends in the UK. The Agenda is a survey of 1,460 managers and directors across the UK and reports on managers’ views on a range of issues such as how their organisation copes with external trends and challenges, how the performance and development of its people are managed as well as levels of personal engagement. One of the key findings from this years survey was that forty percent of managers said that underperforming staff or teams are not properly dealt with, while over half (55 per cent) said that redundancies are only handled ‘adequately’. In addition, almost half of managers (45 per cent) said they received ‘low levels of support’ from their organisation, yet they faced an increased use of stretch assignments and enhanced responsibilities. In my view these findings have serious implications for many organisations and their managers as they are faced with having to improve efficiency further and deliver more with the same or reduced resources against a backdrop of zero or low growth. How will managers be able to deliver improved results if they do not have the fundamental skills and confidence to address performance and development issues? Michael Jenkins, Chief Executive of Roffey Park summarized the issue when he said: “Leadership must get the right balance. Whilst leaders need to develop and communicate a clear strategy and vision, they also need to support implementation and the day-to-day management skills of the managers beneath them.” I believe that if organizations are to successfully navigate their way through a continued period of austerity and slow economic recovery they need to ensure that their managers have the fundamental skills (as well as the confidence) to deal with underperforming staff and teams. I recognise that training and development budgets continue to be under pressure, but investing in fundamental management skill development must be made a priority.