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.

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.

The Decision Making Triad

Good decision making does not come naturally to me. There, I said it! I admit it!!!

I am naturally a very emotive person, and particularly when I was younger I would allow emotions to cloud my judgement. The result would be poor decisions resulting in a loss of time, money, and opportunity. To make matters worse, my emotions and ego would then stick up for my poor decisions leading to defensive behaviours and justification. The justification didn’t change the result, nor did it make me feel better.

When it comes to business, as owners or managers we are passionate about what we do. Emotion is going to be a big part of how we communicate with our customers and staff. Emotion is a great connecter, inspirer, and can drive us through projects and tough times. But emotion is inconsistent, temporary, and fluctuates. This is why emotion is a poor basis to make decisions upon. A good example is anger and frustration. I am sure I am not alone in feeling these on a regular basis. When you are angry at a staff member for providing poor customer service, or missing a sale this is not a good reason to change staffing, or decide on next quarter’s L&D plans. This is simply a snap shot that needs to be banked (or noted) and added to all the other information you have. But what other information? and when is a good time to make business decisions? Let me introduce what I call The Decision Triad

The Decision Triad

Things can get complicated very quickly in life so I try and keep things as straight forward as possible. When it comes to making key decisions in business I use a triad of three key techniques in conjunction with each other. To use these together makes for a strong clear way to  lead and direct your work environment.

  1. Notes

Keeping a regular record on what you see and hear can become one of the most powerful tools you will ever use. If you are like me, you’ll know that memory can be very unreliable. Especially when we are talking about things that happened six months ago, (let alone last Monday…!) You may use a hip pocket notepad, or an A3/A4 notebook that you keep locked away in your office and update on your breaks, or you may utilise one of the many great mobile/tablet apps to keep your notes. Whatever you use, make sure it is “user friendly”. The last thing you want is for your note taking to become another job you need to do on top of everything else. Write down all of your observations that you feel are good or bad, or just worth remembering. In this exercise, you are not writing down tasks. This is not a To-Do List. Purely observations. An example may be that a team member came to work 15 minutes late, or that the toner on the printer ran out and a spare was not organised. These small observations will give you great insight for a later date when you come to making decisions on your people, your processes, and your business strategies. A quick tip – make your notes detailed, and include dates and times. Use a consistent format so it is easy to read over quickly when it comes to reviewing all of your information.

  1. Analysis Schedule

We all have a calendar and schedules. If you are really organised, you will have an Ideal Week that is adapted to current needs for the week at hand. But within this do we have a time of the week where we take time out to analyse our business and all the observations we have seen? Some may want to do this daily, or maybe even once a month is enough, but the key to this part of the triad is to STOP! Stop and consume all the relevant information within your business and then decide on your tasks and the tasks of your people. This small investment in time can save thousands and thousands of dollars as well as a lot of man-hours.

  1. Numbers

If notes and a regular schedule make up the base of the triad, then Numbers is most definitely the apex.

Knowing your numbers. Checking them regularly. Knowing what drives good and bad results. Knowing how they relate to particular people or marketing activity in your business are all ultra-critical. Relating the key driving figures in your business (usually called KPI’s or Key Point Indicators) back to ultimate revenue and profitability are going to put you in the driving seat. Relating these numbers to your observations and doing this regularly will then create a very clear picture of what the next steps are going to be. I would describe myself as a people-person, so I naturally thought that making decisions based on numbers was quite a sterile way of doing things. But, I have learnt that numbers show us everything. They tell us about our engagement with our customers, how effective our communication is, and where we are failing to connect with each other amongst many many other things. Well-crafted KPI’s can start to create magic. Suddenly you can gain confidence in your leadership ability that you have never experienced before. You can gain clarity in what you are trying to achieve and how you are going to achieve it. You can start creating time in your working week.

Ultimately, you can be catapulted into a mindset where you feel that you don’t need to make a decision again. You simply need to follow what your numbers are telling you to do. Whenever there is uncertainty you can refer to your notes, or ask your team why a certain number is the way it is (i.e. get inquisitive). You may even need to ask if the number you are measuring are the right ones. If they need change, then change them!

In many businesses, you will be able to utilise your CRM or POS system reports. There is also the good old spread sheet which I must admit I am still fond of. But, be under no illusion. If you do not set up this triad then being consistent is going to be tough. Therefore, it will be near on impossible to gain consistent performance from your team and your products. The triad will not stop us from losing our temper occasionally, and it will stop us getting frustrated, but it will ensure our decision making is sound. It will help us have effective conversations with our team, and I am certain this will positively affect our enjoyment at work along with sales results.