PMN at Hamara Healthy Living Centre

Images from Hamara

The Progressive Managers’ Network is coming to South Leeds, in partnership with the Hamara Healthy Living Centre.

Would you like to learn a management tool that is guaranteed to:

  • Save you time
  • Increase levels of trust in your team
  • Improve communication
  • Make you a noticeably better manager
  • Get more done – more quickly
  • Accelerate the professional development of your team, and
  • Reduce the pain of performance reviews?

The launch event, Brilliant 121s, which will be free of charge is to be held on April 29th with other dates planned as follows:

28th May – Giving and Getting Great Feedback NB -date changed from 27th

24th June – Practical Coaching for Progressive Managers

15th July – Effective Delegation

At the event you will get a free gift to help improve your management worth more than £25.

Places are strictly limited so please book your place online here. Or call me for more information on 0113 2167782.

The first event is free of charge.

Subsequent events will be charges at £120 per session. We will be offering a limited number of reduced price places at just £20 per session. Please get in touch and make your case to secure a reduced cost place.

If you know of a manager who might be interested please forward them a link to this page.

The point of the excercise?

The point of the exercise is to do work you care about with people that matter.

Managers who can help employees find the ‘space’ to do work that they care about with people that matter will soon find themselves recognised as an outstanding leader of a high performing team.

  • Do you know what your team members care about – really?
  • Do they get to work on those things?
  • What are the success stories that show that your organisation and its people (still) matter?
  • What can you do to make your company ‘matter’ more?

Problems With Partnerships

Fellow Leeds blogger Todd Hannula has shared some of his concerns about ‘partnership’ over at his Social Catalyst blog which prompted me to comment.  I think this matters because so often I see partnerships of competent, mature and capable organisations that  in ‘partnership’ become the corporate equivalent of  a three year old having a temper tantrum in a sweet shop.

I work with a chief executive who has a plaque in his (home) office that says ‘Partnership: the temporary suspension of mutual loathing in pursuit of funding’.  How true in many cases!
One of the challenges is that partnership is a ‘weasel word’ with many definitions:

  1. a relationship of two or more entities conducting business for mutual benefit
  2. a legal contract entered into by two or more persons in which each agrees to furnish a part of the capital and labour for a business enterprise, and by which each shares a fixed proportion of profits and losses.
  3. The persons bound by such a contract.
  4. A relationship between individuals or groups that is characterised by mutual cooperation and responsibility, as for the achievement of a specified goal: Neighbourhood groups formed a partnership to fight crime.

Then there are different types and levels of partnership:

  • Self Interested Partnerships – only put in place in pursuit of funding
  • Mutual Partnership – in pursuit of a single relatively narrow agenda that benefits both parties
  • Strategic Partnership – characterised by a wider and longer term context and relationship
  • Shared Destiny Partnership – close to a merger situation where both partners share a single vision and go a long way towards the integration of cultures and systems. All partners face extinction as a consequence of failure.

One of the challenges in making any partnership work is to recognise it for what it is, be up front about it and manage the partnership accordingly.   Don’t pretend that a self interested partnership is in fact deeply strategic.  And never try to build a strategic partnership based on what you can win in the short term.

Make sure that all partners know exactly what type of partnership they are pursuing as differing expectations can be very damaging.

Urgency and Influence: The Role of the Manager in Uncertain Times

The news is full of ‘sub-prime crises’ and ‘credit crunches’.  Whether we are on the edge of a real recession, or just talking ourselves into one, I am not sure – but either way it is sensible to prepare for rougher times ahead.

Heading for the Storm

At these times good managers know how to develop a sense of urgency in the organisation to make sure it is ‘battened down’ when the storm hits. They set deadlines, chase progress and generally tighten up on both effectiveness and efficiency. By making sure that everyone is engaged in ‘doing something’ they manage to keep morale high and opportunities to wallow in self-pity to a minimum. They develop contingency plans, including drastic measures such as redundancies should they be necessary.
The very best managers maintained this sense of urgency when the waters were calm and progress was good.  They truly were making hay while the sun shone.  The focus of the urgency in such times should be more strategic:

  • building high performing teams and cultures – capable of creating more value at lower cost than the competition – through recruitment, development and retention
  • scanning the environment to see where the next storms are brewing and plotting the best course available
  • building customer loyalty and commitment so that the customer base is retained when things get rough

The average and the great manager are also separated, in my book, at least by the way that they handle the whole concept of influence and control. The average manager looks on tough times as ‘just one of those things’ that ‘we will get through somehow’. They become almost passive, certainly defensive, victims of the economic downturn, just trying to keep the wheels in motion until ‘things pick up’.The very best managers have a story to tell and a plan to put in place that will give the organisation every chance of coming through unscathed.  They actively manage the situation and ensure that everyone is engaged in looking for ways to drive up value and reduce costs.  Managers who have been using 121s effectively for a while will find they really come into their own as they can help to dispel rumours and keep everyone focused on the required objectives.

Understanding Your Organisation – Part 1

Most of the managers that I work with have an incredibly detailed knowledge of the organisations that they work in – or at least of the parts of it that they come into regular contact with. Far fewer have a good understanding of what their own organisation looks like from a more strategic or higher level perspective. This imbalance in perspective can cause too much focus on the here and now and not enough consideration of the medium and longer term. This deceptively simple, yet powerful model can help to restore a bit of balance.

It starts of with a recognition that every organisation does something (operations) for someone (customers). Whether the operation is about providing a service or a product – understanding what you provide to your customers – and their level of satisfaction is clearly important.

Customers and Operations

Just considering these two parts of the organisation can raise a host of powerful questions:

  • Who are our customers?
  • Why do they choose us?
  • What do they love about we do?
  • What do they hate?
  • What do they pay for? What else might they pay for?
  • What do they use? What else might they use?
  • How are our customers changing?
  • How efficient are our operations?
  • How effective are they?
  • Where is there most scope for improvement?
  • Who is responsible for managing operations?
  • Who is responsible for managing customers?
  • How effective is the working relationship between them?

Now let’s add a third component to the organisation that will help us to thrive into the future – a cunning plan – a strategy.

Customers, Operations and Strategy

The strategy loop invests time and money in thinking about what the organisation should be doing today if it is to continue to thrive in the future. In simple terms the operational loop is about earning today’s bottom line. The strategy loop is about ensuring tomorrow’s. In many organisations the strategy loop is almost vanishingly small. Only a few people ever think about it – and acting on it is even rarer! Sometimes ‘strategy’ is done on an annual basis usually tied up with the planning process and budgeting. Often it is done in a top down way – strategy is conceived in the board room or the chief execs office and handed down for implementation. Frequently it does not exist at all!

This strategy loop opens up some further challenging and potentially very valuable questions:

  • What is our strategy?
  • How is it developed?
  • Who is responsible for developing it?
  • How is it communicated?
  • Who is able to shape it?

This gives us a fuller picture of the organisation – but it is still not complete. A final component is required to link strategy and operations together. A component to ensure that operations inform strategy and that strategy is put into practice in operations. This component is management.

Customers, Operations, Strategy and Management

This is just about the simplest complete model of an organisation that I can imagine. A manager who is able to develop well founded knowledge of customers, operations, strategy and management is well placed to succeed.

A management team that is able to ensure balanced development of operations, management and strategy – driven by a thorough understanding of customers and their changing needs should be unstoppable.

  • Is management equally effective at developing both operations and strategy?
  • Does management make sure that what happens (operations) takes full account of strategy?
  • Who is responsible for management in your organisation?
  • How could management be improved?

This simple model of the organisation can provide a powerful catalyst for diagnosis and improvement.

Certificating PMN

I have recently been asked by a couple of PMN members whether I can issue certification of attendance on PMN training programmes for them to include in the CPD records.

This is certainly something I could do. Let me know whether you think it is a good idea. Also what information would you want the certificates to contain to make them most useful to you.

Would it be enough for me to e-mail a pdf of a certificate – or would ‘the real thing’ be more worthwhile?

The single most costly and common error a manager can make?

Anger - disposition or context?

The ‘fundamental attribution error’ is, in my experience, the single most common and expensive mistake a manager can make.

The fundamental attribution error is our tendency to over-emphasize ‘dispositional’, or ‘personality-based’, explanations for behaviours observed in others while, simultaneously under-emphasizing ‘situational’ explanations. In other words, we tend to assume that someones actions depend on what “kind” of person they are rather than on the contextual forces influencing the person.

So when someone loses their rag in a meeting it is because they are an angry person who can’t control their behaviour and is unprofessional.  When someone cuts us up on the motorway it is because they are a bad driver.  If someone pushes in front of us at Tesco’s it is because they are rude.

This error frequently creeps into our management.  Especially when people are not performing as we would like.  It is convenient to tell ourselves that their behaviour is because of who they are as a person – rather than because of the context in which they are behaving.  This is because we are powerless to change ‘who they are as a person’ so as a manger we need do nothing – we just accept it.  If we start to consider how the context in which they are operating drives the behaviour then we might have to take a bit more responsibility in making changes.  And quite often we find out that the behaviour that we are getting is at its very root caused by the very context that we are paid to manage!

It requires us to resist the temptation to resort to the quick label (they are just lazy/bad/angry/bossy/arrogant/unprofessional).  These labels let us off the hook but leaves the situation unchanged and the behaviour likely to recur.

Instead we should ask ourselves why a rational, sensible and good person would behave that way.  We need to learn to think ‘How Fascinating!’.  We are then forced to consider how context may have driven the behaviour, and what we might be able to do as a manager to change the context.

So for example perhaps the colleague who lost their rag in the meeting is not just Mr Angry – but is really frustrated at being talked over all the time.   In this case we might be able to facilitate the meeting a little more robustly, ensure that everyone gets their voice heard and the angry behaviour is likely to disappear.

By considering these contextual factors we do create ourselves more work (this IS the work of management and should not be shied away from) but we also give ourselves a genuine chance of making things better.  The kinds of contextual factors that cause ‘bad’ behaviours include:

  • lack of skills, judgement or experience (bad driving for example)
  • the behaviours of others (angry outbursts from someone who feels they are continually being interrupted)
  • lack of incentive/disincentive (the bad behaviour is unrecognised and therefore repeated)
  • unchallenged group norms (our meetings always start late)

So learn to recognise and challenge the fundamental attribution error at work.  I guarantee it will make you a much better manager.

Why NVQs are not enough

I have just started working with a national charity to improve performance management through an investment in management skills. The HR manager who I am working with said

“All of our managers have been through the NVQ level 3 in Management – but they are still unable or unwilling to recognise and manage under-performers”.

This shows the dangers of pursuing qualifications – rather than pursuing performance. We seem to be trapped in a public policy for vocational education and training that puts qualifications above practice.

We are getting a more qualified workforce – but not necessarily a more able one.

Or am I wrong?

David Maister on the Role of Management

The role of management is to:

  1. Provide a clear purpose for the organization, so that the individual can decide whether that purpose is one they can believe in and contribute to;
  2. Help the individual find his or her passion, providing alternatives, encouragement, support during rough times;
  3. Provide clear and honest feedback;
  4. Enforce common standards so that the individual is part of a community of like-minded people of whom the individual can be proud.

Anything missed out? I’d love to hear your comments.

If you marked yourself (or your management team) out of ten on each of these four aspects, how would you score?

What could you do, most quickly and easily, to increase your score?

Thinking strategically; flies, bees, pike and shoulder blades

Most strategy training talks about the importance of developing a strategic plan and then aligning employees with the strategy.   This is an outmoded view of strategy.  I prefer to see strategy as a thinking and doing process – with the focus on achieving success tomorrow – rather than today.  Many managers struggle to find the time to do this strategic thinking and find it even harder to act strategically.

Learning from Mr Pike

The pike is one of the most efficient, lean predating machines in freshwater.  If you put a small pike in an aquarium with a bunch of minnows it will demonstrate its predatory skills with frightening efficiency.  If you separate the pike from the minnows using a sheet of perspex the pike will continue to launch its attacks for a little while.  And then it will just give up.  You can then remove the sheet of perspex and the pike will still believe that it can no longer catch its prey – and will simply starve to death.

Flies and Bees

Imagine putting half a dozen house flies and half a dozen bumble bees in  glass bottle.  The bottle is placed with its base towards a window and the open end towards the middle of the room.  The bees are strategically aligned to fly towards the sunlight.  The presence of the glass is a mystery to them.  They buzz and buzz away at the bottom of the glass driving towards the sunshine – until they too die.  The flies on the other hand are much less ‘strategically aligned’.  They fly in far more random patterns and within a few minutes most of them will have found their way to freedom.

Native Americans and Cracked Shoulder Blades

Some native American tribes used to use shoulder blades to help them plan their hunt.  The night before the hunt would leave they would throw a shoulder blade from a buffalo or deer on the camp fire.  In the morning the bone would have a pattern of cracks caused by the heat of the fire.  The pattern of these cracks – which was essentially random would be used to indicate to the hunting party in which direction they should seek their quarry.  So why would they rely on such a random way of choosing their hunting grounds?  Because without using a randomiser like this they would tend to over work the most productive hunting grounds and threaten the sustainability of the tribe and its environment.

These three stories illustrate something about the nature of strategy and strategic thinking – the perils of over specialisation, the risks of alignment, the problems of holding on to outdated learning and the importance of diversity and randomisation.  I am sure that analysis and planning have their place – but it is thinking and acting strategically that creates real value.