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Sunday, 29 June 2014

Good Employee Recruitment Followed by Good Retention? It Is All a Matter of Great Culture!

Discussions with all my Vistage members over the past few weeks has emphasised that the general subject of staffing the business is getting to be difficult.

Not only are leaders finding that recruiting the right people is difficult but also their existing staff are receiving offers and general blandishments from competitors.

I wrote last week of Ed Ryan’s question as to why it takes us eighteen months to get rid of someone who we interviewed for only an hour and a half? This elicited a response from my good friend Harold Woodward who very wisely pointed out that the problem originated eighteen months ago at the recruitment stage.

One of the issues of recruitment is that we tend to emphasise skills, experience and qualifications when, in fact, these should be “givens”.  For example, we don’t normally appoint an engineer to be Financial Controller.

The most important factor and the question to ask oneself in the recruitment process is: “Will this person fit in to our business and culture?”

Accordingly we need to major on the overall attitude and behaviour patterns of the candidate because we have to live with them as well as they having to live with us.  To simplify the matter (and it might sound rather twee) but do we actually like them as a person?

I recall a case where a colleague of mine appointed a salesman and when I asked what he was like, he replied:

“He is a very experienced and well qualified salesman.  He’s horrible as a person but his skills will get over that” 

The salesman lasted three weeks.

There are many ways in which we can discover at the interview stage what sort of attitude the candidate brings to work, performance, time keeping, planning and all the other good attributes of a successful appointee.

The fact is that we need to uncover the general style of the candidate and whether he/she will fit into the business.  Tine spent in this facet of the interview will pay dividends over and over again.

Having landed our fish, the next big issue is to ensure that they will stay with the business, at least for a period of successful employment which will show a return on the investment of time and effort put into the recruitment process.

Retention is becoming a vexed question in pretty well all businesses as the economy improves.  The cost of replacing a good employee is probably double and more than the salary offered especially if we take into account loss of domain knowledge, training period for the new incumbent, management time and so on.

I had a long discussion with a leader of a small intellectual business mainly on the subject of targets for the people.  It transpired that while targets were being set they weren’t necessarily being used and could just as easily be discounted altogether.

Targets are only of value when the business runs on a commission or bonus system, which is not to my liking.  I do not believe that people in general are “coin operated” so money does not generally act as a motivational influence on performance.

Far better, I would suggest, is for the leader to design and develop a culture of engagement and alignment to give everyone in the business the freedom to undertake their allocated tasks without interference and with the maximum of non-financial reward for success.

If the leader can (and manifestly should) drive that culture into the business, built on mutual trust, good recruitment followed by retention becomes a far simpler and more likely result.

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Sunday, 22 June 2014

Great Performer, Terrible Attitude? You Need to Use Carefrontation!

Once again I have found that at least two of the members of my Vistage CEO group have very similar problems with a senior member of their management team.

In essence, both of them are excellent performers, highly competent, hard working, dedicated employees and both of them exhibit symptoms which constantly militate against great relationships with the members of their teams.

If we plot performance against attitude and behaviour on a quadrant matrix, we would normally be looking to have all our top team in the top right hand quadrant, that is, great performer with great attitude.

In the other hand if we find that any employee drops into the bottom left quadrant, which is low performance and poor attitude, then we need to ask ourselves, why is this employee still here?

If we have someone who has great attitude but indifferent performance it is always feasible to help them to improve their performance with training.

The real problem children are those in the top left quadrant, people who are great performers with poor attitude and behaviour.

These are the ones who we tend to defend or rather justify their shortcomings simply because we are reluctant to lose their impact on the business and specifically the bottom line.

The question is: how long can we continue to put up with the negativity caused by disruptive employees and more specifically, members of the senior management team?

This problem is not confined to sales people although perhaps it is found in that group rather more than in others.  Sales people by definition tend to be loners, spend most of their time away from base and forget that base gives them the backup that they need.

The amount of leadership time that has to be devoted to the problem especially with senior people, the corrosive influence which is felt throughout the business and the tendency of good people to leave because of the atmosphere, can be a serious problem for the leader.

I saw a quote a few days ago, which said, in effect, that people don’t leave companies, they leave managers.  If that is the case then it is mandatory that the leader ensures that morale in the business is not compromised by bad attitude from the top.

The big question is what can be done to improve the shining hour?

Whatever is decided, it has to start with confrontation or in the Vistage phraseology, carefrontation?

Unless the issue is confronted quickly and that will mean hard discussions with the backslider, then the malaise will continue to blight the atmosphere and again, take up vast amounts of time, effort and emotion.

There are various routes that can be taken; for example confronting the miscreant with his/her shortcomings and suggesting that efforts need to be made to correct them, perhaps using the services of an outside coach and/or mentor, having the individual join a peer group and general performance management.

However, if there is no improvement then the nettle has to be grasped or the bullet bitten, which ever cliché you prefer, and there will need to be a parting of the ways which will be for the greater good of the business and the people in it.

Ed Ryan, Vistage speaker asks why it is that it takes us eighteen months to terminate an employee who we interviewed for an hour and a half. It is consistent, by the way, that the usual reaction from colleagues and other employees is:

“ What took you so long?”

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Got a Big Problem? Don’t be a Victim; Work Positively for the Solution!!

Having recently experienced a short bout of insomnia I resorted to my usual remedy and tuned in the BBC World Service for a while until sleep returned.

The running prgramme was Outlook hosted by the admirable Matthew Bannister and his fist guest was a young woman called Francesca Martinez, an actress, an author and a stand-up comedienne.

She was bright, intelligent, articulate, funny and inspiring.  She also has cerebral palsy, which she charmingly calls her wobbliness.

Matthew asked her if she had any recurring problems as a consequence of her condition and she said that, for instance, handling buttons wasn’t too easy and speech could be difficult occasionally.

Then she said, very enthusiastically:

“Anyone in their right mind doesn’t harp on about what is wrong or difficult; they just work on what is right for them”

What a great piece of advice from someone who has every right to question her condition.  However, because of her attitude she is successful at a list of accomplishments.  It was a very heartwarming experience to listen to her.

Not a bad idea to listen to the interview on the BBC iPlayer Radio.

The whole thing is, of course, a metaphor for business and indeed, for life in generals.  Driving a positive attitude into a business is the prerogative of the leader and it takes an inordinate amount of effort to be successful.

One of the complications of handling negativity is that when an individual has a problem and wants to change something to lighten the load, there is a tendency to reinforce a negative approach to the solution.

As a matter of principle, it is far more positive to establish what the desired outcome will look like and then concentrate on moving TOWARDS that outcome, rather than merely moving AWAY from the current situation.

In the past few years I have had several instances where someone is genuinely unhappy with their situation in a business and consequently works on the need to get away from it.

It is, of course, understandable but the method equally emphasises the unsatisfactory situation and doesn’t really contribute to the solution.  In essence, the individual can only think of escape.

However, if the situation is analysed as objectively as possible then an acceptable route forward can be developed to give an outcome that really suits the individual.

That enables him/her to concentrate on the positive; what the future looks like, how successful they will be, how they will enjoy and prosper from the new situation and so on.

The difference can be startling.  That great book, The Power of Positive Thinking by Dr Norman Vincent Peal (1898-1993) written in the 1930s has exactly the same resonance now as it had 80 years ago.

Leadership must be consistently positive.  Follow the example of Francesca Martinez and learn how to achieve it from a genuine and successful expert.

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Sunday, 8 June 2014

Do You Live Your Value Statement or Is It Just “Cut and Paste”? Do You HAVE a Value Statement?

In any strategic planning exercise there is a flow chart, which takes you through the whole process, starting with vision and ending with the action to be taken and, if necessary, revised.

It is received wisdom that in an aligned organisation the leader engages talented people and then gets out of their way to allow them the freedom to work in the way that is best for them.

However there are two major factors in the strategic planning process which in many cases are the sole province of the leader:

·      The vision for the organisation
·      The values espoused by the organisation

One can consolidate these factors into the Culture of the business and defining that is perhaps one of the major facets of the leader’s role.

The leader must define the culture that is right for the business and then drive it into the organisation without fear or favour.

Particularly in the case of an owner-managed business, the vision for the future really does begin and end with the leader.  In businesses where the leader is either a part owner or a hired gun, the vision will still form a major part of the planning process as instituted by the leader.

A truly crucial part of this process is the determination of the values of the business and once again it is the province of the leader to articulate them and to ensure that not only are they communicated at all levels, but they must be followed visibly and constantly.

It is worth a look at the values that were listed by a well-known company as the way that they do business:

Our Values
“We have an obligation to communicate. Here, we take the time to talk with one another… and to listen. We believe that information is meant to move and that information moves people.”
“We treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment.”
“We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly and sincerely. When we say we will do something, we will do it; when we say we cannot or will not do something, then we won’t do it.”
“We are satisfied with nothing less than the very best in everything we do. We will continue to raise the bar for everyone. The great fun here will be for all of us to discover just how good we can really be.”

Brilliant!  If only every organisatioon could espouse values like that always provided that these values are lived and everyone accepts them.

The problem is that these were the corporate values listed in the 2001 Annual Report of ENRON and that should send a strong message to all those leaders who think that all they have to do is to write some heart-warming words and, lo and behold, the deed is done.

Not so.  Until the values are properly communicated and then visibly acted upon they will cause more trouble than they solve.

The problem is that may companies produce a list of values, then put them in a nice frame, hang them in a prominent place in Reception and promptly think that is all that is needed.  It is a real “cut and paste’ exercise and I am sure that if the framed epic were swapped with those of another company no-one would notice the difference.

Evolve a list of the values in which you truly believe and then ask your people: “Which of these corporate value statements best describe our company?” and “Which of them least describe our company?”

Then ask the same questions of your major customers and your major suppliers.  You may get a surprise and let’s hope that it will be a happy one. 

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Sunday, 1 June 2014

Are Leaders Born or Made? It Is Nature, Nurture and Much More!

Over the past four years or so I have posted several blogs on the general subject of leadership, that intangible factor which so many of us seek.

In fact I have, like many others, collected a plethora of sayings, articles, comments, statements, concepts and much else on the topic and I have gallantly refrained from publishing the findings under the heading of “50 Great Habits of Successful Leaders” or similar.

The question is: can we define leadership or is it one of those intangibles that we sort of know when we see it but can’t put into words?

One of the maxims that we use in Vistage about recruiting people is that we “hire on skills and fire on attitude” and that always has some resonance for me.

Many leaders in business and I emphasise, in business, arrive at the throne of leadership by form of osmosis which seems to take them through functional success in sales or finance or technology or whatever to the top of the business where the daily demands are completely different from the norm of running a function.

Some years ago I was instructed with around 60 other senior management to attend a three day session presented by an eminent professor from a major university assisted by a group of academics.  This being corporate land I accepted the invitation.

One of the sessions was listed a group problem solving exercise.  We broke out into six groups of ten watched over by one of the academics, and were given a notionally intractable problem to discuss and to offer the best solution. 

Each of the groups was allocated a Director of the company as a member so that fairness would prevail.

We were instructed to elect a chairman, which we duly did by electing our Director and then proceeded to ignore him while someone else acted de facto as chairman.

When we returned to base for the debrief we were told that we hadn’t actually been problem solving and the observer was in fact a psychologist, the whole exercise being one of group dynamics.

Amazingly (or not as the case may be) every one of the groups behaved in exactly the same way, which didn’t say much for the leadership capabilities of the various directors.

The somewhat laboured point I am making is that leadership comprises two major aspects, one of which is inborn and natural, and one which is based on defined shills and abilities.

The inborn aspects, the province of the business leader, include such factors as: 
  • ·      Vision
  • ·      Self-confidence
  • ·      Determination
  • ·      Clarity of thought
  • ·      Desire
  • ·      Drive 

none of which can be taught or indeed learnt.  These are traits of character it seems sensible to devise a list and ensure that each of the facets are constantly developed and valued.  It is a matter of constant personal awareness of the existence and value of these traits.

On the other hand there are features of leadership which are just as valuable and which can and should be learnt and developed.  Typically these could include:

  • ·      Building relationships
  • ·      Encouraging upward communication
  • ·      Handling conflict
  • ·      Developing engagement of the people
  • ·      Recruiting and retaining talented people
  • ·      Building relationships with the customers and the market

I am dubious about the validity of formal training for leadership.  By far the best way to develop and most importantly learn is by joining a peer group.  In this environment leaders can test issues and learn how others have developed their skills.

Is it a matter of nature or nurture?  It is both.  Leaders need to be aware of their inborn abilities and how they can develop them, which is, essentially, an auto-didactic exercise.

In addition join a peer group.  That way leadership sills can be honed, tested, developed and put into action.

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