The Management Blog
Tips & advice to help you improve your performance
With the economy seemingly picking up of late, many companies are telling us that they have started taking on staff again, albeit slowly and intermittently. Many managers are not practiced in interview skills, so it may be good to reacquaint yourself with some ideas if you are about to embark on a recruitment drive, or simply thinking of taking on another person: Learn More
One of the most popular sections of our management open courses is the discussion on managing conflict in the workplace. Everyone, it seems, has to cope with situations where factions, differences of opinion, or worse, occur between two or more people.
Our trainers often ask what proactive measures managers put into place to avoid conflict happening in the first place, and very often they’re met with glazed expressions and silence.
Many managers feel this is something that can only be dealt with after it occurs. After all, why would you put something into place to deal with events that aren’t happening?
But putting measures into place that can avoid conflict in the first place is not only sound practice, but relationship-building as well.
Let’s look at some ideas that will help you avoid conflict in the workplace:
• Keep your team involved and informed. Keeping information back can cause rumour and worry, the first stages of possible conflict. Misinterpretation of situations can result in accusations, blame and personal attacks. Keep the communication lines open to avoid this
• Resist becoming involved in conflict-generating games that people play. Think before judging others in public. Don’t make personal attacks on people behind their backs. Your example will be looked upon by others as something to follow, and it may cause conflict to be raised when there shouldn’t have been any
• Be cautious with any criticism you offer. Check before you over-react to situations and fact-find before making any decisions. Did you mishear or misunderstand? Check it out first
• Support staff rather than criticise them. The way you deal with potentially conflict-building situations could determine whether they cool down or heat up
• Tolerate others’ opinions and values. Although difficult, it may be better to view others as simply being human, and admit their ideas are different to yours. Always trying to prove yourself right may not be in the long-term interests of all concerned
• If there is a difference in opinion or misunderstanding, get each party to state their positions and get everyone to understand those positions before making themselves heard. This is part of Stephen Covey’s fifth effective habit out of the seven he wrote about (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Simon & Shuster Ltd). The situation becomes less emotional, as both people have to think and listen, using different parts of their brain. The more rational people become, the less likely they are accelerate towards conflict
These proactive ideas may help you identify situations where you can avoid conflict rather than have to deal with it.
What day do you find it hardest to get up and out of bed in the morning?
Most people would say it’s the first day of their working week, after the weekend.
In fact, according to Tokyo Women’s Medical University, most heart attacks happen on the first morning of the working week, between 4am and 10am.
Why? Because many people see only the pain of restarting something they wish they didn’t have to do, and hence cause themselves a lot more stress than usual.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. How can you motivate yourself on a Monday morning every week?
What can you do to plan effectively if you have trouble with this well-known phenomenon?
• Tidy up your work area at the end of the working week. If you arrive at work after the weekend to find last week’s work still there, it can cause more stress.
• Finish as many jobs as possible before you leave for the weekend. Then these tasks aren’t unconsciously hanging over you over the weekend.
• Set a new goal for the working week. This will help you start the new week running instead of moping.
• Try some exercise on Monday morning. It will get the blood and oxygen coursing and help you think more efficiently.
• See if you can get up 30-60 minutes earlier than normal, and spend those extra minutes boosting yourself before starting out for the week.
• Avoid massive tasks on Monday mornings. See if you can spread them out through the week
• Listen to upbeat music on your way in to work. It can do wonders for your mood.
• Listen to motivational CDs or MP3s. These will help brighten the commute as well.
• Vary your activities so they are spread over the week. Schedule something enjoyable for each day of the week, even if it’s only for a few minutes. This way, you look forward to some things throughout the whole week.
• Set the example for your team to follow on the first day of the week. If enthusiastic team members see you down, they may feel they have to follow your example These may not chase away the blues every time, but at least they help you to be proactive and choose your mood when you get to work.
But be warned: be prepared for others to ask what you were up to at the weekend!
When you’re in a meeting, do you often find your mind wandering to other stuff that needs doing when the meeting’s finished? Are you sometimes looking through emails on your laptop while also talking to someone else on the phone about totally different matters?
If so, you are probably practicing multi-tasking without realising it. But is this the most effective way of getting work completed?
Well, recent research at Stanford University has unearthed some interesting results concerning when we try to get more done by multi-tasking. They found that people who multi-tasked regularly performed worse on a test of task-switching ability, likely due to the reduced ability to filter out interference from other tasks.
They concluded that we, as humans, are not suited to paying attention to multiple tasks, and having multiple things to do at the same time.
Professor Earl Miller of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that our brains have to skip inefficiently between tasks, because it finds it difficult to concentrate on more than one task at a time, as it causes an overload on its processing capacity.
When we try to multi-task, we are often using the same part of our brain to do two different things, like when we are talking on the phone and writing an email. The processing power simply slows down.
When students took part in an American study, it took them up to 40% longer to completely solve problems when they had to switch to other tasks, than when they spent time solely concentrating on the problem itself.
And Glen Wilson, from the University of London, found that trying to multi-task similar situations could knock a whole 10 points off your IQ: the equivalent of losing a whole night’s sleep.
Does this mean we shouldn’t be doing more than one thing at a time? Naturally, we are able to flit our thoughts around while working on a task, but it seems that we are unable to work faster and accomplish more. In fact it can produce more stress, worry and frustration. We tend to go onto autopilot when we multi-task, and so we don’t use parts of the brain that form strong neural connections.
The obvious answer is to concentrate as much as possible on one thing at a time. But if you have to multi-task, here are some ideas:
• Overload often happens when you’re tired, so try to accomplish more things in the mornings, rather than leaving them to later in the day
• Multi-task with simple things that don’t take much brain work
• Try not to do too many similar things at once, as our brains will be using processing power that will slow down our responses if we do
• Take a break (5 minutes or so) every 90 minutes, so you refresh yourself
By the way, it’s a myth that women can multi-task better than men! Women have learned to do more diverse things better, so their brains are being utilised in a different way. Men can learn that, too!
Anyway, back to those e-mails, before another phone call comes through!
Small businesses have not done enough to put post-recession recovery plans in place, according to a new report from the Open University Business School.
Newbusiness.com said the report revealed that only 10% of small firms have put together a plan for the recovery and that those businesses with a plan were most confident about their immediate prospects
. “Just under a third of business owners with no plan in place said it was because the effects of the recession had not been significant enough for their business. A further 18% said recessionary effects on their customers are still too uncertain,” said Professor Colin Gray, professor of enterprise development at the Open University Business School.
“Although there are increasing signs that the economy overall may be turning the corner, recovery remains elusive for the 95% of all firms in Britain that employ fewer than 10 people.”
The question now is, What are you and your colleagues doing to plan your future progress?
Are you specifically looking at ways to improve your cashflow or ROI? Which areas of your business are getting the most attention?
The answers to these questions may well dictate how quickly things pick up for you.
Sometimes you wonder whether change is necessary within your department, and the factors driving change may be counteracted by factors resisting it. How do you work out the results before taking the action? Kurt Lewin may have the answer for you.
Lewin was an American social psychologist perhaps best-known for developing Force Field Analysis, an analysis that determined if change was necessary within a company. Learn More
The Balanced Scorecard method of Kaplan and Norton is a strategic approach and performance management system that enables organisations to translate a company’s vision and strategy into implementation, working from 4 perspectives:
1. financial perspective,
2. customer perspective,
3. business process perspective,
4. learning and growth perspective.
1. The Financial perspective:
Often, there is more than enough handling and processing of financial data. With the implementation of a corporate database, it is hoped that more of the processing can be centralised and automated. But the point is that the current emphasis on financial data leads to the “unbalanced” situation with regard to other perspectives. There is perhaps a need to include additional financial-related data, such as risk assessment and cost-benefit data, in this category.
2. Customer perspective:
Recent management philosophy has shown an increasing realisation of the importance of customer focus and customer satisfaction in any business. These are leading indicators: if customers are not satisfied, they will eventually find other suppliers that will meet their needs. Poor performance from this perspective is thus a leading indicator of future decline, even though the current financial picture may look good. In developing metrics for satisfaction, customers should be analysed in terms of kinds of customers and the kinds of processes for which we are providing a product or service to those customer groups.
3. Business Process perspective:
This refers to internal business processes. Metrics based on this perspective allow the managers to know how well their business is running, and whether its products and services conform to customer requirements (the mission). These metrics have to be carefully designed by those who know these processes well. In addition to the strategic management process, two kinds of business processes may be identified: a) mission-oriented processes, and b) support processes. Mission-oriented processes are the special functions of directors and senior managers, and many unique problems are encountered in these processes. The support processes are more repetitive in nature, and hence easier to measure and benchmark using generic metrics.
4. Learning and Growth perspective:
This includes employee training and corporate cultural attitudes related to both individual and corporate self-improvement. In a knowledge-worker organisation, people are the main resource.
In the current climate of rapid technological change, it is becoming necessary for knowledge workers to be in a continuous learning mode. Many companies find themselves unable to hire new employees and at the same time is showing a decline in training of existing employees. Kaplan and Norton emphasise that ‘learning’ is more than ‘training’; it also includes things like mentors and coaches within the company, as well as that ease of communication among workers that allows them to readily get help on a problem when it is needed. It also includes tools such as the Intranet.
The integration of these four perspectives into a graphical appealing picture have made the Balanced Scorecard method a very successful methodology within the Value-Based Management philosophy.
Tony Robbins has identified six basic human needs and believes everyone is—or can be—motivated by their desire to fulfill these needs.
You may want to consider these needs when thinking about developing your team members The question to ask is, “What need or needs do my team have that will enable them to fulfill their job roles effectively?”
1. Certainty/Comfort. We all want comfort. And much of this comfort comes from certainty. Of course there is no ABSOLUTE certainty, but we want certainty our computer will start up, the canteen will be open when we want it to be and our job will still be there when we wake up tomorrow morning .
2. Variety. At the same time as we want certainty, we also crave variety. Paradoxically, there needs to be enough UNcertainty to provide spice and adventure in our lives.
3. Significance. Deep down, we all want to be important. We want our life to have meaning and significance. Can you imagine looking back on your life and wondering whether you made a difference and coming to the conclusion that you didn’t? There’s not many things worse than that.
4. Connection/Love. It would be hard to argue against the need for connection with other people. We want to feel part of a community. We want to be cared for and cared about. Abraham Maslow called it our need to ‘belong’. It’s the essence of teamwork. It’s what we crave for when we work with others.
5. Growth. There could be some people who say they don’t want to grow, but that’s probably because they have goals that don’t inspire them (or no goals at all). To become better, to improve our skills, to stretch and excel may be more evident in some than others, but it’s there. Try creating goals for the team that will provide rewards other than money, and see which team members go for it. Those who don’t may have died mentally, but not told you!
6. Contribution. The desire to contribute something of value—to help others, to make the world a better place than we found it is in all of us. Take that need away, and you lose all motivation.
Evaluate this list to better understand your personal motivations and examine which ones seem the most significant to you. Then, look at what you do to fulfill the needs of other team members. It will likely make a difference in what and how you do what you do. It also should make a difference in the way you describe and explain what you and your products can do.