Friday, 3 May 2013
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
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
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.
Tuesday, 16 April 2013
Many people have written about the importance of ‘Authentic Leadership’, and as a phrase it certainly sounds appealing, but what does it really mean? To me ‘authenticity’ is something about being yourself as a leader, a sense of genuineness, of not simply playing a role because the organisation demands it, or imitating someone else, but playing yourself. However, in an attempt to understand more I consulted the Collins English dictionary which defines ‘authentic’ as something or someone that is: • of undisputed origin or authorship; genuine • accurate in representation of the facts; trustworthy; reliable So authentic leadership is also more than simply being yourself. When I want authentic leadership from someone, I am also looking for a number of characteristics, I certainly want them to be real, true, genuine and ‘on the level’. In fact I want them to be: • Trustworthy. We need leaders that can be trusted – that show integrity, credibility, reliability and congruence; that say what they mean, mean what they say and do what they say too. In their book ‘The Leadership Challenge’, Kouzes and Posner identified that trustworthiness was the most admired characteristic by followers. • Principled. To a certain extent this is linked to the above, I want a leader who knows what they believe in, what they value and the principles that they will ‘live or die by’. I want them to be able to manage tricky situations when personal values conflict with company or business values. • Humble. Leaders that are not self-absorbed in their role, think that all the power resides with them and recognise that their role is to enable and empower others to be the best they can be for their own good and the good of the organisation. • Friendly. I don’t want a leader to be my friend by I do want them to be friendly. I want someone who is approachable, not someone who hides behind their desk, role or status, someone who is capable of making a connection with me. • Self Aware. Leaders that are self-aware, that know their strengths and limitations; that recognise they still have a lot to learn. • Self disciplined. To maintain all the above, authentic leaders need to be self disciplined, sticking by their values, principles and commitments. Too often it is easier to give in and do the’ popular’ thing rather than the ‘right’ thing. So in my view ‘authentic leadership’ is not just about being yourself, it’s about being trustworthy, principled, humble, friendly self-aware and disciplined.
Friday, 5 April 2013
This is a true account of an experience I had many years ago when a change in leadership style dramatically improved the performance of the business. In the late 1990’s I worked in a factory that printed and bound children’s books. It was a great business with strong values but sadly struggled against tough foreign competition particularly in China who could print and bind books far more cheaply than we could. The factory had a manager who was responsible for all aspects of the supply chain, from purchasing of raw materials, through printing and warehousing and finally delivery to the customer. He was very experienced and new the business inside out having been had been promoted from the shop floor into vacuous supervisory, and management roles before he was responsible for the whole site. He was however, what I would call a very ‘traditional manager’. . I call him traditional because of his style. He liked to keep control of everything, could be very dictatorial (‘when I want your opinion I will give it to you), and was almost obsessive about cost. He did not really trust any of us, and I got the feeling that he believed that if he did not tell us what to do all the time we would get things wrong! Because he was so cost focused, he didn’t spend money except on essentials and thought things like training and development were a total waste of money. If any of us needed to spend even the smallest amount we had to seek approval from him first. The consequence of his style and approach was that most of us only ever did what they were told to do, we rarely went the ‘extra mile for him, we were not very engaged and some had quite divisive relationships with their colleagues. Sadly, the manager didn’t recognise that his style also had consequences for himself. Because he disempowered his team and wanted to control everything he ended up doing things that we should have been doing and so worked long hours and was often stressed. He also couldn’t understand why some of us would not do more and take some of his work off him! The ultimate consequence on the business was that it didn’t respond to the changes in the marketplace as quickly as it should have done, and did not have the levels of productivity and responsiveness needed to compete. Eventually, the manager retired and a new person took on his role. However, this person did not have the detailed technical knowledge of his predecessor. He was not from the printing trade and he knew that he did not have the skills and experience to tell his managers ‘what to do’. However, he did understand about how to lead people effectively and recognised poor morale, team work, performance and lack of personal responsibility among many of the team he had inherited. He therefore decided to take a new and different approach from the previous manager , and did a number of things. He: Set clear expectations with each member of his team regarding their performance and behaviour. Got ‘out of their way’ and allowed them to get on with their job without undue interference. Invested in a development programme to enable them to improve their own leadership and coaching skills. Supported and coached each individual manager to take greater responsibility Took action with anyone who either did not want to or could not meet the expectations set. Over a period of 12 months, there was a massive change in the team and their performance. As individuals we understood what was expected of us and grew in confidence as a result. Overall we all took on greater levels of responsibility and gained more job satisfaction. As a consequence, the manager was able to spend time on other activities such as setting out a new strategy for the factory, planning for investment, and reorganisation of factory operations. All of this concluded with a dramatic improvement in the operational performance of the factory – lead times were reduced by 75%, stock levels were reduced by over 50%, productivity increased by 25% with a corresponding reduction in cost per unit. All of which meant that the factory became more competitive and successful. For me it was an interesting lesson in the importance of leadership style and the impact that it can have on business performance, in both a negative and positive way.
Monday, 4 March 2013
I read an article the other day in which the HSE reported that there were an estimated 428,000 cases of work related stress in 2011/12, which was around 40% of all total work related illnesses. While companies have a legal duty of care to manage work related stress, I have always been a firm believer in the concept of ‘resilience’ – our personal capacity to manage and cope with stress. Resilience is the capacity that allows some people to cope well with stress and bounce back to their normal self very quickly, even after suffering from a traumatic event. My observations are that resilient people rather than letting failure overcome them, they look to find positive meaning even in a traumatic experience. But is resilience a quality that anyone can develop? I think that it can be, and the following are some ideas about how you can build your resilience. 1) It is important to develop close relationships with people, as this provides you with someone who can support you when you need it, as well as you offering others support when they need it. 2) I think it is important to accept that some things cannot be changed. It is not helpful to waste time and emotional effort on these things and instead and focus on those things that you can influence. Try this exercise to help. On a piece of paper draw two concentric circles and write in the centre circle ‘direct control’, the next ‘indirect control’ and on the outside ‘no control’. Write down the things that worry you most in the appropriate circle and reflect on what you have written. How many have you written in the ‘no control’ area? 3) Develop realistic goals for yourself that are clear, specific and have a time frame and regularly do something that helps you to move towards them. 4) Maintain an optimistic outlook and expect good things to happen in your life. Try to think of what you want, rather than worry about what you fear. 5) Take decisive actions when difficult situations arise rather than hoping they will go away. 6) Try to avoid seeing a crisis as an insurmountable problem. While we cannot change what happens to us we can change how we react to it. Focus on how the future may be better as a result. 7) Look for ways you can learn something about yourself when you are going through difficult times. 8) Take small steps outside of your comfort zone to build greater confidence and resilience. For example, if you dread presentations and find them really stressful, build your confidence by giving a simple talk to a small group of people. This could be in the form of a training session, team brief or talk to a local church or voluntary group. Doing this on a regular basis will enable you to start to give more complex talks and presentations. While you may never relish the opportunity to give a presentation your confidence in your ability will soar! Resilience is our personal capacity to manage and cope with stress. My view is that it is analogous to a glass being filled with water. As the glass fills with water (i.e with life’s pressures) our stress levels increase until finally the glass overflows and we become highly stressed and ill as a result. However, you can increase the size of your glass and increase your resilience by adopting the ideas outlined above. By developing your resilience you will be less likely to become one of the HSE’s stress statistics.
Friday, 22 February 2013
Having participated on ‘both sides’ of an independent assessment process (as a recruitment candidate as well as a manager assessing candidates) I fully recommend it as a means of identifying the most appropriate candidate for the role. I say this there are a number of benefits of using an independent process over the traditional interview for both the employer as well as the candidate. Firstly, the process provides a wider range of information about a candidate than just an interview and therefore as an employer you are more likely to make the right decision. Secondly, the process is transparent and independent which is a comfort to both the organisation and candidates. It avoids any ‘halos or horns’ effect of managers assessing internal candidates ensuring that all candidates (both internal and external) are assessed on equal and fair terms. Lastly, (and if done properly!)the feedback to candidates following the assessment can be invaluable in helping them develop in their new role (if they are recruited) or learn new skills that will help them to land their next job. Personally I found the last point invaluable following the first assessment centre I attended many years ago. So what are the keys to making an assessment process successful? The following are my observations and recommendations. 1. To ensure independence, use an external organisation who have fully trained and competent assessors and can tailor their assessment tools for your organisation. 2. Be clear about the success criteria for the role. For example, what level of leadership skill is needed, does the role require strategic thinking and/or analytical skills? What type of communication skills and behaviours are important too? 3. Use a range of assessment tools to identify the key skills and behaviours you wish to measure. These might include a personality profile, attainment tests as well as a number of tools designed around the business and job role (e.g. business case scenarios, role plays, presentations etc.). 4. Use a simple scoring system. I recommend that at least three pieces of evidence are used to provide an assessment of each criteria. 5. Once scored the candidates can be ranked in terms of closest fit for the role as well as their potential to fulfil other roles. In my experience assessing potential is just as important as assessing job fit because it provides valuable information about candidates who can fulfil other roles in the business or alternatively be a successor to the person recruited. 6. Once the decision is made and communicated on who to appoint I recommend each candidate receives 1:1 feedback from the assessor(s) on how they performed at the assessment centre. It is important to remember that the feedback is not about the candidate’s ability to fulfil their current role but for the role advertised. My view is that the feedback should focus on the candidate’s strengths and development needs and what they can do to get themselves in a position to be successful. In this way the feedback is more likely to be motivating for the candidate. As I mentioned at the start, having participated on ‘both sides’ of an independent assessment centre I fully recommend it as a means of fairly and equitably identifying the most appropriate candidate(s) for the role and hopefully my experiences will provide you with a useful start to running an assessment process for your organisation.