Approaching soft skills can be difficult due the their nature. How we view them and training them in could be the critical element to gaining long term outcomes for any individual and team.
The way to Practical Strategising
What is your strategy? You need to have a Point of Difference. When was your last Business Review? Running a small business means that you will likely be bombarded with these types of questions inferring what you need to do to run a successful business. They are fundamentally good topics to engage with, but unhelpful questions in themselves. Conversations that start like this can cause anxiety, especially if the business owner does not know the answer, or even worse, if they know the answer but cannot articulate it very well.
This is a great way to undermine all the hard work and smart decisions a business person is currently doing. And, don’t get me wrong, I am continually repeating the importance of having a strong operational and marketing strategy to my Business Students at RMIT. I am borderline brutal regarding this, as this allows them to understand the base rules of the game in business.
The problem occurs when there is a mis-understanding of how strategy fits into small business. When organisations grow into larger entities, there is a need for designated scheduled Strategy Reviews. There is a need to invest higher levels of time and resource into this due to the complexities of a larger business. It’s like sailing a row boat compared to a 50 ft yacht. They are both boats but one is straight forward to captain, the other requires a larger skillset. For a Small Business strategy is still very important, but it takes on a slightly different guise.
Recently, I came across the Nyquist Method (not to be confused with the Nyquist Stability Criterion of the same origin). Harry Nyquist was an Electrical Engineer at Bell Labs (1934 – 1954). Bell Labs was responsible for some of the most influential society changing inventions of the Nineteenth Century including transistors, lasers, and solar cells. At one-point Bell Labs performed an internal study on the 10 most prolific Engineers at Bell Labs. They were trying to figure out the ‘secret sauce’ of these Engineers and why they were constantly coming up with amazing new inventions. What did they have in common that made them so successful in their work? After going through their graduate history, academic methodology, and every other factor they could think of a very minor detail accidently emerged. The only thing in common that these ‘Super Engineers’ all did the same was how they spent they lunch break! Not what they ate, but who they ate with.
What transpired was that each of them would happen to sit with Harry Nyquist, a quiet diminutive regimented engineer. Good at his work but practically invisible amongst the cluster of talented eccentric engineers at Bell Labs. What happened in these lunches turned out to be the highest impact activity at Bell Labs. What was it that was special about these casual conversations? What did Harry do that was so ground breaking?
Harry Nyquist had two defining characteristics:
1. He was warm and friendly. Easy to talk to, inclusive, and placed people at ease when he spoke to them.
2. He was curious. Super inquisitive and relentlessly asking questions that stimulated thinking and further conversation.
The Nyquist method was to simply open up discussion with talented engineers. This helped them get through whatever obstacle they were stuck on. Performed in his spare time whilst on lunch. He was interested, enjoyed the discussions, and set these engineers alight with new ideas and solutions to the problems they were facing in their work. He ‘unstuck them’. After a Harry Nyquist chat, the engineer would be clear on what they needed investigate and action. He didn’t even realise the effect of what he was doing. The sheer genius was lost on all until this discovery was made.
This struck a chord with me. I am constantly talking to Small Business owners and managers about the need to spend time strategising to make their lives easier. But, they don’t have time. They don’t know how to do it, and they don’t have time to learn how to do it.
This is very common, so people do their best and get on with it. They make decisions on the fly, go where the work is, and roll the dice. This chaotic approach works, at least to a certain extent. The downside is that the business can become over-reliant on the market. There can be a need to take on work with clients you don’t enjoy working with, or the need to adhere or adapt your business to gain further sales. There tends to be a limit on growth and profit ability, not to mention how stressful and time consuming this approach can be.
So how can we implement easy, quick, and effective Strategising into our business? Firstly, strategising is just a fancy word for Problem Solving. A strategy is the ‘how’ to moving something from point A to point B. It is a list of actions that need to be done to achieve goals and overcome obstacles.
Secondly, Strategising is not a meeting. It is not a review. It is not a yearly, or quarterly thing. This is where many get paralysed. Being able to schedule meetings for review, ideation, and action planning is truly great (I am a big fan), but it is not necessary.
What is necessary is to channel your inner Harry Nyquist…
1. Be warm and smother your people with safety so they will speak up and be willing to discuss the deepest hardest challenges they are facing, or what they see as the biggest issues to address for the whole business. This enables people to speak their mind, and voice solutions without inhibition.
2. Be curious. As a business owner this is the primary function that we all share in our Job Description. Be relentlessly curious. Get to the core of obstructions and assist your team to think deeper and wider than they want to. Be the platform that sets them off on a new journey of discovery and action to move their own individual work forward as well as that of the whole business.
3. Do this regularly. Constant crystallisation of the problems at hand to form actions and remedies is my definition of strategising. Never ever letting things go, and always turning over the possibilities and discussing how the team can ‘move the dial’ for the business.
I liken it to a Professional Football Coach and his team. They have a Game Style and Set Up at the start of the season. Then they constantly adapt and change this as the season wears on. Injuries, form, ladder position, weather, travel, and all sorts of other variables are negotiated. The Coach and his staff (along with players) are constantly talking, assessing, discussing, and deciding on a new approach and new plans to play the next week, the next quarter, the next few minutes. When done well there is an intensely honest and open communication loop with direct action in aid of moving the team forward to win.
When the year is passing you by, and the opportunity to gather your troops is not happening, then don’t despair. You have an opportunity every day to habitually Strategise. Tackle the small things first to build confidence and garner momentum. Then develop from there. If you find yourself setting meetings and reviews to set longer term goals, then you have taken the next step. If you never find the need to do this, then that is great as well.
As long as you are strategising every day. This will be a determining factor to outcomes as well as the ease that these outcomes are achieved with.
How quickly is the retail landscape changing? It seems that everyone is telling us that change has never been quicker. I am not sure how true this, but the one indisputable fact is that change is upon us. This change comes in the form of international business crossing boarders both on-line, and now in our shopping strips and malls. So with this cycle of powerful retailers hitting our Aussie shores, what is the number one defence that local retails can initiate?
To answer this question, I took inspiration from a recent trip to LA – the home of extremes. There are big gas guzzling monster trucks driving alongside eco-warrior electric cars. There is the extreme luxury and wealth of the Hollywood and Beverley Hills Celebs living next to droves of homeless in the adjacent streets. But, amongst all of this I noticed one clear distinction. The culture of service among the successful retailers wherever my wife and I dined and shopped.
From a customer point of view, it starts with the overall end-to-end branding experience that you receive. A strong identity that connects the product to the people, to the location, and the entire experience. An example of this was when we visited a super-healthy café near Venice Beach. LA is the birth place of the Superfood phenomenon, and I was blown away by their execution. Calm and rejuvenation were a part of the dialogue, but they went deeper than this. Their purpose was to engage the consumer with the art of connection. They used some creative ways to instill this branding like the naming of items of the menu – but they took it further. The WIFI connection password was iamconnected. To add to this our server took our order and left us with an exchange I will never forget:
Waiter: “Thank you for your order. Would you like to know today’s question?”
Me: “Yere, sure, why not…”
Waiter: “What is your mission?”
Before we could react, he was on his way to file our order and get on with serving the other customers. We looked at each other. Thought. Looked at each other again. Smiled. And then, something great happened. We started talking about the question. What he meant by it. What our mission was. What our mission for the day was. What our overall mission was.
Our actual mission is irrelevant so I won’t bore you with the discussion that ensued. The genius is that this café was all about health, and connecting with yourself and others. In asking this question, we were immediately engaged in a thought provoking and fun way. From a branding point of view, I was left extremely excited. Brilliant! Simply brilliant!!! The overall experience was aligned and faultless. The delivery was spot-on. The effect was memorable.
Now, this sort of thing can sound gimmicky, but when all aspects of your customer experience are aligned, you move from gimmicks to something else – strength. Having brand alignment in the customer experience across all aspects of your business adds up to a very strong brand presence. You become memorable, and your customers become advocates. This results in real business growth.
It is on this trip that it struck me! All of the strong brands in Australia (small and big), and all of the internationals coming to our shores all have strength in end-to-end branding. A strong Brand Image. A Brand Experience. As business leaders, we need to be ultra-critical of every aspect of our customer-touch points. Are they aligned? Do our staff understand them? Do our staff know how to deliver them? Are there any weaknesses along our customer service chain? Does our on-line match our off-line? Do we stand out? Are we using the best language?
In driving this brand strength, it is vitally important to also make sure we deliver on our brand and product promise. Another key question to ask is: are we style over substance? There is nothing worse than having a beautifully presented space and brand, but then the end result is a poor-quality product or poor perceived value (by the way, we experienced this many times in LA also – I question if these businesses will still be around by the time we return). In an age of Insta and photo filtering and infographics, the aesthetic of our branding is so important, but copy-and-paste the latest trend at your peril. If it does not match the overall goal or mission of your business and your people, then it may do more harm than good to your business.
I feel that in the coming years we are going to see large international monster companies come to our shores and successfully navigate the tough Australian market (unlike those that failed previously, i.e. Hollister, Starbucks, and more recently Topshop). The local business that takes their end-to-end branding to a memorable and sophisticated level will be the ones that stand up and push forward in the new Australian business environment, no matter how quickly change is occurring in the landscape.
This may be a familiar situation for you. The week starts with a vigour and a mindset of positivity and a list of actions you are going to achieve. Then within less than ten minutes of walking into work, you are ambushed with all sorts of unforeseen problems that you need to attend to.
Time. Having more of it. I can’t say that I have the answer, and there are may tools out there which help. Some work for some, some work for others. But, one thing I like to focus attention on is how your team views and uses their time.
When managing a team there are some key habits you can use to squeeze a lot more out of your team’s time, which can impact on your own time restraints. It’ll take some investment on your behalf, but the wins can be enormous:
- “I don’t have time” or “I have been too busy”. How many times do you hear this from your team when you are asking about a job they needed to do? If you kept a log of this, it would easily be in the high double digits every week. Let’s clear something up here – when one of your staff say either one of these phrases they are sending you a clear and loud message. The real message is: “I don’t care about it”. Or, to be more diplomatic, “It is not a priority to me”. Now, that you know what they are saying, you can now delve into the real issue – does this person have their priorities aligned with the business? This sets us up to have a great chat about improving the situation, and therefore saving you a huge chunk of time in the future.
- Less System is more. Processes and systems are so important. In retail, having simple but well drilled systems will be the difference between great customer service and fantastic sales versus inconsistency and frustration. However, before implementing new systems a great way to cut down wasted time is to audit your current systems and get rid of everything that is not efficient and effective. Minimising the volume of systems in your business will mean that you have a lot less to manage, communicate, and upkeep. Simple and strong is the name of the game.
- What are you going to do with it? As a manager or business owner, there are beautiful little windows of time that pop up. You know the ones. Its where everyone is set up, all customers are being served, you have your to-do list done, and you are free. You are actually free for 10 minutes, or 20, or maybe even longer! It doesn’t happen often, so there you are looking over everything, or sitting in your office, and you say to yourself “s#*@, what am I meant to do with myself!!!?” Because we are not used to this, it can freeze us, and because it is unfamiliar it can be really uncomfortable. So, be sure to have a plan. Jotting down a few key things you would like to do or work on if you had 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or an hour to yourself a day, or a week is a great motivator and will also ensure that this time is used wisely – it’ll feel great.
Being buried in tasks can really hurt a retail business. Remember, you are the most influential person in the entire business. If you consistently run out of time to get everything done, or to enjoy your work, then it is not only tough, but it is also not going to be good for overall business. You don’t want that – it’s the opposite of what you want to achieve.
Using some easy to implement tools is the first step towards building a team with great capability leaving you with time to chase the fun stuff in your business.
It’s one that can make us squirm more than Stephen King’s last horror story. You know, that chat you need to have with one of your direct reports where you have to point out a big fat negative in their work. Why is it so hard? I’ll tell you why….
- You hate the fact that you always have to be the bad guy.
- You can’t believe they have made the mistake after you clearly told them how to do it correctly.
- You are a nice person. They are a nice person. I don’t want to hurt their feelings.
Giving bad feedback is not an easy thing to do. If anyone says that they find this easy, they are either lying, or maybe they enjoy it a little bit too much. I am guessing you are neither.
No, giving negative feedback is a hard thing to do well as you are potentially hurting your relationship with the person in question, or you are disrupting the positive culture you are trying to create. There are so many aspects of this conversation that can go wrong, and that is never an easy situation to manage. But, there is a big BUT (that didn’t quite come out right… Anyway, here it comes.
BUT, being able to give negative feedback well is an absolutely critical aspect to being able to manage a team well. This is one of the key tools that you need to use to be able to build ability and confidence in your team. There are other great benefits including building trust and increasing closeness in a relationship. Here are some ideas on how to get better at delivering a negative.
- Earlier the better – delaying your feedback will reduce the effectiveness of your conversation. Details will be hard to remember, and the person will be less receptive. The term nip-it-in-the-bud can be utilised here. This also stops feelings festering inside of you which can build tension and increases the likelihood of the negative feedback becoming emotionally charged. Giving the feedback swiftly is the best way to go.
- Ask instead of tell – Allowing for self-assessment can be a great way to instil learning in the situation and disarm any backlash from the feedback. I find that if I point out faults all the time, it can beat people down, and then as the manager you can labelled as a tyrant. Instead, get the person to do a self-evaluation by asking them “what is out of place with this/what you did/how this turned out” or “how could have this been done better” or “I can spot a problem with this. Can you see it?”. This invites discussion, and gives the person a chance to figure it out themselves, rather than being told what they did was incorrect. It is a great way to turn a potentially negative conversation into a positive one.
- Specifics are critical – when giving negative feedback you will cause yourself a world of pain if you are being vague and inattentive. There is a lot of room for misinterpretation, misunderstanding, and confusion. We want to avoid all of these at the best of times. Critically when someone is completing a task poorly using details and examples is essential so be sure to have your facts straight. Preparation is your friend, as per any management discussion.
There are many more tools and ways of delivering negative feedback, but I feel that these are a good start.
One common requirement that needs to be used with any technique in this situation. It is acknowledging THE WAY we deliver our feedback is more important that what we actually say. So be sure to be respectful, keep the feedback as private as possible (no public shaming), and use an appropriate tone.
A positive intension will carry you through most of these important conversations, and like many things – the more you do it, the better you will become at it.
Yesterday, I had a training session with a client of mine. He was struggling with communicating his marketing and sales objectives to his team. Mainly because they are all different, and on their own agendas. Sound familiar…?
It struck me that this topic is very common, so I thought I would share a few key points I use to turn this scenario into an advantage.
Difference equals diversity, and this is a great base for a great team.
In team sport, you can’t have the same type of player across the whole field. Eleven Lionel Messi’s sounds mouth-watering, but who is going to lay the tough tackles, or be the huge presence in goal? What about the emotional side? If you have eleven stars, then how are they all going to get the limelight? They would rip each other apart within the first few weeks of a season!
Whenever I have taken over a team with large diversity, I have seen the disconnects and range of talents as an opportunity rather than a horrible stress.
No matter what the scenario, these same steps can be used to great effect:
1. Start with you, and what you need to do – Before giving direction to any group of people the manager needs to be crystal clear on what they are trying to achieve. An obvious start is with commercial goals, sales targets, and particular brand focuses important to the business in the next six to 12 months. Also, think about the customer experience that your brand is trying to achieve. Or, what you are setting out to achieve in your role over the next 12-24 months? Goals can come in many forms, but before any direction is given to the team, these goals must be set into SMART goal language.
2. What is their story? It is common to take employees out for a coffee or lunch and get to know them. Check in on them. Tell them about yourself. This is all very nice, but there are key points to cover here and one must always be prepared with an agenda, even when the tone of the catch-up is largely informal. Key areas to understand with each individual are:
a. What have they done (some info on their past)
b. What do they need and want now (both personally and professionally can be relevant, as well as physical and emotional)
c. What do they want to do/achieve/learn/gain in the next 12 months?
Let the conversation flow. Be curious. Get a full picture of the person.
3. Divide and Conquer – I know it sounds a little over the top, but this is one of the biggest mistakes I see seasoned (and junior) managers make with their team. If any of us try and set out new directives in a team environment with no warning or consultation, there is HUGE risk of Mutiny.
It is not a risk worth taking.
Investing some time into consulting each individual with what we want them to focus on is going to be a very powerful and positive discussion. Give context within the larger project that you want them to contribute to (i.e. set the vision). Highlight how this leverages their strengths, and gives them exposure to the things they want to learn and develop.
Also, be willing to be flexible and listen to any changes the person thinks would make the directive better. There is no need to be stubborn, or to set everything in concrete. In fact, the more that it seems like their idea, the more buy-in you will get to the overall strategy. WIN-WIN! Whatever happens, come to an agreement with each individual. Set the expectation clearly, and get ready to move to the next step.
4. Turn the troops into Lieutenants – No one wants to be a number. A part of the pack. A worker bee. It’s not fun. Turn your beautiful bunch of misfits into leaders. Each one of them will be a specialist, a department manager, an owner of a task or key element of the business. They can have a title. They can have status. They can lead the discussion, or give education, or command a section of the team meetings. It always astounds me how much people step up when given extra responsibility. An opportunity to contribute can be more valuable than cold hard cash to many of us. This is a great strategy for tapping into the wants and needs of the individuals while aligning this with the overall business goals that need to be achieved.
5. Round them up and take off – Now is the time to get the group together and openly talk about the new directives, what everyone’s role is going to be, and how progress is going to be tracked. As there are no surprises because of the individual meetings, the team will be ready to advocate the changes you are discussing. All the processes and systems can be made clear, trained in, and discussed. The initial meeting will provide a platform to gain momentum and buy-in from the group. This is built-on even further, again-and-again in future meetings.
I love under-performing, unfashionable, even rebellious retail teams. I love working with them, and turning them into monster success stories. Having said this, I know it’s tough. There are the big characters that aggressively push against your authority. Then there are the unmotivated “clock punchers” that seem impossible to talk to. Or the passive-aggressive’s. Maybe you have the “been there, done that” veterans that aren’t open to change. Or the young-hot-shot-know-it-all that is getting under everyone’s skin. It seems like every team has the hard-working unsung hero too, which can sometimes be harder to manage than it may seem.
Too often, these tough teams become a burden. They can fill us with dread and even despair. I get it – I’ve been there many times before. But, with a good solid plan, some determination, and a sprinkle of patience, these “Motley-Crews” can be turned into teams we love to work with that also deliver.
THE DILEMMA WE PUT OURSELVES IN WHEN WE PERCEIVE THREAT INSTEAD OF POSSIBILITY
It was an important meeting. A meeting that would be the beginning of beautiful and important things. We would hatch fun and creative plans together. We would make an impact on the community. We would grow our businesses. The limits were endless.
We would talk all things of mutual benefit. Quoting big numbers, and breaking them down into practical milestones, and then into bite sized chunks we could then divvy up and assign to each other. Then, we would have further meetings, do work with each other, plan events, continue to build our relationship, and build a new world. A world of laughter. A world of success. A world of joy.
But alas, this is the meeting that never happened. It is the possibly that was shut down within minutes when the fear got in the way.
The fear of people stealing from us. The fear of people using us. The fear of being sold to. The fear of getting the raw deal. The fear of being inferior. The fear of failure. The fear of success.
Maybe it is all of these things, or maybe what has been proposed to us just isn’t interesting. It is not compelling. It is not useful, or of value.
This situation is such a tough one to crack. When working with other businesses (B2B), it astounds me how much push back there is to enthusiasm. When a small business, or a solopreneur approaches another business to do some simple cross-promotion, or to join in a partnership of some description, there seems to be a fear, or a scepticism that is stronger than any other force. But why? What is this fear? Where does it comes from?
The answer to this is probably quite complex. There are perhaps Ted Talks and Harvard Business Review articles proclaiming to tell us the core of this phenomenon. But of interest to me is the sheer volume of people that can’t see a good deal in front of them when they see it. The definition of strong business to me is strong community.
If I can help my next-door neighbour be a stronger business then that is good for me. If I can help my industry be stronger then that is good for me. Isn’t it?
The need to rid our instincts of fear is vital. The only way forward is to be brave. Be bold. Listen to offers. Be willing to be sold to. Be open to doing something new or different. Be ready to put a little extra effort in to try something new out.
This does not mean that the rules are off and a free-for-all is now the norm. No. All business decisions need to be analysed and every opportunity still needs to be deconstructed for fit and purpose. But, instead of rubbishing an idea, or an activity straight up, we need to propose ways we can do something. How about, we ask “how can this work?”
It is amazing where this sort of thinking can take us. It can even take us to a point where we realise that the person sitting opposite us cannot help us at this time, and we cannot help them. By exploring possibility and investigating the up-side, we can even say no, and shake hands with genuine pleasure and friendliness. Yes – it is possible!
We hear of luck in business a lot. We all need a little bit of luck along the way, right? This is countered by the argument that hard work and persistence brings more opportunity and therefore more luck. I feel that this sort of argument is bogged down by semantics. The core of it is that there are multiple opportunities which come to us every day. Opportunities to grow our business. Opportunities to answer our needs and help us smash through our obstacles.
The question is, will you let that fear drive your actions, or will you ask, “how can this work?”
I hope you do. It will most likely open many doors that were not there before. Just like magic. It’s exciting. Join the party.
We all know what Einstein said about the definition of insanity. And, retail businesses it is very common for people to remain at the same size or same level of profitability year-in-year-out. Every year brings with it similar ebbs and flows, as well as similar results.
This is what I have phrased The Natural Settling Point (NSP).
Here is the formula:
Location + Skills + Personality + Loyal Follower + Default Activities = NSP
There is a lot to digest in this formula, and hopefully it is clear to see how many variables there are to play with to pull yourself and your business out of the NSP you may currently be in. There is no need to pick each aspect apart, but this formula does hint at what to do to bust through your current settling point. Some tried and tested options are listed below.
1. UPSKILL YOURSELF (AND YOUR TEAM)
Plan a self-development activity every 6 months for each person in the team starting with yourself. It may be as simple as reading a book on a topic that will help you implement a new initiative. Or you could attend an evening or one-day seminar. A weekend conference. Maybe enrol in an online training course. Or, maybe you are ready to go for something bigger like a certificate course. Whatever you choose to do, the name of the game is to pick the topic carefully and be sure to set a trackable goal off the back of the education you have received. This will ensure that the training pays for itself (many times over hopefully) and encourages positive change in the business. The same rules apply to team members.
2. SCRUTINISE THE USUAL MARKETING
Is your marketing working? Really? Maybe they are… or maybe they need to be re-energised, or revamped, or maybe they need a major overhaul. One of the most common reasons retail business owners do not do meaningful marketing promotions is that they feel it is a waste of time and money. It is very common for people to give up before they have started, and revert back to old school methods, and activities which end up being quite ineffectual. At the very least, calculate the costs and sales from all of the past activities and if they are performing poorly, then stop doing them all together. No activity is better than bad activity – it costs less time, less money, and less heartache (none of which are going spare for most of us).
3. A LITTLE FROM EVERYONE ADDS UP TO A LOT
If you have a small team, say its yourself and two others, and each of you increased your own sales, or average spend by 10%, that would add up to a big dent in sales results. If it was achieved over a full year, then the NSP would be smashed to bits. Let’s look at it another way. What if the weakest sales day of the week was focused on to make it a little stronger, or a product or product range was focused on to gain extra sales? In a salon business I worked with, the retail sales were hovering at approximately $50 per week. There were reasons for this, but it was quite weak. We set up a plan including an incentive, education from the Sales Rep, and weekly performance tracking by the manager on product sales. If the team achieved their incentive 80% of the time, we would generate over $500 in sales a week, and over a 14 week period (which was the remainder of the calendar year at the time), this would bring in an extra $6300. A big impact from a very small change, which the team ended up achieving. It also showed us how much money the business was “leaving on the table” so to speak. What is the little change you can make in your business that would add up to a lot?
4. GET A BIT WEIRD
This one makes everyone really nervous! I know, I get nervous myself, and for good reason. It is scary as hell! Its scary because there is all types of risk – financial, or even reputational. Sometimes, we’ve got to be open to doing something a little crazy. Make a concerted effort to try a different approach, or have some fun with a topic or an event. Only by taking some risks can we find unique and brilliantly interesting ways to move our business forward. Because there is risk involved in this, it is important to mitigate the risks by doing lots of research, only trialling things before committing to longer terms, and pledging low resources to an activity initially. Go for it, but there is no need to take huge leaps of faith packed with high levels of risk!!!
5. WHATEVER YOU DO, GO ALL IN!
Small half-baked initiatives and actions need to be banished. If we are truly going to leave the NSP behind once and for all, then doing many things in a mediocre way will need to be completely cut out. New Year’s Eve is not the only time to make a stand and commit to new beginnings. We can decide to do this today. Commit to a structure and work within it every day. Aim to be consistent before everything else. If you lead an activity 100%, you have a very good chance of getting the team to follow.
To wrap this up, it is wise to choose only one of these actions to implement at a time. Trying to do too much will probably land you back inside the NSP. Also, no matter what you do, there will be ups and downs, so be willing to adapt. Tweaking and adjusting as we go is not always easy, but will often be necessary.
The one guarantee is that that NSP is distinct in all of our businesses, and if we can recognise it there is a good chance that it can be left behind with some new and exciting activities.
The induction. Talk to any HR Professional and they will advocate a well-structured and comprehensive induction for all new employees. Some of us do it well, some do it poorly, or sometimes not at all depending on resources, circumstance, and our individual business culture. But, what can we do (no matter what) to increase the chances of a new employee becoming a long-term success?
In a time when Culture is King, many are grappling with how to translate culture into practical commercial success that is both meaningful and sustainable. It can quickly turn into a buzzword-centric topic which is forgotten completely in day-to-day interactions with peers and customers a-like.
The answer seems to reside in the value of making people feel safe and “at home” right from the start. This is a powerful trigger every single leader in a business can utilise to gain long term performance and loyalty out of new employees (and seasoned ones too!)
Daniel Coyle details an experiment in his book, The Culture Code. Coyle discusses an Indian Call Centre called WIPRO that was experiencing costly staff attrition rates. They took a group of new recruits and simply spent one-hour talking to them about their individual needs to perform better. They also gave them a WIPRO shirt with their own name on it. They found that the people in this group were 250% more likely to still be at the company seven months later compared to those that did not have the “one-hour chat”.
This demonstrated that people valued being treated as an individual and being heard from the start of their employment. It displayed that a business must show that they are there to “Serve You” just as much as the employee is there to “Serve Us”. The results spoke for themselves with staff serving longer and at a better performance level in a notoriously high-turnover environment.
When we feel at home, we feel safe. And when we feel safe our concentration levels are elevated due to less distraction and wariness. It’s like your first day at kindergarten – it’s a scary day with lots of anxiety. But if the teaching assistant relaxes you with warmth, attention, and care then it can turn out to be the best fun you’ve ever had.
Recently, I was struck by this idea when watching a Friday Night AFL match between Sydney and Hawthorn at the MCG. It was a cold wet night where Sydney won in a very close contest. The story of the night was that of Ben Ronke. In his third game, this little fresh-faced recruit kicked a game winning 7 goals and made 10 tackles – a new all-time record for the league. Not only is it almost unheard of for a small-forward to kick this many goals in a game, but no one had ever statistically done this in the history of the league!
The impressive part was in the post-match interview. Ronke was asked “What is it about this club that keeps producing such great young talent?”
He responded by saying “It comes down to the Leadership group, and even the up-and-coming leaders. You go to the club and you just feel at home straight away. They make you feel like you’re at home. That takes the pressure off of you and makes you feel comfortable, and with the support of the older boys – it goes a long way”
Wow! In a moment of pure honesty, this young athlete summed it up beautifully.
If we don’t invest individual effort into an employee we run the risk that they will merely exist in their role, and there is only a small chance of them becoming long term successful performers. To take this further, when a recruit is made to feel comfortable, but without an individualised approach then performance will ease off very quickly and revert to a relaxation mode. This is not sustainable either.
Leaders that show even the smallest of gestures that the business is there to serve the employee as much as the other way around, create an experience that is both comfortable and inspiring. This becomes a potent combination feeding the feelings of belonging. In turn, this creates performers that not only excel, but do it for a long time to come.
I have worked in the commercial side of business for most of my career. It was my job to sell the products or services, to track the results against targets, and to ensure customer service levels were of a consistently high quality. This initially taught me to know my numbers well, and to have a tight rein on my processes and costs. Then I started to discover that the people I was in charge of didn’t just do what I needed them to do, and they required all sorts of support. Stuff that I though only friends, and family, and spouses were there for. I mean, why do I need to be the shoulder to cry on? Why am I the one that needs to re-arrange things for their mum’s birthday? It was a long hard road, but I finally clicked that the people side of things was so much more important than the numbers, and a good mix of both meant that results started to follow. But then, to my surprise I found that there was another level. That to get the best results out of my people, and to achieve the business goals set, there was another frontier. Another element that needed to be considered. It smashed me in the face (not literally) one day out of nowhere.
I was in a National Management Meeting when the National Education Manager of our brand was discussing upcoming activity. He explained that there was to be a distinct direction that the next phase of training would take for our brand. It was all commercially minded and related directly to product. As a man steeped in the arts of sales and marketing I should have been dancing on the table after hearing this news. However, I will never forget what happened next. The Education Manager told us that this practical and commercially minded activity would be the best way to spend our company’s education budget as “Inspiration never put money in the till”.
It is at this precise moment that I had a flash of clarity. One of those out-of-body-experiences. I couldn’t believe it. My jaw dropped.
I found this comment astounding. Was I really hearing this? Did this person truly believe what they were saying?
I was speechless at the time, but I will forever be thankful for that day as it is a constant reminder to me of the direct link between how business results are achieved (almost always through people) and one’s ability to be inspired (or inspiring for that matter).
When I look at a business operation trying to overcome obstacles I appraise the owner/manager’s role and that of their staff. Often there is weariness. A tiredness. A lethargy. With this it is common to see a breakdown in communication and a stress on relationships as profitability is lowered and revenue results are below desired targets. When faced with this type of scenario we must acknowledge that there is a lack of inspiration within the business. So, what is inspiration?
Inspiration is something we cannot always touch, but most of the time we can feel it. It lifts our mood, lifts our energy levels, and increases our ability to focus on the key tasks that will drive results.
Inspiration usually comes in the form of new information, new knowledge, new imagery, new techniques, success stories, creativity stories, and beautiful meaningful words. It is helpful to ask ourselves some key questions regarding inspiration within our business:
- What inspires my people? As individuals and as a group.
- How often do I provide my team with sources of inspiration?
- How can I measure the effect of inspirational activities? Some may not be measurable, but most are.
- Where can I find inspiration myself?
This is a good starting point for analysing the current state of inspiration within your business, and to then start activating some inspirational initiatives.
Some good ideas to get started:
Team Meetings – schedule them regularly (once a month or quarter) and be sure to share inspirational stories from within the organisation, or from leaders in your industry or from any area of life.
Branding – what does your business stand for, and what is special about your business? Ensure this is displayed in your logo, mottos, and mission statements. Then plaster this all over the walls of where your people work. There is a reason why big corporations do this – it influences the mindset of the employees and instils pride.
Education – a consistent schedule of education for employees. Research courses, seminars, webinars, or activities that serve a purpose for an individual that will push them forward in their work. By paying for their time to do this, as well as paying for the chosen activity you will gain a huge amount of respect and loyalty from your team also. Make sure there is a distinct point to whatever you choose. Discuss it, agree it, and follow up with the employee to gain maximum value.
New’ness – the human condition is attracted to “new” in most contexts. Inspire your team (and customers) with new anything. It may be product, tools, processes, upgrades, marketing. Anything that surprises the team in a positive way and keeps things fresh.
Connection – any opportunity to have a conversation. It doesn’t cost much, but it takes Want and a Desire to take some time out and relate with each other. I find that this is the best tool to inspire inspiration (so to speak). It is also almost completely free.
What other ways could you inspire yourself and your team? It is a great question to ask. I am completely convinced that inspiration puts money in the till and so much more! I am certain of it.