The Pro vs The Professional

Pro's make a difference, professionals* just act like they do...

In 2002, I got my first professional contract to play cricket in the UK. As the one and only “Overseas Pro” in the team there was expectation and local notoriety (everyone wanted to see you fail). It wasn’t a game changer financially, but it was a great vehicle to travel and experience the life of playing sport as a vocation.

It was during this period I gained a better understanding of what it took to be a Pro. But it was the environment at my grade cricket club at East Torrens in South Australia that showed me what it was truly like to be a Pro. Things like never missing training, being at training early, or staying late were regarded highly. . Effort was rated. And, helping others to get better was of deep importance. To explain this better, I will paraphrase the brilliant words of Scott Pressfield from his book The War of Art. He says, we are all born Pros already - we just need to do the following ten things:

1. Show up every day. Whatever the motivation, you get your ass to work.
2. Show up no matter what. Sick, problems at home, feeling anxious… no matter – get to it.
3. Stay on the job. Never leave until the whistle has blown.
4. Be committed for the long haul. Not always to one brand or project, but keep going until the body or mind gives up.
5. Acknowledge the stakes are high and real. Knowing there are consequences for our families, communities and colleagues – survival on many levels is at stake.
6. Accept remuneration. We get paid so do the work and do it well.
7. Don’t over-identify with our jobs. The Pro works hard but recognises they are not their job.
8. Master Technique.
9. Laugh at ourselves.
10. Receive praise and blame freely.

It is a serious list that aims to separate the Pro from the Amateur. But, I would add that Professionals* don’t do these things either. In the corporate environment, I saw it often that people would hide behind “being professional”. In Kim Scott’s Radical Candour, being Professional is at the heart of becoming a robot at work and sliding down the scale of “giving a damn” as a leader and colleague.

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Kim Scott presenting her Radical Candour work

For me, the Pro is present and able to give attention to what matters - they do the work (and more) assiduously. The Pro is proactive to avoid hiccups and problems causing jarring setbacks. And the Pro "Eats Last" to borrow from Simon Sinek. All of these attributes send strong signals to one’s team and customers – I am trusted, thorough, and care deeply for you. I am devoted to moving the project forward. I have summed this up below:

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The Professional* is the equivalent of plastic flowers. They may last, but they give zero sensory value, end up looking cheap, and eventually pollute the environment.

Being a Pro forms the cornerstone of leadership Role Modelling. When the person is passionate about their work being The Pro is easy to learn and apply.  Role Modelling is fundamental to what I call Captaining as these behaviours cause immediate elevation in team members. The team's performance continually improves as these habits become contagious.    

Tell 'em their dreamin!

Making the unrealistic manageable

The most predictable thing in business is that people, teams, and organisations are going to be stretched. It can feel like this is unique to us, but it has been happening since the Industrial Revolution (and probably for a long time before that). The narrative tends to be ‘do more with less’. Often as leaders, we are the ones charged with the responsibility of passing this message onto the workers to execute the strategy.

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Recently, I saw Eddie Izzard, the British Comedian, who brilliantly discussed his 27 marathons in 27 days (amongst a billion other things). He hilariously tells of the experience, "the first one is hard, the second, third, and fourth are the hardest, and then after that “your brain thinks it’s in bed dreaming about the pain you are in". But, think about it – Izzard is in his 50’s, hasn’t an athletic bone in his body, yet he achieved something most of us would consider impossible.

Finding this inspiring is easy. Taking a lesson from it and implementing habitual action to take on the seemingly impossible ourselves is very different.

 

When faced with tough budgets, stretch KPI’s, or ridiculous deadlines we can allow ourselves a moment to say “tell him he’s dreaming” (a famous Aussie quote from the movie The Castle) or some kind of expletive.

 

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Then once the angst has been let out, it is time to get a game face on and prepare to get the job done. In an age when 'failing often' is all the rage, we need to acknowledge that failing to meet objectives will not be tolerated for long, and the higher up the chain, the less wiggle room there is.

 

What I have found helpful includes:

  1. Audit yourself

Do you know all of the technical elements of your role, your team’s roles, and those that relate to your client? Close the gaps through training, research, and key on-the-job experience.

  2. Tracking the right stuff?

 Just because average sale, conversion rate, and run rates are what everyone has been tracking since forever, doesn’t mean you have to. Question what will ‘shift the dial’ when executing the strategy. Track what will make impact, not what someone ten years ago thought was important.

 

3. Seize the moments

 In the movie Limitless, Bradley Cooper’s character takes a pill that opens up big chunks of his brain none of us can access. Suddenly colours are brighter, he is attuned to all kinds of details, and he feels awake in a way he has never felt before (kind of like a beautifully strong coffee in the morning 1000x). ‘Pre-pill’ is how I view most managers and executives out there. Working hard, with so much on their desk they can’t even see the 20 or 30 moments presented to them every day where productivity and effectiveness lies in their teams. The moments that create, initiate, and nudge people closer to being brilliant at their jobs and align everyone's purpose.

 The first two fixes listed above are the easiest to execute, and that is why most tend towards them first, and rightly so. Without these in place, the small moments cannot be understood or capitalised upon. The third takes courage to own up to and to develop. As Dr Brene Brown says, “we can choose comfort, or we can choose courage”. Having the courage to develop the leadership interpersonal skills, and then to practice them daily in the workplace takes courage.

 The payoff? This is where true transformation happens. Where business results are meaningfully impacted. Where unrealistic targets become achievable.  

 

Play Beyond Targets is the series of one-day Masterclasses helping successful people build rhythm into their teams. Create immediate uplift in traceable performance.

The Proficiencies of the best

The building blocks of memorable managers

Figuring out what separates a good boss from a bad boss is simple. Think of the best boss you ever had and think about the worst. Picture their faces, their voices, and actions. By looking at a few underlying traits it is clear what the good do, and what the bad don't.

Art Markam writes in his Harvard Business Review article (Can you be a great leader without technical expertise, 2017), team members respond well to bosses that understand the technical elements of the work being done. This is being Task Proficient.

It is one of the reasons I never opened my own Hair Salon. I consulted salon owners for years and knew the business like the back of my hand, but never opened my own salon. Day-to-day, the staff could take liberties with my lack of knowledge (not a good basis to harness respect). Also, I did not have a passion to learn the technical side of the trade. This lack of Task Proficiency would have been a poor business move.

Good business leaders need to be data literate. They will understand the metrics in a business and industry they can effectively measure, track, and respond to. A manager whom cannot do this will usually struggle or fail. Trend and pattern analysis informs decision making, creates an internal language amongst the team, and tells us if we are succeeding or not (our scoreboard). This is being Analysis Proficient.

In the real world there are limits to this analysis. Data can be incomplete, people don’t tell the truth on surveys, and quality of data can vary from different areas of the business (The limitations of data in predictive analytics).

Data is a reflection of what is happening. It is not ‘what is happening’. To get to the bottom of things, managers need to see, hear, and feel things for themselves. They also need to do something with all of this info!

During my Emotional and Social Competencies Inventory Accreditation, the definition of a manager was presented to me that stuck ever since:

‘A Manager gets results through others’

This is the true limitation of Task Proficiency and Analysis Proficiency. The ‘doing’ of a manager is more than just knowing how to do tasks and analysing the numbers.

Being able to Role Model behaviours. Being able to connect and manage the Self and Others through a range of crazy challenges. Being able to coach, confront, and manage conflict. Being able to build a unique culture of performance with momentum. This is being Performance Proficient.

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 Imagine your team are the crew of a yacht. The manager is the captain. The captain needs to know every rope, knot, and crank (Task Proficient). They need to know the wind direction, wind speed, ocean currents, and resources (Analysis Proficient). But the running of the yacht comes down to…

·        how the Captain carries them self,

·        how keenly the Captain observes every detail,

·        how the Captain gains and gives constant feedback, and

·        how well they promote an environment where everyone feels safe, energised, and focused no matter what storm they are faced with.

(Performance Proficient)

Performance Proficiency requires 13 distinct skill sets. They are learnable, practical, and immediately applicable in the workplace. A leader will maximise these learnings by first being Task and Analysis Proficient. Put it all together with Performance Proficiency and there is every chance of being reflected upon as a ‘good’ manager by the crew!

If you or your managers are Task and Analytically Proficient and are ready to learn these 13 skill sets in detail, they are covered in the Play Beyond Targets Masterclasses. More info here.

Constant Crystalisation

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.

Strengthen Branding or get left behind

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.

Time - start with your team

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:

  1. “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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.