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Sunday, 30 December 2012

Still Having Annual Appraisals of Your People? Scrap Them! (the Appraisals Not The People)

The HR Director popped her head round the door of the CEO’s office and said (in cheerful tones):

“It’s Annual Appraisal time again!”

“Oh hell” was the reply in somewhat less than cheerful tones.

The dreaded annual appraisal usually does have that reaction from  both management and staff for the very good reason that this is the time when everybody is supposed to come clean, to open up and to talk totally frankly about  themselves and their issues. 

Really?  Once a year?  No wonder that the onset of the appraisal process fills most people with apprehension and sometimes even fear.

Just consider the business that assesses its performance based solely on the annual audited accounts.  Sensible?  Of course not.  The sensible course is to have monthly management accounts produced and then the annual accounts are a matter of confirmation of facts which are already known.

So why do we persist in having annual appraisals of people in the business when their performance can and should be monitored on a regular basis throughout the year?

Another and significant issue is the essentially subjective approach in the annual appraisal.  I have looked at a few samples and they all use a scoring method based on opinion, for example, for attitude, commitment and enthusiasm.

Indeed what sensible and appropriate metrics can be used to assess a person’s performance over a period of a year?  One would assume that it changes with the seasons and with other and often outside influences.

The point is that these are not metrics; they are shades of opinion masquerading as metrics.  It is the difference between an emotional and a rational approach.

On these very specious terms therefore we assess performance and if it is deemed to be below par, then we won’t know whether there has been any change until the next round of appraisals.  Nonsense?  Of course it’s nonsense because we are in regular contact with most people in the business and we can assess how they are doing on a regular, if somewhat random, basis.

So what is the answer?  If it is sensible to have monthly management accounts it is equally sensible to have a regular assessment of your people and especially the top team.

There is no question that monthly one-to-ones with everyone in the top team should be a mandatory entry in the leader’s diary.  No discussion, no excuses; the monthly one-to-one lasting up to a couple of hours is the most important meeting that the leader and the team members can have.

It enables both to open up, to be honest, frank and truthful in the discussion and to expect the same in return.  It does take a little time for such an atmosphere to be generated but in the end, a high level of trust can be the result.

The annual accounts are of true value only to the bank, the accountants and the Revenue because it is the monthly management accounts on which decisions are taken on a regular basis.

The annual appraisal is of virtually no value either to the leader or to the team member so ditch it.  Replace it with open and honest monthly one-to-ones and watch how mutual trust grows.
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Sunday, 23 December 2012

You Know What You Do and How You Do It – Do You Know WHY You Do It?

The classic mantra in the theory of selling is that people buy for benefits, not for features and there is a great deal of truth in that.  Why wouldn’t there be; it has worked successfully for years.  Features fulfil the “want” and benefits, the “need”.

For example, rational people in a buying situation ask the question; “what’s in it for me?”  This applies, by the way, to commercial purchasing as well as for us all at this time of the year.

We don’t buy perfume or after shave for what it smells like but rather for the effect that it will have when we wear it.

The same goes for clothes.  We buy clothes not expressly for what they look like but sub-consciously perhaps for the effect that they will have on other people when we wear them.

This is all well and good but somehow it misses the point and because I was told about a short video on TED this week, I can see now the real basis for buying into anything, material things, innovation, theories of life, religion, relationships and living, anything.

Grant Leboff, (www.stickymarketing.com) one of the gre atspeakers on the Vistage speaker circuit told us about the video by Simon Sinek (http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html) which takes the discussion to a far higher level.

In simplistic terms, we all, in our businesses, know exactly what we do.  Perhaps to a lesser extent we know how we do it.  Very seldom do we know WHY we do what we do.

Discount right away that we do it for money.  That is a result not a reason.

The WHY we do things is central to all decision making and when we realise it the change in our approach to business will change and radically.

Sinek takes Apple as an example.  If we look at them in a basic sense they are manufacturers of computers and smart telephones.  So what? There are many companies out there which do exactly the same thing to a greater or lesser extent.

Apple know what they do, they certainly know how they do it.  Critically they know why they do it and that is because they believe that they are there to challenge the status quo; to be completely different.

So they say, “We are different, we think differently, we operate differently and, by the way, we also make well designed computers”.  Never mind the fact that they are far and away the most expensive; the six hour queues for the launch of the iPhone 5 and the new range of iPads is testament to their ability to enthuse and to instil the belief that the customer will be buying into something different.

In the same way Winston Churchill inspired the nation during the war even though there were cleverer politicians, even better public speakers. The key was that he inspired belief, belief that the nation would come through the dark days into the light, and, of course, it happened.  After the war ended, he didn’t have a credible “why” and the nation looked elsewhere for leadership.

It implies a radical rethink of our marketing message; not just “this is what we do and this is how we do it”; in other words the features, but a rethink to start at WHY we do it, in fact, our purpose in which we believe absolutely. 

It will answer the customer’s question of “What’s in it for me?”  before it is alsed. Take a look at the Simon Sinek video and be prepared to be inspired.

It could change your (marketing) life.
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Sunday, 16 December 2012

Do Leaders Emerge Through Nature or Nurture? Probably a Mixture of Both!

Perhaps the biggest issue for leaders is the paucity of education at this level; education in the sense of teaching and training leaders the art of leadership as such.

There was a report on the failings in a United Kingdom prison recently where the situation had become so bad that the governor was removed the following day.  The new incumbent, when interviewed, said gently that there seemed to have been a breakdown in relations between senior management and the staff.

Try searching online for “leadership” and you will be inundated with information, books, presentations and articles, all of which have tried to define the traits which go to make up a successful leader.  Relationships are at the heart of it.

It all starts with the perennial question as to whether leaders are born or made, is it a matter of nature or nurture.  In all probability it is a mixture of both in some way.

Some years ago I was at a company conference with around 60 of us holed up in a hotel for a long (very long) weekend. We were told that one of the sessions would be on problem solving.

We went into break out groups of about 10 and were given an intractable problem to discuss and solve.  Each group was instructed to elect a Chairman and an observer was allocated to each group to report back at the end.

When the observers reported back it transpired that the session was not about problem solving but rather about leadership.  In every case – every case please note – the group had elected a Chairman and then proceeded to ignore them as another member of each group took over the role of de facto leader.

We have all been at meetings where someone with a strong personality and probably a loud voice dominated the proceedings and, in some cases, effectively took over the meeting.

In these cases the tendency is for the strong personality to be aggressive and force his/her own opinions on the group rather than the ideal of being assertive.  Discussions round the water cooler afterwards are seldom positive.

And where is the training for active or prospective leaders?  There is a great deal of management education available at very high levels as well, but it seems to me that there is a shortage of help for people at the top of a business where the demands are totally different from functional management.

So what are those inborn traits which make someone into a leader?  Force of personality is certainly one as well as a measure of self-confidence which doesn’t overflow into arrogance.  It is that ability to engender trust in followers that also gives them confidence.  It is perhaps the ability to engender belief in followers as well. It is the ability to build satisfactory and productive relationships.

All of these attributes are inborn; a consequence of nature and perhaps upbringing in some cases.  On the other hand, it is possible to assist leaders to hone their skills through a measure of training and learning, an understanding of which requires humility.

The problem is that as we move upwards through the business there will be fewer and fewer people to tell us that we are doing well and that requires emotional stamina.

We all need praise in some ways and the leader will have to learn to exist on little or no praise, for who is there to praise the leader?  Very seldom will it be one of the followers.

A peer group and/or a mentor does help in this respect and many leaders are beginning to realise that the isolation of the position can bring with it stresses that other people in the business don’t experience or even know exist and if they did know of them they would run a mile.

There are some really great books out there to help the leader to develop an ethos which is right for the people and the business.

What is always needed in the leader is a desire to learn, to go on learning and to accept that learning is forever.  It really never stops..
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Sunday, 9 December 2012

Why Should I Come in Early? I’m a Director Remember!

It is constantly surprising to realise that some leaders really don’t seem to understand that their example is followed by people in the business and therefore, what they do and how they behave is crucial.

The story goes that some years ago now, a major London based PLC acquired a very large, underperforing engineering company in Manchester.

The PLC Chairman, somewhat reluctantly, emerged from his Mayfair office to visit this company in the frozen north.

After the obligatory works tour the Chairman was invited to lunch in the Directors’ oak-panelled dining suite where he sat at the head of the table lunching in his usual frugal manner on an apple and some cheese.  The Directors meanwhile where chomping their way through their usual four course lunch
At the end of the lunch, the Chairman looked at the Directors and said:
in something of a silence.
“You chaps do yourselves very well here, don’t you?  Perhaps you could consider it”
and walked out.  Changes were made pretty rapidly.
At about the same time I was asked to go into a smallish printing company where the Directors had done a Management Buy-Out from the owner, funded by their bank.
Performance of the business after the MBO had been, to say the least, indifferent and the bank, naturally, was beginning to get somewhat nervous.  Accordingly they sent in one or two consultants to look over the business and to see where the problem lay.
Talking to the managers who were now Directors of the business, it transpired that although they had mortgaged their homes to buy in to the deal, their behaviour afterwards was odd in the extreme.
The first thing that they had done was to present each other with a large top of the range car even though cash was understandably tight.
Then we noticed that they were “working” somewhat short hours, coming n after 9.00am, taking a long lunch and leaving in the afternoon.
When they were asked about this behaviour they looked rather surprised and said the equivalent of “Isn’t that how Directors behave?”  In the end the original owner bought the business back and replaced the Directors.
In truth, they needed to realise that the ownership of a business means much harder effort, longer hours and total dedication to the cause and in addition, to remember that keeping their homes depended on the success of the business,
Both of these stories, in very differing companies but with the same behaviour at the top, reflect an attitude of implied superiority over the lower classes which cannot be helpful to relationships.
There is no question that this engenders resentment, indifference and apathy in the workforce and builds up an “us and them” environment where militancy can flourish.
In the case of the PLC acquisition, it did just that until the new owners changed the whole approach to the people in the business and indeed the whole culture of the company.
It takes time to make changes like that and it is obviously far netter never to arrive at the need.
Humility in a leader is seemingly rare but until he/she realises that they are not omnipotent, then the “top down” approach will dominate.  I like this quotation which exemplifies the inclusive style of leadership:
“The people want me to be their leader – I must follow them”
It is the acceptance that they don’t know everything, that their contribution to the business while important is not all encompassing and that there are many other people whose contribution is manifestly vital.
Once that is understood, the leader is much more likely to be trusted and equally will be more able to trust the people.
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Sunday, 2 December 2012

Still Doing the Same Things? You Need Constantly to Question the Status Quo!

Over the years I have come more and more to realise that many leaders need not to be more assertive and even, heaven forbid, aggressive but actually to back off more

The fact is that many leaders put in far too much time in the actual running of the business and far too little time into working on it, visioning the future and planning to take the business forward.

I have said before and I say it again; while the finances of the company are vitally important, especially the cash situation, forensic examination of the management accounts does nothing positive except to irritate the finance department who prepared them.

When I was involved in Slater Walker in the 1970s discussion of the accounts at every board meeting was limited to no more than twenty minutes and most of the time was taken up with “where are we going?” not “where have we been?”

This implies that someone needs to lead that charge and, in the main, the majority of people on the business are rightly preoccupied with the day to day to worry too much about the long term future.

The leader must know what and where that bright shining star is, the answer to “where are we going?” and the single overall objective and purpose of the business.

Sure, there needs to be consultation and agreement at top team level so that there is buy in from everyone, but in the end it is the function of the leader to make that great decision.

In other words the leader has to stop the “leave it to me, I’ll do it and sort it out” syndrome which immediately engenders that bane of every leader’s life – upwards delegation.

Not content with poor or non-existent delegation, the “leave it to me” leader has to start doing everyone else’s jobs for them simply because her/she just can’t let go and, let’s be honest, because they do not trust those under them to do the job properly and effectively.

That word “trust” is possibly the most emotive simply because it is at the heart of leadership.  The leader needs always to be questioning the team and indeed, the whole of the status quo.  Can we do this differently, better, more simply, more effectively?

Thomas Edison said:

·       There is a better way to do it – find it!”

Unless there is compete trust and indeed mutual trust, questioning and challenging will tend to be seen as implied reprimand whereas it should be considered as a genuine attempt to improve the shining hour.

In the end, the leader needs to have time to consider, to cogitate, to wander round the business, to talk to people, and above all, to take time out working on it, not in it.

Understandably most leaders would hesitate to put the feet up on the desk, close the eyes and expect the team to realise that what is happening is a productive use of the leader’s time.

In fact, it is but visibly it may seem to be a little self-indulgent.  Accordingly the leader must clear the decks, and take time out to work on the future of the business while keeping a weather eye open for the present and what is needed to achieve the long term objectives.

I suppose I am suggesting that the leader needs to wok a way out of allowing and trusting the team to get on with the day to day running of the business and hence to devote his/her time to working on the future.

It’s not about forecasting - it’s about deciding what is needed to be done in order to achieve the objectives.
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Sunday, 25 November 2012

Feeling a Bit Uncertain? If You Are the Leader, You Make the Decision!

Looking over some of the blogs I have posted during the past three years, it seems that I have listed a significant number of leadership functions as being “primary”.

It really emphasises the need for a leader to be something of a polymath; to be able to cover all the bases while still being in a position to take action outside the normal and as necessary.

It’s a tough call but the great leaders seem to take it n their stride.  The fact is that the decision making process is central to the position of leader and that would apply to all the other functions.  Simply put, if the leader is indecisive, then however able he/she is in other ways, they are as nothing in the face of indecision.

Most of the great (benign, I do not include well known dictators)) leaders generally prefer an inclusive style of management with sensible consultation with either teams or specialists in order to come to a satisfactory conclusion.

An authoritarian leadership style is usually very decisive but frequently without the benefit of advice from anyone else (it’s often called “gut feel”) and this can lead to an enhanced need for problem solving.

Great leaders have in their make-up a level of humility which tells them that they really don’t know everything and discussions and consultation with others who perhaps know a bit more can only be beneficial.

In the end, of course, someone needs to make the decision and that is more often than not is the province of the leader.

Coming as I do from an engineering background I am well aware that some people like to have as much information as is humanly or Gooley possible  before they attempt to come to a conclusion.  It’s called “paralysis by analysis” and it generally stifles decision making.

Equally, the structure of the organisation is important; partnerships, for example, seem to have been set up with the prime intention of making decisions impossible.

I recall a member of my Vistage CE group some years ago who was Managing Partner of a large law firm.  We were discussing decision making and I rather naively ventured that it should be relatively simple as all they needed was consensus among the 26 or so partners.

He looked at me with a mixture of incomprehension and pity. 

“Consensus?” he almost shouted: “They don’t know the meaning of the word.  They insist that every decision must be unanimous”.

I timidly suggested that this could mean a slowing up of the decision making process and he growled: “You could say that!”

The whole point of this is that while it makes a great deal of sense for the leader to consult and take advice from both internal and external sources, in the end it is the leader’s primary function (there I go again) to make the decision, for good or ill.

It is, as I said before, a tough call and that is why the leader is in that position.  It will often lead to change and managing that is another issue which is in the province of the leader.

Frankly, it never ends and that is why the position of leader is both demanding and exhilarating.  It demands, amongst others, humility, awareness, sensitivity understanding, creativity and, above all, decisiveness.

If you have all that lot, you’ve got it made. 
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Sunday, 18 November 2012

Title of CEO, Managing Director, Chairman? First of All You Are a Leader!

Over the past couple of weeks there has been a flurry of discussions on the UK Vistage website about the role of the Chief Executive compared to that of the Managing Director.  Where, if at all, do they differ?

So, perhaps the question to ask is, are these just titles which effectively cover  much the same functions or are they truly separate and defined roles which are, or should be, complementary.

In a simplistic fashion perhaps we can define the role of the Managing Director as having overall responsibility for the effective operation of the business, day to day, and carrying full budget responsibility.

The Chief Executive oversees the running of the business and has the primary responsibility for forward planning and strategy.  The CEO has the final responsibility for the success or otherwise of the business.

However in the end there can be only one overall leader and that should be the Chief Executive.

So let’s take a look at this role as I see it.  It all starts with the definition of the purpose of the business, what is it there to achieve and for whom?  Vistage speaker Roger Harrop considers that, in the end, the purpose of the business comes down to money; for example, to increase the value of the business and hence the asset value for the investors.

That is by no means the only definition of the purpose and it is part of the CEO’s role either to define it or to work with the top team to decide on the definition.

Next the CEO needs to work with the top team to decide on the values espoused by the business.  Please don’t include Honesty and Integrity; if these are not givens then you shouldn’t be in business.  Typical values can be a dedication to training, respect for everyone’s ideas, a no-blame culture and so on.

Critically these values mist not be just a list in the reception area; they must be constantly repeated and visibly auctioned at all times. In other words, they become the way that we do things around here.

Finally it the setting of the short and long term objectives for the business and then answering the question; if that is where we are going, what will we need to do in order to get there?  Note, this does not ask HOW do we get there?
Difficult it may be but it is not the function of the CEO to be hands in the business and that can be painful when something goes amiss.  The responsibility for putting it right should be solely in the handsof the operational management, not the leader.

Overall then the primary functions of the Chief Executive are to set the objectives, determine the strategy for achieving them and above all to determine the culture of the business and to drive it into the business.  It is perhaps the only real top down function of the CEO and it is the absolute responsibility of the leader.

This means that the leader must take time out to think; not to make decisions, not to take action, but to think about the business in a quiet environment.  Go walk on a beach with the dog a couple of times a year (without a telephone) and just think about the business.  Remember that the leader is the ONLY person in the business who consciously thinks about it
Simple, isn’t it?  Get it right and it can only lead to success.
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Sunday, 11 November 2012

Are Your Monthly Accounts Timely and Accurate? Then You Are Very Fortunate!

At a recent one-to-one with one of my Vistage CE group members we were discussing information flow in the business and how it can be and is used to beneficial effect.

I was slightly stunned by his comment in passing that his Finance Director was now managing (I use the word reluctantly) to produce the monthly management accounts six weeks after the month end. (it had been up to eight weeks as the FD fond other things to do which he considered more important)

The sad fact is that management accounts which are six weeks late (in anyone’s language) are frankly useless.  The company could have gone out of business while the FD was saying things like “I can’t do it any quicker because we don’t have all the invoices in yet” and similar excuses

The whole idea of management accounts is that they are supposed to assist the CEO in the management of the business (or is that a trifle simplistic?) and six weeks late means that they are, to all intents and purposes, useless other than as an historical record of what happened. 

Any action taken as a result of them would be founded on dubious evidence at best and at worst would be positively dangerous.  Ask yourself, do you drive a car by looking constantly into the rear view mirror?

So why even bother?

When an FD is appointed or indeed anyone tasked with the preparation of monthly accounts, it should be made absolutely clear that they must be presented in a workable format no more than three days after month end.

All arguments about not having all the necessary documents in hand are specious as the management counts, almost by definition will contain some input which can and should be estimated.  If the monthly national statistics for GDP can be corrected a month later, then so can monthly management accounts.

Another of my members mentioned that as they were going through a short term downturn blip, the Finance Director was becoming more and more nervous by the day and was starting to look at sales by the week.  When he then started to worry about sales on a daily basis, it was pointed out to him that the business operated long term so please stop it (or words to that effect).

The whole question of the value of monthly accounts is called into question when this sort of thing happens.  It also calls into question the role and indeed the attitude of the financial personnel in the business.  The fact is that finance does not run the business; it is the product of the business and is a measure of the level of success.

Possibly the most important factor and certainly in these times, is the cash position and that should be monitored on a daily basis without fail.  Remember that you can be profitable and fail because you run out of cash.   The credit control operation in the business is the most important section of your accounting function.

A useful test for the leader is what has become known as the Desert Island method.  In essence, the leader is metaphorically marooned on a desert island with a mobile telephone which works once a month and for a very short time which allows only five questions to be put.

So what questions would you put to find out exactly how the business is doing (like what is the cash position)?

More importantly, what questions would you put to find out what actions are being taken to drive the business forward to achieve the long term goals?

And that begs the question, do you (and everyone in the business) know your long term goals and do you know what you will need to do in order to achieve them?  It’s certainly nothing to do with monthly accounts.
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Sunday, 4 November 2012

Economy Blues Affecting Your Business? Change and Innovation Lead to Success!

The BBC Radio 4 early morning farming programmes have been awash with dire predictions about the  state of British dairy farming mainly, it is suggested, because the major supermarkets are paying 24p a litre for milk and the cost of production is nearer to 28p a litre.

Accordingly, many dairy farmers have gone out of business and pedigree herds have been sold off.

On the other hand, the nominations for the BBC Farmer of the Year Award include  several dairy farmers who are making good attempts to run their businesses successfully even in the current climate.

Why the anomaly?  The milk market is unusual in that the price to the consumer is held as low as possible by the supermarkets, claiming that consumers won’t pay any more, the second tier, the processors, claim that their costs have risen and they cannot pay any more to the farmers.

This then is not a market where “it’s not about the price”, or is it?

It seems to me that those dairy farmers who are successful have accepted that they are now in their own “new normality” and they must do something to redesign the way that in which approach the market or go under like so many of their compatriots.

I know that I have quoted this before but Albert Einstein hit the nail on the head when he said:

·       “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”

The primary reason for farmers going out of business is that they have not accepted that they must change the way that they run their businesses in the light of current market forces if they are to stay afloat.

If some producers can do it, why can’t many do the same?  It’s all about change and the resistance to change.  “We know what we are doing, we have always done it this way” is a perfect recipe for disaster in these straitened times, and not only in farming.

Just look at the demise of Comet, yet another High Street retailer going into administration.  Passed around to various owners, most of whom were not retailers and probably didn't understand it anyway, they became merely a showroom for electrical goods which they were prepared to sell to any customer who wished to nuy.

Service?  What service?  Technical assistance?  Don’t be daft – that means that we would have to train the staff and that costs money and we can’t afford it.

So what happens is that they determinedly stay running the business in the same way, equally determinedly lowering prices “to be competitive” presumably hoping that things will change and the good times will return.

At the same time they moan about competition from web based suppliers instead of embracing it with enthusiasm.  Their major error is that they look upon the web as a threat instead of an opportunity.

One problem is that the word competitive has come to be associated only with low prices which frequently sound the death knell of a business.  On the other hand those leaders who realise that to survive in the existing jungle, it is essential to innovate, to change and question everything that they do in order not only to survive but to prosper.

Too difficult to start a business or to change one in a recession?  Please note that Microsoft , Apple and Goggle all were started in a recession.  New ideas, new thinking and a clear view of what success looks like, will always win.

Don’t worry about your competitors; make them worry about you.
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Sunday, 28 October 2012

Do You Think and Act Negatively or Positively? Make a Habit of Positivity!

I had the pleasant privilege this week of presenting a Five Year Tenure award to Vistage speaker and improviser extraordinaire, John Cremer.  John spoke to my Vistage CE group last December in a never-to-be-forgotten learning experience of improvisation.

Among other activities he facilitated a short role play exercise with two people facing each other and one starting off the conversation with something like “Why don’t we try a....?”  His companion had to reply only with “Yes, AND....”

The effect was that the role play was bright, positive and enthusiastic if a trifle wacky in the event, and this effect was consistent among all the pairs of participants.

Then each pair had to answer only “Yes BUT......” and the effect was startling.  While the body language in the first example was open and upright, in the “Yes but...” people closed down and almost drooped.  Please note: we are talking about role play here and not the real thing so one can imagine in a real situation how it would be received.

The exercise had such an effect that one of the group members changed the name of his Board Room to “The Yes And... Room” and the word BUT has been banned.  He says that as a consequence the atmosphere at meetings is entirely different and almost exclusively positive.

Much has been said and written about the power of positive thought in business and in life in general and there is no doubt that it can have a dramatic effect on personal, team and corporate performance.

That old curmudgeon, Henry Ford, called it just right when he said:

·       “If you say you can or you say you can’t, you’re always right!

The point is that a constant repetition in the mind of almost any mantra has a positive effect provided that it is continued over a period, said to be around thirty days, when it becomes a habit.

According to Dr Topher Morrison, when he carried out his research with a group of people he asked them to note down their emotions every day over a week. He found people tend to have a list of negative emotions that is three times that of positive. Other researchers have commented we can have up to 1500 negative thoughts a day and there are more negative words in the English Language dictionary than positive ones.

The key is for a leader to make positive thinking a constant in the business perhaps by regular reinforcement of the message – that “BUT” should be banned in discussions (how about a BUT box fine at meetings?) and occasional role plays of “Yes and....” and “Yes but...” to emphasise the difference.

There is really nothing new about this.  In the 1920s French psychologist,, Emile Coue (1857-1926), made popular the practice of clasping the hands in from of the body and saying:

·        “Every day and in every way I am getting better and better!”

and once again he said that the change in attitude would become a habit in around 30 days.

There is plenty of good reading matter on the subject to be found but it is worth looking at The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale dating from 1952 and revised in 2009 (ISBN 978-0-13686-44-55), and another 2009 book, Positivity, (ISBN 978-1-906316-46-4) by former ITV presenter and prospective Vistage speaker, Arti Halai.

Remember, AND is an encouraging word and BUT is a discourager so be sure that you use the right one.  Make “Yes AND...” into a habit. 
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Sunday, 21 October 2012

Whose Job Are You Doing Right Now? Stop It- You Need to Focus!

We ran a regular test this week in my Vistage CE group, the members asking themselves three questions:

1.   What should I do more of?
2.   What should I do less of?
3.   What should I stop doing?

The majority answered for no 1, delegation, for no 2, interfering and for no 3, stop doing other people’s jobs for them.

So many times I am told by leaders that they just don’t seem to have any time to spare and most importantly, to work on the direction in which the business should be going.

The reply is, of course:

“It’s not a matter of not having the time, you need to MAKE the time!”

It may seem to be a pretty glib consultant’s reply but the point really needs to be made.  Every day in business brings new pressures and unless the leader takes hold of the day then it will be filled by other people’s problems.

Research has shown that, in general, we have discretion over no more than 20% of the working day, the rest being taken up with meetings, telephone calls, reading  (and deleting) emails, people popping in and so on. It emphasises that the way in which we spend that 20% and where possible increase it, becomes ever more important.

I remember a Vistage meeting dome years ago when a potential member said to me:

“My problem is that I am not just hands on in the business, I am hands IN and what is more, often it’s fingers in!”

We all know that this is not uncommon. The issue is how to break the habit of always being available to all and sundry to talk over every little problem without seeming to be indifferent to them and their needs.

So, back to the definition of the role of the leader.

The leader has some definite functions to perform and none of them are operational.  It all starts with a statement of the values espoused by the leader, then the purpose of and the vision for the business and finally he/she has to define the culture.

In addition, the leader needs to ensure that the very best people are slotted into the top team and given the responsibility to deliver performance.  Moreover, the top team has to be in alignment with the values, purpose and vision of the company and ensuring that is a leadership function.

Overall the leader has responsibility for the strategy and performance of the business in every way and in that sense is accountable for that performance to all the stakeholders, shareholders, staff, funders, customers and suppliers.

None of these requirements are functional because those matters are best left to the specialists, the top team who are, of course, accountable to the leader.  That big word, TRUST, looms large at this point.

In order for the leader to be able to fulfil his/her destiny, he/she MUST be able to trust the top team implicitly to perform and to report on a regular basis.  By far the best way for this to be achieved is by regular mandatory one-to-ones with the leader.

All in all, the leader must focus on those matters which demand his/her special attention and time must be made for that to be achieved.

Thinking time for the leader is essential because, just consider this; in essence, the only person in the business who really THINKS about it in a holistic sense, is the leader.  Everyone else is diverted by the exigencies of the various tasks which they have to perform.

So it’s focus which is needed; focus on those activities which are central to the future of the business and trust the team to perform in a “no-blame” environment.
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Sunday, 14 October 2012

Are Your Systems and Procedures Fit for Purpose? Check With an Internal User Group!

One of the less appetising functions of leadership is ensuring that all the systems, processes and procedures in the business actually work, and to the benefit of the customer, either external or internal.

Most leaders glaze over when the subject is ventilated because it just isn’t sexy and exciting.  The problem is, if the processes and procedures are not fit for purpose, then the overall effectiveness of the business suffers and often gives rise to unintended consequences.

I recall a client who, at the usual great expense, had installed a large, complicated and allegedly comprehensive software package which, as he hopefully said “would run the company” for him. 

It’s nice that people can have that touching faith on the ability of IT (or any other system for that matter) to deliver exactly what is needed, quickly and accurately and to produce reports which cover every aspect of the business.  Faith is one thing, reality is another especially when it comes to IT as we often find out to our cost. W

Once again we need to examine precisely why we are considering the systems and whether it is to engender efficiency or whether it is to run the business more effectively to the benefit of the customers.

The problem is that efficiency does not equate to effectiveness.

The overall result of a drive for efficiency is usually the production of a very thick rule book and consequently people in the business using it at every touch and turn to inhibit progress.

The whole point of efficiency (and I am sure that there will be experts who disagree) is to ensure that mistakes are never made which is a somewhat hopeful desire. 

The effect of an efficiency drive then is a slowing down of activity either while people make sure that they are conforming to the rule book or alternatively because they can consciously slow up for the same reason.

In the other hand, effectiveness means a reasonable and sensible approach to running the business with, as far as possible, a minimum of regulation and paying people the compliment of letting them get on with their jobs.

Of course there is danger in this style of leadership but in the end, it can be much more effective and gives the team the freedom to think and to take action in the best way possible for them and hence for the business.

One excellent way to engender this feeling is to set up user groups which meet from time to time to examine systems, processes and procedures and if at all possible dispose of some of them as well.

It is however vital that such meetings do not deteriorate into whingeing and moaning exercises at some poor IT (for example) specialist so always have a neutral facilitator to ensure that the discussions are positive and fruitful.

A modicum of LEAN thinking is always of value so that time taken, people involved and physical movements are all reduced as far as possible.

It is all matter of working to make the business more effective and consequently a better platform for profitable growth.
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Sunday, 7 October 2012

Ask Your Customers, Do The Actually Like Dealing With You? If Not, Why Not?

I am approaching this week’s post slightly nervously mainly because I don’t want to endorse an unwarranted (I like to think) reputation as a grumpy old whatever.

I have always been a believer in that old adage:

“Learn from the past, live for the present, plan for the future!

and just recently I seem to have been learning a lot from the past primarily in the area of good manners and values which I am sorry to say, are, all too frequently, sadly lacking these days (do you see why I was nervous about this post?).

My father was ferocious in driving good manners into us and I hope that his strictures were successful.  They ranged from having good table manners, standing up when a lady came into the room, saying please and thank you without exception, general courtesy and much else.

Of later I have experienced some wonderful examples of supreme customer case and, indeed, one of my Vistage members also told me a story of great customer care and service in a hotel in Manchester.

I am glad to say that we both sent messages of congratulations and thanks to the companies in each case and received back slightly surprised but very pleased replies of thanks.

On the other hand these experiences have been almost overwhelmed by some awful, rude and ill-mannered contacts with people who should have been properly trained to understand that effective relationships with customers are the most important facet of business.

I have been truly shocked how I have been treated by some people without ever heating please or thank you, jus “sign here” and similar.  On the other hand it is noticeable that a major company like Premier Inns have done something about that.

The initial experience at the reception desk could be awful as the weary traveller is expected to pay up front but in fact, it is a pleasant experience simply because the receptionist is truly welcoming, polite, friendly and helpful.  In other words, we tend to find them likeable and hence it is a pleasant experience.

The fact is we much prefer to deal with people and businesses whom we LIKE and, on the other hand, we don’t much enjoy dealing with people we DON’T LIKE.  It really is as simple as that but does that ever form a part of a training course or training manual for frontline staff?

We work hard to produce vision and mission statements, statements of purpose and so on but all of that needs to be underpinned with the values of the business.  Please don’t just say “honesty and integrity” because those two ought to be givens in any case.  Brainstorm the values of your business with your team and see what transpires.

Good manners can be trained into people and whatever age you happen to be the reaction is invariably a positive one.  Remember the Ritz-Carlton statement of their ethos?

·       “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen”

and how about this lovely saying attributed to Prince Philip:

·       “If a m"n opens a car door for a woman, it’s either a new car or a new woman"
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Sunday, 30 September 2012

Setting Objective? If You Want Success Then Make Them B-HAGS!

One of the great tenets of leadership is the ability of the leader to discuss and set tangible, viable goals, usually defined as being SMART - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Based.

All very sensible and logical but the overall impression is one of some caution particularly in the case of Achievable and Realistic, both of which, to my mind, put constraints on blue sky thinking.

Lee Thayer, one of the wisest US speakers on the Vistage circuit, says that we need to employ only virtuosos (or should it be virtuosi?)  so that there will be an input from free thinking individuals on the team, rather than merely members who agree all the time, especially with the leader.

The key to all this is the general reluctance to set objectives which are stretching so that success, such as it is, comes with little effort and probably from sheer momentum.

So, the function of the leader is to work with the team to set objectives which are to say the least, stretching, familiarly known as B-HAGS; Bit Hairy Audacious Goals (that is the clean version); goals which the gloom mongers and naysayers would define as being either unachievable or unrealistic.

I recall the aforesaid Lee Thayer telling me about a CEO consultancy client of his who had two problems (only two?); he was authoritarian and everyone reported to him, and he had set no serious objectives for the business.

Turnover was around $18M and when Lee asked the CEO what his objective was for the following year, the answer was the conventional 10% increase to around $20M because he could do that in his head.

Lee, who knows something of psychology to say the least, suggested that $20M was kids stuff and he should consider nearer $40M at which the usual objections started to emerge,

“We don’t have the people, the equipment, the finances, the supply chain, the customers and so on and so on” and he was allowed to go on until he couldn’t think of any more excuses.

At this stage, Lee asked him the killer question:

“If you are to hit $40M turnover next year, what would you need to do in order to achieve it?”  

In other words, don’t just complain about the lack of resources, but rather start to work out precisely what resources would be required and how to make sure that they become available.  Moreover, discuss it with your top team so that everyone buys in to the process.

This produced a light bulb moment and the CEO became thoughtful.

“OK” he said, to his great credit, “I’ll talk to my people and see what they say”.  Sometime later and somewhat to his own surprise the team were enthusiastic and they went for it.

On the face of it they failed as they only achieved $38.5M but it was not exactly a bad result, to say the least.

One or two points to make;

·       If you say you can or you say you can’t ,you’re always right”.
·       People will work to achieve objectives, however stretching, if they have had input into the decision
·       People resent having other people’s objectives imposed on them

Try the B-HAG approach, stand back, and see what happens.  You may well be very surprised

Visit www.vistage.co.uk
Email ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk
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