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Sunday, 30 November 2014

Harassed, Overworked, Stressed Out? What You Need is a Great PA!

I seem to have several of the Managing Director/CEO members of my Vistage groups saying that they are working too hard, too long hours and don’t seem to have any spare time for anything other than the business.

Not unusual in this day and age and the wide use of the ever-present smart phones and/or tablets doesn’t help.  Ask yourself; do you surreptitiously take a glance at your phone while you are witching TV?

The consistent need is to delegate and I often have the answer: “delegate to whom?” as if there were no one in the business that can do some of the menial tasks that we take on.

If course it is a nonsense and it is a manifestation of the “leave it to me, I’ll do it” syndrome safe in the comfortable feeling that if we do it, then it will be done right.

That is, if it is done at all, because after a while the workload expands to fill every hour of the working day and something has to give.

I remember going to see a new member of one of my Vistage group and during the first one-to-one I asked him if he set priorities and he said that he did and he had a “to-do” list.

That’s good” I said, “Can I see it?” so he did a search on the computer and up it came.  It had 72 items to do.

We spent a great deal of time over the next few meetings trying to regularise the situation and we made great strides simply by being ruthless and either not doing certain things but mainly by delegating them to others.

In another instance the member told me that he was thinking of taking on a personal assistant (PA) although he knew that he would have only enough work for a couple of days a week but that alone would help.

He suggested that he could pass the appointee to the FD to cover his work as well if she had little to do.

When the appointed candidate arrived she took one look at how things were done around there, rolled her eyes and tut-tutted a great deal, metaphorically rolled up her sleeves and got down to work.

The result was of course that she worked full time for the CEO who couldn’t believe the amount of time that was released for what he now saw as more important.

Over the years I have met and to some extent worked with many PAs in a range of businesses and have come to relaise that they are almost all of them the unsung heroes of the company, quietly going about their work and actually doing things rather than discussing them.

Most leaders accept the effort that is put into smoothing the day for them without drama does take an enormous load off their shoulders.

It is sad to note that in these days of diversity and inclusion, the job of the PA is considered one for a woman and it frequently comes with a metaphorical glass ceiling.

However it is good to see that in some industries women have made great strides in moving upwards to leadership; typical of these are teaching, the law, retail and HR.

I know that I would always want to have women in my Vistage groups simply because they bring another dimension to the discussions and generally change the dynamics of the group for the better.

I have been banging on recently about the unseen and unnoticed talent lurking in many businesses.  How about making a start and promoting our PA to a position that really does value their abilities.

Remember that they usually know more than anyone what is going on in the business and that knowledge can be invaluable.


Give it a try: like the football manager said, “It could be the best signing you ever make”.


You can download my book "Leading to Success" from Amazon
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Sunday, 23 November 2014

How Do You Handle the Senior Executive Who is Going Off the Rails? Not With Kid Gloves!

At the risk of being repetitive (although at my age I'm allowed) I seem to be seeing more and more issues with the behaviour of some senior people in business.

We have discussed this issue previously and regrettably on the basis of its apparent frequency. It concerns the high performer who develops a bad attitude and worse behaviour.

It is certainly a factor in the management of people that causes more emotion and uncertainty than many others.

Those members of staff who are manifestly good or even great performers but whose attitude and behaviour leave much to be desired undoubtedly have a toxic effect in their colleagues and the business.

It seems to be more common in external sales people perhaps because they are essentially loners with only occasional contact with HQ.

People like this are a problem at all levels of management simply because their bottom line results are allowed to justify their erratic behaviour. 

The question is, what is more important, the bottom line or the toxic effect of bad attitude and behaviour?

It is all a question of values. If the leader has determined the standards and publicises the values of the business to which everyone is expected to subscribe, then anyone stepping outside the norm, quite frankly, should have a case to answer.

What we want to achieve are people who genuinely want to go where the business is going, who are engaged and in alignment with the values and the strategy.

However the really serious problems arise when a senior member of the executive, perhaps a director, starts to exhibit these negative symptoms.

Fairly obviously this becomes a matter of decision for the acknowledged leader because it would be generally inappropriate to discuss the situation with the miscreant's peer group.

However before any action can be taken it is essential to build a dossier of evidence that in some cases can only be derived from hearsay and sometimes gossip.

There is no question that everyone in the business will be aware of the problem and probably affected by it in some way.

For the leader, the problem is twofold; firstly there is frequently a strong emotional attachment to the individual, often because they have been with the leader for a long time and have always been loyal and secondly, because of the possible effect on the overall performance of the business.

I have seen several instances over the past years where this problem has arisen and it can cause real distress in the leader.  Oddly while the miscreant seems to be comfortable about the situation it is the leader who is experiencing the emotional upset.

As a consequence there is a tendency either to tip-toe around the problem and live with it, or alternatively to take some action that we hope change the individual.

As a matter of fact, we cannot change anyone just as we cannot motivate anyone.  The only person we can change is our self.  What we can do that is positive is to provide an environment in which people can change and/or be motivated – should they so desire.

Whatever is decided, as Shakespeare said:

         "If t'were done, t'were better done quickly

The worst approach is to close the eyes and hope that the problem will go away because it won't; in fact the odds are that it get worse.

So, once again it's JFDI (just do it) time. Perhaps even JFDS (just do SOMETHING) is better than prevaricating and hoping that the problem will go away.

We hope that people will change. Sadly it is an idle hope and the only solution is action and that is the function of the leader.


You can download my book "Leading to Success" from Amazon
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Sunday, 16 November 2014

Do Your People Take Their Brains Off When They Come to work? If So, You Are Missing Some Great Talent!

The BBC World Service is a mine of information mostly about what is going on (for fairly obvious reasons) in the wider world outside the UK.

It was there that I heard about what they rather patronisingly called and “business boy” rather than a businessman.  His name is Shubharm Banerjee and he lives in California USA.

He has just received investment from Intel for his invention of a simple Braille printer that he had already demonstrated to President Obama in a delegation at the White House.

He had discovered that the least expensive Braille printer costs at least $2,000.00 and he was certain that he could make something that would allow far great access to Braille for more blind people.

Accordingly using Lego bricks and some components from Lego Robotics, he built a prototype and it is this that has sparked the interest from Intel.  He thinks that this unit could be marketed for $350.00.

There is nothing particularly remarkable about this story except for the fact that he designed the unit at the age or 12 and received the investment when he had just turned 13.  The amount has not been disclosed but it is said to run into several “hundreds of thousands”.

Here is a young man who has shown great initiative, imagination, dedication and compassion for the underprivileged and above all, has a great sense of purpose.

It is because of his attitude that I was incensed at the crass, patronising interview when he was asked stupid questions like “What do your mates in the playground think now that you are rich?” and “Have your parents given you a rise in your pocket money?”.

Give Shubham his due; he just laughed them off but the interviewer missed the point entirely.  He was talking to a young man who had done something great simply because he knew that it would help underprivileged people and that is rather more important than the rest of the story.

It re-emphasises my contention that there is far more talent out there than has been or will be recognised.  In fact if we just look for people with high IQ (intelligence quotient) some statistical surveys put the UK average at around 110 with only some 2% of the population being tested at 130 or over.

If that is the case companies with a workforce of 100 could have at least two people in the high IQ category.  The question is, if that is the case, do you know who they are and more importantly what have you dome to develop them and exploit their talent?

I have long been a proponent of the hidden talent in our businesses most of which lies unrecognised and underdeveloped to the detriment of both the individual and the business.

I recall an instant in a company in which I was involved where the technical people had developed a new form of rubber coated fabric which they said would be ideal for wet suits.

One of the shop floor operatives asked a techie what the product was designed to do and when he was told, he said:

“Sorry to tell you, it won’t work”

Somewhat shocked the techie asked what right had this upstart to say such a thing only to be told that he was the Secretary of the Sub-Aqua Club and knew what he was talking about.

Ask yourself; do your people come into work, take off their coats and brains, hang them up and only put them on again to go home?


The solution is simple.  Depute someone senior and genuinely interested to be CTO, Chief Talent Office as the talent scout for and in the business.  It could be the best signing you ever make.

You can download my book "Leading to Success" from Amazon
Visit the Vistage UK website
Follow me on LinkedInTwitter and Facebook