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Sunday, 27 July 2014

Want To Know What Your Employees Think About You? Try the Gallup Employee Attitude Survey ad Find Out!

A constant need of most leaders is to find out precisely what the workforce is thinking and how engaged they are.  The usual practice is to use an employee satisfaction survey, which generally doesn’t always ask the right questions.

We are not really concerned as to whether the employees are merely satisfied with their lot but rather what is it that is really important to them as an individual.

It has to be said that results of some employee satisfaction survey are very dubious mainly because even if the process is claimed to be anonymous, this can be disbelieved.  Additionally and even though it might not be thought to be totally anonymous, the temptation is often to sound off and use it as a complaint survey.

An excellent book "Follow That Path" by Coffman and Gonzalez-Molina explains how the international survey company Gallup accepted these shortcomings and developed a simple survey based on literally millions of responses they had over many years from which they realised that there are only twelve basic questions which cover the needs of employees.

In other words rather than trying to discover employee satisfaction the survey uncovers employee attitude which is far more relevant.

The respondents were give a range of five options to enable them to rate the importance of each to them from Strongly Disagree through Neutral to Strongly Agree.  Because there can be a tendency for disinterested people to choose the Neutral option as a get out, there is a case for dropping it and offering only four alternatives.

1.    I know what is expected of me at work.
2.    I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
3.    At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
4.    In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
5.    My supervisor, or someone at work seems to care about me as person.
6.    There is someone at work who encourages my development.
7.    At work, my opinions seem to count.
8.    The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is   important.
9.    My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.
10.I have a trusted colleague at work. (The Gallup system uses "special friend or best friend" but I prefer this alternative)
11.In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
12.In this last year, I have had opportunities to learn and grow at work.

These are the twelve magic questions that Gallup has spent millions of dollars and some 30 years in developing to assess the level of engagement of employees.

They have discovered that engaged employees create engaged customers and engaged customers are very loyal customers and therefore are repeat buyers. The very satisfactory result is that they are usually profitable customers.

Look at the reverse situation.  If you have employees who are not engaged, are bored, just come in to work to earn their pay, exhibit poor behaviour and generally a bad attitude, do you really think that they will create engaged customers?

Learn from the Gallup questions and develop a culture that will produce the employees and the customers who constantly benefit the business.


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Sunday, 20 July 2014

Lots of Lovely Business From One Customer? Check Your Vulnerability and Have a PLAN B!

One of the classic facets of leadership is what to do about and how to combat vulnerability.  It is generally defined as having too large a proportion of sales to one outlet and it has been suggested that that proportion should not, as far as possible, exceed 15%.

If only.  The most tempting thing that can happen is being royally courted by an important customer with all the blandishments leading to more and more business.

I recall a client some years ago who manufactured and supplied consumer based product to the major outlet in the United Kingdom and when I knew him the proportion of sales to that customer was hovering around the 70% mark.

And what happened?  He made a good product, was innovative in design, gave great service and was reasonably priced.  All of these factors made his company an ideal and reliable supplier.

Accordingly the customer asked for more and more, opened new categories, flattered him and in the end built the proportion of sales to over 90%.

Is this unusual?  Not really because the high street outlets are so hungry for good product and good service that they are able to place such a level of business that often only occurs in dreams.

And it is very tempting, of course, to accept the orders and see the business growing.  The problem is that the growth is there all right but is it healthy growth?

What eventually happened was almost predictable.  I constantly warned he client but he kept saying that the buyer lover the product and the company and the business was safe.

The trouble is that buyers are transient souls and he left the customer to be replaced by a buy from one of the customer’s competitors.  He brought in with him all the manufacturers and suppliers whom he knew and could work with.

My client was not one of them and he was told that the business would slowly be moved away.  Slowly?  In three months the orders had dried up apart from a few where he had a unique place on the shelves.

The upshot was that he went out of business having made no provision for this eventuality. 

It is also possible that a business can be vulnerable to a supplier, for example.  One of my clients dealt with a specialist engineering business that manufactured a specific and unique component for him.

The supplier suddenly called him one day to say that cash had run out and they were in receivership.  The product was so important to my client and was impossible to source quickly from anywhere else, that there was only one solution.  He had to buy the manufacturer and so maintain supplies but at what cost?

The point is, of course, that you can be vulnerable to just about every part of the business and it needs to be considered as a regular part of management discussion.

Look at a few possibilities.  You have a particularly talented top technical manage in the business in an area of activity that is very unusual.  That is a person you really don’t want to lose.

Perhaps you are a “one trick pony”, brilliantly good at designing and manufacturing a product for which you are justly famous.  That is a classic situation of someone spotting what they consider to be an opportunity and they start to impinge on your markets.

However good you are, however well regarded you and your business are, the markets are unforgiving and will move as soon as they perceive a better deal.  How often have we heard the lament that the company has lost business because the customers have decided to source abroad at far lower prices?

There is not time for the wringing of hands and the angry resentment of what is happening.  The only way to combat vulnerability is to identify it before it happens and make sure that you always have a Plan B, just in case.

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Sunday, 13 July 2014

Building Your Team? It’s “WE” that Matters, not “I”!

I have always enjoyed sport and sport of most kinds (with the possible exception of football) even though I have never achieved much more than enthusiastic mediocrity in their pursuit.

Now I have reached a certain level of maturity I can watch sport on TV without that feeling of guilt that I really ought to be out there doing it not just watching it.

I can even indulge in fantasies without considering that I wouldn’t be able to match the astonishing talents and capabilities of the top performers.

This has been brought to mind this week and, I am delighted to say for the next three weeks, because it’s the Tour de France time and I find it absolutely compelling.

Watching particularly the footage from the helicopter and seeing the way that the teams take the lead or move up the pelleton reminds me of those nature shots of shoals of fish or flocks of birds all moving without apparent leadership, but moving together.

It is, of course, a great metaphor for the way that a truly effective team operates and many a lesson can be learnt from it.

The classic road cycling team is built on the premise that the team is greater than the sum of its parts and every team in Le Tour knows precisely the purpose of the way that they work.

For example, a team can be built around a leader who is a likely candidate for the General Classification or, in other words, capable of winning the Tour. 

To back him up there several designated functions such as the lead out riders who will assist the leader to be in the right position on the road in order to achieve the best position for every stage.

If the purpose of the team is to win the sprints at the end of each stage then the team is built for just that result.

Notice also that if a rider in the team falls back for some reason such as a crash or a puncture, one of the other members of the team will hang back to help him regain his place.

Everything is subordinate to the needs of the team and hence the team sponsors and even more hence the objectives which all the team espouse.

It is understood and accepted absolutely that there will be only one leader and only one winner who will collect all the plaudits.

What a metaphor for any team in business.  Just to have everyone know precisely what is expected of them individually and without the need, within the team, for notional accountability.  That is because everyone trusts and helps everyone else to achieve.

If the cycling team works because it is very well organised, why should a business team not be equally successful for the same reason?

I recall working with the board of a company consisting of five individuals all of whom put in lots of hours and were constantly surprised that very little seem to be achieved.

We tested the team using the Belbin Method which determines the style which team members are likely to adopt from a list of nine typical types such as chairman, shaper, plant (the ideas person), completer-finisher and others.

The ideal is to have a team consisting of one of each type which should give breadth of ability and hence successful results.  Very few teams have that luxury.

In this case all five turned out to be shapers which indicated that they could all see what needed to be done but it was up to someone else to do it.

We can learn from superbly managed teams like those in Le Tour.  It needs commitment from everyone, an understanding of where the team is going, subordination of the desires of the individual to the needs of the team and above all, a sense of purpose that will drive the team to success.


Remember the Vistage axiom:

“No-one is as smart as all of us”


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Sunday, 6 July 2014

Starting Your Strategic Planning? Talk to Generation Z; They Will Know What Changes Are Likely!

During a recent meeting to discuss strategy with a client we made some decisions about, for example, the period of time for which the strategy will run.  Not unusual of course but it brought to mind some thoughts that have been bothering me.

Some recent experiences and also some published surveys have made me realise that a five year time span from now will involve a rate of change in technology alone that will be far faster than anything we have previously experienced.

More to the point, unless leaders take on board the need to assess what these changes are likely to look like and how they will impact the business there may well be a dangerous gap in forecasting and actual performance.

Let’s look at some random recent experiences.

During this last week I was at the quarterly Vistage National Chair meeting staying at a hotel which is part of a global chain. In general the experience of the hotel was what one would expect; nothing exceptional, more than adequate accommodation and catering but no WOW factor.

Two occurrences stand out.  On arrival I asked what was the procedure for accessing Wi-Fi and was immediately told that there would be a charge of £16.50 for 24 hours.

A colleague of mine who has a hybrid car which runs mainly on the electric drive asked did they have a charging point at which the reception clerk looked puzzled and said, no they didn’t.

We are in the 21st century if this particular chain hadn’t realised it yet and both of these requests are perfectly reasonable and becoming universal especially free Wi-Fi.  

Simply because of these rapid and extraordinary changes (and there are many more example) forecasting for a five-year period becomes an entirely different exercise.

I am not proposing that we should all become futurists but at least we should take on board the likely changes and undertake some research to see what could possibly happen in relevant industries.

Above all, if you will be employing Generation Zs in the future (which you will of course), talk to them now because they will have a far better understanding of what is changing and how it could affect your company.


A little humility in this respect will bear fruit in planning the future of your business.


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