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Sunday, 31 May 2015

Do You Know the Prima Donnas in Your Business? Look After Them, They’re Gold Dust!

I recently wrote about the "terrorist" who produces great performance but with a bad attitude. 

Looking back it covered a difficult situation for most leaders and in many ways it was a negative problem that can usually only be solved by metaphorical surgery. 

Far better it is  to consider the positive aspects of performance and attitude because with care a group of people in a business can be encouraged to do more and greater things. It’s called engagement.

There are two groups to look at, namely those with indifferent performance but a good attitude and the top performers who also have great attitude.  

I recently attended the Manchester Vistage Open Day which featured a wonderful and inspiring session by Mark Robb on Service Excellence. 

Mark mentioned among many other gems that research had  found that the most significant feature of a leader as seen by followers is the ability to show concern for others. 

This doesn't imply that the leader needs to be all warm and cuddly but rather is able to relate to an individual to demonstrate a real interest in them and in their development. 

The first group of employees listed above are the ones who will benefit the most and probably show the highest level of improvement. 

If a leader accepts that attitude is all important then by showing concern, using coaching and mentoring methods to help people achieve their potential can show great dividends. 

In the end we really would like to have everyone in the high performer/great attitude box.  The ultimate objective of any leader is to have the best possible people around and then get out of their way to let them perform and to learn from them. 

Naturally reality kicks in at some point but certainly by showing concern the likelihood is that there will be at least an acceptable level of improvement overall. 

So now what about the people in the top right box designated the Prima  Donnas?

The phrase can imply a high level of self-regard and demands emanating from it. In this case, however, the description really means "first among equals". 

Looking back I realise that I have met and worked with several of this ilk and have leaned a great deal from them. 

Perhaps the most significant for me was my old sales mentor, Phil Copp, the sage of Wythenshawe, who was the best sales  operator I have ever met. 

Phil was definitely a maverick, he knew what he could and should achieve and he liked to do it his way. 

To give "management" their due they kept out of his way, gave him his head and let him get on with it. 

The result was consistently high sales to very happy customers and, by the way, in a technically demanding industry. 

Phil showed that genuine concern for others that manifested itself in his taking on the mentoring role at which he was exceptional. 

I well recall the time that we went into a large engineering company because a new buyer had flexed his muscles and found another cheaper supplier. 

Phil with me meekly following behind went round the drawing office collecting all our company catalogues from the draughts men and passing them to me to carry. 

When complaints started that they used the catalogue every day and needed them all the time, Phil said: "sorry lads, your new buyer has a found a cheaper supplier so you won't be wanting out catalogue any more"

It took about six weeks to reverse the buyer's decision and we were back in.

The question to ask yourself them, is do I know which of the people would benefit from coaching to bring them up to top performer status, and, more importantly, do I really know who are the Prima Donnas (and potentials) in the business?

Find out who they are, demonstrate your concern for them and their work then stand back and let them get on with it.  It could be the best decision you ever make. 

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Monday, 25 May 2015

Do You Communicate Bureaucratically? Far Better To Do It Informally!

At the Vistage Open Day in Manchester last Thursday we had the pleasure of hearing Vistage speaker, Mark Robb on the topic of Service Excellence.

Among the gems he disclosed, he analysed the way that companies communicate assessing their communication methods under the headings of conscious/unconscious and formal/informal.

If we consider the Conscious/Formal type of communication this would include items like Policy statements, procedures, processes in some detail, and general information transmitted through formal channels then we can see that many companies especially the larger organisations use these methods to inform the people.

The management fondly imagine that the people have been advised and that is therefore that.

Sadly however, research has shown that in general only 3-5% of the people take the slightest notice of the information provided for then.

On the other hand there is the unconscious/informal way to communicate which could be a metaphorical chat by the water cooler, a personal email, or a discussion over lunch.

And guess what?  The same research shows that this form of communication is around 85% effective.

The problem now arises that there is a serious misunderstanding in general about how to communicate most effectively.

The problem then is to try to find a method that will pass on these important messages with the optimum take up.

I well recall a great Visage speaker from the US, Herb Meyer, telling us that when he was working in the CIA (honestly!) the joke was that if any information was passed in a file marked “Absolutely Top Secret, for your eyes only, and sent under lock and key etc. then the contents would be known throughout the building in about ten minutes.

On the other hand if the file were posted on a notice board then the contents remained a secret.

The question then arises, how do we make sure that we communicate in a way that is compelling, interesting and meaningful to those to whom we want to pass on information?

For fairly obvious reasons some information must be formal but as far as possible the technique needs to be as personalised as possible.

General information transmitted though formal channels doesn’t really work so what is the best way to make sure that it has been absorbed and possibly implemented?

The problem is that as a business grows so does the bureaucracy associated with it.

It is possibly a truism to say that people like to be treated like people and not like automata so leaders need to evolve ways of communicating even formal information in a more informal and personalised manner.

Whatever is decided, there is little value in transmitting information downwards through others and hoping that it will arrive unscathed and be understood.

In a very large engineering company, the first in my career, all formal information was transmitted from management to the troops via the union shop convener and shop stewards and then management wondered why nobody seemed to understand what was being said to them.

One final thought.  There is no point at all in having a meeting to communicate something important and then asking, “Do you understand?” or possibly “Any questions?”

That is the perfect way to ensure that everyone involved will go out of the meeting saying: “What was that all about?”

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Sunday, 17 May 2015

Great Performer, Bad Attitude? It's Just Not Cricket!

The sad and sorry saga of Kevin Pietersen's now truncated career with England cricket seems to have climaxed this week and not before time.

There are so many lessons that we in business can take from this story and it is worthwhile summarising the situation  

KP, a South African, qualified for England through a four-year residency.  He is a swashbuckling batsman who has turned many a game on its head by sheer brilliance and has given a great deal of pleasure and entertainment as a consequence.

However there is a darker side to the story.  His attitude and behaviour have not been of the highest standards, for example in the texts he sent to England's opponents (South Africa) complaining about the England captain.

He wrote his autobiography, Crossing the Boundary, which contained many other jibes at officials and other players, he decided to go to the  IPL (Indian Premier League) to play one day cricket as well as the same in the Caribbean and left his county Hampshire to play for Surrey.

After a very brief spell as England captain, the England coach was sacked and KP was dropped from the team.  Moreover rumours abounded that there was serious disruption in the dressing room among the other players.

In my Vistage group we designate as 'terrorists" those employees of businesses who are good and sometimes exceptional performers but with bad attitude and poor behaviour.

If we consider one of those quadrant matrices, so beloved of consultants, and plot performance on the vertical axis and attitude on the horizontal, we can start to analyse the perceived value of people to an organisation.

What we would always want are people in the top right quadrant, high performers with great attitude. On the other hand the question to ask about those in the bottom left square is why are they still here?

Those in the bottom right box with good attitude but are indifferent performers can be coached and mentored to improve.

The real problem arises with the top left box, great performers with a bad attitude.

How to handle them, what to do to try to change them, what effect are they having on the rest of the team, because the worst thing that can happen is a deterioration in the integrity of the team.

Invariably they are loners, hell bent on being successful as they see it, and lacking in empathy with the needs and aspirations of other members of the team.  In other words they are a disruptive and toxic element in the business.

At some time the leader has to decide on a course of action that is frequently to remove the "terrorist" from the firing line. This may mean redeployment or more frequently total removal from the business.

It doesn't seem sensible, on the face of it, to fire your best performer but it can be the only way for the good of the team and of the business. A disruptive person in the team can cause chaos with the potential loss of other good employees.

The key factor is decisiveness on the part of the leader.  Shakespeare said "If t'were done, t’were better done quickly” and sadly this is not always the case.  Vacillation takes over, efforts to change the offender are put in place and everyone waits for the inevitable conclusion.

A big lesson to be taken from the KP affair is to do it quickly, fairly and finally. Do not let others interfere or hint at a possible solution. There must be no doubt in the minds of everyone that the matter is closed and normal service can be resumed.

In the KP case it has been handled appallingly with indecision and vacillation.  As a leader take this lesson to heart.

And when 'tis done, it is remarkable how many people will say "What took you so long?"


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Sunday, 10 May 2015

Unsure, Uncertain, Can't Decide? Trust Your Memory Bank and Make a Decision!

Some years ago I went to see one of my Vistage group for his regular one-to-one mentoring session.  He greeted me with a rather gloomy look and the odd sigh.

I took the hint and asked him what appeared to be the problem.

He said: "I am beginning to have certainties"

Knowing him to be a very collaborative and inclusive leader I could see how this would affect him.

He was anything but proscriptive (except on very rare occasions) so to have certainties implied, to him, that he was having doubts about his leadership style.

We talked it through in a lot of detail and he began to accept that there is nothing wrong in being certain of a solution in a situation.  In fact that is the precursor to a quick decision in many cases.

Even in major events the leader's responsibility is to come to a decision and if this is his/her own decision rather than one tested with others then so be it.

Time may be of the essence and a lengthy discussion with others could well pose a problem, so, yes, go ahead, make a decision based on your certainty and live with the result.

It's all a matter of balance in dealing with situations. Some need a deal of thought and some can be disposed of more quickly and effectively.  There is no right or wrong in these matters.

On the other hand, the far more difficult part of the leader's role is dealing with uncertainty.

However we define it, it can be the "we know what we don't know" problem and in that case a certainty can be exactly the wrong approach.

Being a recanted engineer my own default position is always to gather as much information as possible. That gives me a feeling of comfort that I have begun to make inroads into the "don't know" scenario.

However I also recall another of my members who constantly complained that his Number Two, an engineer, always achieved paralysis by analysis.

The fact was that in his eyes, you could never have enough information with the consequence that he was constantly researching and seldom came to a satisfactory conclusion.

It's an attitude that can be compared to the accountant who is firmly against estimated figures and tries to produce monthly management accounts accurate to the nearest penny.

Pointless and unnecessary but it does happen even if the management accounts are six weeks late because he didn't have all the invoices in.

There comes a time in the life of every leader when an uncertainty pops up and the only thing to do is make a decision on what is cheerfully termed "gut instinct".

No such thing of course.  I certainly wouldn't trust my guts to make a sensible decision.

Gut instinct is a synonym for expertise based on experience and there is nothing wrong in trusting it from time to time.

A problem arises and it is something that is out of the ordinary.  However the odds are that there will be something in the situation, a felling of familiarity perhaps, that leads one to search through the database we call the subconscious and latch on to a previous and similar occasion.

It isn't instinct. Fight, flight, freeze are instinctive and come from deep inside the brain prompted by perceived danger.

Experience leads to expertise and the more we are able to recall from the memory bank, the more likely we are to draw on a past experience.  That leads to better decision-making.

And if we can't specifically match past experience with a current issue then still trust your feelings about it.  It isn't gut instinct. Past experience always colours the present and helps you come to a decision.

A bad decision is always better than no decision.

Take a look at The Chimp Paradox by Dr Steve Peters. It's a great and enlightening read.

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