Monthly Archives: October 2016

Talk BAout Employees

How did we get to this point, where firefighting is standard operating procedure? And how do we get out? Thirty years ago, the godfather of quality, W. Edwards Deming, addressed a similar situation with his book, Out of the Crisis (MIT, 1982). Japan had begun making products with high conformance quality at lower cost than poorer quality products made elsewhere. Many U.S. executives assumed Japanese exporters must be dumping products at a loss, and responded with price wars, cost cutting, and blame for American workers. In his book, Deming focused on how leaders could shift their organizations from a short-term focus on manipulating numbers to more ongoing, sustained success. Although his work is generally applied to manufacturing or routine services, many of Deming’s “14 points for management” can be adapted to help managers in knowledge-driven, professional businesses to dig their teams out of constant crisis. Here are just a few:

“Create constancy of purpose.” Without a sense of the bigger picture — what you are trying to accomplish and why it matters — people naturally default to fixing problems. Unfortunately, this approach never creates the level of delight or innovation that wins you customers for life. Deming encouraged managers to focus explicitly on a mission and longer-term goals to counter-balance the pull of immediate issues. This means defining clearly what you are promising to your customers, so employees know what they should strive to deliver. Even in highly dynamic environments, such a meaningful mission can provide constancy while tactics and strategies shift.

“Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality.” Most leaders these days strive to hire talented people and let them find their own way to a goal. Then, confronted with haphazard approaches, poor coordination, and embarrassing snafus, leaders gradually end up adding checkpoints, approvals, and red tape. Neither extreme is ideal. Deming’s approach to processes focused on building quality in from the start — reducing reliance on inspection and even individual performance reviews. Even for highly professional work, developing a few simple, repeatable processes for doing things right the first time can drastically increase your quality output.

Closing the Door to Diversity

On the surface, it seems that using staff recommendations when recruiting would benefit both you and those being hired. However, research suggests that while using referrals does result in a lot of positives, it can hurt employers in the long run. A new study published in the IZA World of Labor journal found that continuously tapping into “job-referral networks” can pose problems for employers who are trying to build diverse workforces. Ian Schmutte, the study’s author and an assistant professor at the University of Georgia, said workers who get hired through referrals almost always keep their jobs longer. This suggests that these kinds of recommendations improve the match between worker and employer, Schmutte said.

“So referrals lead to better jobs, where both sides are happier and the jobs last longer,” Schmutte said in a statement. “For firms, it’s more profitable, because they don’t incur the cost of turnover. For employees, there is some evidence [that] those hired through referral earn higher wages.” However, since employees typically refer those who look and act like themselves, this type of recruiting practice can stymie diversity, the study said.

“If this is how most people find jobs, it means that they’re relying on social networks, which tend to be constructed on the basis of social and economic hierarchies that can be based on historic patterns of racial or class stratification,” Schmutte said. “As a result, they can perpetuate inequality or have an ‘old boys’ club’ character to them.” The use of referrals attracts many employers, because they believe it is the most efficient way to hire new employees. “If you’re an employer, you don’t have all of the information you want about a potential worker. You want to know about their character, if they show up to work on time, or are they going to be good at this particular type of task, are they going to fit in with the team, that kind of thing,” Schmutte said. “Referrals can answer some of those questions and reduce the information problems, so economists tend to think that makes the labor market more efficient.” The research argues, however, that while good employees often know and refer other good workers, their networks are often confined to fairly similar social circles. “It’s clear that job referrals are a large share of total employment, and their relevance surprisingly seems to be increasing, rather than decreasing over time,” Schmutte said. “But it’s hard to quantify how much they’re enhancing efficiency versus how much they’re increasing inequality.”

Neuroscience to Frame Your Company

Business leaders have a choice during the next few months in the way they speak publicly about political affairs. The Brexit referendum, the U.S. presidential election, and the growing support for nationalism in many countries have all made it impossible to ignore politics — because every aspect of major businesses is affected by globalization. Top business leaders are reacting to these developments in a variety of ways: They are intrigued by the business opportunities or the presumed reduction in taxes; concerned about the impact on diversity; uncertain about the effect this will have on their access to global markets; disheartened or pleased personally. No matter what their perspective, they may be inclined to share their views openly or they may be tempted to remain silent. Either choice could make things better or worse within their companies. It all depends on how they do it, and how well they understand the personal responses triggered by these political events at levels below explicit consciousness.

For example, many organizational leaders have worked hard in recent years to develop more inclusive cultures; they recognize that people need to feel that they’re part of the same group to collaborate, especially across national boundaries. But the elections of 2016, and the associated public displays of nationalism, ethnic isolationism, and suspicion of outsiders, have reinforced deeply ingrained biases in people’s brains. No matter how inclusive your organization may be, and no matter what your employees’ political perspectives, you will probably see an increase in “us-versus-them” antagonism, and a corresponding reduction in trust, collaboration, and creativity. Just when companies need to innovate faster than ever to compete globally, they face the daunting prospect that millions of employees will work alongside colleagues whose presence subconsciously agitates them.

At the NeuroLeadership Institute, where we study the neuroscience underlying successful leadership, we have concluded that the approach one takes to engaging employees on this issue can matter a great deal. What you do in coming days and weeks can make or break your organization’s spirit for years to come. Here is a way of framing your outreach efforts more effectively, to make the most of your company’s talent, and of people’s commitment, in these times of uncertainty.

Start by recognizing the effect of these elections on attitudes, particularly those embedded below the level of conscious attention. One of the most prevalent is known as similarity bias. The brain quickly and automatically classifies almost every new person as friend or foe largely according to the degree to which they outwardly seem like us. Every day, based on surface appearances, we unconsciously classify some people into an implicit in-group (composed of people we trust and want to collaborate with) and others into an out-group (composed of people we feel we need to be careful of). The criteria we use can be based on national, ethnic, or religious background, but they can also be ideological. For example, one study shows people are more opposed to having family members marry someone from an opposing political party (pdf) than they are someone of another race.

Complaining plus useful tips

The different ways of complaining are:

  • Face to face
  • By phone
  • By email
  • By letter

Let’s first take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each before concluding which is the most effective.

Picture this scenario: you have bought a faulty item from a shop and you take it back to complain. You go directly to the shop assistant and tell them your problem. They say they cannot help you, which makes you angrier, to the point perhaps where you start insulting the poor shop assistant. RESULT: This will do you no favours, like getting any compensation, or even a refund. If you go directly to the first person you see within the organisation you are complaining about, you may be wasting your time as they may be powerless to take any action or provide you with a solution. So the important lesson to be learnt is to make sure firstly that you are speaking to the relevant person, the one who has the authority to make decisions.

Perhaps you don’t have time to actually go and see the relevant authority in person so you decide to make a phone call. The problem with complaining by phone is that you may be passed around from department to department, making you more and more angry until you finally give up. Either that or the phone is hung up on you, which leaves you fuming even more. Furthermore, any contact can be denied.

The same applies to emails too, which can additionally be deleted, or even manipulated.

This leaves us with the traditional letter. When we first make a complaint the usual response is a request to write a letter:  “Can you put that down in writing please?”

The advantages of writing a letter of complaint are that:

  • Written records are still very important, e.g. in legal matters as opposed to a fax or email.
  • You have complete control over what is being said, and you can present evidence.
  • You can be prepared, and plan your letter carefully.
  • You are able to keep copies of anything sent in writing.
  • You have time to reflect and/or consult as opposed to complaining on the spot.

So here are some useful points to consider when writing your letter:

  • State what went wrong exactly. You need to provide concrete evidence, with documentation, for example a receipt, where possible. Make sure you keep copies of all correspondence, including relevant documentation. You also need to state where, when, who was involved, what was said or done. Photographic or video evidence boosts your case.
  • What do you expect from your complaint?  If you are complaining about a situation at work, focus on taking action to improve situations rather than spending your time complaining.
  • State a time limit for when you expect a reply.
  • Be assertive, and stay calm.
  • Make sure you address the complaint to the relevant person.

This will be more likely to ensure that you will achieve a satisfactory outcome from your complaint. Good luck!

Write Your Personal Manifesto

It’s that time of year again. The pressure is on to make New Year’s resolutions: Lose weight. Get to meetings on time. Interact more with your direct reports. A few goals are put on a list…and are forgotten by January 3rd. While this annual ritual of reflection is well intentioned, it rarely changes behavior because it focuses on what you do (or should do), not the deeper question of why you do it.

I’ve discovered an alternative to New Year’s resolutions, one that addresses that disconnect between the what and the why and can spark real change. It’s the personal manifesto, and it particularly valuable for those who aspire to lead.

Michael Hess, founder of sales management firm Core 6 Advisors, introduced me to the idea. The manifesto is a tool that he uses with sales managers and salespeople to help them focus on their true personal and professional aspirations as well as what it will take to achieve success.

The genesis for Hess was a collection of quotes and thoughts he had written on Post-its and stuck on his computer monitor. As Hess began to spend less time at his desk, he put all those notes on a sheet of paper, kept folded in his wallet, so that could reflect on them wherever he was. Along the way, he realized what an essential compass these scribbled words had become. They weren’t just notes, they were the fodder for his personal manifesto.

A manifesto is a rigorous written account of where you are, where you would like to be, and why. Unlike New Year’s resolutions, the personal manifesto isn’t tied to the time of year or to specific acts. It is a way to keep yourself focused, thoughtful, and on-track through the ups-and-downs of a busy life. And it can be amended as needed.

A personal manifesto begins with an honest conversation with yourself. That’s not as easy as it sounds; honesty takes work — and guts. It also takes time.

“A manifesto doesn’t just pour out in 20 minutes,” Hess says. “Being honest with yourself is a process. You sit, think, write, and edit. Put it aside. Come back to it and revise until the words are exactly what you want. A good manifesto requires a depth of introspection that exposes vulnerabilities and helps you address them.” This is something for you and by you. It is not intended to be shared with anyone.

Start, as Hess did, by capturing quotes from others that resonate with you. Ask yourself why you find them compelling. Note your own thoughts about where you are, where you want to go, and what’s most important to you. Hess suggests beginning sentences with phrases that provoke honesty: “I am afraid that…,” “I am worried that…,” or “I feel vulnerable when…” to spark deeper reflection.

Then, articulate the principles that are most important to you and how you intend to act on them. For example, “My family is the most important thing in my life, therefore I will be home for dinner each night that I am not traveling.” The “therefore” statement is what brings the intention to life. These core principles are enduring guideposts of your life. They serve to explain what you wish to do, and also why you do it.

Next, reflect on the ideal life to which you aspire, what you want your life to look like. “These aspirations should be emotional, spiritual, and yes, materialistic if that’s the case,” Hess says. “Name what you want your life to be. So if you want to drive a Tesla, say it. If you want to retire early, put it down.” Most important, don’t include something because you think that you are “supposed to” want it. “We shackle ourselves with external expectations,” he notes. “The manifesto is a place to be totally, brutally candid about the personal and professional aspects of your life. It should be something you fight through.” This part of your manifesto helps keep you accountable to yourself

Competent on relationship builder

When we talk about the competency of relationship-building in the world of business, we are referring to building strong relationships with partners and clients – about using interpersonal skills to network in an effective way.

 

What does a competent relationship-builder do?

Somebody who is competent at relationship-building focuses on understanding the needs of the client and getting the best possible results. This competency promotes an ethic of client service and so an understanding and anticipation of a client’s changing needs is essential. Stress and conflict are other issues that a competent relationship-builder will manage – keeping composed and acting as mediator when conflicts arise.

 

How can I start to develop the competency of relationship-building?

First identify the business plan goals of your department and decide what your role is going to be in helping to achieve those goals. You will need to study the business plan and learn as much as possible about your clients’ activities, interests and needs. This information might be available in their own annual reports or in client surveys conducted by your company. Talking to your clients about how you can best meet their needs is also a sensible first step to take.

 

Seven steps to becoming an effective relationship-builder:

  1. Draw up a plan of what you need to do in order to give your clients what they want. Discuss your ideas with your line manager and then do what is necessary to implement the plan.
  2. When the plan has been set in motion, schedule regular meetings with your line manager to review the progress that you are making and make any necessary adjustments.
  3. When you are working as part of a team or group within a department or a company it is important to assess your contribution to the group’s work. Think about how your efforts help or hinder progress.
  4. Make a weekly analysis of your commitments. Set yourself a goal for each week so that you follow them through. Make an effort to do what you say you are going to do – and also, to do it by the time that you say it will be done. If you get into the habit of doing this it will become like second nature.
  5. Build up a file of contacts and classify them in a way that is meaningful for your particular work context. Then you will know exactly who to call with any queries or when you need information.
  6. Don’t just wait for feedback to come to you, request it from a variety of sources – from your line manager but also from colleagues, clients and people who you supervise. Listen to what they have to say and act accordingly.
  7. Build informal relationships with the people who are working around you. Make a point of greeting people who you normally don’t speak to. Ask them about their interests and make it a goal to practise small talk with them. Listen to what they say and remember so that you can ask about a particular interest the next time you meet.