Getting it Wrong at Comet?

It is so very easy to get ‘management’ wrong.  Very wrong.

Take this example from electrical retailer Comet.  My Brother in Law is looking to buy a micro HI-Fi and has been to compare models and prices in Comet and Empire Direct.  As he walked into the Comet store he was met by a sales adviser who asked what he was looking for and whether he would like some help.  Brother in Law explained that he was not in a position to buy today but he would like some information about a particular system that Comet stocked.

The sales adviser apologetically explained that if Brother in Law was not looking to buy today then he was not able to help him as his manager had told him to ‘focus on sales only’.

This is a great example of a manager ‘communicating what matters by soundbite’ and not getting the intended results.

Brother in Law enjoyed sharing this retail experience with the whole family on his return and no doubt will re-tell the story at the golf club, the cycle club, in the expat community in which he lives and at every party he attends over the holiday season.  I expect that by the time the New Year sales are over  thousands of people will have heard the story and drawn their own conclusions.

Now I am sure that ‘focussing on sales’ matters during the busy holiday period, but so to does ‘building relationships with customers ‘ and ‘the reputation of the Comet brand’.

Managing by sound bite is a dangerous game.

Committing to 121s

I have had a some interesting conversations in the last week or two with managers about 121s. There are a couple of issues that are probably worth a reminder.

The first is that you should be scheduling 121s well in advance with your team members and then do all in your power to keep to the slot you have booked. If you change the slot for another commitment your team member will believe that you have ‘bumped them for something more important’. If you ‘bump’ them regularly enough they will believe that most things are more important to you than their 121. Providing regularly scheduled and protected time for 121s sends out a powerful message. Once you start regularly re-scheduling then the likelihood of them being missed and the routine being lost increases significantly.

The second issue is about when to hold 121s. I personally find it best to avoid early mornings. This is when your brain is at its best for concentrating on issues that require deep thought. I try to keep these times for jobs that need concentration, analysis and focus. While 121s require active listening skills for me they fit ideally into the afternoon slots when the brain has started to slow down a little. It also means that if nay 121s in the day do HAVE to be moved then I can always bring them forward to a morning slot on the same day. Bringing 121s forward in the week rather than moving them back – or worse still postponing them sends out another powerful message.

I also try to avoid Mondays (although this is great for team meetings). This means that if we need to re-schedule I can always bring them forward to Monday. I also try to avoid Fridays so that if I have to move them back I have some slots available.

121s should as much as possible be scheduled in blocks of time – 2 or 3 in a row with perhaps 5 minutes between each. This way you may spend 10 minutes getting ready for a session of 121s and 10 minutes ‘washing up’ after the session. You will find that you need the same ‘set up’ and ‘wash up’ time for a single 121. So scheduling them in blocks of 2 saves 20 minutes; blocks of three saves 30 minutes and so on. You will also find that your 121s are generally better when done in blocks like this as you can really get into the groove’ – and stay there.

Don’t under-estimate how much this stuff matters. Your team members will make judgments about your commitments to and faith in them based on how you maintain your 121 commitments to them. It may not be very rational – but that’s humanity for you!

Something for Nothing in Halifax

Would you like to learn a management tool that is guaranteed to:

  • Save you time
  • Increase levels of trust in your team
  • Improve communication
  • Make you a noticeably better manager
  • Get more done – more quickly
  • Accelerate the professional development of your team, and
  • Reduce the pain of performance reviews?

Then come along to a free introductory session of the Progressive Managers’ Network at the Elsie Whiteley Innovation Centre on March 26th from 13.30 to 16.30.

At the event you will get a free gift to help improve your management worth more than £25.

Places are strictly limited so please book your place online here. Or call me for more information on 0113 2167782.
If you know of a manager who might be interested please forward them a link to this page.

How To Motivate and Engage Front Line Managers

This is the title of an interesting post over at BNet and one that is especially pleasing for me as they reference one of my posts as a potential answer.

The BNet post, and a recent conversation with a Progressive Manager have led me to do some more thinking on the matter. The truth is that many of the managers I meet and work with are ‘accidental’. They have landed in management positions because they are ambitious, bright and have good interpersonal skills. But they have not learned what good management looks like. More importantly they do not understand the potential of good management to transform a mediocre team into an excellent one. ‘Management’ is perceived as a necessary evil that should intrude on the day job as little as possible.

So, if you want to motivate (I would prefer to inspire) and engage frontline managers give them a taste of what a truly great manager is able to do in turning a group of ordinary people into a truly excellent team. This is just about the most rewarding thing you can do. Developing other people and increasing your impact on the world by working effectively through them can be a real buzz.

Managers who achieve this sort of impact don’t do it by fitting in management around the day job. For them, management is the day job. They may still spend some time working in the team rather than on the team – but this is likely to be less than 50% of the time (in BMW I believe managers work in the team 10% of the time with other 90% on management and leadership).

What Gets Measured Gets Done – recognition and reward

‘What Gets Measured Gets Done’ gets my vote for the single, most dangerous, least accurate, management ‘truism’ of them all!

Suppose we changed the expression to ‘What Gets Recognised Gets Done’.   What difference would that make to the way we do our business?

First of all managers and leaders would have to think about what they want to recognise in their organisation.  This is a big question.  It speaks to values, performance and ethos.  Recognition encourages consideration of many things that cannot be easily ‘measured’.

If Enron had ‘recognised’ more than short term financial performance would things have  turned out differently?  What are Goldman Sachs ‘recognising’ as they pay out £8.4 billion in performance related bonuses to their staff (UK employees of the bank average £320 000 in Performance Related Pay)?  Is financial performance the only thing that matters for Goldman Sachs or do they provide equally strong ‘recognition’ for other things that might matter like ‘ethics’ or ‘long term customer relationships’?

Secondly managers and leaders would have to consider how are they going to recognise it?  What does excellence look like, sound like, feel like?  You can’t just rely on the numbers.  You might have to go and observe people doing the work:

  • see how they speak to customers
  • watch how they contribute to meetings
  • understand how they prepare a paper for the board.

Feedback becomes a primary tool for recognising what works and what doesn’t.  It also becomes a primary tool for reward as people start to get recognition and validation for the good stuff that they do.

So the next time someone says ‘What gets measured gets done’  perhaps you should ask them if they really believe what they say.

Some Great Advice for Managers

David Maister says “Great managers give lots of responsibility early, are available to help, set and enforce high standards (on things other than just financial results), demand participation by all team members and set a high personal example.”

How do do you stack up?

Listening, 121s and Tom Peters

I have been an avid reader of Tom Peters since in Search of Excellence.  Must be almost 20 years!

He put a post on his blog today that for me captures the purpose of weekly 121s.  It is about establishing a relationship in which you can listen respectfully- and in which the person you are managing can tell you important stuff.  Tom says:

“Listening may or may not be an “act of love” or way to “tap into people’s dreams,” but it sure as hell is:

  1. an uncommon act of courtesy and recognition of worth from which
  2. you will invariably learn amazing stuff if you can just keep your damn mouth shut and ears open with an expression of interest on your face and
  3. it will build-maintain relationships beyond your wildest dreams. “

Courtesy, respect and recognition.  Learn amazing stuff.  Keep your mouth shut.  be interested.  Build relationships.

Not a bad set of outcomes for a managers who is willing to put in the effort.

Build it and they will come…or we can always ‘refer’ them to it!

I have been asked to help various parts of the enterprise development network (Chambers, Business Links, Enterprise Agencies, community based enterprise projects, managed workspaces, load funds, credit unions, training providers etc.) to think about and hopefully improve their ‘referral’ processes. (A referral is the name given to the process where one agent in the enterprise support network refers a client of theirs to another part of the enterprise support service.)

So what are the drivers for wanting to improve the referral process?

In my book there should only be one: a genuine desire to ensure that the client accesses the right kind of service at the right time to help them progress on their enterprise journey.

This implies that the person making the referral has worked with the client to accurately help them identify what service is required and what it is expected to achieve. Sometimes this happens. Often it does not. Many referrals are driven by the referrer recognising that they are not in a position to serve the client – or it will be too time and resource intensive to be practical. They then look for a service that may be able to help and ‘refer’ the client. Or more accurately they ‘palm them off’.

Often when the referrer does take the time to identify with the client the service they need to progress on their enterprise journey the ‘diagnosis’ is based purely on technical and functional concerns and takes little account of the wider cultural and social needs of the client. This can result in clients with a tentatively held belief about their own potential on the enterprise journey being referred to judgemental and time pressured service providers who have learned to just say ‘No’! ( Or to refer them to the morass of web sites, training workshops and leaflets that is the ‘universal start up offer’). Either way the enterprise journey often hits the buffers catastrophically.

Occasions when the referrer really does their homework on the service to which they are referring and the individuals who deliver it (to find the most appropriate individual – technically, culturally and empathetically – to which to make the referral) are not common. Occasions when the referrer asks the clients permission to make a referral and offers to go with them to broker an introduction are even rarer. If the referral is actually a ‘palming off’ it may be made clear to the client that this is in fact a one-way referral. ‘This person will help you now – good luck! (and goodbye)’.

As I have already said there should only be one driver of the client referral process – a genuine desire to ensure that the client accesses the right kind of service at the right time to help them progress on their enterprise journey. In practice there are several, including:

  • the challenge of service sustainability – by making lots of referrals we can demonstrate the use and effectiveness of all of our services and make a strong case to continue to fund everything
  • the need to ration (some parts of) the service – there are not enough resources to give everyone a person centred and customised enterprise journey – we need to focus our efforts on those most likely to provide a quick return on investment – we can always refer (palm off) the rest
  • lack of skill, competence or experience – this client is a nightmare – I have got to find them another place to go!

There are of course also significant drivers against making referrals including financial drivers where the potential referrer has a direct or indirect financial interest in retaining ‘control’ of the client. If you run a managed workspace and need to raise occupancy it is massively difficult not to see every entrepreneur as a potential tenant and therefore wish to retain control of that account. If your funding is linked to the achievement of certain outcomes with clients and they should be referred before those outcomes have been achieved there can be a pressure to delay the referral.

And then there is ignorance. Simply not knowing about the full range of support that is available. When I helped to run BLU – the Business Link University as was we used to run half day workshops – tailored to meet local needs – called an introduction to business support. Participants were helped to explore the wealth of support available to support would be and actual entrepreneurs and to understand the relevance and objectives of each. I must have attended a dozen of these events over several years and was never less than gobsmacked at how little many service providers new about other parts of the network. And this was not simply a function of experience. It was a feature inherent in the siloed service design of the providers. Does this mean I am in favour of simplification agenda. NO I AM NOT! At a time when the consumer is getting more and more demanding, and the market place for enterprise is becoming ‘super-diverse’ we have to offer a wide range of niched services. However I am in favour of these being a genuine network. But that is another soap box – for another day!

A word about power. I firmly belief that the role of all enterprise support agency is to empower the client on their enterprise journey. To improve their ability to understand context, negotiate resources and act to make things better for themselves, their loved ones and their community. Yet the language of referral is essentially disempowering. We refer to higher authorities, we refer to specialists and experts. The nature of the referral relationship is essentially one of a power imbalance. Submit yourself to their expertise…. become compliant again. That is why I urge discussion about the introduction process rather than the referral process. Introducing a client to someone who may be able to help them is VERY different from ‘making a referral’. The power must remain with the client. They must decide who they work with. They have to retain control and ownership of their own enterprise journey.

I am sure there is much more to write on the subject of referrals please post comments to highlight aspects of the referral process that require further thought. If we want clients to navigate a path effectively through diverse enterprise support services we need to do much more than urge people to refer more. We need to:

  • Design services in a way that removes distorting financial/performance management drivers on the referral/introduction process
  • Ensure that the client always controls the timing and nature of the referral
  • Reduce ignorance among service providers about what else is available to introduce potential clients too
  • Ensure that all service providers are both willing and able to make effective introductions with their ONLY interest being the clients development on their enterprise journey.

Fish Keeping, Management and Developing People

My fascination with fish has (until now) been a pretty well kept secret. Only family and a few close friends get to know about my fishy obsessions…

But I have to share this blog post that talks about fish-keeping and management!

“The fascinating thing about the koi is that if you keep it in a small fish bowl, it will grow to be only about two to three inches long. Place the koi in a larger tank or small pond and it will reach six to ten inches. Put it in a large pond, and it may get as long as a foot and a half. However, if you put it in a huge lake where it can really stretch out, it has the potential to reach sizes up to three feet.

People, like the koi, will grow to the dimensions of their boundaries. Fortunately, unlike koi, we have the advantage of helping our people select their boundaries. And it is the leader’s job to set the kind of boundaries that allow people to reach their full potential.”

Strategy and the Fat Smoker

 Strategy and the Fat Smoker

Strategy and the Fat Smoker is the title of David Maister’s new book scheduled for publication in the US in the New Year.  He sums up perfectly the challenge facing progressive managers and their team members in working on behaviour change:

“The primary reason we do not work at behaviors which we know we need to improve is that the rewards (and pleasure) are in the future; the disruption, discomfort, and discipline needed to get there is immediate.”

Just like the fat smoker – we know what we need to do, and we know why we should do it.  But finding the discipline, commitment, energy and support to change often means that we never do.

I guess the PMN equivalent of the fat smoker is the fire-fighting mole whacker who is always too busy to think.