Consistency

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.

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.

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.

Is it right? A question of Consistency

No matter what your business, it seems that the achievement of the big C – Consistency is the Holy Grail.

Consistency ensures that customer expectations are met no matter who they are, or when they use your services/product. This then creates brand loyalty and brand advocates to advertise your business for never ending growth. Sounds simple… right…?

When I work with business owners and their managers I have noticed that the lack of consistency delivered by their team is almost always the focus of improvement. Consistent performance is really an aspiration rather than an achievement as 100% is realistically impossible to achieve everyday with every customer for the eternity of time. I have also noticed as a consumer and mystery shopper that a lack of consistency is rife in our communities, which has compelled me to discuss a tool that has assisted business people in this area.

Over the years, as an Operational and Sales Manager, I attended many Learning & Development courses. I learnt models, ways of working, and motivational techniques which certainly had merit and improved my management capability, however it remained a struggle to gain consistent performance out of my team. As time went on I found this quite aggravating, which is a sentiment I now know is shared by many.

All of the sudden the simple task of gaining consistent performance out of my team raised a plethora of questions, with a multitude of ways to tackle them. Was I consistent? Did I consistently expect the same from my team daily? How did I communicate this? Was I encouraging? Was I too soft? Am I being negative? Now, I cannot remember the day, or the situation but I bet that I was feeling a lot of strain, pressure, and frustration. Out of this state of “suffering” came an epiphany:

Ask the question – “Is it right?”

The first step once a team member is clear on expectation (yes, training, induction, and on-going staff development are fundamental before anything can be delivered to standard on an ongoing basis), is to ask oneself: is it right?

This one action gives instantly powerful results when facing the tough questions a manager or business owner are faced with on a daily basis. I couldn’t believe how simple it was, how cost effective, and usable no matter what the situation. The key was to understand what I was focused on and how I communicated that to my team.In asking this simple question to myself I found clarity and focus.

This technique cut through emotion – a common root cause for mis-communication in the workplace. This also cut through favouritism, perceived favouritism, personality clashes, and internal power struggles. Within the walls of my business, it was a game changer. Instead of wondering if I should speak out, pick my moment, or call a meeting I asked myself the key question – is it right? If the answer was no, then I simply had to navigate to the source of the challenge. Had I not instructed the team well enough? Is this person being lazy? Was there a reason out of our control for it not-being-right? Most times, I found the answer and a quick, sharp resolution was discussed or implemented.

Using this method I found that my stress levels reduced significantly. I found that over a period of time the team seemed to be clearer on what they needed to achieve, from the nitty-gritty details to the overall goals. All of the sudden my results and overall performance improved. The best bit – I found that more things than not became RIGHT!

There are many steps to using this simple tool to mentor Managers, and develop a team, however, next time you cringe at how a task has been done by your team, ask yourself – is it right? I hope it empowers positive discussions and positive outcomes for you like it has for me and my clients.