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Sunday, 30 May 2010

Get Rid of the Water Cooler (But Not the Photocopier)!

The gravel voiced Dr Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State, said: "Experiencing University politics made me long for the tranquility of the Middle East".

Very witty, but just try replacing "University" with, for example, "company" or "corporate" or "office" and there will soon be a resonance.

The fact is that many, if not most, companies suffer from internal politics from time to time and some people seem to think that they are employed solely for that purpose. It's the chat round the water cooler or photo copier, the rumour mill, the "have you heard about?", the "somebody should do something or say something" syndromes, all of which are corrosive and eat into morale.

There is little doubt that the overall reason is usually poor communications and it is interesting to note that whenever I have conducted employee satisfaction surveys anonymously, the major bleat is always that internal communications are bad or non-existent.

Taking out the hyperbole, there is generally more than a grain of truth in these opinions. Management suffer from the ingrained conviction that "we tell them everything - we have a company newsletter, an internal intranet, and my door is always open".

All good stuff but in the end, communication is a two way function and if management considers it to be a top down event, then the troops will see it as such and consign it to the bin, or worse, argue among themselves about it and what can be done about it.

The most successful companies have been able to implement a communications system which starts at the bottom and feeds upwards, so that management are kept fully informed of the general feelings at all levels. They then need to have the desire and frequently the courage to do something about it.

It is a matter of good sense to solicit opinions at all levels in a company. There is a mass of great talent in every business being wasted usually because of rigid job definitions and a reluctance to accept that even machine operators have something to contribute. Something to contribute? More often than not they know far more about what is happening at shop floor level than do the management and they want to contribute.

Fix the communications gap and office politics will soon wither or even die away because there is little or nothing to moan about . Mind you, you could always get rid of the water cooler (not the photcopier of course)

For more information visit www.maa-uk.co.uk
To contact us email to ivan.goldberg@maa-uk.co.uk

Sunday, 23 May 2010

If It Looks Right, It'll Fly!

In my technical consulting days, I had an assignment with a large engineering company. Their problem was that they manufactured straddle carriers for stacking dockside containers and they were rather concerned that they kept failing resulting in some flat dock workers.

In the approved manner I did all the static and dynamic loading checks and came to the conclusion that the suspension chains were under-engineered and hence kept failing under load.

To make sure, I took my friend George to have a look at a straddle carrier in action locally. George, balding, hunched as usual in his gabardine raincoat, and inevitably smoking his pipe, took a look, shook his head, took another look and said:

You're right Ivan, it doesn't look right to me".

That was enough for me. While the calculations had given me the answer, the real answer came from a lifetime of experience and knowledge. This was true experience and George was able to give an opinion simply by drawing on that experience and knowing deep down that something just wasn't right.

On another occasion I was working with some executives who had been made redundant during an earlier recession and one of them claimed to be an accountant. It soon transpired that he was floundering so I dug a little into his background. He had qualified all right, and then had been made head of Purchase Ledger department in a large company. His experience over 25 years was actually one year's experience replicated 25 times.

Will Hopper, in his book The Puritan Gift, talks about "domain knowledge", that vital component which can only be developed in a company which typically promotes from within and treats promotion as the reward for performance. The "science" of management is a learned art and the best place to learn it is as one moves up through the levels of the business.

In my early apprentice days in the aircraft industry we had a Chief Designer whose constant mantra was: "If it looks right, it'll fly!", a classic case of confident "domain knowledge.

For further information visit www.vistage.co.uk and www.vistageblog.co.uk
Contact us by email at ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk

Sunday, 16 May 2010

One Size Fits All? Not Always!

It is with some pleasure and not a little surprise that I find comments on my blog as well as emails commenting on the content and, in one particular case recently, asking me to comment on a related subject. That I am happy to do, so here goes and thank you Pat!

Pat suggested that some thoughts on the best way to incentivise a sales force would be helpful and I must confess that I have fairly strong views on the subject. The best sales force I worked in was around 120 strong and had no commission structure whatsoever.

Remuneration was probably above the norm for an engineering sales force and it was managed and motivated in the classic Herzberg manner of providing encouragement, reward (non-financial), achievement and recognition. The primary reward, as commended in Will and Kenneth Hopper's book, the Puritan Gift, was that of promotion for performance. Very few, if any, of the sales force were recruited from outside the business and none at all were brought in to management positions, of which there were several throughout the UK.

The problem with the "one size fits all" approach to sales remuneration is that it absolves management from having to understand the personal needs of each individual and assumes, wrongly in my view, that everyone is motivated by earning more money through their efforts.

I well recall one salesman who, when we changed the company car supplier for a better deal, said to me in horror "What will the neighbours think if they saw THAT on my drive?". His motivation seemed to be that a better car indicates status and he left the company in high dudgeon.

At the same time another salesman, whatever pressure we put on him, would only earn 10% commission every month. When we discussed it with him he said that he looked upon commission as "holiday money" and was quite satisfied with 10%. We had to point out that the company wasn't necessarily satisfied but it had no effect.

Commission schemes can be used not as a carrot but rather as a stick so that if people don't earn enough (in the company's opinion) then they are not performing and action has to be taken. How ludicrous is that?

Ideally each individual needs to decide precisely what rewards he/she would like to see given for great performance. One idea mentioned by my friend Jim Pratt, a Chairman and speaker from Vistage USA, was to ask one of his sales force precisely that question and was surprised that he said that he wanted a double bed on his boat (he was in California so that explains it to some extent).

Jim said that he didn't think that was much of an ambition until the salesman said "Ah, but I can't fit a double bed on my boat". That led to a discussion of the size and cost of a new boat and a deal was struck as to what he would need to earn next year to achieve it.

I know full well that the naysayers will make the point that to do that for a large sales force is impractical but if in some way a route can be taken that will accept that people are different, their needs are different and they are motivated by entirely different factors, then perhaps the "one size fits all" concept, as modified, can be made to work effectively.

For more information visit www.maa-uk.co.uk or email to ivan.goldberg@maa-uk.co.uk

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Don't Promote Your Top Salesman to be Sales Manager!

A man goes shooting on a regular basis and each time, he has a dog from the local kennels, one called Salesman, a quick witted, enthusiastic dog with an unerring eye for the retrieve. After one shoot, he goes back to the kennels with a complaint.

"What's gone wrong with Salesman?" he says "All of a sudden he's useless!"

"Ah yes" sighs the kennel master "Some idiot called him Sales Manager instead of Salesman and now all he does is sit on his ass and bark".

One of the most common issues raised by Vistage members is the problem of promoting their best salesman to be sales manager. By the way, I use the word "salesman" in a non-specific non-gender manner simply because I find the word "salesperson" to be clumsy and unattractive. I trust that my female readers will forgive me.

Promoting your top salesman can lead to two undesirable consequences - firstly that you lose the benefit of a top salesman and also there is a distinct danger that you gain a bad sales manager.

Really good salesmen are individual, entrepreneurial, self centered and very often, a law unto themselves. In general terms, people skills are not at the top of their agenda, other than knowing how to handle customers.

On the other hand, the role of the sales manager is totally different and angled always to managing the sales effort and the sales operatives to derive the maximum benefit for the business. It takes a special person to be able to combine the two roles and few achieve it effectively.

In fact, this does not only apply to the sales function. In fact I was talking to a Managing Director this week who was bemoaning the fact that he had promoted a very good designer to be Design Manager and it had been a disaster. Extricating oneself from such a situation can be costly and time (and emotion) consuming.

It is interesting to consider, in political terms this week in the UK, how a reasonably competent Finance Director worked tirelessly to gain his promotion to Chief Executive, and when it happened, it was certainly not an unqualified success.

The roles are different and until there is a realisation of that fact, mistakes will continue to be made. Make sure that it is a trap into which you do not fall.

For more information visit www.vistage.co,uk and www.vistageblog.co.uk
To contact us, email ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk

Monday, 3 May 2010

The Demise of the Website as We Know It?

During the past couple of weeks I have been telephone cold called (pestered) by a company wishing to interest me in using its services in search engine optimisation (SEO). As good fortune would have it, all the calls have been at an inopportune time either when I was in a meeting (honestly) or in the car on my mobile.

In any case I am not enthusiastic about being solicited on the telephone so perhaps I was rather less than accommodating, but even so, it caused me to think about the whole subject.

They were right, my website does not rate highly in a search for the keywords which I am using but then again, the competition is considerable and in the end, what is the purpose of the website anyway?

It seems to me that there are very broadly two types of website, one which is essentially an electronic brochure with perhaps a modicum of interactivity, and the other a commercial site interactively selling goods and services.

There is a perfectly good case for both of these systems. In the former case, it is possible to provide updates and news on a regular basis always on the assumption that interested parties will go directly to the website having been encouraged to do so by.

I know that this is an outrageous oversimplification but I would guess that the percentages stack up. The marketing author and speaker, Seth Godin, says that, again in broad terms, it is better to focus on a very small section of the market place which you know is or could be interested in your products or services, than to use the blunderbus approach which is hit and hope.

I recall a Vistage speaker some time ago who said that just putting a brochure on your website was tantamount to putting it on a rocket at Cape Canaveral, blasting it off into the Milky Way and hoping that an interested customer would have his telescope trained on it at just the right time.

Thinking through the whole matter then, I have perhaps realised that the methods which I use are far more focused than using SEO on the website. I write a blog on a very regular basis once a week, then I advertise it on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook as well as sending it to a list of perhaps two hundred named recipients who I know or at least hope will be interested.

That way I have focused my efforts on a genuinely potential market and I am not wasting my efforts hoping that SEO will bring up contacts. Focus as much as possible therefore on the marketplace which is appropriate to you and your products or services or at least on those people with whom you want to do business.

A man used a search engine to find a group of people who were interested in sex with goats and the search engine laconically asked him "Please specify the breed of goat". Now that's focus.

For more information visit www.maa-uk.co.uk
or email to ivan.goldberg@maa-uk.co.uk