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Sunday, 24 September 2017

Somebody Leaving The Business? Better With a Handshake Than a Tribunal!

One of my very valued readers sent me a note recently that read thus:

“When asked, leaders often say that ‘their people’ and ‘the culture’ are very important to them. The true test, I believe, comes not only when hiring people but more tellingly, when people are asked to leave.

How does the company behave towards those people it is making redundant or having to let go?  How are they spoken about and how will they (the people who have left) speak about the company afterwards?”

Over the years I have heard leaders say that they would always want people who are leaving the business for whatever reason to go as “good leavers” rather than bad ones.

That is a laudable objective:  logically we would always prefer to have people in the community speaking well of the business and whenever we can achieve that goal than all the better.

Research has told us that, on average, people will tell friends and acquaintances of a bad experience approximately 13 times while they will relate the story of a good experience only twice.

That is a daunting prospect and strengthens the assertion that what leaders want are people leaving the business, if not necessarily happy, then at least in a frame of mind which understands and accepts that the parting was necessary or even inevitable.

I do not believe that an acceptable parting must always devolve on a financial arrangement.  Certainly it is essential to do the right thing by the individual in whatever way is most appropriate.

For example, the retention of a car for a period after leaving, offering the facilities of an outplacement organisation and even assisting then with the legal aspects of the situation are all positive and help to develop an atmosphere of reason and objectivity.

It goes without saying that all aspects of employment law must be followed without exception but it can still be done in an adult and reasonable way.

Certainly we need to hire people on the basis of their attitude rather than merely experience and/or skills and we will tend to have people leave for exactly the same reasons.

Remember also; people don’t normally leave companies, they leave managers and it is incumbent on leaders to ensure that the right culture spreads throughout the business at all levels.

The art of promoting, hiring and firing is to ensure that people are always engaged and when they eventually do leave the business it will be with at least a handshake rather than a tribunal.


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Sunday, 17 September 2017

Feeling Lonely and Isolated? Then Join a Peer Group!

There was an excellent film some years ago, featuring Tom Courtney, called ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’ and there is a lesson there for all leaders.


Perhaps there is a distinct case for a business film called ‘The Loneliness of the Long Service Leader’.


Indeed never mind ‘long service’; any length of service would be appropriate because it is the most prevalent of all those factors that can make leadership so taxing as well as exciting and stimulating.


It seems remarkable that someone with drive, enthusiasm, dedication and determination can feel lonely and isolated, doesn’t it?  Not at all because surprisingly most leaders exhibit the normal traits of normal people because, in the main, that is what they are, normal.


The leader is rightly expected to behave with the team as they would wish; with understanding, with kindness, with fairness, with discretion and with the reward of praise as appropriate.


All well and good but as the leader is a normal human being, why should he/she be denied these experiences?


The problem is, of course, that the higher one climbs up the corporate ladder, the fewer people there to offer them, especially praise, and that demands emotional stamina.


In fact, the rationale for upward praise could be viewed as somewhat dubious and probably a bit creepy.


It does mean that the leader has to give out, from time to time, a metaphorical and personal pat on the back if there is nobody else to do it.


Praise is one thing but what about all those other little issues that pile up without much attempt to put them out of their misery?


Little issues can develop into big issues if they aren’t stifled at an early stage but the temptation to shelve them, to brush them under the carpet can become a habit, with the chance that they might just rise up and bite at some time.


We all need someone to talk to but it isn’t always that easy to find the right person we can trust both for sensible advice and also for discretion.


Professional advisers are essential but in the end we have to accept that they have an agenda that isn’t always hidden.  In the same vein family members will tend to have a naturally biased view in a protective way and that isn’t always the best solution.


After many years of specific and happy experience with Vistage UK I have no doubt that the very best solution for the lonely executive is to join a Vistage peer group.


It offers a safe and confidential environment where matters of some moment can be ventilated without fear or favour, without   being embarrassed to disclose because other people have shown the way and in the certain knowledge that nobody has a hidden agenda.


Isolation and subsequent loneliness and a feeling of uncertainty will always be some of the happy aspects of leadership but they can be mitigated.  If the peer group solution weren’t effective ask yourself why it is that so many CEOs and key executives have experienced the advantages over many years?


Be aware that it isn’t for everyone. Some people find that baring their soul in front of others is worse than feeling isolated.  In addition the likelihood of being challenged is far too daunting a prospect.  So be it but always remember:


    “No-one is as smart as all of us”


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Sunday, 10 September 2017

Giving Your People Freedom? Good, And Are They Held Accountable?

Vistage has a neat little acronym for the reasons that CEOs join and it is:  

MAGIC

To elucidate, MAGIC stands for:

M - they Make Better Decisions simply because they can test them with the co-operation of a peer group.
A - they feel themselves Accountable to both the group and the Chairman for actions that they take as a consequence of the help given to them.
G - the system helps members of the groups to Grow on a personal basis through consistent learning.
I - membership of a Vistage peer group helps to overcome that feeling of Isolation that all leaders feel from time to time.  It offers someone to talk to.
C - the group discussion helps members through the process of Change that can otherwise be difficult.

The factor that may seem a little odd is that of accountability.  Members of a peer group are there by their own volition, wanting to learn and grow.  How, then, can they be accountable to anyone in the group?

The fact is that if a member brings an issue to the group and they put time and effort into helping solve it, then the member feels accountable to the group for any subsequent action and in the same way to the Chairman following a one-to-one during which some action has been agreed.

In a business however there is a marked difference.

Decisions about action should be discussed and agreed on a joint basis, that is, with the agreement of both or all concerned on what is to be done and what are the expectations and objectives.

If a member of the team is trusted to the extent that decision making is in their hands rather than those of the leader then the quid pro quo is that there has to be accountability for the results.

This enables proper feedback to be offered and possibly permits changes to be made in an atmosphere of co-operation.

However, the very word accountability these days has been so over abused by the media that it has become almost a term of  reprimand.  Who is accountable for this?  Whose fault is it?  Who is to blame?  and above all, heads must roll.

All of these are symptoms of a pernicious culture that seeks to put blame on to someone else rather than accept responsibility for a situation.

Heaven forbid that any business takes this approach.  By all means have people accountable for their attitude, their behaviour and their actions but never cast blame on to them if something that they do goes amiss.

If we are to have a learning environment then, as we all make mistakes from time to time, the optimum approach is to learn from them.  Agreed that repeated mistakes may well signify a lack of ability or desire but if we analyse then it will be all too evident that these happen on rare occasions.

It is always easier to reprimand and find fault than it is to give praise and thanks but we need to make the effort.  The results can be startling.


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Sunday, 3 September 2017

Setting Objective? If You Want Success Make Them B-HAGS!

One of the great tenets of leadership is the ability of the leader to discuss and set tangible, viable goals, often defined as being SMART - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Based.
All very sensible and logical but the overall impression is one of some caution particularly in the case of Achievable and Realistic, both of which, to my mind, put constraints on blue sky thinking.
Lee Thayer, one of the best US speakers on the Vistage circuit, says that we need to employ only virtuosos (or should it be virtuosi?) so that there will be an input from free thinking people on the team, rather than people who merely agree all the time, especially with the leader.
The key to all this is the general reluctance to set objectives that are stretching so that success, such as it is, comes with little effort and probably from sheer momentum.
The function of the leader is to work with the team to set objectives which are, to say the least, stretching, familiarly known as B-HAGS, Big Hairy Audacious Goals (that is the clean version), goals which the gloom mongers and naysayers would define as being either unachievable or unrealistic.
I recall the aforesaid Lee Thayer telling me about a CEO consultancy client of his who had two serious deficiencies, he was authoritarian and everyone reported to him, and he had set no serious objectives for the business.
Turnover was around $18M and when Lee asked the CEO what his objective was for the following year, the answer was the conventional 10% increase to around $20M because he could do that in his head.
Lee, who knows something of psychology, suggested that $20M was kids stuff and he should consider nearer $40M at which the usual objections started to emerge.
We don’t have the people, the equipment, the finances, the supply chain, the customers and so on and so on” and he was allowed to go on until he couldn’t think of any more excuses.
At this stage, he was asked the killer question:
“If you were to hit $40M turnover next year, what specifically would you need to do in order to achieve it?”  
In other words, don’t just complain about the lack of resources, but rather start to work out precisely what resources would be required and how to make sure that they become available.  Moreover, discuss it with the top team so that everyone buys into the process.
This produced a light bulb moment and the CEO became thoughtful.
OK” he said, to his great credit, “I’ll talk to my people and see what they say”.  Sometime later and somewhat to his own surprise the team were enthusiastic and they went for it.
On the face of it they failed as they only achieved $38.5M but it was not exactly a bad result, to say the least.
One or two points to make;
·      “If you say you can or you say you can’t you’re always right”.
·      People will work to achieve objectives, however stretching, if they have had input into the decision
·      People resent having other people’s objectives imposed on them
·      Try the B-HAG approach, stand back, and see what happens.  You may well be surprised.


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Sunday, 27 August 2017

Vulnerable To A Major Customer? What About Your Suppliers!

Another of the constant issues that exercise the mind of the leader is that of potential vulnerability to a large customer.  How on earth can we limit this situation without putting our business into a position of danger?

The fact is that it is both enticing and scary, enticing because the flow of orders from a customer is always a comfort blanket and scary because what would happen to us if the flow stopped for any reason.

Take the matter further and consider what would we do if in a position of vulnerability the customer suddenly started to exert undue influence on our business, to be late with payments, to make excessive demands and generally behave badly.

I recall a situation with one of my consultancy clients who, believe it or not, managed to achieve 95% of his annual turnover with one very large high street retailer.

I pointed this out to him on several occasions only for him to say: “Don’t worry, the buyer and I are very close” which worried me even more.

It was right to worry. His customer’s buyer suddenly left and was replaced by one from another equally large retailer.  She brought with her all the contacts she had made and was sadly reluctant to do business in the pub which was what my client was prone to enjoy.

Guess what happened in this case.  It took about six weeks for him to receive a letter from his customer to say that after looking at competing suppliers she had decided to change with thanks for all the good service over the past etc. etc….

It was far too late for him to take any evasive action like trying to interest other large potential customers and the end was inevitable.

We are all aware of this potential danger, I trust, and consistent activity to spread the  sales over as many outlets as possible makes good sense.

However there is another danger lurking in the corporate bushes, that of vulnerability to a supplier.

In another example I had an appointment to see one of my clients, a manufacturer of  special components for the automotive industry,  when he called me to ask if we could postpone as he had an urgent matter to sort out.

I was in the city centre later that day and was surprised to see my client walking towards me.  He told me that he had been to his solicitors as a critical supplier of his had gone into liquidation and as they made a unique component for him he was in a very serious position.

He couldn’t source from another manufacturer quickly, the component was to his specification and was unique, and he couldn’t possibly let his customers down.

The only option then was to acquire the assets of the failed supplier to continue the manufacture and this was what he did at some considerable initial cost never mind the aggravation factor.

The solution is in our hands.  It is suggested that no customer should take up more than around 15% of annual turnover and all critical supplies should be at least double sourced.

It is a matter of sensible and constant risk assessment for a situation that could be terminal and that is, to say the least, unsafe and undesirable.


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Sunday, 20 August 2017

Leave It To Me, I’ll Do It? That’s Not The Role Of The Leader!

One of the constant strictures that we hear from the world class speakers at my Vistage CEO and Key Executive peer group meetings is the need to appoint or recruit people who are manifestly better than we are.

After that we give them the freedom to get on with it and we keep out of the way. That is, of course, a vastly simplified way to look at what is a very important subject.

It can be a sensitive subject especially if the leader is a hired gun rather than an owner manager of the business.  Bring better people in?  They might be looked upon as threat although that is rarely voiced.

Curiously if we examine the situation in detail it usually transpires that the members of the team are better at their job than the leader and there is nothing there to be disregarded.

Most leaders rise to their position through a functional route and that can cause issues if it is not controlled.  For example if the leader has come up through the finance function then there can be a tendency to take too much of an operational role by default.  It is called interference and it doesn’t normally contribute much to morale.

There is always a temptation to take the “leave it to me, I’ll do it” route and that diving in to solve a problem that is probably easily done by the incumbent can cause real issues in the team.

Whatever training courses he/she may have been on it normally comes down to management perhaps in an advanced stage but this does not necessarily say what the leader is there to accomplish.

It is relatively simple to define the role of the functional leader.  They need to have a good knowledge of the technology of their function and an ability to enthuse and encourage the people on the team as well as ensuring that the function delivers results that are appropriate to the needs of the business.

In principle all matters operational should be dropped from the definition of the leader’s role.  Functional heads of departments are there to satisfy that need.  There is an old saying, is there not, about not keeping a dog and barking.

However there can be pain for the leader who has to relinquish the results of all the years of experience and knowledge to pass them on to someone in the team.

That, of course, becomes a vital part of the role of the leader; to coach and mentor the team members and to draw on those years of experience in order to turn them into expertise.


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