It’s surprising how many times we can make assumptions of others in the workplace and often underestimate the workload and stresses those in senior roles deal with. As a junior and middle manager I too fell into the trap of thinking the “boss” was not always engaged with the important stuff and didn’t understand what it was like at the coalface. Of course the chances were that not only was the boss aware of the issues they too were under enormous pressure and keeping many plates spinning on may poles, your universe of interest being just one.
The need is as great now as it’s ever been for business owners, directors and senior managers to understand how they can best inspire, motivate and manage the human resources around them.
The “boss” today has to look at markets that are increasingly competitive. There are very real pressures on expenditure and real need to maximise returns whilst customers are expecting “more for less” and the opportunities for growth harder to define and find.
Having recently worked with a number of clients with similar issues I thought it timely to look at some ideas to help better manage the essential asset of most businesses, their people.
• Time Management
How many times do you find your blood pressure rising when a member of staff saunters in at 9.15 a.m.? The fact is, strict times for starting and finishing a job may apply to specific jobs that require production schedules or the presence of those offering direct customer engagement. For many others, especially those in technical or creative roles, a 9 to 5 doesn’t really apply. What we should look at is not the hours spent sat at a desk but what was produced in the time they were at work. You could have the most punctual person in the world working for you but that doesn’t automatically make them better than someone who might arrive a little later. To overcome stresses and possible squabbles amongst staff offer a flexible working schedule and consider working from home as a genuine option. Remember to measure and manage what’s produced in that flexi time.
• Match roles and tasks to those best suited
Square pegs and round holes, yes it’s a very real problem for many businesses. Here’s a “for instance” – Derek’s worked in sales administration for years but is actually far better suited to working in IT and training others on how to get the most out of the software used in the company. How do you work this out? Talk to staff, make an appraisal a proper appraisal and assess real strengths and weaknesses and personal aspirations and likes. Quite often a secret interest or passion can become incredibly useful to a business. It helps to know what those special interests and skills are and to keep an ongoing dialogue with staff as things rarely remain static.
• Bright stars should work on the biggest opportunities
The high flyers in a business need sufficient air space to demonstrate their skills and offer the greatest return for your organisation. Too often talent is held back or restricted through traditional hierarchical structures and/or short sighted managers. The outcome? The talent leaves for a job where they can truly realise their ambitions. If you want to keep the best and get the most from them allow a little latitude, remove the shackles and allow them to take responsibility for their own projects. Building experience in such a way is invaluable and often rewarded by increased loyalty and performance.
• Set stretching but achievable goals
No one should suggest that we avoid measuring performance, quite the contrary but at the same time we shouldn’t become overzealous with our expectation and demands. Realistic, stretching but manageable objectives shared and understood by the team will provide the motivation to reach for the target. Too tough and it quickly becomes a disincentive to try and too soft and staff may believe they’re on easy street and get distracted with other non-essential matters.
• Put your trust in the team and let them know you trust them
Without a fundamental level of trust between business owners and staff, conflict, stress and aggravation often follows. People like to know that they are valued. Demonstrating trust through allowing self-control of their tasks, time management, resources required and engagement with goal setting can prove immensely motivational.
• When things go wrong don’t seek out someone to hang it on
Things will and often do go wrong. The way in which you handle the failures marks out the culture of the business. By way of comparison our own true character is often shown in adversity. It’s all too easy to find and single out the cause if it’s an individual, they may well admit to their part in the process. Remember Alan Sugar is playing a role in a TV show on the Apprentice and it bears very little relevance to the day to day running of a company. Be positive in the analysis and just ensure that the team understands where things went wrong to avoid the same mistakes happening again. In the same regard don’t desperately hang on to a failing project, be brave, assess the prospects and if the expected outcome looks unlikely to materialise, provide a positive review and close it down. It’s pretty de-motivating working on a project that just isn’t delivering, better to re-focus efforts on more positive opportunities.
• You’re the boss but you don’t have to have all the answers
All too often I meet with business owners who shoulder an enormous level of responsibility and in their minds the expectations of the workforce. Often they themselves apply the added pressure assuming staff are looking to the owners for the answers to every strategic and operational issue. This again reflects the culture of an organisation and if a “control freak” management style permeates the business, employees will sit back and expect that controller to manage them and make any major or even minor decision. That weight of expectation can be lifted by getting staff to think for themselves, make their own decisions and participate in planning.
• Give staff credit for successes
Don’t forget we all like to receive positive feedback and know we’re good at our jobs. Recognition and rewards are a very important factor in building and maintaining positive team spirit and momentum.
• Managing Change
In my experience the vast majority of employees can cope with and manage changes in their working patterns very well. A lack of communication however can seriously jeopardise the chances of capitalising on a change in business direction or move to new markets/ products. The more you involve staff at the earliest juncture and keep them updated the better the chances of success. Change can be worrying for some, so avoid big surprises by communicating as outlined above and cut off any negative rumours or grapevine that left unchecked may undermine your best efforts.
It’s true to say that managing people is one of the toughest aspects of running a business. Get it right and it not only has the prospect of providing a turbo boost to hit targets but also make the owners lives far less lonely and stressful.
David Laud – follow me on twitter @davidlaud
Back in the early 1980’s a US sit com hit our screens and almost immediately became a hit. Centred on a small bar in Boston the show introduced us to a series of characters who were the regulars and staff of “Cheers”. The theme song was catchy and used the phrase “Where everyone knows your name”. One character personified this tagline more than any other. A large chap with ill-fitting suits, tie almost always askew and mop of curly hair, his name was Norm Peterson an *accountant played by the wonderful actor George Wendt. *In later episodes Norm becomes a house painter.
Each time Wendt’s burly frame stepped down the stairs and came into view he was met with a chorus of welcoming voices “Norm!”
That friendly welcome became one of the most popular aspects of this hugely successful show which ran continuously from 1982 to 1993 and produced a number of spin offs including Kelsey Grammer’s “Frasier”.
But rather than offer up a history of popular US sit coms I’m highlighting this specific element as an example of how we should be looking after customers.
Business owners and managers in the hospitality sector appreciate all too well the importance of knowing the customer and making a personal connection. Restaurants, bars, hotels, clubs they all rely very heavily on the power of personal recommendation and with the advent and growth of TripAdvisor they know they cannot afford to let standards slip.
Just for a moment put yourself in the role of a customer looking to use your business to buy or enquire about a product or service. If you’re a first time customer it’s highly unlikely that the communication is going to be as warm and familiar as that enjoyed by Norm but the objective should be to get to that level. Who wouldn’t want to feel that they’re recognised, remembered and ultimately valued by the establishments they frequent?
At a time when business is becoming ever more competitive and the winning of new customers more complex and costly, it’s logical to invest time to understand their experience, their needs and without being too intrusive more about them as individuals.
Starbucks are a great example of a business that invests in exactly that element of their marketing. You can buy a decent coffee in any one of a number of nationally branded and local establishments in most towns and cities. Why would you choose one shop over another? Some may genuinely prefer the taste of Costa coffee but the vast majority of us weigh up the overall experience.
The simple task of taking your name for the cup makes you feel as though the staff are taking a personal interest in you, yes it has a functional purpose but I suspect it was introduced for more reasons than you may think. Trying to remember hundreds of regular daily customers by face for the average person is quite a task but if you take their names you are adding a neat memory aiding process to the task and chances are they’ll not need to ask after one or two visits. Then how good do you feel when your name is remembered? Would you want to return to such a store? Of course you would.
Keeping with Starbucks their attention to customer’s behaviours extends to the queues waiting to place their orders. Ever noticed what most of us do when we’re waiting to be served? We reach for our smartphones, check our social media accounts, e-mail and then when we’re ready to place that order we scrabble for a wallet or purse. Noting this behaviour Starbucks developed a function of their smartphone App which enables customers to not only earn rewards and get free food and drinks but essentially pay using those phones they already have in their hand. Just look around at your average Starbucks and count the Apple Macs and smartphone usage, they understand their market and how best to engage with them. What I like about the Starbucks example is that they took the time to consider the customer experience and find a way to improve it. I also like the fact that it’s a great combination of offline and online but at the heart is the desire to make that trip to buy your coffee and snack that much easier. Of course it doesn’t hurt Starbucks to have an app that requires your personal details to register and use it but by now you’ve built a level of trust having been a “regular” and happy to share a little personal data.
For those of you now complaining that you don’t have “Star-bucks” to throw at such projects (see what I did there) don’t worry it doesn’t need to be expensive.
The best marketing and customer service solutions are often simple, common sense and can be implemented without breaking the bank. The essential part of this process is to initiate direct action and start taking a greater interest in that over used phrase the “customer experience”.
Here are 10 suggested steps to get things underway
1. Take time to stand back and become a customer of your own company, be honest and objective.
2. Look at what you’re delivering, break down the elements into stages.
3. How are customers responding?
4. Become more familiar with competitor approaches but avoid following their lead.
5. Build on the positives of the current offering.
6. Address the negatives.
7. Adapt to take advantage of the intelligence gained from the exercise.
8. Train staff to become more aware and develop empathy with the customer.
9. Introduce communication channels to keep feedback flowing.
10. Review and refresh regularly.
If this is an area that interests you or you would like more information please feel free to drop me a line.
I’m fed up with hearing that we’re living in “interesting times” we’re not. We’re actually living in the times outlined by Dickens in a Tale of Two Cities. I’m sure you all know the opening chapter of the book word for word but just to remind us……
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – [Extract from chapter I, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1859)
Anyone else feel the contemporary connection with these words?
2014 has presented as a year where we are seeing economic recovery, employment levels rising and an all over feeling of optimism, well so certain politicians would wish us to think. I’m not against a healthy bit of optimism, by nature I’m drinking from the half full cup most of the time but in reality there is still an awfully long and hard journey ahead for many businesses and thoughts of instant solutions are really not helpful.
If a business is going to survive and thrive it needs to have a strong realistic vision of its future, a plan for managed growth and control over its costs. Leaders of these businesses need to retain and recruit the staff that share a passion for making that organisation the best in its particular sector/ sphere of operation. It’s not easy, it takes time. Things go wrong, deals don’t come off, recruits fail to live up to expectation and customers can change their preferences at the least expected moment. What you shouldn’t do is panic. Retain the belief in the business and acknowledge that the World is partly mad and partly sane, you cannot predict everything nor expect to be continually on the back foot.
Even though we’re in what still feels to me like a futuristic date, 2014, the words of Charles Dickens in the opening of the classic Tale seem as appropriate today as when they were first penned some 150 years earlier.
Whether you do face the best or the worst of times I see it as a period for calm heads and a return to the principles of good solid business practice with, of course, the energy, enthusiasm, creativity and originality that will deliver sustainable success.
David Laud FCIM, Chartered Marketer
follow me on Twitter @davidlaud
Have you ever faced the dilemma of thinking how best to phrase the opening line of an e-mail? The trend appears to be for the “hope all’s good with you” or “hope this finds you well”. Nothing wrong with this, it’s polite and shows an interest in the well-being of the person you’re engaging with. But on the receiving end of such an e-mail are we ever tempted to tell it how it really is?
That would be rather “awkward” and put the recipient in an uncomfortable spot as to how to answer such a statement. But in one way this answer to the original e-mail is refreshing as it’s truly honest.
The difficulty of course is that no one wants to admit to fragility or weakness, stress or worries suggest failure. The reality is at some time or another we all suffer from varying degrees of stress and have genuine doubts over either a business or personal direction and our own capabilities; especially when we’re up against it and under pressure.
The media regularly reports on the trend of business confidence sourced from trade and sector specific surveys. I’ve always suspected that they are very heavily skewed, with a positive spin put on the answers. Respondents will want to talk up their own position and only express genuine concern when it is a globally recognised issue such as the height of the recent recession. After so much gloom we’re desperate for good news and we don’t want to disappoint. But it’s easier to consider business buoyancy over the rather more personal and potentially painful analysis of our own self-confidence.
So is our level of personal confidence that important?
The answer is clearly “yes” – A leader’s self-confidence is at the heart of business success and growth. Through the recessionary period many tens of thousands of business owners have faced tough decisions and trading conditions which impact on their personal outlook and mood. With shoots of recovery appearing there’s an expectation that these entrepreneurs and owners will simply click back into overdrive and quickly return to their super confident persona.
The truth is it is not that easy to turn on confidence, it relies on a number of factors and will differ for each person depending on their own leadership skills, life experience, measure of success and management capability.
Optimism and confidence are crucial attributes for business leaders as those who work for them look to the signals from the boss to determine their own feelings of security. It’s not hard to see that a forward looking buoyant and confident business owner will engender a positive atmosphere throughout their organisation. Not that it’s entirely all down to the one individual but if they’re not confident and positive in their communications it will send an uncertain message to others and lead to discontent and discomfort amongst the workforce.
Ironically for certain senior executives their outward view is often believed to be positive whilst the reality is far from that perception. Body language and tone of voice might seem minor elements compared to the content of any communication but we know that as humans we take in a wide range of signals and are naturally very adept at translating them.
If not sure how you’re perceived ask a few trusted colleagues for their unbiased appraisal, it might be quite an eye opener.
Without a clearly understood vision for the future, business owners will be likely to react to situations as and when they arise leading to “knee jerk” responses. This will not breed confidence amongst the workforce no matter how well a leader presents their decisions. A lack of management consistency often creates feelings of uncertainty amongst staff heightened in times of trading difficulties and increased competitive pressures.
At the heart of the corporate confidence issue is the conviction of a clearly articulated and implemented strategy to take the organisation forward. Whilst insecurities and concern still exists in many sectors those who’ll survive will have calm, assured captains steering the business on a course to deliver a strong and sustainable future. With plans in place and everyone understanding their role all who share the journey can themselves grow in confidence and far more readily contribute to the success of the business.
Below are 5 suggested tips to assist leaders develop a stronger feeling of self-confidence.
5 Tips to Build Self Confidence
1. Pragmatism over Perfection. Don’t get hung up on the felling that every decision and act you make must be perfect and borne out of your instinctive powers as a leader. Making the right decisions can often prove difficult but remember there are frequently situations in business where there is no right or wrong response. Be logical and gather the data you need to make an informed decision.
2. Commit to your Decisions — Communicate with conviction and provide details of the outputs from the decision.
3. Failure is an Option – Mistakes will happen and that’s life but make sure that lessons are learnt from any failure and not repeated. The best leaders freely admit to shortcomings and can identify how success was often borne out of projects that didn’t initially deliver.
4. Body Language — We all have moments of fear and trepidation in our lives but if others are looking to you for direction you need to show courage and calmness especially when under pressure.
5. Enjoy the Moment and your Work – We can spend a great deal of time at work especially if you’re the owner or senior manager of a business. There will be good and bad moments but make sure you celebrate the successes with your team and be there to pick everyone up when a deal fails to materialise.
Are you happy with your role? Content with the position you find yourself in at this point in time? Do you encounter many frustrations in your day to day work and find it difficult to manage them?
If the answer to the above is yes, yes, no in that order then congratulations but if not or you know someone who isn’t quite so satisfied with their life you might want to consider this short blog on looking at life afresh.
For many of us work is more than a means to an end, it’s a passion and something we take very seriously but all too few of us take the time to review where we are and focus on what we truly want to achieve.
Too many of us find ourselves trapped in careers or situations that limit the scope of achieving our potential. Overlooked for promotion or unable to grow the business; frustration builds until a day arrives when it may be too late to change and the opportunity has passed you by.
But that’s far too depressing and of course it’s never really too late. What’s important is seizing the moment, identifying that you have far more to give and working through the possibilities that could lead to a rejuvenated approach to work and life as a whole.
As part of the human condition we can at times find ourselves drifting through life. Be it our own personal relationships or career, a common failing is that we settle, let things remain unchanged because change represents a challenge and a challenge can make you uncomfortable.
Rather than being caught asleep at the wheel of your life it might be time to turn up the music, open a window and see what is really happening around you.
Make time for reflection and re-assess your priorities. The past 5+ years of recession and painfully slow recovery has led many to take a bunker mentality. Keep the head down and think “hopefully when I look up I’ll still have a job and/or a business”. The risk is that whilst you’re taking this “safe” option life is moving on a pace and others are seeking out opportunities around you.
So what can be done to bring things into sharp focus? Ask yourself these questions and be as honest as you can in answering them.
• Who are the positive influences in your life and why?
• Who are the negative influencers and why?
• What is most important to you, what could you not live without?
• Who do you admire and why?
• What do you like to do? (For work and leisure)
• What don’t you like doing?
• What would you like to achieve from your life? What does success look like for you?
• What is preventing you from achieving this goal?
• What steps could you take in the next 6 months to work towards the goal?
Being surrounded by negativity can be a very draining experience and in time can turn you into a negative force yourself. Identifying positive influences and spending time in their company can be a big step in helping boost your own morale. Finding a suitable mentor to support you in the quest to find the path to your goals can also be hugely rewarding. If you are in danger of waving at life as it passes by, decide to do something and decide to do it this week. You owe it to yourself and those around you to be the best possible version of whoever you are and the positive influence you can bring to bear on others can be infectious.
Good solid support and advice in the shape of an experienced and qualified mentor can be just the sat nav you need to put you back on course.
If any of the above resonates with you and you’d like further information to help move matters forward drop me a line email@example.com