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.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

What is ‘Authentic Leadership’?

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

The Benefits of Changing your Leadership Style

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.