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Sunday, 24 April 2016

How Satisfied Are Your People? Use This Classic Test to Find Out!

How often have we been told that dissatisfied staff will never achieve satisfied customers and how often do we actually do something about it?  In fact, how do we know whether the staff are satisfied, happy and productive or just the opposite?

The really big question for all of us is, does this reflect the way that we are seen by our customers or do they actively like working with us?

It is far more important to ensure that the people in the business are satisfied with their employment rather than starting at the other end of the conundrum and checking customer satisfaction.  For example, if we find that customers are generally unhappy in their interaction with us, what do we do about it?

A recent issue brought to the members of my Vistage CEO peer group questioned the level of employee satisfaction and how this could be tested.

A series of initiatives had already been put in place that were showing very good results including an exceptional increase in sales of a retail business.

Admittedly this was for one moth only but it seemed to be significant in view of the improved morale on the shop floor.

The initiative involved the CEO meeting a selection of members of staff taken from departments across the board in a strictly informal manner, in fact over breakfast, and asking two significant questions:

·      How do you think that your work here can be improved?

·      What help do you want from me to assist you to achieve it?

In addition a rage of ideas were implemented intended to increase the “fun” element of working in the business with some competitive games and ways of injecting enjoyment into the working day.

This proved very powerful and in fact one of the participants told the CEO that they didn’t need to meet again as the very fact that he had sett up this initiative showed that the company was interested in what the staff had to say and was listening.

Crucially when ideas were put forward they were visibly implemented so that everyone would see that it was not just a PR exercise.

There is an intention to check the satisfaction level in a measurable way rather than just by feel and this will be done on a regular basis to see how effective the initiatives have been.

The international polling organisation, Gallup, have for many years conducted surveys of companies across the globe and have evolved a series of twelve questions aimed at assessing the level of employee satisfaction.

The surveys have covered literally thousands of companies and organisations and Gallup say that they have tested some 25 million people in the process.  That should make the survey credible to say the least.

The twelve questions that incidentally require only a yes/no answer are:

1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
2. Do I have the equipment and materials I need to        do my work right?
3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
4. In the last 7 days, have I received praise or recognition for good work?
5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
8. Does the mission or purpose of my company make me feel like my work is important?
9. Are my coworkers committed to doing quality work?
10. Do I have a valued colleague at work?
11. In the last 6 months have I talked with someone about my progress?
12.This past year have I had opportunities to learn and grow?

This can need a change in culture but it seems to me that if we take really seriously the fact that we employ people then in order to achieve a reasonable return on that investment (and that is at the lowest level of concern) then we should pay them the compliment of taking their opinions seriously.

You can download my book "Leading to Success" from Amazon
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Sunday, 17 April 2016

How To Deal With Bad Attitude? There is Only One Answer!

"Oh no" I thought, "Surely not another" but it was.  I have written time and oft of that perennial problem of the high performers with a bad attitude and how it affects the people around them.

There have been three examples of that for me this week, which does indicate that not only is it perennial but it also, can seem to be intractable.

We had a speaker a very long time ago to my Vistage CEO Peer group who discoursed on this problem among other types in a business and he named the miscreant as a "terrorist".

This was in the days long before 9/11 and other similar outrages as well as President George W Bush's "war on terror".

The very word brings with it memories of recent atrocities and consequently I apologise for its use in the context of business that may be seen as hyperbole.

However the ramifications of such an individual in a business can cause real problems and difficulties for people in the team and indeed stories of colleagues being in tears are commonplace.

To expand on the matter we should consider one of those quadrant matrices so beloved of consultants. In this case the vertical axis is "Performance" and the horizontal is "Attitude/behaviour".

Ideally it would be desirable to have everyone in the top right square of great performance and exemplary attitude. Sadly however occupants are generally few and far between.

We are dealing with real people in a business and real people have bouts of angst in and among the good times.   This is generally not big deal as the moment can pass and often does quickly.

Nevertheless we do know what ideal looks like and it can be our goal to help people to achieve it.

If we consider now the bottom right square of indifferent performance but good attitude, these people often have the potential to move upwards. They are symptomatic of the need for attitude over skills that can be taught and they can learn and improve.

The bottom left square is occupied by those with poor performance and equally bad attitude so the question to ask is why are they still here?

The top left square is for the terrorists and often the major cause of upset in the team.  As a past denizen of sales operations in a range of businesses I know only too well how frequently we find terrorists in them.

People in sales are by definition loners and moreover are frequently physically detached from the HQ building and the day to day.

In addition they have total focus in achieving sales probably to a target and in their view nothing must get in the way. 

Add to that probable commission being generated from sales revenue and not the gross margin achieved and we have all the ingredients for a toxic mixture.

This is not to condone bad behaviour but rather to understand the motives behind it.

There is no quick fix to this problem other than surgery. The arguments against it are the possible loss of sales revenue from a top performer.  Oddly many leaders forget that most customers certainly in B2B deal with the supplier not the sales person.

Counterbalancing the potential loss of sales is frequently the potential loss of good people who can't take the flak any loner, plus a lowering of morale in the internal sales team.

Take your pick. It is highly unlikely that a quiet chat with the offender will do anything positive. Even if it does effect change the likelihood is a reversion to type after a while.

If you do gasp the proverbial nettle and do the surgery don't be surprised if you hear from the team "what took you so long?"

Always remember that we may hire people on their skills but we fire because of bad attitude and behaviour.

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Sunday, 10 April 2016

Are Entrepreneurs Made or Born? Attitude and Skills are Both Vital!

I was recently honoured to be interviewed and quoted in a very interesting new book, “Found” by Dr Naveen Lakkur and Dr Liz Alexander (available on both Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk).  The basis of the book is transforming your unlimited ideas into one sustainable business. 

It draws on a deal of experience to show how businesses can be built and grown sustainably.  My contribution included some thoughts on entrepreneurship and this has led me to discuss the whole subject today.

There is no question in my mind that entrepreneurs who create and sustain successful businesses combine great ideas with their own blend of passion, commitment, personal values and strengths.

Indeed they often exhibit a huge level of emotional attachment to the business that is almost like having surrogate children.  In fact if that commitment and dedication is not there then I can't see how it would work.

I had a member of my Vistage CEO peer group who had started his working life in his parents' baby wear shop. A customer asked him if he could supply a one-piece rain cover for the pushchair as the current three-piece version was difficult to use.

He could have said, "There isn't one on the market" and no one would have been any the wiser. Instead he went off, designed one, manufactured it and told the customer. She was delighted and told all her friends.

The result was that a new business was born and was rightly successful.

Success came about through a combination of innate curiosity, a strong belief in his own abilities and a desire to create something new for a market that he knew well. There was a magic blend of positive personal characteristics and an eminently marketable idea.

Unsurprisingly then I always tend to look for this combination of talents in people whom I am mentoring. It is never just about making money.  Most of them look upon material rewards as the effect or symptom of the cause and it is that which delivers the greater satisfaction.

They feel that the act of creation, whether overt or hidden, is exciting, is enjoyable and delivers a strong sense of achievement.

They also exhibit a dogged persistence, a sort of bloody-minded intention to succeed whatever obstacles are in the way together with a strong conviction that what they are doing is right.

It is said that Thomas Edison tried 1,000 experiments before the final successful incandescent light bulb emerged.  When asked how he could live with all that perceived constant failure he said that they weren't failure, they were 1,000 lessons that had to be learnt.

The question to ask then is whether entrepreneurs are born or made? Is it a matter of nature or nurture?

In my somewhat chequered past I ran a Government sponsored training course for unemployed executives called "Start and Run Your Own Business" and it really opened my eyes.

It has been suggested that 80% of start-up businesses fail in the first year through underfunding, a lack of marketing expertise, lack of financial expertise and overall lack of good commercial common sense.

In fact all of those skills can be taught and developed which removes a multiplicity of excuses for failure.  The factors for success are much more dependent on feelings and emotion.

Of course success depends eventually on both the skills and the emotional attachment being present in any entrepreneurial business. If the leader doesn't have a lot indeed any of the skills then the clever thing to do is to bring them in and make sure that the team is well aware of here the business is going; that they know what success looks like.

An entrepreneur who can build a team of all the talents with the requisite skills and overlay a layer of commitment, dedication and above all, passion will have constructed an enterprise much more likely to be sustainable.

The key is to accept that nobody knows everything so the ball must be passed to the right person in the right job and that takes humility on the part of the leader.   Not easy to achieve but potentially dramatic in the consequential success of the business.

It needs to be a working amalgam of skills and attitude; of nurture and nature.

You can download my book"Leading to Success" from Amazon
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Sunday, 3 April 2016

Do You Have a Formal Corporate Memory? What About Innovation?

It is accepted wisdom that we don’t necessarily learn from our successes but we do and certainly should learn from our mistakes and failures.

A well-known mantra goes like this:

·      “If we always do what we always did then we will always get what we always got”

It is a matter of corporate memory and how it should be used positively as a springboard for the future.  The point is that as a business grows and changes it has inbuilt experience and memories that can materially affect the way that we operate; things that are in the DNA of the business.

For example let us postulate a situation where an energy company has a bad experience leading to injuries and worse on an oilrig.  Management learns from the problem and puts in systems to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

Fast forward ten years: the same problem arises on another platform with the same results. What then has gone wrong and why has it not been picked up?

Corporate memories can be short.  The original people involved have gone, new people have come in, the culture has changed, no one remembers what happened ten years ago and so on.

Perhaps then there is a case for formalising in some way the corporate memory bank.  In fact I have heard it said that every company of any size and perhaps age should have a CMO, a Chief Memory Officer.

Rather over the top as a solution I would suggest but there is undoubtedly a case for formailising what are known and regarded as important events in the business.

I heard recently of a clothing manufacturer who kept a formidable spreadsheet of information about the staff and found it very valuable.  The information included date of birth and tenure of employment and when he did a re-ordering of the information he discovered that more than 20% of the workforce were over 60 years old and tenure ranged from 15 to 30 years.

The obvious implication was that as people decided to retire a vast stock of experience would be dissipated and the Managing Director decided that this was untenable.

Accordingly he devised a scheme whereby his experienced staff could formally retire as and when they wished but he suggested that they could come in part-time to help train new employees.  This had two advantages; retirement was phased rather than absolute and the experience was being passed down and not lost.

This is all good stuff and makes a lot of sense in whatever way it is accomplished.  There is a caveat however.

Remember, “We have always done it that way”?  If we constantly harp on about tips and tricks that have been inherent in the business over the years then we can stultify as a consequence, not allowing new ideas or techniques to be brought in.

Consider the different approaches between Sony and Apple.  Sony was extremely successful in designing and marketing the Walkman in its various guises right up to the portable DVD player all with very little real innovation.  It was evolution rather than revolution.

Apple on the other hand were not burdened by the past and decided that they could design a product that would take the Walkman out. It would hold a vast amount of music, it would be smaller, easy to operate and generally more acceptable to the consumer.  It was called the iPod and that technology has now been incorporated into the iPhone and iPad.  You can’t buy a Walkman now and who would want to anyway?

Strong emphasis on the corporate memory can be valuable but it must not become the be all and end al.  It is far better to appoint a Chief Innovation Officer than a Memory equivalent simply because innovation is a leading not a lagging route for the future.

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