Monday, 18 September 2017

What is in a name?

Most of us know we can always improve our Inter-Personal Skills, but when the pressure is on, being pleasant, empathetic and positive often goes out the window in place of just having to get our heads down and get stuff done.

With this in mind I am often asked if there are any quick fixes for improving our Inter-Personal Skills and while most of the time it is a case of developing a medium/long term personal development plan, there is at least one very simple thing you can do that will make a huge difference.

Subject to the size of your organisation, once a day, or perhaps once a week, learn the name of a colleague that you don't know and with whom you don't currently speak. Then use their name when you next see them, as a minimum saying hello, but even better try to enter into a short conversation. It doesn't really matter if it is a bit bland - "What you up to?" / "Did you have a good weekend?" Also try telling them something about yourself - perhaps what you did at the weekend.

Now I know this may seem a bit clunky or even contrived, but I promise you it is so worth it. The person whose name you have learnt now knows you and will feel more comfortable in your presence. Your reputation will grow as someone who is personable. Just as importantly, you will feel a lot better about yourself - what a great thing to do, you just turned a nameless unrecognised individual into a person who means something!

We are often told that an easy way to make ourselves feel good is by doing something for someone else. Using someone's name for the first time does the same thing.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Why senior managers should wear walking boots

We have framed pictures of walking boots that we sometimes present to clients! As well as being a bit of fun they act as an important reminder.

The definition of management by wandering around (MBWA), also management by walking around,  refers to a style of business management which involves managers wandering around, in an unstructured manner, through the workplace, at random, to check with employees about how they are, understanding their view of the world and how any particular piece of work or activity might be going. The critical word is ‘wandering’ because it is the unstructured and (hopefully) naturalistic approach of the manager to staff that makes the big difference. It generates a sense of genuine interest from the manager with regard to the individual and what is happening in their part of the business.

However, MBWA is not solely an activity with regard to staff motivation. Such an approach will regularly provide the manager with insights they otherwise could never gain.  While the production qualities of such reality TV programmes as BBC 2’s ‘Back to the shop floor’ and Channel Four’s ‘Undercover boss’ might be questionable, the principle of MBWA underpins their existence. The notion of the manager getting out of their office, away from the small circle of colleagues with whom they usually communicate and instead listening to those ‘at the sharp end’ not only makes compelling viewing, but also makes perfect business sense.

On the reverse of the picture of the walking boots we print the following hints to try and make sure our clients’ MBWA really works;
  • Be informal - let people see that you are genuinely interested
  • Practice your very best listening skills, try and let them do most of the talking
  • Ask for feedback and ideas
  • Encourage questions
  • Don’t just wander with a few people, make sure you spread yourself evenly
  • When you see something good happening let them know you are impressed
  • Don’t use wandering time being judgemental, if you see something that is not right plan to go back and address the issue later
  • Don’t overdo it so that people feel you are being  intrusive but do it regularly enough so people are not surprised
  • Enjoy yourself it is one of the best things you can ever do as an effective manager

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Do it now or do it tomorrow, but not later today

When we ask, or indeed when the management at one of our clients asks their staff what subject area they would like coaching on, the most regular response is ‘Time Management’. It seems that most of us have a pretty low regard of our ability to manage time, often in both our business and personal lives. In fact, even people who genuinely seem to be highly effective in the area still believe they are not doing as well as they could. While they are perhaps being overly critical of themselves, it is also probably true, because as human beings by the very nature of how we engaged with time, it is all but impossible to perfectly optimise it’s usage. For heaven’s sake Doctor Who has a time machine and he still runs everywhere!

 We have developed a number of coaching sessions with regard to time management. Some are half day events at which we look at a number of different methodologies using exercises to help attendees identify how they currently manage their time and what different approaches and processes might be overlaid on how they work. Other sessions last less than an hour, at which we (in the spirit of time management) speed through the ‘Top 50 Tips for Better Time Management’, asking delegates at the end to share with each other which 5 of the 50 they plan to adopt. At a subsequent follow-up session, individuals share with their colleagues what has worked and not worked for them, creating an environment where people learn from each other’s experiences.

Rarely at such sessions are we not asked the killer question. I know would ask it under similar circumstances – “What is your approach to time management – how do you do it?”  Interestingly providing an insight into what we do seems often to achieve as good a level of adoption as the actual coaching sessions themselves. We explain that rather than any elaborate process of prioritisation and execution, we have a mantra that we try to adopt as often as possible;

Do it now or do it tomorrow, but not later today

So let’s breakdown the three elements;

‘Do it now’. This covers two core types of tasks – emergencies and simple/quick activities. If the office is on fire (or the commercial equivalent) you have to stop what you are doing and get on with addressing the issue – you have no choice. Alternatively if the task is so simple or small why would you bother scheduling it or even making a note of it, just do it there and then and move on. As a rule of thumb, ‘small’ for me means less than five minutes. One important consideration with regard to ‘Do it now’ is interruptions. If you are interrupted during a significant task you may choose to pause what you were doing and address the interruption now, but the important thing is to avoid interrupting yourself. Once you have decided to work on something significant, stay focussed and do not consider what else you might be doing until you have finished, then is the time to look at the next task and make the do now or do it tomorrow decision.

‘Do it tomorrow’. Most peoples’ days are pretty full and constantly adding to your list for that day can be somewhat demoralising. However, adding it to your to-do list for tomorrow acknowledges that it needs to be done, means that you have scheduled it and you can then forget about it and get on with today’s work. The other huge advantage of ‘do it tomorrow’ is that tasks change. How often have you worked on something to find that you then get new information or the job itself is redefined, wasting the effort you have already put in? Allowing the task to percolate for a day gives it a chance to settle down and have clarity. Also sometimes taking such an approach means you do not have to complete the task because it becomes unnecessary and not needed – even on occasion it gets done by someone else.

‘But not later today’. The people who seem to be the most effective time managers have a plan of action for what they need to get done. Using the cliché, ‘they plan the work and then work the plan’. This means that they stay focussed on what they know they need to do that day and more often than not they nail it. The best way to not achieve what you have planned is by letting it expand, by trying to tag new things onto what you have already committed to yourself to get done. Adding more and more tasks to your to-do list for today imparts a sense of being out of control and even overwhelmed, the knock-on effect being that actually you do not even complete what you had planned, let alone the new additional tasks.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Helping middle managers act like a CEO

As a coach there cannot be a much better feeling than when someone tells you that they have not only bought into what you have been discussing with them, but that they have adopted and are implementing the ideas. The ‘Helping middle managers to act like a CEO’ approach achieves such a reaction on a regular basis. I think the positive feedback is as a result of the somewhat unusual nature of the sessions and even just the title makes people sit up and listen.

The core of the proposition is to encourage managers to take a level of personal responsibility for the success and effectiveness of their specific role, similar to that expected of a successful CEO. In other words genuinely owning and immersing themselves within their job every day. Of course such aspirations need to be underpinned by definable activities that the manager can adopt and develop. Activities which many middle managers do not even recognise as functions of their role and yet have the ability to elevate individuals to a new level of value to colleagues, customers and the overall business. 

We work with managers to look at six areas to develop that are traits of effective CEOs;
Business acumen. People with business acumen are thought of as having business ‘sense’ or a nose for what is going on. They are able to obtain essential information about a situation, focus on the key objectives, recognise the relevant options available for a solution, select an appropriate course of action and set in motion an implementation plan to get the job done.

Leadership. CEOs lead by example with an overriding guiding vision or purpose. They possess a huge passion for successfully implementing the vision of the company regardless of those who cannot see the bigger picture.

Leverage. The ability to get the very most out of the resources and assets at your disposal. Making things happen that others would not even believe feasible.

Problem solver.  Leading the charge to proactively solve issues and concerns within the business. Putting yourself forward and in the frame to come up with solutions rather than waiting for others. Developing a culture where problem solving is recognised as a fundamental component of business activities, rather than an ad hoc reactive process with little or no structure.

Risk taker. Developing a personal approach that reduces and even removes the fear of failure.  Understanding that most business activities have a degree of failure on a relatively regular basis, but without being able to manage those setbacks and keep driving forward there is little chance of ultimate success. 

Visionary.  The recognition that the status quo is very rarely a sustainable position for any business or business process. The need to challenge current approaches, to re-engineer how things are done, to motivate others by showing how changing or developing something (big or small) can make a positive difference.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Dealing with difficult people starts with you

From time to time we all come across someone who we do not particularly get on with, find challenging or who simply rubs us up the wrong way. However, the first thing to establish for our own peace of mind is that actually such people are pretty far and few between. Think about how many people you know and what proportion of them you do not get on with? Most of us know hundreds and hundreds people but can probably count on one hand those with whom we have a poor or difficult relationship. Such analysis can be very helpful before we even consider how to better deal with that small handful. By recognising that we get on just fine with the vast majority of people that we know, then when it comes to meeting new people we should have very little concern regarding how we will get on and if we will be able to develop a good relationship. The odds are very much stacked in favour that they will be just the same as the large number of people that you already know.

So when we do meet a ‘difficult’ person what should we do? The answer is often not the one that necessarily sits most comfortably with us, but it does work most of the time. We need to take responsibility for why this person is being as they are and find what we can do to bring about a change.  When thinking about this be careful not to make it personal, assuming that it is somehow about your personality, how you act or tone. It can be the case sometimes, but more often than not it is as a result of misunderstand and miscommunication. Often the biggest cause of problems that in turn lead to challenging situations is that you, the other party or both have jumped to one or more wrong conclusions. 

The first thing is to listen very carefully to what the person is saying. Is there any truth in the view that they are expressing? Could they actually be correct or at least partially so? Thinking this through immediately enables you to take a softer approach with this person because you are able to recognise that they are not just be difficult for the sake of it, but rather have, or believe they have, a valid position. 

Next consider what it is that normally upsets people. The three predominant causes are;
·         Inability to take action – the feeling of powerlessness
·         The unfairness of a situation or process
·         Being misunderstood or not listened to

Ask yourself which one or more of the above might be causing the person to act the way they do. If you are in a position to help overcome what the person believes and/or perceives is happening then take it on yourself to find a cure. Once you are seen to be a solution rather than a problem, the degree of difficult will diminish dramatically. If you are not in a position to provide a solution to the problem, at least you can hopefully cut that individual a little more slack than you might have otherwise done, because you have a better understanding of how they feel.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Help your teams to look at problems differently

Often people somehow believe that their business roles are to make sure they do not have any problems at work – that is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of most jobs! The very essence of most employment activity is to address and overcome problems, either those of the business, our clients or a combination thereof.  To attempt to somehow remove the existence of problems is to significantly limit or even extinguish the rational for what we do. A job role without problems (or at least challenges) is a role that will quickly change or evaporate.

Once we accept the need for problems, then we can start to look at them differently. As a manager, the quicker we can help team members appreciate this scenario, the more effective we can help them to be and allow them to see problems as a way to develop and enhance their capabilities.
At one of our clients we asked team members to complete a ‘Problem Log’. This meant simply noting down any time they believed a problem existed with a brief description of the issue, the date and the time. We asked them to do this over a period of two weeks and to leave space in the log to enter how each problem was resolved. At the end of two weeks we collected in the logs without entering into any discussion with the staff in regard to content. We did this to avoid anyone subsequently wishing to change what they had entered as a result of the passage of time. This is very important within the process of attempting to look at problems differently, because time has a huge impact on problems and problem solving.

We then analysed the logs, amalgamated the data to avoid identifying specific individuals and then meet as a group to review and discuss the findings. Across a team of twelve there was an average of 1.4 problems per person per day logged. Of the 168 problems logged only 38 had an entry showing that the problem had been resolved (22%). This should have meant in theory that there were 130 unresolved problems that by now would surely be causing chaos within the team. Of course this turned out not to be the case with the vast majority of the 130 problems, some 114 (88%), having been superseded by other activities, change of circumstances or the problem simply turning out not to have needed to be resolved, or put another way, not a problem in the first place. This organic resolution of problems without any specific involvement by the individual who entered it in the log was confirmed by the lack of entries showing how a problem had been resolved. The individual often did not know how the problem was resolved; it just went away as far as they were concerned! In fact when we asked for volunteers to discuss specific entries often they struggled to even remember the nature or detail of the problem they had previously identified.

The insights from this initiative became a desktop mantra for the team;
·         Problems are an integral part of our jobs
·         Do not ignore problems but don’t fixate on them either
·         Critical problems require urgent attention – most problems are not critical
·         Allow the time for problems to properly define themselves before acting
·         Look at problems as a way to learn and develop skills