Communication

When to reflect

Natural breaks offer the opportunity to look back

Yesterday I had the pleasure of working with the Southern Regional Management Team at Lowes Menswear. What a great bunch of people that inspired me with their stories of connection and care they have for their brand and respective teams.

Working with the Southern Regional Management Team for Lowes Menswear

Working with the Southern Regional Management Team for Lowes Menswear

One discussion point that we worked through revolved around reflection. What is it? When to do it? How to do it? And is it beneficial? There were a few highlights in the discussion:


1.       Awareness

Those that have attended one of my talks will know that I love Ernest Hemmingway’s quote “Everything in life happens gradually and then suddenly”. A great way to explain that our small habitual actions accumulate – both in a positive and negative way. Reflection gives us the opportunity to be smashed in the face (normally referred to as realisation) with how far we have come or how far we have slid over the past few months. Awareness is a powerful agent of positive change.

Positive and Negative habits accumulate to build powerful outcomes.

Positive and Negative habits accumulate to build powerful outcomes.

2.       Conscious Streaming

Cameron Schwab introduced me to a method call Conscious Streaming (or Stream of Consciousness) which is the technique of journaling our thoughts in real time. Click here for a more in-depth explanation. This is a wonderful way to become aware of your thoughts and make sense of them. A great way to set yourself up to make better decisions, especially when we find ourselves in an emotional state.

3.       Time is your friend

Reflection doesn’t take much time. In fact, sitting down with a paper and pen to write out some thoughts can take as little as a few minutes. When done regularly there seems to be a cumulative effect that builds. James Clear writes beautifully on the power of habits in his book Atomic habits – a great read for those wanting to implement habitual changes in the way they work and generally live.

4.       Do it your way

Writing the old-fashioned way can be a great way to slow our mind down, and neurologically has been proven to have many benefits (Huffington Post). But please don’t restricted yourself to this. Find a style that suits you and run with it!

5.       Anything

What stops many people is that they are not sure what to write. Freeing yourself of restraint is a great place to start. Ultimately, getting your thoughts on interactions with others, certain aspects of work, how we are feeling, and what we are thinking are all relevant. Keeping it simple, honest, and open is all that is required. And when you are done whatever you have written can be thrown in the bin. There is no need to keep it, file it, or share it unless you want to.

With almost four months gone in 2019 and the Easter break upon us this weekend presents a natural break in our working rhythms to stop and reflect on what is working, what is not, what can be tweaked, and what can be eliminated.

I hope you have a lovely break with your nearest and dearest over this Easter Holiday. Have fun and take a moment out to do a little thinking.

Contact Paul to organise a Lunch n Learn Session like the Lowes Team experienced - paul@paulfarina.com.au

How to do Negative

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….

  1. You hate the fact that you always have to be the bad guy.
  2. You can’t believe they have made the mistake after you clearly told them how to do it correctly.
  3. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

How to turn a bunch of dysfunctional individuals into a Dream Team

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.

What are we so scared of?

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.

The Value of Home - Turning Newbies into Leaders

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.

 

Inspire Me!!!

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:

  1. What inspires my people? As individuals and as a group.
  2. How often do I provide my team with sources of inspiration?
  3. How can I measure the effect of inspirational activities? Some may not be measurable, but most are.
  4. 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.

5 Tips to Pull Customers in with Visual Merchandising

The common perception is that visual merchandising (VM) is about making your products and your store look nice, but I assure you that there is a lot more to it than this. It is healthy to view your VM as a hub that links directly to all of your other main business departments. These usually include Stock Control, Marketing, Customer Service, Human Resources & Professional Development, Housekeeping, and of course Sales. Understanding that VM directly links with other functions within your business starts to open up new levels of creativity for you while making it easier to justify further resources on your VM and in-store animation.

VM is also a key way to pull customers over the threshold into your store and assist you to deliver a high customer service level with resulting sales increases. Here are my top five tips to bring this to fruition:

1. Promotional Displays

Visualise your store as you walk in the main entrance, and ask yourself what the first thing is that your eyes are drawn to? In retail, we want the first attention grabber in our store to be the promotional product or range of the week/month/season. It is critical that we have an engaging promotional display front-and-centre as a shopper enter our space. This not only creates interest for a shopper to stop walking and turn into your store, but it also excites the shopper – no matter if they are new to the store or a returning customer. The golden rules are to use a New Product, a Seasonal Product, a Topical Product, or a Hero Product from your range. To ensure freshness change this display regularly. This promotional display should also link to the display in your window.

2. Prime Shelf Real Estate

There are Hot and Cold Zones in our stores, with a Hot Zone representing an area of high foot traffic. You may know why people gravitate to this area, or it may be a mystery. Either way, be sure to recognise your Hot Zone, and the shelving units within this zone. This zone is generally the first-place shoppers will look and want to browse after they have enjoyed your promotional display at the entrance of your store. You may designate a shelf at eye level, or an entire bay as your Prime Shelf Real Estate. Whatever amount of space that you choose, be sure to fill it with product that matches your promotional display mentioned above. The key to this is to make it is clear that people can shop from this area. I say this as a promotional display can often be left by shoppers as they do not feel that they are allowed to shop from this area. By using the sequence of your window display, that matches your promotional display, that matches your Shelf Prime Real Estate, we have now built a slick easy to use path-to-purchase.

3. Pricing

The way that we communicate individualised pricing is a critical part of VM. Pricing needs to visually be aligned with our branding, be sized appropriately to the products, and be easy and clear to understand. Depending on your type of retail you may use hanging tags, pricing stickers, branded labels, or shelf talkers. Whatever the pricing display is that you use be sure to take a good deal of care with careful attention to detail. Make sure pricing labels are consistent throughout the store, and to make pricing easy to read and easy to find. Let’s face it, the first question most consumers have is “how much is it?”

Premium Retail will usually not display prices, and certain retail will have pricing on lists or in menus, but no matter what pricing is relevant for your business be sure that it is brand aligned and that it is correct! There is nothing worse than getting pricing wrong and costing your business money, credibility, and resulting in a negative customer experience.

4. Negative Space

In large discount retailers and super markets, you will see products jammed in and stacked as high as possible. This signals to the consumer that the products are of a low value. In a majority of retail environments, we want to increase the value proposition of our products using VM. One of the most effective ways to do this is to use Negative Space. Negative Space is the use of gaps, or space between products. This is a clever technique that draws a shopper’s eyes to the individual products allowing the shopper to browse without working so hard while creating more interest in the shopper’s mind. Negative Space also signals to the consumer that the products are important enough to command such a generous use of space. This is where the perceived value of a product is enhanced. This technique in your layout will enhance your overall branding, and will be noticeable from the exterior of the store as consumers look in through the entrance. It can also be used in window displays.

5. Clean All Day, Every Day

This is my favourite as it is so so important. No matter how much a consumer is paying for an individual product, if it is not clean then it is not attractive to buy. The retail environment out there is ultra-competitive, so if a store is not clean and tidy, then the consumer will simply go somewhere else. Cleanliness underpins all of your VM. You may have the latest technology, the biggest screens, the flashiest lights, or the most on trend animation, but if your window and shelves are dusty, sticky, grimy, or dirty in anyway then your whole VM is undermined. My golden rules are that we clean at the beginning and end of every day, and then throughout the day constantly. Other than education and product knowledge, re-stocking the shelves and cleaning is the number one task that we all need to commit to when we have down time in-store. It is critical that everyone in the store team is contributing to this too, and that there are no exemptions. It is a team game with sales to be lost if someone is excusing themselves from cleaning. Keeping your store and products clean can be made harder if your store has an Open-Door Policy (ie. Your front doors are left wide open during trading hours). This is always a great best practice as it invites customers into your space (take that as an extra free tip!) but it will encourage dust to accumulate quicker so be aware of this in regard to directing your team to clean.

Flex vs Consistency - How to beat the Management Paradox

Consistency in customer service is more of an aspiration rather than a destination. Even the ultra-positive person must admit that it is physically impossible to serve every customer every day with the exacting consistent standard and experience. However, I hope we can all agree that when it comes to managing staff one of the best attributes a leader can display is consistency. If I think of the worst managers I ever worked for, it would be the ones that were happy and relaxed one day, and then riding me on every detail the next. It would become a constant worry on my mind – which version of my manager is going to rock into work today? From an inconsistent position, it can almost be impossible to have good quality dialogue with your team and progress your business with momentum and rhythm.

So, consistency in leadership is important. But then, we are also told that flexing our management style to individual needs is a positive attribute too. This is where you tailor your communication to individuals based on their experience, their personality, and their ability as well as a given situation. Some people need a good kick up the backside (figuratively of course!) on a regular basis, and some will perform at their best with a soft supportive approach. Then there are times that require urgency, or patience, or assertiveness. I have become a convert to this thinking from personal experience. I initially managed teams with a “one-method” approach because I was just being myself, and treating everyone the same. I quickly learnt that this was a big mistake as some people found me abrupt and harsh, while sometimes I was labelled as a soft touch and even slack or ineffective. To me, I was being consistent, but the reality is that I was not communicating effectively to different people, with different needs, in different situations. Learning how to flex was like switching the light on in a dark room. All of the sudden colours were more vibrant, and food tasted better… well, maybe not, but there was a marked difference in the way my team responded to my direction. Learning how to flex my management approach really was a game changer, and ever since then I have observed the benefits of managers being able to whilst coaching.

The Paradox

Definition: A paradox is a statement that is self-contradictory because it contains two elements that are both true, but cannot both be true at the same time.

Our management paradox is that we are at our best when we are as consistent as possible, but then we must flex to different team member needs and situations.

How can this be achieved? How is this even possible to deliver? Where do we start?

The answer is that it is difficult to achieve, and in trying to overcoming the paradox you will need to learn and adjust almost constantly. But with some foundation techniques in play, we can develop our own way of beating the paradox. You may have already started to implement good techniques and didn’t even realise.

  1. Start by building consistency. Be clear on your expectations from day one (or tomorrow if you haven’t done this already). Be clear on goals, be clear on behaviour expectations, time keeping, housekeeping, presentation, customer service, visual merchandising. The list can be long or short, but whatever is relevant to your business make sure it is communicated with no room for mis-interpretation. Then, live the expectations yourself and be sure to pull people up on the spot forever-more if they fall outside of the expectations set (i.e. immediate feedback). No one is exempt from these expectations, as that would be inconsistent – right!?!
  2. Build and understand your own role. A manager can become everything to everyone. It is a thankless job where you can get pulled into everything where you end up doing everyone else’s job if you are not careful. By setting your job role within your business, with key tasks built into your week and key timings when certain things get done you can once again re-enforce the concept of consistency. Having an element of regime that your staff can become familiar with sets structure. This is a framework that you and your team can work from on a weekly basis. Everyone knows “when” to expect as well as “what” to expect.
  3. One-on-one Meetings. Have a book, a file, or a digital program that holds all of your staff notes. Every time you have a sit-down with a team member it is critical to take notes. Relying on your memory can be a tenuous strategy in such a fast-paced world. Keep records, and be sure to have regular chats with your team (both formal and informal). You will have an initial one-on-one with your team members to set expectations as previously described. Here you can also start to understand an individual’s needs. What they need from you. What type of leadership they need right now. The type of communication they respond well to, and if they need high levels of attention and supervision or if they need space and delegation. Remember, note it all down!
  4. Flex using the three communication types. Once you know how humans communicate and receive messages to and from each other, you can start to sell effectively. It is the same with managing people. There are three main ways humans communicate a message of any type to each other:
    1. Body Language – we use this and notice this more than anything else. Our body language tells someone everything about what we “really mean” and what we “really want to say”. Being aware of our body language, and then using it in the right context when leading teams will help to flex a message to be more assertive, or softer depending on the need of the individual at a given time.
    2. Tone of Voice – second to body language, but still critically important. This is the use of pitch, volume, and pace of our voice as we speak. There are many great examples of leaders that do this well, but the one person that stands out to me in recent history is Barack Obama. He uses the “pause” and variation in pace-of-speech better than anyone I have ever seen. Use your tone of voice to convey urgency, or calm, or confidence, or light-heartedness – wherever is necessary.
    3. The spoken word –It may surprise you that the words we say influence the messages we convey a lot less than the two factors above, but it is true. This is down to the fact that we are all generally born as bad listeners. Listening is a skill, and most of us are quite poor at it. Having said this, the words we use are of course very important. Choosing your words carefully and using the right dialogue for different individuals will help you flex your management style without your team even noticing. Here we are talking about language – some people respond to simple short sentences, while some enjoy intricate elaborate language. Planning your wording before speaking with a team member on a subject can save you a lot of grief down the line, and will help you be effective and efficient with your communication.

I acknowledge that this is the tip of a very large iceberg, and that different businesses will have either constraints or intricacies that are unique and require their own techniques and strategies. I hope that this article assists you to start tackling the paradox, and to one day beat it so that the paradox becomes your asset. A tool in your management toolbox that you can carry around with you everywhere you go.

Use the GROW Model - All the best do!

As a young manager I was introduced to the GROW model to help with performance reviews and the coaching of my team’s ability. It is an ultra-simple coaching model, and because of it’s simplicity I had always hunted for more sophisticated tools. I always felt that there were tools out there that high level managers and coaches were using that could propel my people management skills to another level. As I transitioned from lower level management to mid-level management I never did find anything that was as effective as GROW. By the way, for those unfamiliar, the GROW model is:

  1. Goal – establish the objective
  2. Reality – where is the person now
  3. Options – discuss all actions and tools that can be used to fill the gap between the current reality and the established goal
  4. Wrap Up – summarise the discussion with outcomes KPI’s and tasks for all stakeholders

When I further transitioned into a full time coach and facilitator I studied many high level management books, joined talks and webinars delivered by executive coaches, and psychologists that specialise in business management. To my amazement they all used GROW. This was a wow moment for me. A tool such as GROW that I was given in a company HR training many years previously, seems to be one of the most high-impact coaching tools used at all levels of business and is used by some of the best in the business. What a revelation!

The most important message I have for you is that if you are using it, then hone your skills within it to ensure you are maximising your conversations. If you are not using GROW, then start to. It is not only a great foundation to powerful coaching conversations, but also a tool that you can use in the safe knowledge that the best managers and coaches out there rely on this as their number one go-to tool for performance management in their teams.

What does sacking your boss look like?

There is a game I play in emotional intelligence workshops. It involves the group visualising the best boss they have ever had and then describing them. Then we do the same for the worst boss they have ever had. The results usually end with a lot of laughter and it can be quite therapeutic for all concerned. There is nothing better than visualising that boss that made your life hell and openly getting all of your angst out in a safe environment where anonymity is your closest best’est friend.

It is a wonderful way to understand the perceptions of a workforce and their needs from a given manager. As we discuss this in the workshop it becomes blatantly obvious that the technical ability of a boss is only a small factor of what makes a boss or manager great to work with.

Such discussions are valuable, not only because we gain insight into how we can be better managers, but also because it helps us understand what we want in a manager (i.e. Culture). A big part of this is to recognise that no one is perfect. We must acknowledge that even though our boss may drive us up the wall sometime, they still display many of the positive aspects of a good manager. It is easy to pick holes in someone that is usually doing a tough job in tough circumstances (ie. Managing in a difficult business culture and/or industry).

This aside, many of us have left a job before (or are desperately in the process of looking for a new one) because our boss is a proper “insert expletive”. I went through a period in my career where my boss did not appreciate my role, did not back me up, and gave me loose inconsistent direction. The whole experience was a horrible one. Then I started talking to others. I quickly realised that I was not the only one. This is a rampant disease that has spread across our modern working environments.

The story then completely changed for me. I was reading a book about working for yourself, and the concept of “firing customers” came up. The concept is that if you currently service customers that do not align with your values (as an individual and/or business), then they can continue to buy from you, but you will not service them as a part of your customer service cycle. Fundamentally, you are telling them to start using another vendor without having a messy confrontational conversation. A good example of when to use this is when a customer is refusing to pay an old overdue bill. This customer is basically telling you that they do not value you, your product, or your time. I say “flip” them, get on with servicing people that do, and basically fire them!

So how can we do this with our boss? Well, it’s simple – we quit. Usually we mentally check out three, six, or even twelve months ahead of our departure from the business while we’re hunting for a new opportunity. This may not be a big revelation to many, but the key point here is that in quitting you are basically firing your boss. Think about it. It is very rare that you leave a really good supportive boss. The only reasons for this tend to include personal reasons or moving to a new location. But here is the kicker. How many people have quit under your management?

You may have had someone leave you because they could earn more somewhere else, or because the “growth potential” was bigger somewhere else. But, deep down there is another truth. Was it really about their unhappiness in their role? A role which you had a big impact on. Was their daily experience within the workplace somehow a negative one which you were unable to make into a positive one?

Que the excuses. It wasn’t my fault. It was the senior management’s fault. It was a tough time in the business. The market had a down turn. No one was happy.

Guess what; good bosses deal with this sort of stuff. The difference is that they can manage themselves and their teams through it with skillful precision to ensure no one quits. To ensure that their people do not fire them.

That’s right. For a boss to be fired is the exact same thing as someone quitting their position. This is what firing your boss looks like. If you have had many people fire you, then it is a signal to start changing your management approach. Gain insight from peers that have kept their teams together. Source training which can be beneficial for your people management. Maybe start by analysing your self-management abilities. It is also critical that you understand where and how your boss or partner is helping or hindering you in regard to this. Replacing staff is one of the biggest strains on a business. It is disruptive to service levels, it is the biggest HR cost a business can take on, and it is certainly no fun.

The other side of the coin is being the boss that rarely gets fired. This is a very satisfying position to be in, especially as it is quite rare and extremely difficult to achieve. Working towards this goal is such a great undertaking with a great deal of satisfaction associated with it. There is a lot of pride and happiness that comes with being called “a great boss”.