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Sunday, 30 September 2012

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


One of the great tenets of leadership is the ability of the leader to discuss and set tangible, viable goals, usually 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 wisest 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 individuals on the team, rather than merely members who agree all the time, especially with the leader.

The key to all this is the general reluctance to set objectives which are stretching so that success, such as it is, comes with little effort and probably from sheer momentum.

So, 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; Bit 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 problems (only two?); 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 to say the least, 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, Lee asked him the killer question:

“If you are to hit $40M turnover next year, what 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 your top team so that everyone buys in to 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 very surprised

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Email ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk
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Sunday, 23 September 2012

Thinking of Restructuring the Business? Ask Yourself, Will it Benefit the Customer?


From time to time, the leader gets a rush of blood to the head or is slightly bored and decides that it is time to restructure the business.

Reasons are usually “because we have changed or the markets have changed or the economy has changed or whatever”, mostly specious arguments it must be said, but sufficient to start the process off.

Seldom, however, does the question is asked of “how can we improve our service to the customer, and could that mean that we need to restructure?”

Most restructures result from an innate feeling that we are not quite as effective as we could be and some changes in the way that we run the business would be a good idea.

It is, more often than not, a case of addressing the symptoms rather than looking at the root cause of any ineffectiveness.  By the way, the best way to find out how you are doing is to ask the customers, not in a sterile and formal questionnaire, but rather face to face and preferably leader to leader.

As a result of a period of introspection b the leader there should be a better view of why it is necessary to change the way in which the business operates and this may, and I emphasise, may include restructuring.

At all times the question of “how will this improve customer service” must be at the forefront of the discussions.

A further and important point is that restructuring must never be mooted to rearrange the people we have currently.  Any restructuring needs initially to done in a vacuum by concentrating on the roles, existing or new, which need to be in place.

After that the existing people can be allocated or reallocated the posts and the roles which may of course cause some problems.  At least, the leader will be aware of the possibilities beforehand and can take the necessary action.

The leader needs always to be aware that change can be seen as a threat if it imposed so if it is feasible to engage the team in any restricting project, then much of the fear of change can be eliminated.

Any significant change in the way that the business operates needs to be tested and needs time to bed in.  Adjustment to the systems and procedures does not imply failure or incompetence; rather it demonstrates an ability to adjust and make certain that the changes are working satisfactorily.

In the end, if you do restructure, check regularly to see whether your service to the markets has improved and measure the response from the customers on a regular basis. 

Above all, get rid of the Customer Service Department and work to ensure that everyone in the business understands that they are individually responsible for supreme service to the customers.
 
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Sunday, 16 September 2012

So You Are a Great Leader? Then You Must be a Great Coach as Well!


It has been a summer to remember if you are even marginally interested in sport.  Starting with Rory McIlroy winning another major, the US PGA title, then the sensational Tour de France, the Olympics, the equally wonderful Paralympics and finally Andy Murray after his Olympic gold, did it at last and won his first and very deserved Grand Slam event at the US Open in New York.

Ironically, the only two sports which have not been noticeably successful, cricket and football, (Lancashire and Blackburn Rovers both relegated) are supposed  to be the most popular for spectators in the UK.  Tell that to the 80,000 screaming fans crammed into the stadium at 10.00am in the morning for the Paralympics.

Now I have severe withdrawal symptoms and the TV stands alone and dark with only exciting stuff like soaps and Real Deal available.

It was fascinating to hear in many of the post event interviews how almost without exception the athletes mentioned the impact that their coach had in their success.
 
Coaches like David Brailsford with Team GB Cycling and Ivan Lendl with Andy Murray, in very differing ways, have without doubt had an enormous and positive influence on their charges.
Oddly, and as far as I can discover, Lendl is one of the few coaches who have been major and successful players in their own right.  More often the coach is someone who loves the sport, was unable to reach top class as a performer, and became instead a coach and an influence.
Remember the story, possibly apocryphal, of the coach to the multiple Olympic gold swimmer, Mark Spitz, who apparently not only couldn’t swim but had a morbid fear of water.
Undoubtedly, his contribution to the success of Mark Spitz was what he was able to implant between his ears rather than in the pool where, technically, Spitz didn’t really need much assistance.
It would be logical conjecture to assume that Ivan Lendl had much the same effect on Andy Murray with the added bonus of being able to offer his opinions as to the way he was playing the game.  Murray’s steady rise to the top via runner up at Wimbledon, gold at the Olympics and now the US Open, dates from the time that he appointed Lendl as his coach.
So sport can and perhaps should be a metaphor for business.  It has been said by a wise commentator that one of the primary roles of the leader is that of coach; to transmit experience and expertise to the followers.
It isn’t a matter motivation; it is arrogant to think that we can motivate anyone; the best that we can achieve is to offer people an environment in which they can motivate themselves should they so desire.
If anyone is a leader in a business, at whatever level, then they need to understand the importance of coaching their team and helping them to achieve the very best they can be, like those wonderful Paralympians.  What a great objective in life that is.
 
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Sunday, 9 September 2012

Are You Doing HR and H&S DIY? Better to Get an Expert In!


Some of the more exacting tasks that have to be undertaken in a typical SME sized business take up an enormous amount of time, effort and emotion, frequently because of the lack of expertise available in-house.

There has been and continues to be a flood of legislation particularly about how businesses employ their people, and in every sense, how are we allowed to recruit them, what can we ask of them when we recruit them, what sort of contract should we offer, how can we make sure that they are looked after during the time they are working and son and so on.

Even more, how can we terminate the employment of a disruptive or non-performing member of staff in a manner that is fair to both sides; consistently a difficult issue for the leader?

I strongly believe that businesses should fulfil their purpose and do what they are set up to do and what they are good at doing.  Patently, they are generally not good at keeping up to date with the aforesaid legislation and it makes sense to bring in someone who is.

The two main areas of contention which seem to afflict members of my Vistage group are Human Resources and Health and Safety, both of which need a level of expertise these days which is not normally found in an SME.

For example, it makes sense, if the business does not employ a full time employment and workforce specialist  to use a part time expert to advise on contracts of employment, set up procedures, grievance handling and so on.  Tracey Murphy of HR Track (www.hrtrack.co.uk) says:

"A good HR expert will bring peace of mind to decision-makers, make them aware of the risks and benefits associated with a course of action, offer them alternatives and reassure them of their rights as an employer - invaluable."

Should a situation escalate to the possibility of an employment tribunal then it may be necessary to talk to an experienced employment lawyer because the time taken up by leaders, inexperienced in the law, can be considerable and at great cost to the business.  For example, Vistage member Alison Loveday of Berg Legal (www.berg.co.uk) says:

‘Employment law is one of the fastest moving areas of law and it is heavily influenced by the European Courts. As some claims in the Employment Tribunal have no limit on the compensation that can be awarded, it is always worth taking advice from an employment expert at the earliest stage , to make sure you are ‘ on the right track’ and to limit you risk and potential exposure so far as possible.”

And what about the vexed question of Health and Safety?  Sadly this really important subject has been ridiculed and demeaned by its use in frankly stupid instances by people who know nothing of the subject but are prepared to exhibit their lack of knowledge to the world.

Because of the impact of ever changing legislation, without doubt businesses of every kind need to take sensible advice in setting up a cogent, productive and workable H&S policy.   Another Vistage member, David Skews of EDP Health and Safety (www.edp-uk.com) says:  

“A working environment in which every individual cares about the health, welfare and safety of their colleagues will inevitably be a highly productive and good place to work.

The fact is, we should do what we are good at and delegate these vitally important functions to the experts rather than taking up time, effort and emotion doing something at which we are inexperienced and generally lack knowledge.

Forget trying to save costs with DIY – get an expert in.  In the end it will be far less expensive and far more effective.
 
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Saturday, 1 September 2012

Ready to Solve a Problem? You Need to Think Before You Leap!


There is a task for me each week and that is to discover and develop a non-repetitive theme for the blog which is now very close to reaching its third birthday, rather to my surprise.

These themes turn up in many ways, sometimes from Vistage speakers, sometimes during a one-to-one with a member and frequently picked up from hearing a phrase or two on Radio 4 or the World Service.

I hope that Vistage speaker, Mike Wilkinson, will forgive for using an quote of his, almost a throw away, which he mentioned  during his excellent session with my group this month, as follows:

· “Prescription without diagnosis is malpractice”

In the medical world this is self-evident, and it struck a chord with me if we re-define it in a business sense as follows:

· “Decision making without prior analysis is at best foolhardy and sometimes dangerous”

The fact is that we often expect our leaders to be quick thinking, instinctive and decisive which is fine in a general sense but it does tend to lead to the “shoot from the hip” syndrome.

In certain cases that can be effective and the right thing to do but at least a modicum of thought beforehand can be even more effective.  Coming from an engineering background and hence, allegedly, having   an analytical bent, I do like to see some analysis of a problem before making a decision.

There is a long standing and very good technique called the Decision Tree which involves stating the issue on which a decision is required, then determining the options available.  Each option is then analysed as to people requirements, resources available, time for the solution, any downside issues and finally, the costs of implementation.

This allows a very considered decision to be made, not necessarily the best one it must be said, but definitely considered.

Perhaps prior research has been taken to an extent which is becoming almost intrusive in everyone’s lives.  For example, the collection of buying habit data by the major retailers, vast amounts of market research, focus groups and so on, are all directed towards making decisions to increase business and importantly, profitability.

Autocratic and authoritarian leadership is most often based on the ability to make quick decisions and very laudable that can be.

However, it does rely on the ability of one person to look at an issue, to think about it (we hope) and then go ahead often without any consideration of the effect that it may have on the business and the people in it.

Of course, consensual decision making is slower but it does involve people in the business which is desirable in terms of helping the team through the process of change.  In the end, however, it is more often than not the leader’s decision as to the way forward but at least having heard all the thoughts of the team.

The use of a non-executive Director on the board can be a valuable addition to the team, bringing with it n external view which is not encumbered by day to day pressures, and certainly membership of a peer group such as Vistage helps enormously in testing and perfecting decision making.

If not, we are back to the Ready, Fire, Aim method frequently followed by a loud cry of “Oh, dear me” or similar.
 
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