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Sunday, 30 June 2013

How Often Do You Praise Your People? That is the Reward They Value!


I have been thinking about the ramifications of change following last week’s blog and the effect that it has on people in the business. 

In essence what is always wanted from the team, at whatever level, are values aligned with those of the business, a positive attitude, good behaviour and a high level of enthusiasm and commitment? 

Not much to ask?  There are two critical questions at play here; do we have people in the business with these attributes and if not, how can we find them outside the business? 

In fact, there is a supplementary question to ask and that is, why don’t we have anyone in the business with these attributes?  That is probably even more important and needs to be examined, answered and corrected. 

One of my Vistage members says that there are two main criteria which every leader should understand and build on, namely people and communications. 

Every great commentator on leadership says that it is essential to have the right people in the business, to look after them and to help them to motivate themselves to a higher level. 

Note: to HELP them to motivate themselves.  I would submit that we can’t motivate people and even to think that we can is verging on the arrogant.  What we as leaders can do is to provide people with a working environment, in every sense, that enables them to self motivate, should they so wish to do so. 

The eminent American psychologist, Dr Frederick Herzberg, said that there are two types of motivational factor, the positive and the negative. 

Negative factors such as the physical working environment, company policies and procedures and salary need to be right, in which case they can pass by almost unnoticed. 

On the other hand if they are wrong, disliked or mistrusted then they can have a seriously negative effect of the motivation of the people involved. 

Positive factors are very much in the province of the leadership and their provision in a forward thinking business can help the team to build confidence in the leadership and in themselves. 

The positive factors are achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, advancement and personal growth in declining order of significance. 

It is obvious that all these attributes can be offered by the leadership to a greater or lesser extent and it is essential that they are built into the ethos of the business.  Only by doing so can the highest level of self motivation be achieved. 

Add to these the need for acceptable inherent values in the team, aligned with those of the business (do you know what they are incidentally?), positive attitude and behaviour, enthusiasm and commitment and it’s job done! 

However, if the right people ate not available in the business or worse, have not been identified, then it will be necessary to recruit and that has issues which must be confronted. 

First of all, how best can we establish those essential attributes in a candidate before making the appointment?  Moreover the fact that someone wants to join you implies that they are dissatisfied for whatever reason with their current job so the question to ask is, why do they want to move? 

What has encouraged them to apply to join your company?  Is it just increased salary, or is it the lure of opportunity and the chance to learn and advance themselves?  All people who move jobs come to you with baggage and making sure that this would not impact negatively on your business is, to say the least, important. 

The role of leadership then is to provide a positive environment in which people can learn, flourish, achieve and prove their abilities knowing that they will be recognised and rewarded. That will lead to satisfaction and success.
 
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Sunday, 23 June 2013

Planning an Acquisition? Make Sure That There Isn't a Clash of Cultures!


Some years ago we had an excellent speaker called Barrie Pearson at my Vistage CEO group.  Barrie was CEO of what he called a corporate finance boutique in the City of London and very successful they were. 

Barrie was a bluff and very amusing Yorkshire man and he didn’t stand on ceremony.  If he felt that something needed to be said, then he said it. 

He was strongly of the opinion that an acquisition of one company by another was fraught with potential difficulties and it needed to be thought through with great care. 

In his opinion, half of all acquisitions fail and half of the rest are not successful.  If his client was looking to sell the business then he strongly recommended that there should be a beauty parade with at least two and preferably three potential suitors. 

It all comes down to the fact that buying or selling a business is a potentially traumatic exercise and because so much depends on  the success of the venture, great care needs to be exercised to eliminate as many of the pitfalls as possible.

Of course, being a very shrewd businessman and from Yorkshire to boot, he knew that retention of his company as adviser would help to solve the problems which arise and more to the point would lead to a satisfactory revenue for his company. 

Certainly one of members at the time sold his business, took all of Barrie’s advice and was able to set up a bidding battle with two potential buyers which led to a very satisfactory outcome. 

However thinking back and to other speakers dealing with the whole subject of business acquisition, I don’t recall many of them who mentioned the culture issue.  Finance, operations, sales and marketing were all covered to a greater or lesser extent in the due diligence process but not the culture of each of the companies involved. 

What is more the question of arm’s length management didn’t seem to rank very highly in the great scheme of things when, in fact, it can pose a real problem for any leader and the team acquiring a business. 

Remember the case some years ago of the Midland Bank which bought a failed bank in California and trusted the existing management to run it and turn it round on their behalf?  It had gone down once and sure enough it went down again.
 
I was acting as a consultant to a large professional firm which merged with another equally large practice and for at least three years afterwards, people were talking about how “we” used to do things which were better than the new regime. 

The merging of cultures in two businesses is a complex task which has to be carried out with a great deal of care and even compassion so that as many of the staff will accept that change has happened and that it will be for the better. 

We can’t disguise the fact that acquisition frequently leads to a reduction in the headcount and that in turn can have a de-motivating effect on morale, sometimes in both businesses. 

It is curious how the very thought of change can engender the feeling that the effect will be the loss of an individuals’ job and so the whole exercise is perceived as a threat.  Is it any wonder that 75% of all acquisitions are unsuccessful? 

The fact is that a real analysis of the culture of each partner and a sensible comparison exercise can help the leader to understand exactly what changes can be made without difficulty and which changes need to be handled with care. 
 
An exercise like this can ensure that you are included in the 25% successful deals and as a final note – the word MERGER has not crossed my lips or my computer, simply because there is no such thing.  There will always be a dominant partner so make sure that it is you.
 
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Sunday, 16 June 2013

Developing a Strategy for the Business? Then Take Your People Into Account!


Over the past few years I have seen many strategic plans, discussed almost ad nauseam the ramifications of a strategic plan and even assisted some companies to develop one. 

There are, of course, classic dangers in that the planning exercise itself generates a good deal of enthusiasm until the excitement wears off and everyone resorts to the normal day to day operations. 

Cynical?  A little but possibly with good reason because there seem to be two aspects of the strategic planning process which don’t always appear to be rated as highly as they should. 

One is the lack of a formal action plan so that results can be made visible.  What is the value of going through the tortuous process of planning the strategy for the business and then filing the resultant report under S in the filing cabinet?  A swift look at it after a year just to see how we went on seems to be the maximum which can be expected. 

The ideal action plan includes several critical criteria which will lead to a regular assessment of the current position and allow changes to be made if necessary. 

There always should be a champion for the plan who will cajole and nag to ensure that action is taken. Furthermore, the overall plan should be broken down to a series of objectives, time-based, for which specific members of the team are given responsibility. 

Perhaps the most important factor is an accountability structure so that everyone knows what needs to be done, does it and is held accountable to a nominated individual for the completion of each task. 

Finally, there should be regular meetings to analyse the current position and to make changes as necessary. 

Remember, as Vistage speaker, Herb Meyer, says, “No plan can survive its collision with reality” so understand that any strategy is a living organism and should change according its needs. 

This is a very short and necessarily truncated description of an action plan and if you would like some more information then please get in touch – I will be happy to help. 

The second failing of many strategic plans is the concentration on operational matters and a strong financial bias while almost ignoring the fact that that the top team may well design the strategy but in the end, it is the people who will make sure that it works. 

Perhaps the most important aspect of any strategy is the involvement of those who are going to implement the plan and as far as I can recall they don’t normally figure in the plans, at least at a significant level. 

It isn’t just the question of whether we have the right people; it is also whether we train them properly, involve them properly and lead them properly. 

It is a matter of the culture and unless we understand that the people are the engine room of the business then we are really missing a trick. 

I have said on many occasion that people want to know two things; how am I doing and where are we going?  Making sure that they are involved and as far as possible devoting time to them certainly contributes to the “how am I doing?” question. 

Involving people in developing the strategy of the business is a major step in ensuring that not only are the right people on the bus but they all want to go in the same direction.
 
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Sunday, 9 June 2013

What do Your People Want at Work? These Ideas Will Help!


One of the minor irritations in life for me is the proliferation of those tweets, updates, statuses and the like which list the “10 Ways to be a Successful.....“ or “6 Top Tips to Financial.....“ and so on. 

I suppose that one of the drawbacks of regular blogging is the danger of falling into a state of imagined invincibility and I promise that I will try to avoid just that. 

Even so, last week I did fall into the trap of listing some aspects of leadership which I really did consider significant and as they had originally been devised by Google, I felt that there was some valid reason for passing them on. 

If followers can give an opinion of what they would like in a leader (and rightly so), why not some thoughts of what a leader looks for in the team and what would contribute to a happy, motivated and productive workforce?  

So going right against my better judgement, the following are some thoughts which would tend to improve our enjoyment and pleasure at work, and why not indeed?  

Be Positive

There is nothing so depressing as being around someone with a negative slant on life.  It really does drain all the energy out and can be very catching.  Vistage speaker John Cremer uses the “Yes, and....(rather than Yes, but.....)” method which raises the energy and increases the positivity in any discussion. 

Learn Constantly

There is a lovely question about experience which I heard recently: “Is it 20 years experience or is it one year’s experience repeated 20 times?”.  The fact is that unless we continue to learn and consciously, then we stultify and I strongly believe that can lead to real problems as we age. 

Constant, conscious and consistent learning is vital part of business life. 

Be Open

There is little worse than being with people who always seem to hide their inner feelings or, more frequently, don’t disclose what they are doing or achieving.  

It may be a defence mechanism at work but it contributes to a lack of trust.  Openness and transparency in business is essential even in difficult times when being honest and bringing people together can help in a tough situation. 

Participate

Don’t just stand there – join in!  The very act of joining in a project or being part of a team generates job satisfaction while hovering on the outskirts of the scrum without taking part brands you as an outsider. 

Taking part enthusiastically in what is happening increases the enjoyment of the process and builds confidence. 

Find Meaning

Someone once questioned three artisans who were working on the construction of a cathedral and asked the fist “What are you doing?” to receive the reply “I’m laying bricks and that is my job”.  The next one replied “I’m constructing a wall for the outside of the building”. 

The third person said: “I am building a cathedral to the glory of G-d”. 

That is a perfect example of what it is to have meaning in what we are doing. 

Respect

Whatever we do, whomsoever we deal with, all needs to be done with respect to their feelings, to their needs and aspirations and to their abilities.   Everyone has something to offer, to a greater or lesser extent, and accepting that fact requires respect. 

We can’t demand respect; it has to be earned. 

That is the end of the philosophical debate for today and, I promise, the end of the “How to do” or “How to be” lists from me.  

Sure, this is just a GBO (Glimpse of the Blindingly Obvious with thanks to sadly missed Vistage speaker, Ray Wilshire) but it isn’t a bad idea to mull it over from time to time.
 
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Sunday, 2 June 2013

Do You Care About Your People? That Is What They Want From a Leader!


It’s strange how the occasional spot of insomnia can set the creativity flowing and that at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning.  My prescription for the condition is to listen to the BBC World Service until I go back to sleep. 

Last time this happened I was fortunate enough to hear a repeat of the Radio 4 programme, Four Thought, which really interested me and set my mind on a new train of thought (and at 3.00am). 

The programme featured the CEO of a consultancy which promotes the concept of democratic management; in fact, it was about companies where the people choose their managers rather than having them imposed from above. 

Radical it certainly is, but there are several cases of companies using the idea and with considerable success in terms of happy, contented and very productive workforces. 
 
A good example of the method is W J Gore, manufacturers of Gore-Tex materials, which was set up some 60 years ago with the express intention of using the democratic technique and has now grown into a multi-national and very successful business. 

Google, which fairly obviously has access to a vast range of information, surveys and opinions, has consolidated it all and come to conclusions about what it is that people in the workforce really want from their leaders. 

The Google research listed eight major factors which they say, if well applied, can make a major contribution to the well being and hence the effectiveness of the people in the business. 

Number 8 on the list is for the leader to have the necessary technical skills in order to assist the team as appropriate, and number 7 suggests that the leader needs to have a clear strategy and vision. 

Fairly obvious of course so far; number 6 says that the leader should be prepared to help the team with their career development.  Strangely, number 5 says that the team expect that the leader is a good communicator which seems to be quite low in terms of the priorities. 

Number 4 on the list says that the leader needs to be productive and results orientated which is another way of describing that old management tool of Management by Objectives which still has relevance although now under new disguises. 

The top three requirements of a successful leader according to the Google research are at number 3, to express interest in the team’s success and personal well-being; number 2 enjoins the leader to empower the team and not to micro-manage them and the top factor and by far the most significant is that the leader should be a coach to the team and its members. 

If we take that well worn statement that “I need to do it because I know that I will be done right” at face value, then the leader is in a perfect position to transmit that expertise to the team and subsequently to let them get in with it. 

Coaching is not a matter of training; it is a subtle way of assisting people to develop their own skills and abilities to the advantage of themselves, the team and the business.  The ideal leader is in a perfect position to draw out of the team all those innate talents and then to give them their heads to express themselves without interference. 

The people look for leaders who, in the broadest sense, are interested in them, in their well being, in their careers and in their performance.  In addition they want leaders who are prepared to help them develop themselves and their careers. 

Care about your people and trust them; it could the biggest and best decision that you ever make.
 
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