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Sunday, 28 June 2015

Want to Change Someone’s Behaviour? Try a Little Acceptance Instead!

One of the things that we find difficult to accept or even understand is that everyone is unique with different talents, different attitudes, different abilities and they probably look different too.

All of this makes nonsense of generalist initiatives making the assumption that if we treat everyone in the same way then we will get the same outcome from everyone.

I recall talking to a member of my Vistage CEO peer group some time ago when he told me that he was intending to make substantial changes to the working environment that would generate enthusiasm in the team.

He did just that and, lo and behold, there were at least 10% of the people who complained that it wasn’t as good as previously and they didn’t like the change.

For some time I have been banging on about people in the business with a poor attitude and rightly so.  They can be a toxic influence and need rapid and decisive action.

However, there is the other factor of behaviour that is perhaps subtly different from that of attitude.

Recalling the Performance/Attitude matrix one very important square is that with only adequate performance but good attitude with the implication that the individual is willing to be trained in the skills that would make them into a Good Performer with Good Attitude, a very desirable state.

The fact is that as people are unique we need to examine then individually to see how and if they will adapt to change and take on board new ideas and processes.

That requires a subtle amalgam of attitude and behaviour, good attitude leading to good behaviour and vice versa.  I agree that that is a wild generalisation but like all generalisations it contains a modicum of truth somewhere.

The fact is that most people who we value in the business will still have some behavioural traits that perhaps either irritate or even actually militate against good practice.

In discussion with one of my Peer Group members recently he told me of two senior people (Directors) in the business, both of whom were good performers and had generally excellent attitude but not to each other.

In fact they were at opposite ends of the continuum that starts at ‘Quiet And Gets On With It’ and ends at ‘Noisy, Brash and Impetuous’.

At this stage we need to examine the individuals in the round and ask a few questions.

For example, how significant is the output of each person?  What is their individual contribution to the business?  Could we do without either of them?

Even though they are not wholly compatible in this case it is perhaps a matter of compromise on the part of the leader.

Provided that all the answers to the questions are positive and we want to keep both of them, then it is up to the leader to realise that people can’t be changed and at some stage we either accept the vagaries of their behaviour as well as the good contribution they make.

It is a very tough call for the leader; accepting perhaps that 20% of what someone brings to the table will irritate and annoy while happily accepting that the good well outweighs the bad demands maturity and some humility.

It means getting things into perspective; realising the uniqueness of people will always result in differences some of which are acceptable and some downright impossible to live with.

There are undoubtedly some facets of behaviour that irritate. The question is, does they militate against effective performance and if not, get real and live with it.

It’s a matter of balance on the end.  Add up the positives, determine the negatives and make a decision.

You can download my book "Leading to Success" from Amazon
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Sunday, 21 June 2015

Restructuring the Business? Remember That Customer Service is Paramount!

Vistage has a very good strap line:

“We are dedicated to increasing the effectiveness and enhancing the lives of Chief Executives”

and that encapsulates one of the issues that I have encountered of late with the members of my Chief Executive peer group.

It’s an odd fact that as the economy really does start to grow and activity intensifies, it brings with it different issues; in effect growing pains.

The businesses across the board are busy, often in direct terms with significant growth in both turnover and profitability

During the recession costs were cut and this meant almost invariably that activities like training and marketing were severely restricted.

This has led to a shortage of good qualified people with consequent pressure on the existing staff.

The overall effect is that the leader, in most cases, has taken on more and different roles and has significantly more people reporting direct.

The result is longer hours, yet more upward delegation, spreading the workload over more people with consequent dilution of effort followed inevitably by devoting more and more time to the business.

While we are much busier, most sensible leaders understand that something needs to be done to alleviate the load that all too often can be the day-to-day stuff that others should be doing.

Ask yourself: how much time do you devote to the business at weekends?  Can you really devote time and effort to the family when your mind is racing with business matters?

Leaders need to make time to think about the business and that requires a leap of faith.  It means that the leader should actually allocate specific chunks of the working week just to think about the business.

US Vistage speaker, Walt Sutton, used to say that all leaders should have one day a quarter at least on the diary in order to take a metaphorical (or actual) walk on the beach, without smart phone or recording machine; just to think and then let the subconscious get on with deciding what to do.

Another potential solution for the overloaded leader is the dreaded restructuring of the business.

The rationale generally goes something like this; I am overloaded and I have too many direct reports so we need to restructure so that I have fewer people reporting to me and that should relieve the pressure.

The key to any restructuring of the business is to decide at the start precisely why it is being done.  A Vistage speaker many years ago said that the only reason to restructure a business is to improve the service to the customer.

How many restructures have that in mind?

More often than not it is done in order to move people around, to sideline the inadequate, to promote the best people and generally to take load off the leader.

In fact any restructuring should initially be done ignoring the current incumbents; by designing a structure that will close the gap between our current level of service to the desired level and to decide which functions need to be strengthened.

Only at that point should we see who we have available to fill the positions and that can mean that there could be blood on the carpet as a consequence.

An executive management team should never comprise more than five or six covering the main functions of the business, operations, finance, sales, marketing, HR and so on as appropriate.

It has been said that the great leaders appoint exceptional talent to these top positions and then get out of their way to let them get on with it and even more importantly, to learn from them.

Never let a restructuring of the business degenerate into a mere reshuffle of the pack.  Remember that the objective is to improve the service to the customer and to close the gap between the existing and desired state.

That should ensure that the right people are in place, that the decision making process is understood and the leader will have time to think; to work ON the business rather than IN the business.

You can download my book "Leading to Success" from Amazon
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Sunday, 14 June 2015

Is Happiness Becoming an Industry? No Government Interference Please!

A little homespun philosophy this week.

There seem to be a number of relatively new concepts currently going the rounds and some of them are becoming almost an industry.  For example Mindfulness is gaining adherents as is Thought Leadership and the indications are that there is a move towards self-examination, even introspection.

However, the one that has sparked my interest is that of Happiness which for fairly obvious reasons is an objective worth the pursuit.

I do have some concern about it however, that when Governments start to latch on to a fashionable idea they can latch on with a heavy hand (if that isn’t a very mixed metaphor) and drain all the life out if it.

How on earth can Government affect or even try to affect the happiness of the people?  Government is there to legislate and as the majority of legislation is there to prevent us from doing something (if you don’t believe me just check it out) then hoping to bring happiness to us is a fallacy.

Please just get the economy right and accept that is the best you can achieve.

Happiness is a feeling; it is not measurable as some academics and psychologists would have us believe. Indeed it is probably an absolute in the same way as “unique” in that we are either happy or not.

It is not the same as contentment, enjoyment or pleasure; all of those can contribute to our happiness but they are not happiness in themselves.

It is an intensely personal and transient feeling.  What makes each of us happy does not necessarily do so for anyone else.  It is transient because external influences can affect us both positively and negatively and often quickly.

Contributors to personal happiness are many and varied and again are appropriate to different interpretations.  For example, the acquisition of a new possession, a walk in the park, good friends and family relationships, animals, good conversation, spirituality, meditation, the list is endless.

It is worth examining how each of us achieves happiness.  Is it through one of the situations above or do you have something in your life that really makes you happy to the exclusion of everything else?

I heard a piece on the radio recently when a Buddhist monk was interviewed having been described as “the happiest man in the world”.  Who made this decision wasn’t mentioned except that it appeared that someone had managed to evolve a technique that they claimed could measure happiness.

Neuroscience would have it that finding which parts of the brain are stimulated positively and monitoring those parts would enable a measurement of happiness to be defined. 

I am extremely sceptical about this possibility.  Because of the transient nature of happiness it would seem very unlikely that it would occur during a brain scan.  It’s a laudable attempt but please, leave us to be happy without the burden of scientific analysis.

Business leaders would always claim that they “have a happy workforce”.  Do they mean contented (apathetic) or perhaps the people exhibit a positive attitude?

Recent statistics would lead us to believe that productivity in UK industry is the lowest in Europe, being defined as the value produced per hour of work.

There must be a correlation; I would have thought that if the workforce is happy then there should be a high level of productivity or am I being naïve?

Perhaps the answer is to implant a culture into the business which encourages people, which gives then the freedom to act positively, that doesn’t weight them down with unnecessary bureaucracy and with a leadership that show concern for their wellbeing.

Those are the sort of criteria that will lead to a happy workforce.

In my case it would be a comfortable chair, the dog asleep on my lap, listing to great music (me not the dog) and getting outside of a large bowl of ice cream (again, me not the dog)

Like I said, it’s intensely personal and very transient but it’s great while it lasts.

You can download my book "Leading to Success" from Amazon
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Sunday, 7 June 2015

Looking to Improve the Preference of Your People? Throw Out Financial Incentives!

I feel a rant coming on.

In the last couple of weeks the broadcast media has been awash with stories of Executive's being paid average bonuses, over and above salaries, of £8,000+ irrespective of whether they have performed or not.

This bit of information caused vast amounts of righteous anger among journalists at the thought of poor performers being so remunerated.

However, the sound bite made me realise that there were more questions than answers so that it would have some meaning.

First of all, which companies gad been surveyed (almost certainly FTSE listed and probably banks)?

Secondly precisely how had they measured performance?  What was the break level between good and poor performance?

Nobody in the media even questioned the methodology and took the information at its face value which is, of course, at least suspect and at worst, rubbish.

It was a complete mishmash of inaccurate percentages, averages that mean nothing and conclusions that were specious.

However it did cause me to think about the whole contentious subject of bonuses, commission, incentives and the like.

When considering whether to use financial pressure to improve performance in a business it us valid to asked whether it is as a reward or a bribe and, more to the pint, what success can we anticipate?

At this stage it is a good idea to take a look at a video by Dan Pink (You Tube "RSA animation Dan Pink") in which he explains the research that has discovered some sobering thoughts about incentives.

In short if a task is absolutely routine and mechanical then payment by results works. However if there is even a modicum of intellectual input, then not only do they not work, they actually contribute to reduced performance.

Tell this to any sales manager with a commission incentivised sales force and he will have to go and lie down in a darkened room.

Bonuses are even more contentious. More often than not they are discretionary which means that nobody believes the basis on which they have been calculated. The dreaded word "favouritism" can be heard in the land.

Even worse, if they are distributed across the board irrespective of status or performance then they simply become an addition to the salary. Then what happens if there is a bad year and the bonus reduces or eve disappears?

I had an experience where one of my Vistage CEO Group members had put in a rather complicated sales commission scheme. The idea was designed to "ensure" that the sales people sold products right across the range instead of concentrating on one or two that were easier to sell.

He saw the Dan Pink video, was harangued by the group and returned to base to drop the scheme which was greeted with relief by the sales force.

The best sales force I know which included the venerable Phil Copp, the sage of Wythenshawe, was 120 string and UK national.

There was no commission, no incentives, no bonuses but the sales personnel were treated like grown-ups and given every encouragement to succeed. Salaries were probably a little higher than the market rate and that was that.

The fact is that financial incentives generally cause more problems that they solve.  People react positively to being treated positively, to encouragement, to recognition of them and their performance, to achievement and above all to a sense of purpose.

It is a matter of culture. If we treat our people as being coin-operated then that is what we will get with a transient workforce that will move for more money

On the other hand if we treat people with a concern for them and their place in the business, then we can expect a far more positive result and a more stable workforce.

Rant over, I feel better now!

Author of "Leading to Success" on Amazon Kindle
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