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Sunday, 23 April 2017

How Do You Measure Your Performance? Do You Know Your PB?

There are very many motivational injunctions plastered all over social media these days that it takes careful judgement to select one or two that are more than just platitudes.

Indeed one of the most relevant that I know I leaned many years ago probably while I was still at school and strangely I haven’t seen it on Twitter or Facebook.

“Good, Better, Best
I will never rest
Till my Good is Better
And my Better, Best”

It is axiomatic that what we are always seeking from our people and indeed ourselves is a commitment to self improvement.  

We can do something about ourselves but as far as our people are concerned the best that we can do is to create an environment in which anyone can strive to go down the Good, Better, Best route.

Should we try to achieve any improvement by some dramatic change?  It takes a step change in thinking to visualise a different path and it may be beyond the abilities of many of us, not least me.

US Vistage speaker and very wise sage, Lee Thayer, says that change needs to be dramatic to have any impact and that may well be the case.  It all depends on the individual’s desire to improve and the environment that encourages it.

However I also like the concept of kai-zen or incremental improvement as long as the sense of purpose is strong.  If the individual can measure the results and see the improvement then the eventual outcome can be dramatic.

I remember hearing Joe Simpson, the renowned mountaineer, tell the story of climbing in the Andes and breaking his leg on a crevasse.  His companion, as previously arranged and understood, cut him loose and he fell into a snow drift.

He decided that he was going to get back to base camp somehow and started to crawl.  However, rather than setting an objective that was almost unimaginable, he gave himself short steps such as getting to a large boulder in a determined time and then on to another small step (or crawl).

Amazingly he succeeded and arrived back at base camp just before they left.

Talk to any athlete and they know precisely what  their measured achievements have been and what they have in their mind as the next great outcome.

They all know their own PB, Personal Best, and that becomes the focus for improvement.

Many times you will hear them say that whatever the results of a race or field event, they feel really good because they now have a new PB.

The question then to ask is do you have a PB?  How do you measure it and what can you do to exceed it?

Most importantly when you have exceeded it, what is the next objective?

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Sunday, 16 April 2017

Communication Getting Difficult? Apply The KISS Principle!

Are you becoming overcome with the  complications of  life?  How we are given forms to complete for the most mundane reasons and they take ages to fill in ?

If we have a problem with technology, heaven forfend, how difficult it can be to put it right?

More to the point, how very complicated can our businesses become to the detriment of effectiveness?

The old saying that less is more is very easy to say but not always as easy to achieve.  I have noticed for example that this blog has grown in length from around 400 words a few years ago to generally around 650 words now and I wonder if I am just extending it because there is so much that I want to put into it.  I have to question whether it can just be padding.

A wise person said recently that we should question everything that we do in business.  Are we doing things right or just doing the right things?  A really important question is to ask if  we are overcomplicating whatever we do and can we by a little judicious pruning reduce the amount of effort needed while still achieving the same or even an enhanced outcome?

I recall a new member of my Vistage CEO peer group calling me before a meeting to ask if he could bring an  issue that was really bothering him.

He started to tell me and quite honestly I didn’t fully understand what was bothering him.  I suggested that he send me an email with a summary of the issue and I could study it.

It was about six feet long and almost incomprehensible. He started in the same vein at the meeting until someone said the the problem resolved itself into an employee who had been extremely effective and for some reason had gone off the boil.

The member looked a little miffed and said that was the case but it was a rather simplistic explanation.  Damn right it was and that exemplified the problem.

There are many instances when we want to explain a situation and bring every possible bit of evidence to substantiate our explanation.  This usually implies that decision making slows down because we feel that we need more and more evidence.

Worse than that is the expert trying to explain a complex subject to people who know little or nothing about it.  Try as they may the subject becomes less and less understandable and eyes begin to glaze over.

Finally there is matter of jargon.  Especially in business these days there is a dreadful preponderance of management-speak that again gets in the way of lucid thought.  People use jargon because it sounds good to them and makes them feel expert.

I recall an “expert” on the radio saying that “consumers found it difficult to engage with our bills”.  What on earth does that mean?

It all gets in the way of good communication and causes more problems than it solves.  The KISS principle of communication is more and more relevant.

KISS = Keep It Short and Simple.  

That way you are far more likely to be understood.

(I did try, 530 words this time!)

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Sunday, 9 April 2017

Is Your Business Consistent? Beware Of Becoming Dull!

I am currently in the process of reading (actually, listening to) a remarkable book that has been listed by the Sunday Times.  It is Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari and it is described as a Brief History of Humankind.

Among the many startling statements that he makes is one that really had me thinking.  He says that:

Consistency is the product of dull minds

Now there’s a thought.  I had always considered that any business that wanted to to be at the forefront of its sector needed to show a range of attributes such as honesty, transparency, enthusiasm, innovation, supreme service and consistency in everything that they do.

Perhaps we should examine the real meaning and hence the implications of the word itself to see why it should be so described.

The accepted usage of the word (Wikipedia) is as follows:

Consistent behaviour or treatment.
"the consistency of measurement techniques"
evenness, steadiness, stability, constancy, regularity, uniformity, equilibrium, unity, orderliness, dependability, reliability, lack of change, lack of deviation.
"the downward trend in consumption shows a remarkable degree of consistency"

We certainly want to give our customers the feeling that they are dealing with a business that is dependable, orderly, reliable but not to the extent of being boring and perhaps too predictable.

The really relevant words there are “lack of change, lack of deviation”.

Frankly we do want to be consistent in the way that we deal with our customers.  They need to feel that there will be no negative surprises in the product, quality or service that we offer so that they will have above all that very desirable outcome for any purchasing department, peace of mind.

This means that all those great qualities of which we are justly proud like service, product and above all quality should be taken as givens.

However, the definition that includes “lack of change” needs to be  considered more closely.  Customers generally want to think that they are at the cutting edge of innovative thought and as a consequence they need to deal with suppliers that exemplify that attribute.

In fact that old quote that “the only constant in the business is change” becomes really significant.  The more I look at the word “consistency” the more I wonder about just how important it is.

Whether a business goes in for dramatic change or whether it prefers the kai-zen approach of incremental change, both are necessary to prevent the business from stultifying.

Any business that prefers to send out a message of “no change” will very swiftly be overtaken by more agile companies that don’t go for the “we’ve always done it this way” approach.

Positive change is the lifeblood of any go ahead business.  Make sure that if you are to be consistent, then be a consistent and enthusiastic communicator and innovator.

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Sunday, 2 April 2017

Tough Times In The Business? It's The Spirit That Beats Adversity!

The BBC World Service runs a daily programme called Outlook, presented by the admirable Matthew Bannister, which scours the world for extraordinary and uplifting stories of people who have come through adversity and have, in many cases, more than survived.
A recent programme, for instance, featured an Afghan woman who had opened a bowling alley (I kid you not!), a Saudi Princess speaking out against prejudice in the Kingdom and a Chinese man who had lost both his legs in an accident and had become a renowned sculptor.
It brought to mind the quote from the Roman philosopher, Cicero (106BC to 43BC) who said:
“The spirit is the true self. The spirit, the will to win, and the will to excel are the things that endure”
What a great attitude with which to start any new week.
Talking to one of the members of my  Vistage CEO peer group recently, he said that when he is hiring someone, he goes through all the obvious characteristics such as technology and experience, while he looks specifically for that spark that indicates a higher level of commitment and enthusiasm, in other words great attitude.
It is a manifestation of the spirit and can’t be assessed in any scientific or statistical way, nor perhaps should it be.   It implies that the individual has an approach to business and indeed to life in general that is special.  We constantly assess whether attitude and leadership are down to nature or nurture but we can’t teach great attitude.

Some people have that spark and we are truly fortunate when we can spot it and then help them to develop it.
These individuals are not always easy to manage but given a measure of freedom, their output can well justify the extra effort put into them.
In the end, it is the team that will deliver success and a group of high performing individuals can be a very exciting way to achieve that success.
It is useful to use the Belbin analysis of team types to help ensure that there is balance in the team but  in every case it is talented people with the will to excel and win that we need above all else.  

My old friend, US speaker Lee Thayer, says that every business should employ virtuosi, Steve Jobs said that he would only look for for A-players and Jim Collins says that we need to have exceptional people around us.

All of these opinions lead to the realisation that we really can’t afford to have B- or even C-players in the team.  
Get the right people with the right spirit on the bus all facing in the same direction; they will make things happen.

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