3 Ways to Help Change the Perceptions of Others

Perceptions of Business Growth – What is REALLY happening?

by  Andrew Cooke, Growth & Profit Solutions

Is your business growing or not? Do you share the same view as your staff, your manager or your leaders?  How do you know if you do?  This article highlights the differences that exist, examines why they exist, and suggests ways to create a common understanding of the business’ growth potential and opportunity.

ImageA recent Australian study by Leadership Management Australia (June 2012) of over 2000 participants including Leaders, Managers and Non-Managerial Employees highlighted a major problem and disconnect facing business.  The perception as to whether their businesses were growing or not.

The Non-Managerial Employees firmly believed that their businesses were growing (71%) whereas Leaders and Managers have a considerably different outlook – with the belief that growth is declining. Only 47% of Leaders perceived their businesses as growing and 45% of Managers.  So what does this mean for business in dealing with the future?

An individual’s perception of a situation is their reality, no matter what you think.  It is how they ascribe meaning to a situation and is based on their beliefs, feelings, ideas and experience.  As such we are looking at how to overcome a clear difference of opinion and belief. Failure to do so can cause major problems between these groups.

So what can we do?

Firstly, the differences may be due to the time-scale that the respective groups look at the work of the business – employees focusing more on the immediate and short-term, managers for the mid- and short-term, and leaders for the mid- and long-term.  The longer the time-scale that you are working to the greater the level of uncertainty that you need to incorporate into your forecasts and plans.  We need to understand this.

Uncertainty comes from a variety of sources.  Externally to Australia there is growing uncertainty in relation to economic, environmental and even political conditions in a number of countries, whose ripples are being felt on Australia’s shores.  Within Australia there are internal uncertainties including the carbon tax and the mining tax which is exacerbated by a government suffering in the polls.

Secondly, employees need to understand the perspective of managers and leaders.  To do this the leaders and managers need to clearly and consistently communicate what the issues, opportunities and risks are and in doing so create trust.

Trust creates high-performing organisations (HPOs) and helps the business to achieve high revenues, profits and market share than low-performing organisations where trust is low.  These HPOs are also more effective at accomplishing their goals in critical areas including customer loyalty and retention; achieving predictable results; business agility and practicing innovation and creativity.

Thirdly, the business needs to actively engage employees in coping and dealing with these changes and engendering trust.  Key to this is establishing clear priorities and being able to cascade them to people so that they are meaningful, relevant and measurable; and building these priorities into their work creates alignment, traction and results.

To enable the business to grow requires more than leadership and good management.  It requires good communication, developing trust across and throughout the business, and the establishment of a commonly shared and understood perception of the business and its future growth. Creating this enables the business, holistically and at all levels, to engage proactively and develop opportunities and options for business growth.

Do you know how perceptions vary across your business and why?  What perception do you want to create for your business and how will you do it?  Share your ideas, experiences and examples of what has worked and what has not – ask your questions and let’s see what answers we can come up with.

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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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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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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.

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.

Using the Leadership Grid to be an Adaptive Leader

The Trials of Leadership Styles

by Andrew Cooke, Growth & Profit Solutions

Adapting your leadership style for effective results – balancing task- and people-oriented leadership.

Leadership Styles

When organizing a company meeting what do you, or the individual you have delegated to, do first?  Do you develop the timeline and associated task, or do you consider who would prefer to do what and then try to develop an approach and schedule around their needs?  And how do you respond if you fall behind schedule – do you focus on the tasks or the people?

How you answer the above can reveal your preferred personal leadership style, these can be:

  • Task-oriented – you focus on getting things done, you are more production or task-focused;
  • People-oriented – you want to people to be happy, you are more people-focused;
  • A blend of both.

Neither preference is right or wrong, just as no one type of leadership style is best for all situations. However, it’s useful to understand what your natural leadership tendencies are, so that you can then begin working on developing skills that you or your reports may be missing.

Understanding the Leadership Grid

The Leadership Grid is based on two behavioural dimensions:

  • Concern for People – this is the degree to which a leader considers the needs of team members, their interests, and areas of personal development when deciding how best to accomplish a task.
  • Concern for Production – this is the degree to which a leader emphasizes concrete objectives, organizational efficiency and high productivity when deciding how best to accomplish a task.

In the Leadership Grip below there are five leadership styles.

  Leadership Grid 2a

The Leadership Grid highlights how placing too much emphasis in one area at the expense of the other leads to low overall productivity.  However, when both people and production concerns are high, employee engagement and productivity increases accordingly.

The Five Leadership Styles

Impoverished Leadership – Low Production/Low People (A)

This leader is mostly ineffective. He/she has neither a high regard for creating systems for getting the job done, nor for creating a work environment that is satisfying and motivating. Often typified by a delegate-and-disappear management style, the leader of manger shows a low concern for both people and production. He (or she) avoids getting into trouble. His main concern is not to be held responsible for any mistakes. Managers use this style to preserve job and job seniority, protecting themselves by avoiding getting into trouble. The result is a place of disorganization, dissatisfaction and disharmony.

Produce or Perish Leadership – High Production/Low People (B)

Also known as authoritarian or compliance leaders, people in this category believe that employees are simply a means to an end. Employee needs are always secondary to the need for efficient and productive workplaces. There is little or no allowance for cooperation or collaboration. This type of leader is very autocratic, has strict work rules, policies, and procedures, and views punishment as the most effective means to motivate employees.  Although results may be achieved in the short-term it is not sustainable in the long-term as employees become disengaged and employee turnover increases.

Middle-of-the-Road Leadership – Medium Production/Medium People (C)

This style seems to be a balance of the two competing concerns. It may at first appear to be an ideal compromise. Therein lies the problem: when you compromise, you necessarily give away a bit of each concern so that neither production nor people needs are fully met. Leaders who use this style settle for average performance and often believe that this is the most anyone can expect.

Country Club Leadership – High People/Low Production (D)

This style of leader is most concerned about the needs and feelings of members of his/her team. These people operate under the assumption that as long as team members are happy and secure then they will work hard. The leader or manager is almost incapable of employing the more punitive, coercive and legitimate powers fearing that using such powers could jeopardize relationships with the other team members. The organization will end up with a friendly atmosphere, but not necessarily very productive due to a lack of direction and control.

Team Leadership – High Production/High People (E)

This is the pinnacle of leadership style. These leaders stress production needs and the needs of the people equally highly. The premise here is that employees are involved in understanding organizational purpose and determining production needs. When employees are committed to, and have a stake in the organization’s success, their needs and production needs coincide. This creates a team environment based on trust and respect, which leads to high satisfaction and motivation and, as a result, high production.

Applying the Leadership Grid

1.      Identify the Current Leadership Style

What is your current leadership style?  Review past and current situations where you have been the leader.  For each situation mark your position on the matrix.  What themes or trends can you identify?  Why have you put yourself there?  What was the outcome for using that style? Use the template below to assess yourself.

2.      Identify areas of improvement and develop your leadership skills?

Are you more task-focused or people-focused?  How effective are the leadership styles you are using?  Are you in the middle-of-the-road?  If so, do you need to operate outside your comfort zone?  Are you too task-focused?  If so, what people skills do you need to develop?  Are you too people-focused?  If so, what do you need to do develop task-related skills?

Leadership Grid

3.      Monitor, Review and Solicit Feedback

Get others to assist you in this and to share their perspective and reasoning in a constructive manner.  This is an on-going process, not a one-off event.

Summary

Being aware of the various approaches is the first step in understanding and improving how well you or your reports perform as a leader or manager. It can also help you to anticipate how you lead can impact the level of employee engagement either positively or negatively.

At different times and for different situations you will find that you will adapt your leadership style – there is no one style that can be universally applied to produce the results and the people that you want to develop and achieve.  However, the Leadership Grid provides you with a tool by which to assess the alternative styles that are available to you.

Don’t treat the Leadership Grid as the “ultimate truth” – it is only there to provide input for you to consider when trying to determine and understand what is the most effective leadership style for you to use given your situation, the context of the situation (including its seriousness, urgency and whether it will become more acute if left unaddressed), your current skills and capabilities, your experience and your people.

Finally, don’t forget to use this tool with your own reports – a great leader develops his or her people.

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