Management

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.

Models - Play Beyond Targets - Pyramid PNG.png

 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.

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.