4 Questions for Debriefing and Learning

Four key questions by which to learn from your experiences!

We often get so involved in doing the work, that we rarely make the time to review how we are doing in a structured and creative manner that allows us to extend our curiosity into what has happened, and to learn why. In short, we rarely take the time to debrief and when we do so, we generally do it poorly.

Debriefings can help you accelerate projects, innovate new approaches to problems, and hit difficult objectives. More than a casual conversation about what did and didn’t work, a debriefing digs into why things happened.

“Two things are infinite; the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe” – ALBERT EINSTEIN

A debrief should review four key questions:

1.What were we trying to accomplish? Start by restating the objectives you were trying to achieve.

2.Where did we hit (or miss) our objectives? Review your results, and ensure the group is aligned and has a shared understanding of what has happened.

3. What caused our results? This should go deeper than obvious, first-level answers. You need to go beyond the symptoms and get to the underlying causes of your results. A good way to do this is to use the Five Whys Tool.  Here you take the first-level result, and ask “Why did we achieve this result?” This exposes a second-level item. Ask the same question again. You normally do not need to ask this question more than five times.

Example:

Results:  Sales down by 25% compared to the same time last year.

Why? #1 – Because the market is more competitive.

Why is the market more competitive?

Why? #2 – Customer demand for our products is down

Why has customer demand reduced?

Why? #3 – The market price has come down and we are charging a high price.

Why are we unable to sell our quality products for a higher price?

Why? #4 – Because the sales force lacks the skills to sell the value of our product.

Why is the Salesforce unable to sell on value?

Why? #5 – Because we don’t hire the right people with these skills, or develop these skills in our existing sale team.

Solution: to address the fall in sales we need to train, equip and incentivize our sales people to sell on value, not on price.

1. What should we start, stop, or continue doing? Given the root causes uncovered, what should we do next, now that we know what we know?

Debriefing provides you and your team with a structured learning process that allows you to continuously evolve plans while they’re being executed in the light of your experience and results.  This helps you to learn quickly in rapidly changing situations and to address mistakes or changes quickly and effectively.

Remember, no plan goes to plan – never. We need to learn to adapt, and we need to adapt to survive, and we need to survive if we are to thrive.  Debriefing is an ongoing process that needs to be built in as a core part of your work, not something that is ancillary to it.

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.

5 Tips in Changing Your Mindset About Profit

 

Future Profit

A recently published book, Understanding Michael Porter: The essential guide to competition and strategy (Magretta, 2012), compiles and applies the work of management guru, Michael Porter.   Full of useful insights, here are five pearls of wisdom that can, if applied, create a more robust, more profitable and sustainable business.

Tip 1: “Strategy explains how an organization, faced with competition, will achieve superior performance. The definition is deceptively simple”

Performance is not about your competition, it is about achieving superior performance, every day, regardless of what is happening with your competitors or markets.

Tip 2: “Competitive advantage is not about beating rivals; it’s about creating unique value for customers. If you have a competitive advantage, it will show up on your P & L”

To create unique value is not about you beating your competitors, it is about you delivering (through superior performance) the unique value by focusing on your customers’ needs.

Tip 3: “Strategic competition means choosing a path different from that of others”

If you accept that the competitive goal is superior performance, then it makes sense to achieve that performance using methods different to the competitors. You have to be able to differentiate yourself not only in the customer’s eyes, but in how you achieve that differentiation – in how you deliver value to the customer.

Tip 4: “The value proposition is the element of strategy that looks outward at customers, at the demand side of the business. The value chain focuses internally on operations. Strategy is fundamentally integrative, bringing the demand and supply sides together”

Strategy is about achieving a position.  Here it is to achieve superior performance whilst delivering superior value to the customer.  You need to be able to focus on how you will drive that superior performance, and what this means in terms of superior customer value.  In this you need to continuously improve the efficiency of your internal operations.

Tip 5: “There is no honor in size or growth if those are profitless. Competition is about profit, not market share”

This tip serves as a reminder that we need to be the most profitable, not the biggest in top-line revenue or head-count.

Consider these five tips in context of your own organization. What should you do to meet the requirements of all five? Is your current strategy going to work for you in the coming next few years?

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

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3 Factors for Building Resilience

How to assess and develop your organization’s resilience.

Resilience

*by Andrew Cooke, Growth & Profit Solutions

Resilience – a word more often abused than used correctly.  Resilience often is used to describe strength.   Although strength is implied in resilience, it is actually not a trait (a distinguishing quality) – rather it is a capability, something that can be used.

There are two definitions for resilience that can be used here:

  • “the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress”
  • “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change”

The Three Factors of Resilience

Resilience relies on three factors:

  1. Flexibility – how flexible is your business in terms of how it works, how it is structured and how it is organized in producing the same outcome result?
  2. Adaptability – how can you apply what you do and how you do it to produce different outcomes or results.
  3. Learning – how good is your business, at an  individual and corporate level, in learning the lessons from having to adapt or be flexible so that you can avoid repeating them (hard , painful lessons) or you can leverage them in the future (where you have had success) and understanding why you were successful or not.3 Factors for Resiliency - Overview

Flexibility Factors

  • Elasticity – can you easily expand or contract the business in whole or part
  • Alternatives – are there many ways in which you can achieve the same result, or are you locked in to one or only a few ways?
  • Interchangeable – how easy can different building blocks (people, assets, processes) be used in a different sequence and/or configuration to produce the same result or outcome?

Adaptability Factors

  • Reusability – can your core people, processes and assets be used to produce different outcomes and results with little or no difficulty?  For example, a consulting firm can reuse many of its existing people, processes and assets in delivering a new service.  However, the Boeing factory production line can only produce Boeing airplanes – it cannot produce other products without significant changes in people, assets and processes.
  • Speed – how quickly can you move from producing one set of products and outcomes, to produce new products and outcomes?
  • Capacity for Change – how prepared and able are your people to make the necessary changes? 

Learning Factors

  • Measuring – how good are you at being able to quantify or qualify the changes that have occurred, their implications and the associated outcomes?  Are you able to identify where the greatest impact, positive or negative, has been realized?
  • Applying  – can you clearly ascertain as to where the lessons learnt can be applied?  Do you understand what caused the problem and how it was solved, or where and how the opportunity was capitalized on?
  • Anticipating – how good are you at being able to replicate or avoid the lessons learnt?  For example, if you are an engineering consultancy who tried to enter a new market unsuccessfully then can you identify why?  Was it the lack of a local partner?  Cultural differences? Inability to deliver?

These 3 factors apply equally to the individual as to the business.  For real success you need resilience both personally and corporately – if you lack the resilience you may not survive the change, even if the business does.

Resilience is not about just meeting the current challenge, or having met the challenge just past, but it is about putting yourself in a better position for the future – not just going back to your original shape or form before the challenge occurred.  To be resilient you need to be flexible, adaptable and to learn from your experiences.

Two out of Three Ain’t Bad – But It’s Not Enough

So what does it mean if you only have two out of three, let’s see below.

  1. Flexibility & Adaptability – you can meet the challenge in the short- or even mid-term, but your inability to learn from your experience and apply will mean that you will be overtaken by the competition and quickly become irrelevant
  2. Adaptability & Learning – you can diversify into other areas, but you are not at the forefront of your market being weak at delivering in alternative ways.  You are at risk of being out-maneuvered by competitors and being a market follower rather than a leader.
  3. Learning & Flexibility – you are efficient at operating in your particular niche, but you are a one-trick pony, and you are at the whim of industry pressures.  You are more reactive than proactive, and your ability to become diverse, grow and spread the risk is weak.

For each of the 3 factors, and for each of the 3 components for each factor, how do you rate yourself?  Score yourself out of 10 for each component (1= Very Low, 10=Very High), and rate how strong or weak you are in each factor and relatively.

Resilience Worksheet

Which are your strongest and weakest areas?  How can you leverage your strengths to offset your weaker areas and reduce the associated risks and implications?  Are you really as resilient as you thought?

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

Personal SWOT – Creating Strategies for Personal Success

How to create strategies to build the You of the future.

We are all familiar with a SWOT Analysis being used on our business. SWOT  is an acronym for identifying your company’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.  But did you know you can use it on yourself? And that you can use it to generate strategies to help you develop yourself?
There are several steps involved:

1. Identify your Key Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats – have no more than 5 bullet points for each.

2. For each of the intersections ask the following questions:

3. For each intersection develop two or three strategies and write them in the box.

4. From the eight to twelve strategies you have developed select the top three which will have the greatest impact for you and develop an action plan around them. You should produce something like the example in the picture below.

Example of a Personal Strategic SWOT


Top 3 Strategies:

  1. Work with new boss to help him succeed/look good
  2. Learn to be a strong negotiator
  3. Create reciprocity with other areas

Develop your own Personal Strategic SWOT and take action of what you develop for it. Share this with your team and get them to individually develop their own Personal Strategic SWOT.  This will open up the discussion, give you insight to what they are thinking and why, and help to align people, expectations, and performance.

A further freebie: Use this tool for your team – as a group goes through the exercise asking “As a team what do we need to do to be high-performing?”

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.

Engaging & Retaining Staff – Part 5

12 Ways to Engage & Retain Staff, Image (c) People Insight

In the first blog in this series we looked at why employee engagement is so important and provided an overview of Gallup’s findings from its extensive research.  This was summarised in the following 12 ways to engage employees.

In the second blog we examined the first 3 elements in further detail.  This included:

  1. I know what is expected of me at work.
  2. I have the right materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
  3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.

In the third blog we continued looking at the second triad of elements including:

4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.

5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.

6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.

In the fourth blog we looked at the next 3 elements:

7. At work, my opinions seem to count.
8. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.
9. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.

In this blog we look at the final 3 elements:

10. I have a best friend at work.
11. In the last six months, someone has talked to me about my progress.
12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

Tenth Element – A Best Friend at Work

What does it mean?

This element is a strong predictor of performance, describing friendships which are supportive. With people it is human nature that will always win over company policy – so it is important to create, capture and leverage the power of friendships.

What is the evidence?

People look out for their friends; tolerate disagreements better, and are more likely to invite and share candid information, suggestions, and opinions, and to accept them without being threatened.  Gallup research indicates that as trust between employees increases, employee engagement increases, employee performance increases, camaraderie between employees increases, and employee happiness increases when workers report having a best friend on the job.

What should we do?

Best managers encourage friendships in the workplace by creating the conditions under which such relationships thrive.  As such managers need to get to know people in their team both individually and in terms of the dynamics that exist between them.  This then allows managers to put together people who probably could communicate, first of all, but secondly be or become friends.  To achieve this there needs to be good communication between all people, and objective criteria for the team.

Eleventh Element – Talking About Progress               

What does it mean?

Here the manager provides regular, insightful, and personal feedback to staff on both a formal and informal basis.

What is the evidence?

Staff need a clear picture or mirror of how they are performing to avoid the “Double Curse” where people ether over- or under-estimate their abilities in the following ways:

  • Self-analysis on performance is poor – people to tend to overestimate how they have done.  They lack the skill or knowledge to estimate properly – a form of unconscious incompetence.
  • Also undue modesty – people who do well know they have done well, but do not know their accomplishment is unique.  They tend to err in their estimates of others – consistently overestimating how well people do on the same test etc.

Gallup research indicates employees are more likely to believe they are compensated fairly when their manager gives them regular performance reviews. Additionally, employees who receive regular performance reviews tend to stay with the company longer and are twice as likely to tell others that their company is a great place to work.

What should we do?

Firstly, understand that the type of information that motivates a given employee, and realise that it may be different from the types that motivate others or the way that you yourself prefer.  When appraising performance for it to be effective it must be tailored for specific tasks, occupations and even personalities.

Focus on people’s strengths to stop them becoming actively disengaged, but provide constructive feedback on their weaknesses.  The appraisals are more meaningful, and perceived as more objective by staff, if they are held on a regular basis and the feedback is about relatively recent things.

Informal and on-going feedback is also important.  When discussing things with people get them to think what the options might be, don’t give them the answer right away.

A key question to ask yourself as a manager is “What can I do to improve, to coach, the person, to help him, to teach him?

Twelfth Element – Opportunities to Learn & Grow

What does it mean?

When employees feel they are learning and growing they work harder and more efficiently – this has a particular strong connection to customer engagement and profitability.

The importance of learning and growing is best appreciated when they are not there.  A lack causes frustration, and dissatisfaction as their enjoyment of work is lessened with no meaningful new challenges causes them to languish professionally and personally.

What is the evidence?

People perform when they are working toward specific difficult-to-attain targets rather than told to “do your best”.  These stretch goals are psychologically invigorating and good for business.  We need to look at the accomplishment not just in absolute terms, but also relative to what might have been and how people construe the results – especially the individual himself.

What should we do?

To match a worker with the right opportunities you need to have a deep understanding of the individual’s strengths and hopes for the future.  You need to have regular and meaningful conversations with them to develop this.

Summary
Employee engagement is crucial to retain key employees, to raising productivity and enabling the business to grow profitably.  If you don’t engage employees the best will leave, and those who are disengaged will quit and stay!
How good are you at using these 12 ways in an effective way:
Which of these 3 elements have you used and to what effect?  If you were to rank them which would you use first?  Would you use them with everyone, some of them or with no-one? What are you favourite ways or preferred ways to engage employees?
Until then share your thoughts and ideas here, and feel free to share this blog and articles with any colleagues, clients or friends you feel may find this of value. If you have any particular areas of interest you would like article on then please let me know.
Share your ideas, and share the wealth!
Share

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

Engaging & Retaining Staff – Part 4

 

12 Ways to Engage & Retain Staff, Image (c) People Insight

In the first blog in this series we looked at why employee engagement is so important and provided an overview of Gallup’s findings from its extensive research.  This was summarised in the following 12 ways to engage employees.

In the second blog we examined the first 3 elements in further detail.  This included:

  1. I know what is expected of me at work.
  2. I have the right materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
  3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.

In the third blog we continued looking at the second triad of elements including:

4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.

5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.

6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.

In this blog we look at the next 3 elements:

7. At work, my opinions seem to count.
8. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.
9. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.

Seventh Element – My Opinion Seems to CountWhat does it mean?

Great managers are receptive to hearing ideas and opinions from their direct reports.  There is the need to understand the dynamics of a diverse group of people who are working together to avoid turf wars etc.  Managers and staff need to know and respect each others’ roles.

What is the evidence?

About 50% of employees who say their company is receptive to hearing their opinions report they are able to deliver very creative ideas while on the job.  Gallup studies reveal when employee-generated ideas are accepted and implemented, the commitment level to executing these ideas from employees is higher than normal.

What should we do?

  1. Be genuine and authentic with people, make them feel important and that they count
  2. Every system depends on the motivation of the people who run it; as such motivation requires people to strongly agree that “At my work, my opinions seem to count”.
  3. Make people feel that their opinions count,  this helps them to bring out more creative ideas and a higher level of engagement. As such it has a substantial impact on customer experience, productivity, employee retention and safety which collectively improve profitability.
  4. Incorporating employees’ ideas has 2 benefits: firstly, often the ideas are good; and secondly, it makes it more likely that the employees will be committed to its execution.

Approaches for developing this include:

  • Regular meetings with ground rules including one speaker at a time, no blaming, speak in headlines, give constructive feedback and “to directly address the issue.
  • Role plays – especially between positions where there are difficulties or tensions, with people playing the others roles.
  • Developing plans around how to work together, and what specifically you are going to do in terms of combined roles, communication and expectations.

Eighth Element – A Connection with the Mission of the Company

What does it mean?

Great managers are able to connect their direct reports to the mission of the company resulting in employees feeling their job is important.

This is about having an emotional connection with the company.  People need to have meaning and purpose, they want to understand how they fit into and contribute to the grand scheme of things.  This gives them a sense of purpose and belonging.

For example, Kodak positioned itself not as a seller of film, but a capturer of memories.  This focuses on the emotional outcomes of what they do, rather than the rational tasks of their work.

The more people agree with this statement is predictive of its performance on a wide array of measures

What is the evidence?

Project teams that are mission-driven report 15-to-30% lower turnover rates. According to Gallup research, trust-level in the decisions of upper-manager increases, less on-the-job conflict happens, and greater commitments to getting the job done occurs when employees feel a direct connection exists between their job and the mission of the company.

What should we do?

There are 3 “lenses” through which an individual can filter the world and define for himself or herself whether the work contributes to the quality of their life or not.  It is not the work that defines the individual.  The 3 “lenses” or categories include:

  • Work is a job; a necessary inconvenience and way of earning money with which they can achieve personal goals and enjoy themselves outside of work. They are the least engaged.
  • Work as a career; they enjoy the increased pay, prestige and status that comes as they work their way up the corporate ladder;
  • Work as a calling; usually associated with the belief that the work contributes to the greater good and makes the world a better place.

We need to be clear on the emotional purpose of the company, and how each individual’s work contributes.  We need to highlight what the values of the company are, and how what they do reinforces those values and contributes to the outcomes.  Having an on-going dialogue about this and making it relevant to what they do helps to strengthen this.

Ninth Element – Coworkers Committed to Doing Quality Work

What does it mean?

Great managers develop engaged staff who are committed and motivated to doing a great job

What is the evidence?

Research shows that 67% of employees fail to strongly agree that their co-workers are committed to doing quality work. As such, if people do “not pull their weight” it can have a negative impact on morale and productivity. For example:

One man pulls at 100%.  If two men are pulling the average man will exert himself at 93%, with four men it is at 75% each.  By the time the eighth man is added, each man is pulling only on average only half what he could.  In fact, 8 men on the rope pull no harder than seven, as the other seven relax enough to subtract whatever the eighth man adds.

So work groups can be 2+2=5, but they also have the capability of 2+2=3!

This can mean that teams with a poor work ethic and poor sense of responsibility, can become a place to hide laziness, push work to other people and to create a culture of blame.

What should we do?

We need to distinguish whether the lack of performance is about a lack of aptitude (i.e. they lack the relevant skills) or a lack of attitude (they lack the right behaviours).  You can only train people for aptitude; you can never do this for attitude.  Your three options are to Terminate, Transfer or Train.

Which of these 3 elements have you used and to what effect?  If you were to rank them which would you use first?  Would you use them with everyone, some of them or with no-one?

Share your ideas, and share the wealth.

In the next and final blog we look at the final three elements including:

10. I have a best friend at work.
11. In the last six months, someone has talked to me about my progress.
12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

Until then share your thoughts and ideas here, and feel free to share this blog and articles with any colleagues, clients or friends you feel may find this of value.

Share

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