How to Improve Productivity Quickly

Raise Productivity – Build on Your Strengths, Not Your Weaknesses

by  Andrew Cooke, Growth & Profit Solutions

Raising ProductivityToo often in business we focus on our business’ and staff’s weaknesses.  The reasoning is that by addressing our weaknesses we can improve.  This is a fallacy.  The only way that you can improve and raise performance on a sustainable basis is by building on your strengths.

Let’s look at it diagrammatically.

 

Building on Weaknesses

In this first chart we are looking to address a weakness.  This weakness means that we are currently performing below the level of performance that is expected.  We spend time, effort, resources and money on this and we raise the level of performance – but only to the expected level of performance.  The risk here is that, despite your best efforts, this may not be sustainable as once the pressure is off the individuals they may revert to their old habits

Building on Strengths

In this second chart we are looking to build on and leverage a strength.  Currently we are operating the level of performance that is expected.  We spend time, effort, resources and money on building  this and we raise the level of performance – to a level of performance significantly above that which is expected.  As this is a strength, and a good habit that is in place, it is likely that this improvement will be sustainable – even when the pressure is off the individuals.  Here people are working smarter, not harder, in a way that is aligned with what they do well making it on-going.

The Implications

So what does this mean for us as leaders and managers?

Firstly, invest more effort, time and resources in developing your best people – not your mediocre people.

Secondly, and this many seems counter-intuitive,  but it pays to assign the best workers to the best bosses because that strategy results in the largest productivity gains.

For example, if 75% of your business’ value/productivity comes from 25% of the workforce then getting a 10% improvement from your top 25% means you’ve increased organizational value creation by 7.5%. Not bad. Your remaining 75% would have to boost their collective productivity by 30% — triple the top performer’s rate — to match that 7.5% net increase.

What’s the better and more rational bet? That top management can get a 10% spike from their top people? Or that they can get the demonstrably less talented, less capable, less productive three-quarters of their enterprise to dramatically increase their value outputs by almost a third? Which group would you invest in? I know where I’d put my money.

So What Do You Do?

Firstly, leverage your business and key performers’ strengths and make it into a virtuous cycle.  Secondly, don’t ignore the weaknesses – but remember it shouldn’t be the squeaky wheel that gets the oil and the attention.  You have limited resources; use them to the best effect.  Thirdly, look at how you can remove the weaknesses – either by changing people to roles where they are better suited, training (if it can produce sustainable improvement and after investments in your areas of strength), or removing them (take out the dead wood and non-performers).

A recent piece of research entitled The Value of Bosses from the National Bureau of Economic Research empirically argued (unsurprisingly) that bosses matter. Better bosses generate better results. Underlying this were two findings:

  1. That the most significant impact bosses had didn’t come from their motivational skills, but from teaching workers how to be more productive, i.e. capability building. That’s important.  Research showed that replacing a supervisor from the bottom 10% of the pool with one from the top 10%  increases output about as much as adding a 10th worker to a nine-worker team. Not only that, but about two-thirds of the productivity boost from working under a good supervisor persists even after the worker switches bosses.
  2. The second finding is that the most efficient structure is to assign the best workers to the best bosses rather than have the best bosses bring the weakest workers up to speed.

So to raise productivity on a sustainable basis build on your staff’s strengths, in doing this the business’ leaders and managers need to be able to teach their teams how to become more productive, and to cascade this skill and associated capabilities throughout the business.

What are you doing to enable your leaders and managers to practically develop these skills, so that they can develop them in others?  For ideas, insights and any questions please email me or comment here.

Share your knowledge, share the wealth!

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Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

5 Keys for Self-Influence

Leadership is influence” – John Maxwell

by Andrew Cooke, Growth & Profit Solutions

Be the Change You Want to See

The difference between management and leadership is best described as management is about handling complexity, whereas leadership is about handling change.  Change is about successful influence, and influence is a personal skill that can be developed and grown.

People often don’t think of themselves as influencers because they fail to see that the common thread running through the triumphs and tragedies of our lives is our ability to exert influence.  It is the lack of our being good at exerting influence that causes us a great deal of grief, people tend to be better copers than influencers by choice.

Leadership is about influence.  When we influence others, we are leading them.  When we influence ourselves, we are self-leading.  That brings up the question, “What are the thoughts, behaviours and strategies that help us exert influence over ourselves?

5 Keys to Self-Influence

1.       Make peace with the uncontrollable. Figure out the things you can change, and then change them.  If you can’t change something, then learn to live with it.  This means changing your attitude about the uncontrollable.

“Give me the serenity to accept the things that you cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.

You learn to live with it by making peace with it.  I’ve discovered – repeatedly – that worrying about something is not a good problem-solving technique.  You feel like you’re doing something, but it only makes things worse.  By not worrying, you make space for new thoughts and ideas to enter.

Let go of what you can’t control.  Invest your energy in things you can.  Your attitude is the first place to start.  Which means you must….

2.       Let go of the past. We know nothing is gained by pointing out what others did, or what’s wrong with them.  Yet we do this with ourselves.  Focus on how to make the future better rather than why the past was bad.  We learn from the past, but we don’t live there.  This means you need to…….

3.       Focus on what’s important. Don’t waste physical and emotional energy on the trivial.  This will help to eliminate “vicarious living”- the trap of talking about others rather than discovering how we can make a difference.  There’s a lot of nonsense in our daily discussions, and most of it doesn’t matter.  Is the investment on the topic really worth it?  What’s it worth 10 hours from now?  10 days from now?  10 years from now?  Playing it forward will help you determine its present value.  You can discuss debate, argue and be right, but is it worth it?  Train your mind to use the 10/10/10 approach before you invest time in the discussion.  Instead, why not……

4.       Invest in yourself. This is not an act of selfishness.  If I don’t take care of “me”, I can’t take care of “you.” Investing in me allows me to invest in you. Investing in yourself may mean putting some money, some time, and some energy on the line to contribute to your growth and personal development.  Investing in yourself allows you to invest in others. The more you influence yourself, the more you will influence others.  You cannot give what you don’t have.  One way to do this is to…..

5.       Invite feedback as an opportunity to be transparent. Feedback has positive benefits as you learn new information and skills.  But it also makes you more transparent.  It helps you develop an openness about who you are.  Feedback is not about pleasing others.  It’s an exercise in learning about yourself.  Growing in your personal curiosity and openness is attractive.  This kind of person is trustworthy, optimistic, flexible, poised, and cheerful. Transparency helps produce these traits.  People aren’t attracted to perfection.  They are attracted to transparency.  Feedback expands the boundaries of personal openness.

One of the greatest challenges in life is influencing yourself in a world that’s constantly pressuring you to conform your image to theirs.  It can be immobilizing!  Someone is always richer, prettier, smarter, stronger, younger, wiser, and funnier than you.  The paradox is that the more we influence ourselves to be ourselves, the more people like us.

And we like ourselves more too!

This article is partly based on the article, “5 Ways Smart People Influence Themselves” by Mick Ukleja.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions 

3 Steps for Taking Responsibility

Take Responsibility to Gain Momentum

Freeing yourself and others to gain traction and action.

by Andrew Cooke, Growth & Profit Solutions

Take Responsibility

How often have you waited for work or input from someone else in order to get your work done, or to actually start the process.  It’s not your fault you are delayed, but what can you do about it?

In short, the answer is to grow up and take the initiative!

We are inculcated into a culture of blame which, in turn we use to abrogate responsibility and for blaming others – this creates a vicious cycle.  Furthermore, we are afraid of taking the initiative in case we fail, and then how will we look to others.  So we stay there, sitting on our hands, not wanting to take the risk of trying and failing, and worried that we might not look good if we do so; and we are happy to do so, because if we don’t move we can’t do anything wrong.  For some reason we assume that because we have not made a decision, then no decision has been made; we forget that no decision is a decision in itself and has its own set of consequences.

Breaking the Cycle – Taking Responsibility

If you want to things to improve, to overcome inertia and to gain momentum then the responsibility for doing so starts with you.  There is no cavalry charging over the hill to rescue you – they are too busy sitting on their own hands.  You have to take action and be the catalyst regardless of your position or role – you are taking on responsibility and accountability for what needs to be done and yourself.

We all want to work with people who are energized, take the initiative and have drive.  Yet we are surprised when they don’t exhibit these qualities – simply because we fail to exemplify it in what we do and how we behave, and people follow our example.

3 Key Actions To Take

To liberate yourself and others do three things:p

  1. Recognize the difference between fault and responsibility – there is a significant difference between them.  As a leader you may be responsible for a situation, even if you are not at fault – the blame is irrelevant and counter-productive. Fault is backward-looking, and responsibility is forward-looking.
  2. Take ownership – this frees us to take action and drive results.
  3. Own the problem and take action – this helps both ourselves and others; we create a virtuous cycle by providing the necessary avatar for others, and help to unblock their blockages.

So what are you going to do and how will you help your people – your reports, your peers and your bosses? The responsibility for this lies with you.

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Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

How to Assess Potential High-Flyers

How to determine and assess future leaders, and where and how to focus your efforts in their development.

You are looking to develop future leaders for your business. How can you do this so that you can consistently evaluate them across the board? What is more important when you evaluate them – their past performance or their future potential? It isn’t an either/or question. You need to understand both their past performance, and to identify their future potential. This is where the Performance/Potential Matrix comes to hand.

Performance/Potential Matrix Overview

This consists of a 3×3 matrix contrasting the two elements:

  • Performance – this is the extent to which the person achieved their objectives (“the What”) and the extent to which they demonstrated the appropriate leadership behaviors. (“the How”).
  • Potential – this is a person’s capacity to be a top performer in a more senior role.

By assessing where an individual sits on each of these two axes you are able to determine two factors:

  • Where they currently sit as you and/or others perceive each individual;
  • With whom to focus your efforts and where (performance and/or potential)

An example of how each of the 9 grids can be labelled is shown below. In doing this the matrix provides a simple and effective tool by which to calibrate criteria and expectations, and acts as a diagnostic tool for development. As such its real value is in being a catalyst for robust dialogue and it facilitates shared ownership rather than one person’s opinion.

Headings

  • Red Headings – people in these grids are likely not to be retained
  • Grey Headings – these people are unlikely to progress futher, but given their level of performance may be best suited in develping further in their existing field
  • Yellow Headings – these people may develop further, but need attention and resources to help them develop. If they do not develop further, or sufficiently, they may slip into a red or grey box.
  • Green Headings – people with real potential who should be in the firs tier for leadership development.

Common Pitfalls to Using the Performance-Potential Matrix

  • Misunderstanding high-potentials – there are misconceptions about the term “high- potential.” People use the term to talk about all top talent, as opposed to talent with the potential to become leaders. It can be difficult for managers to assess “promotability”. Often most managers are subconsciously thinking, ‘Do they remind me of me?’ “
  • Using the tool for individual assessment. – the matrix is not designed for individual assessment, you need to be able to compare different people. Without comparison, it enables neither valid assessment nor career decisions about an individual.
  • Expecting too much. – the matrix is only one tool. You need to ensure that you use other mechanism with more data e.g. 360-degree reviews.
  • Using quotas for each box don’t try to allocate people by quote, you need to reach a common understanding and agreement where each person should be realistically placed.
  • Failing to include change management – when using it you need to engage peope so they understand it and buy-in to the approach and understand what the benefits are for employees and the organization.
  • Overcomplicating the process – don’t try to make the matrix more complex, the effort will usually not add significant insight or value.
  • Failing to differentiate between employees – once you have identified the stars and top performers, you need to direct resources towards developing them—higher salaries, plum work assignments, mentorships with executives, exceptional training opportunities and coveted job rotations—to retain them and develop their talent.

Benefits of the Performance-Potential Matrix

  • It allows managers to use the matrix to assess their people and calibrate them between the leaders.
  • Assists in the creation of meaningful, accountable development plans.
  • Allows you to aggregate relative comparisons between talent.
  • Stimulates discussion and constructive debate, and creating a shared and common understanding.
  • The accuracy of assessing performance and potential improves with multiple perspectives. Managers often have blind spots with their own employees, and are

unaware of how they are perceived by others. These discussions can help shine a light on superstars and poor performers.

  • Creates collective responsibility for the team in building a stronger organization. It encourages everyone to be candid, to listen to each other, and to develop each other’s employees.
  • It uncovers both individual and organizational strengths and weaknesses. As such the matrix serves as a needs assessment for development actions that need to be taken
  • Helps managers and leaders to assess potential which they normally struggle to do.

Next Steps

Work with your peers and use this tool to review your employees to identify your prospective leaders. Try looking at the people by yourself, then share your ideas, insights and reasonings with your peers to create insights, ideas and a common perspective. Use this to stimulate debate, and look to use other tools and means by which to identify the prospective leaders.

To view or download a PDF version of this blog click here.

Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

If you found this article of use or interest please don’t hesitate to share it with others.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

How to Motivate Your Team More Effectively

A different approach that produced results

Do you struggle to motivate your team? Could your team be more productive and more effective? Do you have people who are not performing to their potential? If so, then you are not alone. Like many other leaders, great and small, you are making the same mistake: assuming that the answer to these questions lies with others (your team), when in fact it lies with you (the leader).

The problem is that our normal reaction is to see this as a problem. Firstly, the way we are biologically geared to think is that we look out for potential threats and to move away from them strongly. At the same time, we are less prone to looking for the rewards or upside, and we are also naturally less likely to move towards them.

This underpins our natural tendency to be loss-averse – we would rather avoid a loss than making an equivalent gain.

Secondly, the problem is that we tend to judge ourselves by our actions and to judge others by their behavior. So, if the team is not performing we attribute the poor performance to their behavior and attitude.

Thirdly, what you focus on expands – this is important as it affects your confidence, and confidence is the number one variable affecting a person’s performance. Think about it – if a person focuses on her shortcomings, her confidence will naturally be low. Whereas if she can get herself more focused on what she is doing well, her confidence will improve, thus leading to increased ability and potential on other tasks and activities. People with high confidence are much more coachable, and they make improvements much more efficiently.

Let me share a story about a sales manager; let’s call him David, who lead a team of ten salespeople.  He was suffering a two-pronged problem: firstly, he was struggling to find ways to motivate his team and, secondly, he was receiving complaints that he wasn’t recognizing his team’s contribution (both on an individual and a collective basis) to the company.

When asked how often he was recognizing things that the individuals on his team were doing well, he responded, “Whenever they do something well, I give them positive feedback. The problem is that they don’t often do what I need them to do.” He went on to say, “If they were performing better, I would recognize it. There are still so many problems with the way they are doing things.”

Obviously there is a disconnect between the expectations of David and his team. His team feels they should be recognized more, and David feels they should be doing more to earn the recognition. The reality is that both sides are probably correct. Being correct in this situation, unfortunately, does nothing for the productivity of the team.

David is reacting like any normal, rational human by expecting that his team actually do great work to be recognized for doing great work. The problem is that promoting the maximum effectiveness of his team requires him to think abnormally. Expectancy theory states, that which you focus on expands. If David continues to do what is normal and focus on the negative, there will be more negative. However, if he can re-focus himself and his team onto what is being done well, the positive will expand.

Expectancy theory is powerful because of the role it plays on confidence. Research confirms that confidence is the number one variable affecting a person’s performance. Think about it – if a person allows his mind to focus on the shortcomings, confidence will naturally be low. Whereas if he can get himself more focused on what he is doing well, confidence will improve, thus leading to increased ability and potential on other tasks and activities. People with high confidence are much more coachable, and they make improvements much more efficiently.

“Normal” Thought Processes

People have a problem-centric approach, which is we tend to recognize the problems in a situation first. Again, this is the normal course of thought for people. When faced with good and bad aspects of a situation, the bad aspects stand out like a sore thumb, while the good are harder to identify. This comes in handy when we need to identify the speeding car plowing through a red light or the bear running at us through the trees, but when it comes to leadership, this norm can be devastating to a team’s productivity.

David sees his team as having a lot of work to do to earn more recognition. He sees where they are falling short, which, in his mind, does not warrant much positive feedback. In his mind, the focus of his team needs to be on where they should be making improvements. He naturally sees and focuses on what is not working well.

“Abnormal” Thought Processes

With David, he started making a conscious effort to recognize at least one “done-well” for a member of his team every day. Instead of waiting for something to stand out to him, he would need to put in the effort to look for it in order to reach his daily quota. At first he was reluctant because he felt that he would be “celebrating mediocrity,” but what he found was that his team started to gradually perform better and better. Eventually, they were doing things that David actually found worthy of recognizing. It became easier for him to find things to celebrate.

Set a reminder either in your phone or in your calendar to recognize one “done-well” per day. It is important to schedule these recognitions because, again, they will not come naturally to you. It is abnormal to have a constant radar for “what is working well” because your radar is naturally set to “what is not working well.” It will take conscious effort to overcome this tendency. Your team will feel valued, and their work will start to reflect this.

A focus on what people are doing well results in people doing even more things well. This is a snowball effect that great leaders absolutely use to their advantage.

We grow best by building on our strengths, not by constantly trying to correct our “weaknesses.” That’s the essence of positive psychology. Yet the overwhelming feedback we receive – even when solicited – is about correcting some failing. Often we take the feedback to heart, and we spend a lot of time and effort trying to figure where we went wrong. But should we? Do you really have a problem?

So what can we learn from this?  There are three things.  Firstly, good performance by a leader requires good performance by the team; however, the reverse – good team performance means you have a good leader – is not necessarily true.Secondly, a leader cannot motivate anyone else but himself or herself. All the leader can do is create an environment in which people can easily motivate and align themselves in achieving the goals. Finally, the more time we spend trying to get our team to “correct” what we deem inadequate, the less time they have to invest in exploiting their own significant potential.

To view or download a PDF version of this blog click here.

Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

If you found this article of use or interest please don’t hesitate to share it with others.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

3 Tips for Being an Effective Leader

Here are three tips to help you succeed.

  1. Understand what your customers REALLY want going ahead

When planning for how you will evolve your products and services start by sitting down with your best customers and asking them these two questions:

  • “What are the key challenges (good and bad) you will face in the next 12 months?”
  • “If you had a magic want and no limitations, what could we do differently to improve our service to you in the next 12 months?”

The key to discovering the REAL opportunities for your business is to hear their challenges / ideas and translate that into how you can help. What can you add to your service offering that can help them? Sounds simple and it is! Why not grab a lunch or coffee with your top 5 customers prior to year’s end and ask each of them the above questions, you have nothing to lose.

2. Boost your accountability levels
A critical element to strategy implementation is accountability. Great strategies are developed during a planning weekend (or day), and include one page plans for implementation. However when there is no accountability loop, even after all that great work, you tent to find after 1-2 months things have ground to a halt as day-to-day issues get in the way. Building in as a ‘habit’ a two-week accountability loop with key team members for key strategies will ensure it happens as barriers can be discussed and addressed quickly. Making these accountability meetings short and sharp (maximum 30 minutes) every 2 weeks will ensure only strategic issues are discussed and addressed. If you operate by yourself find a coach or a peer you trust and use them for your accountability loop, you will notice the difference quickly.

3. Focus on the outcomes, not the inputs
To ensure that you are not only delivering but exceeding your customers’ expectations, ensure that you know and understand what the outcomes are that they are looking to realise from engaging with you.  Customers are not interested in what you do, rather they are interested in what you help them achieve.  They want results, not deliverables (although deliverables may form part of the output, it is not the reason in itself).  To ensure that you are working on those things that are of importance to the customer make sure you know the outcomes they are looking for, the metrics which you will use to ascertain progress, and what it means to them if they realise the desired outcomes.

What has worked or not worked for you? Share your knowledge, share the wealth!

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Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

Why you need self-confidence, simplicity and speed in business

Why you need self-confidence, simplicity and speed in business

Many businesses, as they grow, develop a bureaucracy. This makes it hard for the business to adapt to the accelerating changes we are experiencing. As Professor Gary Hamel said:

“Today, the most important question for any organisation is this: are we changing as fast as the world around us?”

In the current environment if we do not grow then we do not stagnate, we atrophy. Jack Welch, while he was the Chairman and CEO of General Electric (1981-2001), developed the Three S’s.  According to Welch, the Three S’s are interrelated and mutually supportive and, as such, are a prescription for winning in business.

The Three S’s are:

  1. Self-Confidence. Always believe in yourself.  Embrace change before you have to.  Take consistent action.  You develop self-confidence by gaining experience and winning multiple times.
  2. Simplicity.Reduce things to their simplest level; not simplistic, but simplified.  When communication is clear, it travels faster.  Use clear communication to empower others.  You cannot have simplicity without self-confidence.
  3. Speed.When communication is clear, direct language causes action and decisions to happen faster.  Speed is a competitive advantage.  You cannot have speed without simplicity.

Bureaucracy fosters formality, which slows business down and creates complexity. This makes it harder for your business to change as fast as the world around you. Here you risk becoming irrelevant in business and out-performed by your competitors. So focus on the three Ss and build your self-confidence, develop simplicity and increase your speed.