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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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