The Management Blog
Tips & advice to help you improve your performance
Personal and professional development is one of the most valuable uses of your time in your career as a manager.
It’s only by growing and developing your skills within your current role that you convince others you are worthy of investing in for the future.
So, how much time do you devote to the development of your skills, knowledge and talents?
And how regular and consistent are you in carrying it out?
Top managers recognise the need to expand their knowledge about their industry and products regularly.
Zig Ziglar says that “Just 15 minutes a day reading books would enable the average reader to complete 15 books each year.“
But there’s so much development material out there, you have to be selective.
First, set aside quality time for this.
It’s your career we’re talking about, so it’s worthwhile spending time solely devoted to this important task.
A regularly-planned short period is better than leaving it for a large chunk of time once in a while.
Then, be selective in what you choose to read.
Determine the areas where you must keep up-to-date, and select only those magazines, journals, books and websites that currently serve your particular areas of need.
When you find an article of interest, especially if it’s in a journal or magazine, take a copy of it or rip it out and put it in your reading file.
A fabulous piece buried in a thick magazine will stay buried unless you make a conscious effort to make it more visible.
Consider joining your local Institute of Management library, and taking advantage of the wealth of material available there.
When you’ve spent some time reading, reflect on how you can use this new knowledge in your job and company. Is there something you can immediately apply?
Can you share this knowledge with someone else?
Is there someone in the organisation who would value this information as much as you?
Spend your commuting time reading or listening to new material that will improve your value to the company.
Just 30 minutes listening to a development CD in the car or on your mp3 player on the train each day will give you over 100 hours of learning each year.
That’s the equivalent of attending over 14 days’ training each year!
Try asking your boss for that much time off to develop your skills! Yet you can easily do it in dead-time on the daily commute.
JJ McCarthy said that an organisation’s continued progress will partly be based on managers’ ability to increase their knowledge and skills and to keep pace with progress and change – through professional literature.
So, lead by example in this.
Set the pace for change in your organisation by keeping up to date with reading material that will set you apart from others.
Then you will improve your value as a manager, now and in the future.
Sean McPheat Managing Director
So, the World Cup is over, and most people would say the best team won the final. Whatever your viewpoint, we can see from the amount of interest in the finals over the last month that many people follow it all with a passion. As managers, is there anything we can learn from the World Cup that can be applied in our workplaces?
Well, here are a few ideas:
1) Situational leadership will always win through: Managing a team in the World Cup is like leading a short-term project, run by remote teams in a matrix format, not having worked that much with each other before. The roles and responsibilities need to be aligned, and the strengths and skills have to be utilised in the best way.
This obviously didn’t happen with all teams in the tournament. Even Spain didn’t have the best players in all positions, but the spine of the team was skilled and talented enough to compensate for any weaknesses the opposition might expose.
Spain stuck to their game plan, even after they lost their very first game of the tournament. There were no panic buttons pressed, as they knew their strengths would win through.
So, analyse the situation before you make decisions about change and sticking to the game-plan might be more effective than making change for change sake.
2) Variety and adaptability creates winning formulae: This sounds contrary to point 1, but stick with me. If you only have Plan A and no plan B (did I hear someone mention England?) it will only work if you are sure and have proof that this plan is the most effective. If not, and the results will bear you out, you have to have some kind of varied and proactive plan of action to change the situation. Without it, you are stuck up the creek without the proverbial paddle.
3) Commitment and belief drives performance: Watching the style that teams played in the tournament proved that the manager has a key influence on how they perform. You can imagine the dressing room before they go out onto the field, and how the manager is convincing them they have the ability, the will and the confidence to go and do the job. Without this belief in the team, any manager will lose respect and, eventually, the passion from the team.
Whatever your feelings toward sport, it’s plain that we can often pick up good analogies that we can use within a management context. Learn from the successes and failures of the World Cup and you can expand your awareness of how teams can be lead in business.
Well done, Spain! The best team won! Probably!
Many companies are telling us that business is growing, albeit marginally, after the challenges of the last couple of years.
How can companies monitor and drive this growth deliberately and proactively, rather than relying on business improving by default?
An interesting model by Larry Greiner, who discussed growth phases that companies go through, should help us clear the fog.
Greiner suggests that organisations go through 6 stages of growth and need appropriate strategies and structures to deal with the changes as they happen.
It also describes the appropriate styles you need to adopt as you go through the stages.
Firstly, there’s growth through creativity.
This would be a start-up company, an entrepreneurial approach, progressing through hard work and long hours.
Second, growth through direction.
This constitutes sustained growth, functional structuring of the business, proper budgeting and processes.
Then there’s growth through delegation.
This involves management taking less responsibility, allocating profit centres, financial incentives, etc.
This is followed by growth through coordination and monitoring.
This is where new product groups are developed, better planning is carried out, more capital expenditure is made, and more centralisation is developed.
Next, there’s growth through collaboration.
This involves action-learning sets, cross functional or matrix team management, decentralised teams and advanced information systems. Later, Greiner added a sixth phase to his growth phases model:
Extra-organisational solutions, like mergers and networks of organisations. By analysing what stage your company is at in the growth model, you can adapt your leadership style to match what is needed to produce results that will proactively drive you forward as growth continues.
Sean McPheat Managing Director
How many times have you employed someone based on their CV and the way they come across at interview, then learned to regret it some time later? It may be that they don’t really fit in with the team, haven’t really got the skills they claimed to have or the job role isn’t what they expected.
Interviewing someone simply because they have a good CV may cause problems. Experience shouldn’t be ignored, but it’s not a reliable indicator as to whether someone can give you the outcomes you want. Learn More
Personal differences in the workplace often cause conflict to occur because people have their own viewpoints, attitudes and characteristics that determine how things should be. The more concrete these views, the more likely people are to be entrenched in them, simply because they feel that a different view may affect their self-worth or self-concept.
People decide to either accept differences in some ways or stand their ground. And it’s this stubbornness that can sometimes cause the conflict we often see in the workplace.
How can you manage the situation, and help the parties identify a way of dealing with it?
You might try the concept of ‘perspective change’ that allows both to see things from a different angle and hence achieve a better understanding of what a solution looks like.
For example, if someone has a fixed view and you want to see the bigger picture, questions like ‘what’s your intention behind this?’ or ‘what are you trying to achieve with this?’ will help the individual shift upwards in their perception, and give you a bigger picture of the rationale they are using to back up their viewpoint.
If both people answer the question, you may get closer to achieving a similar goal. You can ask the question again to achieve a bigger picture, and you may get to the point where both are looking for the same result or goal.
Now, if you hear they are being too generic in their descriptions of what is wrong, you may ask them to be more detailed by asking ‘how specifically does this affect you?’ or ‘how does this impact you?’
This gives you the opportunity to see precisely how they view the situation, and how it could be dealt with.
By achieving a different perspective from each of the people involved, you get them to see it from a position they probably hadn’t appreciated before, and maybe will be driven to a better and more agreeable response.
You may have tried to initiate change in your team, seen the benefits of the change and even communicated it well to every team member. Then you may have been puzzled by certain people’s reactions where they resisted the changes and wondered why they put up such a defense of the current position. Learn More
Michael Porter’s Competitive Advantage model sets out a strategy that creates a positioning in your market place based on sustainable advantages that you can build up in your industry. Porter states there are basically two types of competitive advantage that results in a third viable competitive strategy and gives you your USP. The two types are differentiation and cost leadership, i.e. the low cost producer. The differentiation model determines those companies who look at their uniqueness in the marketplace, based on the viewpoints of their customers. These could be the product itself, service, brand image, marketing, service back up, etc. But this doesn’t mean the company can ignore its pricing position. In areas that don’t affect its differentiation, costs should be kept to a minimum, says Porter. Only in the unique differentiation areas should the price premium paid by customers be seen as valuable to them. The other competitive advantage is being the cost leader in the industry. This is often achieved by economies of scale, and the differentiators should still be considered important, even if you are attempting to offer lowest price. If price is your only differential, someone, somewhere will beat you short or long-term. And then what happens to your advantage? Porter then states that the result of your first two competitive advantages is your focus. That is, you set out to be the best in a segment or niche market. This explains why some companies set out to differentiate themselves in the market, then lose their focus and fall behind the competition. You must look for other niches that will attract customers rather than become outdated by focusing in areas that don’t attract current customers. Porter’s Competitive Advantage model offers an effective and important addition to your management portfolio by focusing on what your company should do best. That focus is better than trying to appeal to all sectors with some differentiation and average pricing. Customers will be unable to determine what you actually stand for unless you offer some kind of advantage to them. It’s an interesting model that creates a firm strategic model for progress in your industry. Thanks again Sean Sean McPheat Managing Director
We had an interesting question on one of our open management courses recently. The activity was about staff motivation, and a delegate asked what she could do when she had no money for bonuses to recognise the input from high-performing staff.
She noted that praise and recognition was a good motivator for some, but she didn’t know how to use it effectively, beyond the usual ‘thanks for a good job’. Could any of the delegates help her, please?
The comments were backed up by other delegates, so we came up with a checklist that would support this very important leadership aspect of motivation within the workplace.
We all know that affirmation is a key principle in our self-worth. We all like to feel we have made a difference in some way, and when our efforts are recognised by our peers and management, it boosts our self-esteem and our self confidence.
Here’s a quick checklist to ensure your praise and recognition of your team’s efforts is carried out correctly and effectively:
Find something to praise in every team member: This will help you focus on looking for the good, rather than always looking to find fault.
Do it spontaneously, but only if it is deserved: You have to maintain credibility with staff. Praising them for getting back from lunch on time is seldom seen as boosting self-esteem; praise has to be a reward for success or accomplishment. You lose respect and credibility if praise is seen as patronising.
Praise specifically: Tell people what you liked about the job they did. Rather than ‘Well done for that’, say ‘I thought they way you handled that call was excellent. You really kept your cool under pressure’.
Praise for skill development: If you are looking for the team member to improve in a particular skill, look out for opportunities to praise that skill. A small amount, given often, will subliminally affect the team member for the positive.
Praise effort, not just achievement: This will help people see that their efforts are being noted, even if they don’t always succeed.
Praise individually and in public: Letting others know how well someone did will encourage the team to support the individual and drive them to higher levels of effort. Be careful, though, that the reasons are given for the praise, so jealousy doesn’t set in with some.
Show praise in a variety of ways: A quick hand-written note, a non-verbal nod and smile, a mention in the newsletter or on the intranet are also ways that praise can be shown.
Don’t use praise to cover over a criticism: ‘Well done on that call, Phil, but watch out for raising your voice when you’re frustrated’. Phil will only remember the criticism there. So don’t try and soften any critical remarks with praise; separate them out, or your team member will become suspicious of any praise you give in the future.
Praising, then, is a skill that is simple, inexpensive and inexhaustible. It can have a ripple effect on people, who subconsciously look for other ways of creatively carrying out the work that was noticed. Remember, praise needs to be given in the right way, at the right time and for the right reasons.