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Sunday, 30 October 2011

Look After Your Top Performers or Someone Else Will Do It Instead!

Some time ago I had a consultancy assignment with a company running a large door to door sales force and this involved discussions with virtually all 50 of the sales personnel.

It soon became evident that the sales force could be roughly divided into three main sections; high performers (15%), medium performers (70%) and indifferent or poor performers (15%)

The analysis was carried out based on both turnover and the rate of improvement in building their contacts.

It became even more evident that there was an enormous difference in the performance of the top and bottom teams so we initiated some interviews to see if we could isolate the reasons.

In the end, not really to my surprise, it all came down to drive, passion, enthusiasm, dedication, commitment and an overwhelming desire for success or, sadly, the lack of all those desirables.

A learned Vistage speaker once said that the leader should put more effort into working with and encouraging the top performers rather than taking a vast amount of time in trying to improve the poor performers.  It does make sense because probably the best that one can achieve is to move them from poor to mediocre and even that with a great deal of effort.

In the end, we need to accept that we can’t change other people.  The best that we can do it to create an environment in which people can change if they so desire.  The worst of all worlds is to accept poor performance and then tip toe round the problem while making excuses for not biting the bullet.

It all comes down to the strictures of people like Lee Thayer, Ed Ryan, Jim Collins and many other leadership sages all of whom have been saying for years that we need virtuosi, top people, the best that we can find rather than trying to improve poor or even mediocre performers.

Not at all easy, and it starts with the recruitment process.  I have said it before and I guess that I will say it again, that we need to recruit on attitude not skills.  Only by doing that all the time will we build businesses that are both successful and sustainable.

It is your top people who will take you there.  Make sure that it is you that they take there, not someone else.

Visit www.vistage.co.uk and www.vistage.co.uk/chairs/ivan.goldberg
Email: ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk
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Sunday, 23 October 2011

Don’t Hold It All In! Talk to Someone About It!

The more I talk to leaders the more I have come to realise that under that strong, confident, assertive, committed exterior there lies a bubbling mass of insecurity and uncertainty.  Not in every case, it must said, but definitely in many.

It is also remarkable how few leaders understand and accept the situation and then do something about it.  Possibly the reason for inaction is that they don’t really know what to do.

The answer is usually to swallow foolish pride and talk someone else about the matter, what can be done and how best to do it.
The underlying problem is almost invariably one which has been seen before and even if it is absolutely new, which is unlikely, then a sensible discussion with someone can be enormously helpful.  Again, it is curious how often the very act of downloading an issue to a trusted and trustworthy colleague who just listens, can help to solve a problem.
Innately we almost always have the solution to a problem within us; we just don’t want to accept the solution which in many cases can be difficult to accept and achieve.
My several years of experience in Vistage (www.vistage.co.uk) have shown me how powerful the peer group approach can be.  Members with what they consider to be an intractable problem, bring it to the group who are supportive and interested, and what is more, have probably experienced the same in the past.
Add to that the ability to talk to a trusted mentor on a regular one-t-one basis and the leader has a very effective support system to get over those seemingly difficult issues which plague us all from time to time.
The worst thing that the leader can do is to hold it all in and hope that it will go away.  Sometimes it does but mostly it doesn’t and usually goes worse. 
The answer is to grasp the nettle (or bite the bullet), and talk about it to a dedicated listener (or listeners).

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Sunday, 16 October 2011

Change is Inevitable! Be an Enthusiastic Early Adopter!

Two very interesting statistics came to my notice this week:

·       Cities and towns cover 2% of the surface of the planet, 50% of the world population live there, they use 75% of all the energy produced and in turn, they produce 80% of all emissions.

·       Of a total world population of 7billion, 5billion have mobile (cell) phones and there are more than 7billion in use.

Both of these stats exemplify the dramatic changes that have taken place on this planet over the past fifty or so years.  Dramatic isn’t really a strong enough word; extraordinary is probably nearer the truth.

The fact is that the rate of change in the last fifty years has been exponential and this has taken with it the rate of change in the availability of data which is readily available to us via Google and other search engines.

As usual, the gloom mongers and naysayers tell us that the web is a repository of incorrect, dangerous and misleading information and we should therefore treat it with great care and suspicion.  For goodness sake, we have been saying that about newspapers for years so what is so different?

One of the most compelling effects of these changes has been the compression of time; not actually but apparently.  We now expect a response to our communication, probably through text or email, in hours and preferably minutes, whereas even twenty years ago, we had to wait for a snail mail response which could take days if not weeks.

Urgency has shortened, we are constantly distracted by that ping which tells us that another text message or email has arrived and we must read it and reply instantly.

We can see the demise of email, possibly in the next ten years as the use of messaging on social networking sites takes over.  And how long will those social networking sites last before something else arrives out of left field to improve our lives?

None of this is right or wrong, good or bad.  It is simply the reality of the way in which our lives have been changed and it is up to us as to whether is for the better.

Sure, we can contract out if we wish; it is always a matter of choice.  For example, we can change the cities and the environment by moving out and living a simpler, less compressed existence in the country.

The fact is that aspirations and expectations among those currently condemned in any case to live outside the cities will inevitably draw them there to live a more fulfilled existence, as they see it (mostly on TV).

Change is inevitable and while we can always decide not to join that club, change will still happen around us and by definition affect the way we live.  Saying that we are not interested in modern technology is a very King Canute-like approach and just as effective.

By far the best way is to embrace these exciting changes and use them for our benefit.  See you in the queue for the next new Apple.

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Sunday, 9 October 2011

You Don’t Know What is Going On? Talk to Your People!

It has been truly said that great leadership is mostly about building and maintaining relationships so that the leader becomes a real person in the minds of the team.

I recall going into the office of one of my Vistage members and noticing that a flip chart, which had been there for some time, had some seemingly mysterious figures on it.

Intrigued,  I asked what the numbers meant.
“The column on the left is the week number, fairly obviously” he said, “and the other numbers are the unit cost of production of our products, week by week”.
“OK”, I said, “so tell me why the unit cost of production is reducing so significantly from around £7.00 to just over £5.00.  Have you found some sort of magic bullet?”
“There have been no changes in the product” he replied, “No changes in the method of manufacture and virtually no changes in the personnel either.  What seems to have made the difference is that I have started to take time out every day to go on to the shop floor and talk to the operatives – nothing about business, just about them, their families and their interests”.
Significantly he later hired an Operations Director and suggested that he should take over the daily chat and, guess what?  Unit costs went up. 
The whole point was that people wanted to speak to the leader not the stand-in, so he went back to his original plan and improved production resumed.
So what can we learn from the story?   It is a matter of having and showing respect for people in whatever function they happen to be involved.  It has been truly said that every human being has something, some talent, to offer and great leaders develop the ability to draw it out for the benefit of all.
It starts and finishes with respecting the abilities of everyone, whoever they may be and whatever their position, and most importantly demonstrating that respect at all times. 
It used to be called Management by Walking About but it could better be called Management by Building Relationships (If you can think of a more snappy description, let me know)
Talk to your people – you never know what you might learn

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Sunday, 2 October 2011

What Do You Mean, I Can’t? Just Watch Me!

“We can’t plan ahead – there’s too much uncertainty and change out there.  We can only be reactive”
So said a business leader to me this week.    
Ask yourself the question: when can you remember anything but uncertainty out there?   We are in a New Normality again and what is happening is an event that we can’t change so we had better get on with changing ourselves to accommodate it and make the solution work.
The trouble is that out there as well are masses of so-called pundits who are in essence naysayers and gloom mongers.  Just watch, read or listen to the media across the board and all you will hear is what is wrong, and absolutely no sensible ideas of what needs to be changed to put it right.
At the micro level it can be just as debilitating.  It can seem that whatever ideas the leader (or anyone else for that matter) brings forward then out come the naysayers and gloom mongers again.
How often have we heard: “It won’t work”, “There isn’t a market for it”. No-one will be interested” and worst of all, “We tried it before and it didn’t happen that time so why should it happen now
Confidence can be catching but lack of confidence and prophesies of failure can be equally catching.  Winston Churchill said: “Failure is just another step on the road to success”.
A major function of the leader is to engender a feeling of confidence in the people so that even though the prophets of death and destruction will always be with us, their voices are muted and discounted.
That is not to say that over confidence is right – unchecked it could be construed as arrogance; a modicum of reflection and careful thought may just change or modify a plan but that is quite different from what the press used to call “knocking copy”; merely rubbishing without offering a workable solution.  Listen to any opposition (and for that matter some Coalition) politicians right now to hear that happening.
Remember, there are so many people out there who will tell you that you can’t.  So stop, look them in the eye and say: “I can’t?  Just watch me!”.

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