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Sunday, 18 December 2016

It’s Lonely At The Top (But The View Is Great!)

At one stage in my life I lectured on a part time basis mostly to leaders running SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) at Manchester Business School on one of my favourite subjects, Management Style.

One of the points that I made was that the higher you progress up an organisation the fewer people there are to tell you how wonderful you are, and that demands a measure of emotional stamina.  If they do tell you, by the way, it can be construed as creeping.

We all need reassurance that the job we are doing is being done well and we really cannot expect that reassurance from subordinates or even from a peer group in the business.

American psychologist Frederick I Herzberg (1923-2000) propounded a very interesting theory of motivation and particularly what it is that really motivates us.  He derived what he called hygiene factors, that is, criteria which we often imagine are motivators but which actually operate independently.   Typically they consist of things like pay and benefits, company policy and administration, relationships with co-workers and supervision among others.  

On the other hand the really positive motivational factors are achievement, recognition and reward, the work itself, responsibility, promotion and growth.  

Not all of these motivate everyone and remember we don’t and indeed can’t motivate anyone.  It is arrogant to suggest that we can.  All we can do is to provide an environment in which people can and will motivate themselves if they so desire.

The question is, when you are at the top of the tree, who is going to provide you with all those great motivational aspects, especially recognition?  It is interesting by the way to note that pay and benefits are not motivational factors, per se, and as hygiene factors they have a short-term effect, if any.

If pay is within market levels or better slightly above then in general there is a neutral effect.  If however pay levels are perceived (and that is the important word) to be lagging the market levels then pay can become a de-motivator.  Just take a look at the plethora of strikes right now because of that factor.

If we think that doling out higher pay or adding discretionary bonuses will motivate people think again.  The effect is very short term if at all and for a couple of months at the very most.  After that the pay becomes the norm.

It is far better to emphasise the personal attributes that will help people to motivate themselves.  Above all recognition and subsequent non-financial reward are very powerful.

It demands great communication allied with honest, transparency and more than anything else, visible reaction and positive action to prove what has been said has been noticed.

We all need someone to talk to and I have found that there are two excellent outlets for the lonely; a confidential external peer group like Vistage and an equally confidential one-to-one with a trusted advisor either internal or external.  It is precisely for that reason that I have been with Vistage now for twenty-four years and have seen how many stressed business leaders have been able to download and discuss their issues and opportunities in a safe and supportive environment.

And the moral is?   Don’t hold it all in the hope that it will come good in the end.  That is a recipe for unhealthy stress.  Far better to admit that others can help just as we can help others.   As my old Managing Director, Ken Saltrese, used to say:

      “No-one is as smart as all of us!”

 I send you all my sincere good wishes for a merry Christmas and a happy, peaceful and healthy 2017.  See you again in January.

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Sunday, 11 December 2016

Autocratic or Democratic Leadership Style? 6 Great Tips To Help!

I have been reading (in fact listening) to the biography of Apple founder, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson and because it was so compelling, I also went for his biography of former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger.

Both of these exceptionally able people were frankly autocrats, never wrong in their minds and totally consumed by the drive to succeed.

Their management style as a consequence could be cold and distant while they both realised the need to have great people around them in order that their dictats would be properly implemented.

Both of them understood the need to have the very best people around them even if they didn’t always value them fully. Steve Jobs, in fact, said that he would only employ A-players in the business as B-players took up too much management time and effort.

Not many of us are leaders in this mould, perhaps happily, so we need to develop a leadership style that is effective without the need for autocracy.

It is important then to make sure that the business is not a “top down” organisation, with all the decisions being made by the senior team, or worse, by the leader alone.   Will Hopper, in his wonderful book, The Puritan Gift, extols those companies that involve their people to the extent that they develop “bottom up” management.

Think on these things:

People cannot implement what they do not know - when strategy is implicit and not explicit.  Remember that in the end it is the people who will implement the strategy not the leadership so it makes total sense to involve them at an early stage.

They do not implement properly that which they cannot understand - when strategy is developed in isolation.  Again they are far more likely to understand if they are actively involved in the process.

We do not implement that to which we are not committed - when strategy is imposed from outside those accountable.  It is essential that people own the decision so that they feel accountable for its success.

We give up on a strategy whose implications have not been anticipated - when the critical issues have not been identified in advance.  It is all about communication and clarity, two factors that can frequently go missing.

Operational people are generally not good strategic thinkers - when they are excluded from the strategic development process!  Make sure that they are encouraged to give of their “shop floor” expertise and experience, factors that can be lacking in the top team.

People find it very difficult to hit a target they cannot see, or embrace aspirations that they don’t share or are not shared with them.  We can’t over emphasise the importance of transparency in the process so that everyone feels involved.

All of this means that people must feel and, indeed, be involved (the current fashionable word is “engaged”) and it can take a leap of faith to implement it.  

It all comes down to that emotive word “TRUST”.  Unless we trust our people and allow them to make decisions (and mistakes, by the way), they will never feel involved and will always just be doers and not thinkers.

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Sunday, 4 December 2016

Trying to Forecast What Might Happen? You Will Be Either Wrong or Lucky!

I feel another rant coming on and it’s all to do with the stupidity or political mind games of those politicians who insist on being told the Government’s plans for the Brexit negotiations.

Let me state my stance here.  I voted remain because while I am less than happy about the impact of the EU bureaucracy on this country, on balance the fact that we have had peace in Europe for 70years is a massive plus.

However, the country voted to leave the EU on June 23rd and that should be accepted as the will of the people.  There are some “remainers” who think that we should now have another referendum to overturn the original so why not a third and then we can take the best of three?

They seem to be the same lot who use statistics to prove their point and frequently very suspect statistics, let it be said.  What is worse they argue on the basis of these dubious numbers that everyone is wrong except themselves.

The Autumn Statement by the Chancellor last week is a typical example.  Using the predictions from the Office for Budget Responsibility he forecast several years of doom and gloom to come.

Very possibly correct and just as possibly completely incorrect.  My old friend economist and revered Vistage speaker, Roger Martin-Fagg says on the basis of his considerable experience that any economic forecast has two alternative results:

        “Either you are wrong or you are lucky”.

How on earth can we possibly predict the future accurately?  Take the example of the polls over the last couple of years.

Examine the predictions for the last General Election, the EU Referendum, the US Presidential election and more recently, the primary for the conservative candidate in the French Presidential election.

In every case the polls, and even the polls of polls, were significantly wrong and certainly not lucky.

Take for instance the way that they use sampling techniques.  Obviously the polls can’t check with everyone in the universe so they resort to taking an acceptable sample of the population and asking them their intentions.

The number of people in the sample depends on the margin of acceptable error in the results and that can be as high as plus or minus 2%/

The point is that all polls work on this “accepted margin of error” which they try to mitigate by weighting the results for age, gender, ethnicity, regions, demographics and so on. 

Naturally the individual polls guard this information jealously and they don’t normally admit that given a plus/minus percent or two the results can and indeed are dramatically different.

The recent lack of anything approaching realistic forecasting has now led to a general dismissal of virtually anything that the polls predict and given Roger Martin-Fagg’s strictures they certainly weren’t lucky.

How much store can we have then given the forecasts of any organisation especially one that has political leanings?

Very little I would suggest.  Remember that most of these predictions are PESTLE, (Political, Economic, Sociological, Technological, Legal and Environmental). These are the ones that we in business can do nothing about other than try to guess what might happen and plan accordingly or simply wait and react.

Either way we will be doing precisely what the Government (of any colour) does.

Another of our wonderful speakers on the Vistage circuit, ex-CIA executive Herb Meyer says that:

      “No plan can survive its collision with reality”. 

This doesn’t imply that we shouldn’t plan. It is, however, prudent to have a cultured guess about what might happen, plan for it and then hang on to your hat. 
You might just get lucky.

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Sunday, 27 November 2016

Looking to Implement Change? Watch Out For Denial and Denigration!

How do you recognise contentment and complacency in the business?  Please understand that we should always be trying to design a business that has a culture to which people can relate and feel comfortable.

However it can, if we are not careful, become a culture of complacency and that can be truly dangerous.

If we start to hear people saying things like “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” or “I’ve never had any complaints” we really need to look more closely at what is happening.

It can be evidence of organisational reluctance to change and if that is coming from the top down then is it any wonder that the people will react against change.

Comfort can easily transmute into complacency if we are not careful.   I remember a case when a business for which I was consulting became a victim of its own success with a major customer.  In fact they became so successful that the customer generated almost 90% of the company’s turnover.

I mentioned this vulnerability to the CEO who brushed it off saying “I have the buyer in my pocket”, a very unpleasant and eventually inaccurate remark.

Change happened at the customer’s business when there was a change of buyer who brought in his own preferred suppliers. In turn this meant that my client lost the business and eventually the business itself.

It has been said very wisely that the only real constant in business is change and if we analyse the situation we will find that we are regularly bringing change into the business almost without it being noticed.

However this is not always a smooth path.  Depending on the level of change being implemented and the affect that it will have on people there can be massive and sometimes unforeseen reaction.

Negative change in the way of redundancies or moving venues are obvious causes of adverse reaction but it is odd that when we try to bring in change that will or should impact positively then the reaction can be equally negative.

The symptoms are usually very clear.  We start to hear “We tried that before and it didn’t work” or “Our industry is different” or even, as above “We won’t lose the business with that customer, they rely on us”.

The key to success in implementing change is culture and communication.  It takes time to develop a culture where change is constant and doesn’t cause problems or conflict.

People need to be helped to become understanding of the need to change especially in times of uncertainty and that requires great communication skills on the part of the leadership.

While the written word in emails or intranet can cover the points there is nothing to beat face-to-face contact and to give people the opportunity to question and discuss.

Again, if it is at all feasible, one-to-one communication is even better than groups although for obvious reason this might cause problems in a large organisation.

If the business has a reputation for opaqueness in its communication or merely implementing decisions without adequate explanation or background then there will be resistance.

However if the culture in the business is one of openness and transparency the battle is almost won.  It is up to the leadership to decide on which path to follow.

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