If it’s not broken, don’t fix it?
Most days I go for a run along the lane at the edge of our village.
It’s a lovely route, marred only by the litter I find along the way. Once someone even left a fridge freezer in the hedge.
Hardly a day goes by when I don’t pick up several pieces left by some thoughtless person the previous day (today there were 3). I have an arrangement with a friend who lives up the lane that I can put rubbish in her bins if I find it at that end. I carry the rest back to my end.
Over the summer though, the amount of litter was substantially reduced. My run became more pleasant. I spent less time filling my friend’s bin.
Then, one bright morning, I realised why. The grass had been cut short and now I could see all the litter again. Here are just a few items.
Are you aware of the hidden problems in your department or company?
The answer is probably “No”. That’s the trouble with hidden problems; you don’t see them. You only realise they are there when they come to light accidentally. Then, on investigation, you usually find there are lots more and it may be too late.
What can you do?
Always be vigilant. It’s like checking your bank statement every now and then. It may be you are one of those who does check your bank statement religiously, but most people don’t. Until something goes horribly wrong. Like their bankcard being refused at the till.
Automate it the feedback
You need to set up systems that will automatically give you feedback, check what’s going on and will let you know if everything it working as it should or there are problems. One of my clients used place an order for his products to be sent to a friend or relative via the mail delivery service every now and then.
Mostly everything was fine. The factory was very efficient and output was steadily increasing. Then one day his son got a delivery that was well below standard. It was poorly labeled and poorly packed. He traced it back to one of his “top performers”.
It transpired she was a “top performer” because she constantly cut corners. She thought she was doing the right thing – mainly because she was told she was a “top performer”, but this was judged purely on speed.
It was the system that was wrong
This was a signal to him not to punish her, but to change the system and ensure that quality was also included in the criteria for being a “top performer”.
Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security just because everything looks fine
Even when things are going well, remember to keep your eye on the right measures. Working out what the measures should be is the difficult bit and deserves your attention. Remember you need to change the measures when the circumstances change, so that you can still be confident in the feedback you are getting and that everything is working as it should do.
One excellent supplier we work with suggests having a diary date for reviewing your checking systems. Every month for some up to every six months for others.
Ensuring that you are getting the right information so that you know when things go off plan is a vital management skill. It also saves you a great deal of time. The more quickly you know there’s a problem, the easier it is to tackle it and get everything back on track.
Where should you start?
As a rule of thumb, start with the customer and the service they are receiving. Then work your way back to the beginning of your process.
Never give up trying to communicate effectively
Have you ever been in one of those situations where you feel the person you are talking to is just a complete idiot?
Join the club.
If you’d like some help dealing with those situations, read on.
Here’s a situation that a client had recently. She had found a way to get new leads for her business at a cost of only 90c each. (Less than £1 if you are here in the UK.) She is also now in the excellent habit of checking costings with her accountant before spending lots of money.
So far she had several hundred new leads from her campaign on Facebook, with the promise of lots more. So she asked the accountant if she could increase the spending on this campaign.
“ABSOLUTELY NOT,” he responded.
She was aghast. These leads were like gold dust to her, and at such a reasonable price. But the accountant was adamant. After what seemed like hours of fruitless argument, she finally asked him what his concerns were.
He told her that this was just a way to spend money, with no return. She then realised that she had information about this that he did not. She had been keeping track online not only of her spend on Facebook, but of new sales she was generating from it. And more importantly, further upsells of higher-priced products above that. But she hadn’t bothered to share these reports with her accountant.
She went back and showed him these reports. This changed everything. Now that he had direct proof that the Facebook investment had already been profitable, the accountant was happy for her to spend more money on it.
As she later shared with me, any marketing person would be over the moon with getting new leads for just 90c each. It’s a bargain. What she had failed to realise was that her accountant did not know they could then sell more products to these people and that she had a plan that was already producing revenue, provable on paper.
All he could see was money draining out of the company, with no way of recouping it.
How could this have gone better?
These are both intelligent people who have their company’s best interests at heart. They are both trying to achieve the same thing, so how could they end up in such a heated debate?
By not asking the right questions and not listening to each other.
Here are some questions to ask if you find yourself in a similar situation:
What is your concern?
What is your understanding of the situation?
Then, when you get an answer that indicates the other party is unaware of some key details (e.g. your plan to sell more to the new leads) you ask.
Are you aware of our plan to sell to these people?
Are you aware of the profit we have already made on this investment?
If the answer is “No”, you explain it.
Points to note
- There is much more listening than telling on your part.
- When you are really frustrated with someone, there is almost always some information that you think they know (because it’s so ‘obvious’) that they are completely unaware of.
- You need to assume that the other party is sensible and intelligent and find out what it is they don’t know (or you have neglected to tell them) in a nice, polite way.
Here is the set of beliefs that makes the communication almost impossible in this situation:
General beliefs that don’t help
This is so obvious everyone understands it. There is not need to explain.
Beliefs about accountants that don’t help
Accountants believe entrepreneurs and marketers have no clue or appreciation whatsoever for actual numerical reality,
Beliefs about entrepreneurs and marketers that don’t help
Accountants just count beans; they are there to say we don’t have enough money to do this so you can’t do it.
Start with an assumption that will help you
The assumptions you start with make a real difference. Assume something useful about the person you are talking to. You can always start with what you would like them to assume about you. See what happens. You may be surprised.
How do you know if you are doing a good job as a manager?
How do you measure your performance as a manager?
If you have been reading these blogs for any time at all, you will know that measuring your performance against your objectives is vital. But there are other ways to measure it too.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- How would I know if I were doing a good job?
- What would the evidence be?
- Do I make the lives of my team more or less difficult?
- What would my team tell me to change if I asked them?
These are not the kinds of questions that you can answer quickly, they deserve some thought.
Another quicker way to measure your performance as a manager
This is one of the best tests I think there is.
- What’s it like when you get back from holiday?
- Are the fires raging or is all quiet and under control?
- Are things the same as when you left them or is your department running more smoothly?
Recently one of my clients got back to find things in an even better state than when he had left for his tour of Europe, several weeks earlier. This indicates that he has delegated effectively and his team have developed.
It shows that they understand the objectives and know how to achieve them. It shows that, even though there may have been a few glitches along the way, people are doing a good job.
So how do you get it like that?
Here are a few tips:
- This cannot be achieved in a madcap rush in the last hours before you catch your plane, it is the result of good practice over months
- Make sure everyone has clear objectives and make sure you keep them up to date
- Make sure everyone is capable of getting their own feedback on how they are performing against those objectives so they can keep improving their performance without your input
- Have procedures in place for all the regular tasks
- Make sure it’s clear who is responsible for making decisions in your absence
In fact these are the kinds of things you should be doing anyway, but it’s easy to forget about them when facing your everyday work. It’s just that the holiday is a ‘stress test’ and great way of checking how well you are doing.
Thinking long term
If you follow this path, it’s clear that making sure everything can run without you is a good way to work.
Why are you there if everything works without you?
Ultimately once you’ve stopped all the fire fighting and delegated as much as you can, you have time to work on long term improvements. You can start working on improving standards, quality, output, service and efficiency.
When you do that you are really earning your money.
How do you give feedback to people who don’t want it?
The short answer is, you don’t. What you do is achieve your goal in other ways.
Firstly, what is feedback?
Feedback is just factual information about what you said or did and the consequences of those actions, that enables you to make a decision about what to do next or next time.
So your goal is to ensure that the person who needs the feedback gets that information, not that you personally have to tell them. Here’s how I learned that lesson.
My old boss (who really didn’t like feedback)
Years ago, my old boss was about to make a terrible mistake.
A woman on my night shift had left. She was a disaster area. I couldn’t believe my luck when she handed her notice in. So when she came back a few weeks later saying it had all been a terrible mistake, I did my best not to laugh at the ridiculous nature of her request.
However, my boss, who had a weakness for women in tears, felt differently. He wanted to take her back. The HR Manager couldn’t believe he was planning to take her back so agreed to tell him that the paperwork might take a week in order to give me some time to persuade my boss to change his mind.
After 4 days, I had made no progress at all. In fact, my boss seemed even more entrenched in his completely mistaken views. Then, I was struck by a thought. The output from that team had increased by 50% since Ruby had left. (And she was in a team of just three.)
I knew that, as Manufacturing Director, my boss was very keen on output. His desk was right next to mine. Before he arrived I carefully placed the output sheets overlapping his desk, to look as though they had been left there by accident. I made sure I wasn’t there when he arrived and wondered back to my desk after he’d had a chance to see them. (I had been spying on him, I confess.) “Oh, are those the output figures from last night?” I asked in an off-hand way. “Did they get put on your desk?”
My boss looked at me with embarrassed eyes and somewhat tomato-shaded cheeks. “I’d be a real idiot to take her back, wouldn’t I?” He muttered. “Don’t worry about it, it’s easy to get things like that wrong. I’ll sort it with HR.” I said trying to keep my tone calm and rushed off before he could change his mind.
What I hadn’t realised till that moment was just how much more powerful those sheets were than all my moaning, explaining and reasoning. He was a tough and pig-headed guy. He didn’t much like taking advice. However, like many people, when he got the information in a form that that suited him, he changed his own mind. I didn’t have to do it for him.
Feedback is just information
The important point about feedback is that it is information. So you need to ask yourself what information the individual you are trying to give feedback either needs or has missed. Then find an easy way for him or her to get it.
Once you know how to do this, you will find it makes your life a great deal easier and it’s so much better for everyone else too. Just have a go.
Keys to an ideal performance review
What’s important about how you carry out a performance review or appraisal?
The first time I did one, I had had no training, no preparation and hadn’t even had a review of my own. So I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t really understand what appraisals were for.
Unfortunately many people are still in that position.
What performance reviews and appraisals are for
In my view you carry out a performance review in order to make sure that the individual is in the best possible position to achieve their objectives for the next year.
Once that’s clear, it’s much easier to do a good job.
It’s obvious that individual needs to know what he or she needs to do differently (if anything) in order to achieve those objectives to the required standard.
Key components of an ideal appraisal
Here are the key components that would help you to achieve your objectives during the following year. You may notice that no all of them take place during the performance review itself.
Unless you know what you need to achieve it’s had to get it right. You need the objectives for the previous year and for the next one.
Feedback all through the year
This is vital. You need to get feedback that is factual, accurate and comes as soon after your actions as possible. This enables you to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t work, which then leads to excellent performance.
It is extremely useful in an appraisal to have examples of what you have done that has been effective, and what needs improvement. This makes it much easier to discuss.
You should leave your appraisal with a clear plan of what you need to do differently over the following year so that you can achieve your objectives and meet the required standards. This could include training, getting more experience, improving certain skills, talking to colleagues and any number of other options.
Some systems include a rating for the performance during the previous year. I think that should be discussed all through the year. You should know what rating your performance, as it stands currently, would score.
Unfortunately many systems do not work like this. Some almost seem to be a lottery. I have clients who have even been told: “You can’t have a rating of ‘Excellent’ this year, because you got that last year.” Some systems focus entirely on the past performance. I think there are much more effective ways to do it.
The real value
But if you have to do it that way, make sure your approach focuses on how you need things to be in future and enabling the individual to get it right next time. That’s where you will get the real value.