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Sunday, 27 September 2015

Experiencing Upward Delegation? You Need to Think “Three Day Week”!

Over the past few weeks I have heard a constant issue being brought up by members of both my Vistage peer groups, specifically that they are spreading themselves too thinly by being too involved.

It is a very easy question to ask but WHY are they too involved and consequently overworked?

The answer falls into two parts: why is the leader becoming too involved in the daily aspects of the business and what is to be done to alleviate the problem?

It is worthwhile analysing why this is happening.  As a grim example one of my members told me that for the first time for many years he had actually taken three weeks holiday and came home feeling refreshed and raring to go.

Within minutes of arriving back at the office he was inundated with issues and problems that had been kept for him while he was away.

None of the Directors of the business ha attempted to do anything about them; they had just abdicated responsibility and had put the monkey back on the shoulders of the leader.

I find this very depressing.  If people are thought to be sufficiently competent and committed to be promoted to a senior position in the business, why is it that on occasions they just decided that some problems are not for them and promptly delegate them upwards to the leader?

If senior people are being paid to do a job, why then do they not do it?  Why should the leader have to do their job for them?

Leaders on occasion can sadly succumb to temptation and fall into the “leave it to me, I’ll sort it out” syndrome and if that is the fact then they deserve all that they get.

Whatever the symptoms it is essential to get at the cause of the problem.

More often than not it comes down to the leader taking on more than is sensible and again implies that the leader doesn’t really trust the people what ever is said to the contrary.

It is probably time for a little bullet biting or nettle grasping.  If we allow this sentiment to become entrenched in the psyche then the leader might as well dump the team and take on all the jobs that they are doing.

Simplistic perhaps but it makes the point.

The more elderly amongst us may remember the three day week that the Government of Edward Heath implemented in the winter of 1974 in order to preserve dwindling energy supplies due to strike action.

When the results were subsequently analysed it was found to some surprise that productivity was hardly affected and production was largely matching that of the five-day week.

Perhaps leaders should take note of this.

Leaders need to make time for thinking.  It needs to be understood that the leader is probably the only individual in the business who actually thinks about the business in the round

Why not then take note take note of experience and plan for a three-day week?  This does not imply that the leader turns up for only three days each week but rather that he/she determines what is important enough to be handled solely by them and delegates everything else to the team.

The team members then are accountable to the leader and the team for their activity and need to communicate progress appropriately.

Otherwise, the leader does what leaders do (or should do), that is they coach their people, they delegate tasks as necessary, they communicate and they plan for the future.

Day to day activity is the function of the management; thinking about the future is the function of the leader.  The conceptual “three day week” is an excellent way to make time to do just that.


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Sunday, 20 September 2015

Don’t Like Making Presentations? Every Conversation Can Be a Presentation!

I have heard on several occasions from people who ought to know better that they “don’t need to have Presentation training as they never give presentations

Let’s get it straight.  In almost every conversation in business there will be some form of presentation and possibly from each participant.

There is a noticeable reluctance on the part of many people to stand up in front of an audience and give forth of their wit and wisdom.

Indeed research has shown that if asked what a person fears most it is standing up in from of people they don’t know and giving a presentation.  As a matter of interest death usually comes fourth in the list.

One of the most valuable speakers that we can and indeed have had to my Vistage CEO Peer Group was a session on presentation techniques by award winning speaker Arti Halai (take a look at her at Powerful Presentations video with Arti Halai Fleet Street Training on You Tube)

Arti makes the point that a presentation can be speaking to an audience, obviously, but also times like being interviewed for a job, making a sales pitch or influencing potential investors never mind talking to your team in a meeting.

The fact is that we all need to master the fundamentals of making presentations so that whatever we need to communicate and to whomsoever will be clear, cogent and understandable.

For example, using the ubiquitous PowerPoint can be useful and it can be dreadful.

It can be useful provided that the slides are short, bullet pointed and expressed simply together with uncomplicated designs that emphasise the message.

On the other hand slides with large quantities of text, small typefaces and complicated or over-fussy designs can be a great turn off.

Even if the slide presentation is well put together there can be a tendency for the presenter to face the screen, back to the audience, and read out the text.  That can be irritating and patronising – can’t the audience read for themselves?

George Bernard Shaw said that a presenter should tell them what he/she is going to tell them, tell them and then tell them what has been said.

In other words, there should be a good introduction with a summary of the session, then the session then a recap of what has gone before.

Another useful tip for presenters is to ask the audience (preferably a small one) for their expectations and write them down on the flip chart.

At the end of the session go through the expectations list to see if they had been fulfilled (or not as the case may be!)

It is a good idea to take a look at TED which you can do by installing the app on your smart phone or tablet.

There is a vast number of great short presentations by speakers from all over the world to watch, enjoy and learn, not only what they are lecturing about but also the presentation techniques that they use.

Beware however; most of them are professional speakers and have given the session many times so it has been polished and corrected over a period of time .

Great presentations at whatever level need to be polished in the same way so pr3paration is all important.  Don’t imagine that you can just step forward and give a world class presentation without preparation.

Notes are essential in the early stages and make sure that they are all there, in the correct order and giving you the broad outline of each section.

They should be used a prompts not as a script.  There is nothing so boring as someone reading the notes with apparently no interest in the audience; just an obvious desire to get the thing over with as quickly as possible.

Run through it in front of the bedroom mirror.  If the mirror doesn’t crack and the reflection seems to be enjoying the experience, then you are well on the way to being a great presenter.

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Sunday, 13 September 2015

Researching Data, Information and Intelligence? Now You Need to Take Action!

Of the many great speakers we have had to my Vistage CEO and Key Executive groups, probably more than 300 since the groups were formed, several stand out as truly memorable.

One of these was Herbert (Herb) Meyer who had been a journalist an author and, later, special counsel to Bill Casey who was Director of the CIA during the Reagan administration. 


  
Herb made the point that the availability of information is growing exponentially but our ability to absorb all this growth is extremely limited to say the least. Search engines, led of course by Google, have made it very simple to find what we are looking for and this allows us to be selective in our searching and consequent absorption of the information. 



The question is, however, when we have the information, what are we going to do with it? Google is so all-encompassing that even a simple search will bring up literally millions of web pages and then what? 



Research shows that our attention span is so short that unless what we are looking for appears on the first page of the Google search and even more, in the top three, then we ignore the rest. 



What is needed, then, is the ability to transform the raw information into knowledge that possibly requires more “drilling down” research. 

And then what? 



Herb made the point that information and knowledge is no more than interesting and the real value lies in our ability to transform the knowledge into intelligence. 



In other words, what is the added value that we can derive from the research? 
 What outcome are we seeking from the research? 
Hence, what action can we take as a result of the research? 


In the intelligence community this is the most important factor.   It is a comparatively simple
exercise to gather a vast amount of data from published sources and then filter it to give us the broad basis of the information or knowledge that we are seeking.

As a matter of peripheral interest at least 80% of all information gathered by the security services is published in formation in the public domain with the balance being gathered from private sources.

I would guess that as the use of social media has grown to an extraordinary extent that 80% is probably an underestimate now.

The transformation from information and knowledge to intelligence is of paramount importance then and that takes a good deal of though and imagination to determine just how what we have discovered can be used to its maximum value.

It is the area that causes more indecision and soul searching than any other but it is crucial if the value of the research is to be optimised.

In the days when I was involved in pan European market research studies I found it very sad that companies would pay large amounts for the research studies and then metaphorically file them without doing anything more.

However, without action, the research has been interesting and possibly even valuable in the long term but all in all it has been just that, interesting and that is all.

If you don’t take action, then time, effort and money has been wasted.

The really important factor then is to understand what we have discovered, refine it into intelligence and then take the appropriate action. Then it has been worthwhile.


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Sunday, 6 September 2015

Do You Want Some Useful Information? You Need to Ask The Right Questions!

Interviewing, coaching, mentoring while differing in outcomes all use common techniques to help the flow of conversation.

Or at least they should.

The whole objective of all of them is to help the individual to speak freely and openly and to give enough time for some thought.

So where can (and does) it go wrong?

The most common basic fault is normally the use of the closed rather than the open question. Typically a closed question would begin with a verb:

"Do you understand?",  "Have you tried this before?", "Was it difficult?"” all of which can be answered with a simple "yes" or "no".

Ask a child a closed question and that is what you will get while an adult, if you stay silent, will try to amplify and explain their reasoning.

It does, however, put the individual into defensive mode, feeling that they need to explain their answer and that is not desirable.

On the other hand the open question will (or at least should) elicit a thoughtful response and not put the interviewee in defensive mode. None of them can be answered with "yes" or 'no".

To quote from a poem by Rudyard Kipling in the Jungle Book:

"I keep six honest serving men
(they taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Why and When
and How and Where and Who"

The open question is assertive whereas the closed question can be aggressive and if you are looking for good dialogue then that is not the way to do it.

One small caveat.  The “Why” question can be couched in such a way as to sound aggressive so it needs to softened, for example,

"Could you explain why that is?"

The great cricketer and legendary broadcaster, Richie Benaud, had a saying that he put into use in every interview he conducted. He said:

"Never ask a statement"

and that is brilliant advice.

Far too often the interviewer (or coach for that matter) tries to inject his or her personal opinion into the discussion and then asks if their victim agrees.

My personal and consistent bĂȘte noir, the Today Programme on BBC Radio4, is a prime example of that technique.

Just note how many of their questions start with:

"Do you think.........."

and then go on to express the questioner's opinion and ask if the victim agrees.

Coaches can fall into the same trap if they not careful and remember, every leader at whatever level in a business should be a coach to his or her team.

Coaching helps people to be open and honest and to be able to react positively to situations.

Open questioning when used sensitively should allow that to happen naturally.

Another small caveat.  It is perfectly acceptable to use the occasional closed question to make sure that you understand what has been said.  That together with judicious paraphrasing can be very powerful.

I was recently trawling through a folder on the laptop that I had named Information and which is where I store useful bits and bobs that I could use at some time.

One if these was a piece entitled Great Coaching Questions and it was a list of typical questions that can come up with in most sessions.

This is not a good idea!   The thought of having to revert mentally to a list in order to reply fills me with horror.

Indeed it exemplifies the maxim that:

"Too often we listen in order to reply when we should listen in order to learn".

Great coaches know that and live by it to the massive benefit of their clients


If you enjoyed this blog you can download my book "Leading to Success"
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