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Sunday, 30 December 2012

Still Having Annual Appraisals of Your People? Scrap Them! (the Appraisals Not The People)


The HR Director popped her head round the door of the CEO’s office and said (in cheerful tones):

“It’s Annual Appraisal time again!”

“Oh hell” was the reply in somewhat less than cheerful tones.

The dreaded annual appraisal usually does have that reaction from  both management and staff for the very good reason that this is the time when everybody is supposed to come clean, to open up and to talk totally frankly about  themselves and their issues. 

Really?  Once a year?  No wonder that the onset of the appraisal process fills most people with apprehension and sometimes even fear.

Just consider the business that assesses its performance based solely on the annual audited accounts.  Sensible?  Of course not.  The sensible course is to have monthly management accounts produced and then the annual accounts are a matter of confirmation of facts which are already known.

So why do we persist in having annual appraisals of people in the business when their performance can and should be monitored on a regular basis throughout the year?

Another and significant issue is the essentially subjective approach in the annual appraisal.  I have looked at a few samples and they all use a scoring method based on opinion, for example, for attitude, commitment and enthusiasm.

Indeed what sensible and appropriate metrics can be used to assess a person’s performance over a period of a year?  One would assume that it changes with the seasons and with other and often outside influences.

The point is that these are not metrics; they are shades of opinion masquerading as metrics.  It is the difference between an emotional and a rational approach.

On these very specious terms therefore we assess performance and if it is deemed to be below par, then we won’t know whether there has been any change until the next round of appraisals.  Nonsense?  Of course it’s nonsense because we are in regular contact with most people in the business and we can assess how they are doing on a regular, if somewhat random, basis.

So what is the answer?  If it is sensible to have monthly management accounts it is equally sensible to have a regular assessment of your people and especially the top team.

There is no question that monthly one-to-ones with everyone in the top team should be a mandatory entry in the leader’s diary.  No discussion, no excuses; the monthly one-to-one lasting up to a couple of hours is the most important meeting that the leader and the team members can have.

It enables both to open up, to be honest, frank and truthful in the discussion and to expect the same in return.  It does take a little time for such an atmosphere to be generated but in the end, a high level of trust can be the result.

The annual accounts are of true value only to the bank, the accountants and the Revenue because it is the monthly management accounts on which decisions are taken on a regular basis.

The annual appraisal is of virtually no value either to the leader or to the team member so ditch it.  Replace it with open and honest monthly one-to-ones and watch how mutual trust grows.
 
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Sunday, 23 December 2012

You Know What You Do and How You Do It – Do You Know WHY You Do It?


The classic mantra in the theory of selling is that people buy for benefits, not for features and there is a great deal of truth in that.  Why wouldn’t there be; it has worked successfully for years.  Features fulfil the “want” and benefits, the “need”.

For example, rational people in a buying situation ask the question; “what’s in it for me?”  This applies, by the way, to commercial purchasing as well as for us all at this time of the year.

We don’t buy perfume or after shave for what it smells like but rather for the effect that it will have when we wear it.

The same goes for clothes.  We buy clothes not expressly for what they look like but sub-consciously perhaps for the effect that they will have on other people when we wear them.

This is all well and good but somehow it misses the point and because I was told about a short video on TED this week, I can see now the real basis for buying into anything, material things, innovation, theories of life, religion, relationships and living, anything.

Grant Leboff, (www.stickymarketing.com) one of the gre atspeakers on the Vistage speaker circuit told us about the video by Simon Sinek (http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html) which takes the discussion to a far higher level.

In simplistic terms, we all, in our businesses, know exactly what we do.  Perhaps to a lesser extent we know how we do it.  Very seldom do we know WHY we do what we do.

Discount right away that we do it for money.  That is a result not a reason.

The WHY we do things is central to all decision making and when we realise it the change in our approach to business will change and radically.

Sinek takes Apple as an example.  If we look at them in a basic sense they are manufacturers of computers and smart telephones.  So what? There are many companies out there which do exactly the same thing to a greater or lesser extent.

Apple know what they do, they certainly know how they do it.  Critically they know why they do it and that is because they believe that they are there to challenge the status quo; to be completely different.

So they say, “We are different, we think differently, we operate differently and, by the way, we also make well designed computers”.  Never mind the fact that they are far and away the most expensive; the six hour queues for the launch of the iPhone 5 and the new range of iPads is testament to their ability to enthuse and to instil the belief that the customer will be buying into something different.

In the same way Winston Churchill inspired the nation during the war even though there were cleverer politicians, even better public speakers. The key was that he inspired belief, belief that the nation would come through the dark days into the light, and, of course, it happened.  After the war ended, he didn’t have a credible “why” and the nation looked elsewhere for leadership.

It implies a radical rethink of our marketing message; not just “this is what we do and this is how we do it”; in other words the features, but a rethink to start at WHY we do it, in fact, our purpose in which we believe absolutely. 

It will answer the customer’s question of “What’s in it for me?”  before it is alsed. Take a look at the Simon Sinek video and be prepared to be inspired.

It could change your (marketing) life.
 
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Sunday, 16 December 2012

Do Leaders Emerge Through Nature or Nurture? Probably a Mixture of Both!


Perhaps the biggest issue for leaders is the paucity of education at this level; education in the sense of teaching and training leaders the art of leadership as such.

There was a report on the failings in a United Kingdom prison recently where the situation had become so bad that the governor was removed the following day.  The new incumbent, when interviewed, said gently that there seemed to have been a breakdown in relations between senior management and the staff.

Try searching online for “leadership” and you will be inundated with information, books, presentations and articles, all of which have tried to define the traits which go to make up a successful leader.  Relationships are at the heart of it.

It all starts with the perennial question as to whether leaders are born or made, is it a matter of nature or nurture.  In all probability it is a mixture of both in some way.

Some years ago I was at a company conference with around 60 of us holed up in a hotel for a long (very long) weekend. We were told that one of the sessions would be on problem solving.

We went into break out groups of about 10 and were given an intractable problem to discuss and solve.  Each group was instructed to elect a Chairman and an observer was allocated to each group to report back at the end.

When the observers reported back it transpired that the session was not about problem solving but rather about leadership.  In every case – every case please note – the group had elected a Chairman and then proceeded to ignore them as another member of each group took over the role of de facto leader.

We have all been at meetings where someone with a strong personality and probably a loud voice dominated the proceedings and, in some cases, effectively took over the meeting.

In these cases the tendency is for the strong personality to be aggressive and force his/her own opinions on the group rather than the ideal of being assertive.  Discussions round the water cooler afterwards are seldom positive.

And where is the training for active or prospective leaders?  There is a great deal of management education available at very high levels as well, but it seems to me that there is a shortage of help for people at the top of a business where the demands are totally different from functional management.

So what are those inborn traits which make someone into a leader?  Force of personality is certainly one as well as a measure of self-confidence which doesn’t overflow into arrogance.  It is that ability to engender trust in followers that also gives them confidence.  It is perhaps the ability to engender belief in followers as well. It is the ability to build satisfactory and productive relationships.

All of these attributes are inborn; a consequence of nature and perhaps upbringing in some cases.  On the other hand, it is possible to assist leaders to hone their skills through a measure of training and learning, an understanding of which requires humility.

The problem is that as we move upwards through the business there will be fewer and fewer people to tell us that we are doing well and that requires emotional stamina.

We all need praise in some ways and the leader will have to learn to exist on little or no praise, for who is there to praise the leader?  Very seldom will it be one of the followers.

A peer group and/or a mentor does help in this respect and many leaders are beginning to realise that the isolation of the position can bring with it stresses that other people in the business don’t experience or even know exist and if they did know of them they would run a mile.

There are some really great books out there to help the leader to develop an ethos which is right for the people and the business.

What is always needed in the leader is a desire to learn, to go on learning and to accept that learning is forever.  It really never stops..
 
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Sunday, 9 December 2012

Why Should I Come in Early? I’m a Director Remember!


It is constantly surprising to realise that some leaders really don’t seem to understand that their example is followed by people in the business and therefore, what they do and how they behave is crucial.

The story goes that some years ago now, a major London based PLC acquired a very large, underperforing engineering company in Manchester.

The PLC Chairman, somewhat reluctantly, emerged from his Mayfair office to visit this company in the frozen north.

After the obligatory works tour the Chairman was invited to lunch in the Directors’ oak-panelled dining suite where he sat at the head of the table lunching in his usual frugal manner on an apple and some cheese.  The Directors meanwhile where chomping their way through their usual four course lunch
At the end of the lunch, the Chairman looked at the Directors and said:
in something of a silence.
“You chaps do yourselves very well here, don’t you?  Perhaps you could consider it”
and walked out.  Changes were made pretty rapidly.
At about the same time I was asked to go into a smallish printing company where the Directors had done a Management Buy-Out from the owner, funded by their bank.
Performance of the business after the MBO had been, to say the least, indifferent and the bank, naturally, was beginning to get somewhat nervous.  Accordingly they sent in one or two consultants to look over the business and to see where the problem lay.
Talking to the managers who were now Directors of the business, it transpired that although they had mortgaged their homes to buy in to the deal, their behaviour afterwards was odd in the extreme.
The first thing that they had done was to present each other with a large top of the range car even though cash was understandably tight.
Then we noticed that they were “working” somewhat short hours, coming n after 9.00am, taking a long lunch and leaving in the afternoon.
When they were asked about this behaviour they looked rather surprised and said the equivalent of “Isn’t that how Directors behave?”  In the end the original owner bought the business back and replaced the Directors.
In truth, they needed to realise that the ownership of a business means much harder effort, longer hours and total dedication to the cause and in addition, to remember that keeping their homes depended on the success of the business,
Both of these stories, in very differing companies but with the same behaviour at the top, reflect an attitude of implied superiority over the lower classes which cannot be helpful to relationships.
There is no question that this engenders resentment, indifference and apathy in the workforce and builds up an “us and them” environment where militancy can flourish.
In the case of the PLC acquisition, it did just that until the new owners changed the whole approach to the people in the business and indeed the whole culture of the company.
It takes time to make changes like that and it is obviously far netter never to arrive at the need.
Humility in a leader is seemingly rare but until he/she realises that they are not omnipotent, then the “top down” approach will dominate.  I like this quotation which exemplifies the inclusive style of leadership:
“The people want me to be their leader – I must follow them”
It is the acceptance that they don’t know everything, that their contribution to the business while important is not all encompassing and that there are many other people whose contribution is manifestly vital.
Once that is understood, the leader is much more likely to be trusted and equally will be more able to trust the people.
 
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Sunday, 2 December 2012

Still Doing the Same Things? You Need Constantly to Question the Status Quo!


Over the years I have come more and more to realise that many leaders need not to be more assertive and even, heaven forbid, aggressive but actually to back off more

The fact is that many leaders put in far too much time in the actual running of the business and far too little time into working on it, visioning the future and planning to take the business forward.

I have said before and I say it again; while the finances of the company are vitally important, especially the cash situation, forensic examination of the management accounts does nothing positive except to irritate the finance department who prepared them.

When I was involved in Slater Walker in the 1970s discussion of the accounts at every board meeting was limited to no more than twenty minutes and most of the time was taken up with “where are we going?” not “where have we been?”

This implies that someone needs to lead that charge and, in the main, the majority of people on the business are rightly preoccupied with the day to day to worry too much about the long term future.

The leader must know what and where that bright shining star is, the answer to “where are we going?” and the single overall objective and purpose of the business.

Sure, there needs to be consultation and agreement at top team level so that there is buy in from everyone, but in the end it is the function of the leader to make that great decision.

In other words the leader has to stop the “leave it to me, I’ll do it and sort it out” syndrome which immediately engenders that bane of every leader’s life – upwards delegation.

Not content with poor or non-existent delegation, the “leave it to me” leader has to start doing everyone else’s jobs for them simply because her/she just can’t let go and, let’s be honest, because they do not trust those under them to do the job properly and effectively.

That word “trust” is possibly the most emotive simply because it is at the heart of leadership.  The leader needs always to be questioning the team and indeed, the whole of the status quo.  Can we do this differently, better, more simply, more effectively?

Thomas Edison said:

·       There is a better way to do it – find it!”

Unless there is compete trust and indeed mutual trust, questioning and challenging will tend to be seen as implied reprimand whereas it should be considered as a genuine attempt to improve the shining hour.

In the end, the leader needs to have time to consider, to cogitate, to wander round the business, to talk to people, and above all, to take time out working on it, not in it.

Understandably most leaders would hesitate to put the feet up on the desk, close the eyes and expect the team to realise that what is happening is a productive use of the leader’s time.

In fact, it is but visibly it may seem to be a little self-indulgent.  Accordingly the leader must clear the decks, and take time out to work on the future of the business while keeping a weather eye open for the present and what is needed to achieve the long term objectives.

I suppose I am suggesting that the leader needs to wok a way out of allowing and trusting the team to get on with the day to day running of the business and hence to devote his/her time to working on the future.

It’s not about forecasting - it’s about deciding what is needed to be done in order to achieve the objectives.
 
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