Keeping it regular

January 25, 2019

Do you use phrases like these with the people you lead? Does your manager use these with you?

“My door’s always open”

“Come and find me anytime you need help”

These are great sentiments, genuinely appreciated and, for sure, sincerely meant…but I do regularly encounter some problems with this approach. Here are three common ones:

  • team members don’t seek out their leader as often as they should, wasting time and effort ‘working it out themselves’ when they could have really been helped (we don’t want people to become leader-dependent but regular effective guidance can help a lot).
  • when the leader has to instigate a conversation about some kind of correction / refinement / improvement, it feels like a big deal, akin to being called into the headteacher’s office!
  • opportunities to praise, encourage and recognise progress and victories are missed.

I think the last of these points is huge and is a major reason why I am a huge advocate for ‘keeping it regular’. There is so much to be gained by the simple act of setting up regular, routine communication both one-to-one and with the whole team.

And what should be first item on the agenda….every time?

  1. Progress & Victories

Both the team member and the leader can contribute to this agenda item. Team member shares what they think they’ve achieved, has gone well and moved things forward positively. The leader also shares from their perspective the progress and victories they’ve noticed, tangible results-wise as well as attitude and behaviour.

If you’re not already doing this, I’d urge you to try it and see what impact it has. I’ve seen many managers and leaders instigate this as a regular practice and report back staggering results in terms of trust, motivation, positivity and productivity.

If you’re the leader, make it happen. If you are the team member, suggest to your boss that you give it a go.

It doesn’t have to be hours out in meetings. 20 minutes once a fortnight might be enough!

 


A sudden jolt of empathy

February 12, 2018

It’s half term so there was no major rush getting everyone out the house this morning.

As I thought about the wonderful opportunity this presented for me to get my kids to do loads of useful stuff whilst they have all this time on their hands, that’s when the jolt of empathy hit! Don’t put adult expectations on 14, 12 and 10 year old children.

I used to love school holidays, especially the first morning. Lazing around…reading a bit…playing on the computer….all with no stress at all. Nothing to do and nowhere to be.

Yet here I was loading them up with my agenda of things to do! Don’t worry, I’ll still get them helping out with stuff…just with a bit more give first! I know that if I’m not so self-absorbed and enter into the joy of their world first, both they and I will get a much better result – more help, more willingness, less resistance, less conflict, more fun etc – than if I just launch ahead with what I want them to do.

I hope the jolt I was hit with might help you avoid making the same mistake I was rushing headlong into.

 

 


The Friday Five – “I want my manager to…”

June 9, 2017

Five quick and easy things to digest on a Friday!

This week it’s five things I hear most often that people want from their manager.

  1. Consistency
  2. Communication
  3. Clarity
  4. Involvement
  5. Feedback

1.  Consistency – this includes handling problems and mistakes, treatment of different team members & general mood. We like to know that our leaders uphold consistent standards and to feel that we are treated fairly and with respect.

2. Communication – in a nutshell, nearly every conversation I have on this subject contains the sentiment, “I want my manager to communicate more.”

3. Clarity – I read a survey a while back that suggested one of the greatest causes of stress at work was unclear boundaries. We like to know what’s expected. We like to know what success looks like & to have something concrete to aim for. We like to know our roles & responsibilities, & those of our teammates. Strive for clarity wherever possible.

4. Involvement – On a recent day of staff interviews in preparation for designing a line-manager development programme for a company, the appreciation for managers who were present, visible, approachable and who understood what their team actually did day-to-day was huge. NB. This does not mean micro-management!

5. Feedback – for goodness sake, let us know how we’re doing! Are we on track? Are we doing great? What needs changing? Few things stir unrest like the negative annual appraisal that comes out of the blue. Make feedback regular and routine. Both positive and negative.

That’s your Friday Five for this week. Do you agree? Anything else that you’d have in your top five?


I knew the rules but not how to win!

February 18, 2015

In our house board games are big! We love them!

The old classics – Monopoly, Cluedo, Scrabble. There are some fantastic new kids on the block, our current favourite being Sequence.

One of the kids’ birthdays recently yielded a new delight – a game called Scotland Yard. There is great excitement in the house when a new game is being unveiled and the learning of the rules followed by those first few run-throughs is an almost-sacred ritual!

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On this occasion I was not around when the cellophane was pierced and the game learnt. Neither was I present for the second and third outings. The rest of Team Howes had become fairly well versed in this new entertainment and I was at a significant disadvantage.

Finally I get to play and the kids explain the rules to me. This piece moves here. This card does that. You can’t lay this card when that happens. You must collect six of these before you can do this.

Ok, I think I understand the rules. But what’s the aim of the game? How do I win?

This was the bit that was not so well explained by the kids in their eagerness to get started…and beat me!

I find myself in the middle of the game, asking questions as we go and squinting at the tiny instructions without my glasses to try and make sense as we went along as to how the game eventually gets won.

Work can feel like that. Sometimes for the owners / leaders…often for staff. I know what I’m supposed to be getting on with, but how do we win? What does success look like? How does today, or this week really count?

We want (and for our own well-being, need) to succeed. Victories keep us fresh, energised and creative. Knowing the rules without having a clear and imminent sense of a goal to reach, a finish line to cross, it’s drudgery and no-wonder the productivity levels aren’t what they could be.

Whether it’s for yourself, or for those you lead, make it clear where the next finish lines to cross are, and make a deal of it when the tape is broken. Mine today was a short list of ‘Must do today’ tasks, the last of which was writing this blog. My prize – I’m off to make a fresh pot of very nice coffee!


Eight stops to Swiss Cottage

December 8, 2014

The scene was one I’m sure you’re familiar with. Hundreds of people swarming off the train having just arrived at a London Mainline station and rushing on to their familiar short hop on the tube, or outside to jump in a taxi, or perhaps preferring to walk across the City whilst taking in some snapshots of architectural genius…breathtaking creations that are so often missed in the hurly-burly of another ordinary, busy, so-much-to-get-done day in Metropolis.

For me this particular Tuesday it was a little bit different. I’m not incredibly familiar with Central London but I can find my way around OK on my usual routes. Today I was heading somewhere I’d never been before. As I came out onto the main station concourse, I flipped out my phone and opened the Tube Map app to sort out where I needed to be going.

No direct line. Damn. Need to engage brain.

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I stared at the tiny map for an age and was getting nowhere. Way too many options, massive indecision leading to temporary mental paralysis!

Plan B – head down the steps and find one of those large spaghetti maps just before you go through the barriers. That’s better. Make the map larger and it’s much easier to get perspective. Select my line – the first one at least. Choose a destination. Find the platform, board the train and then watch, eagle-eyed, as we pass each station on the way to where i get off.

Time to re-calibrate. Next line. Where am I now? Where do I get off?The big picture map is great but when it comes to making specific progress I need to simplify it right down to a one-line process where I can easily mark my progress.

I’m heading for Swiss Cottage. I’m at London Bridge. That’s eight stops away. In the middle of a million people and ten million thoughts, I need a really simple way of knowing where I am, where I’m going and how many stops to get there.

IMG_2079That’s why I love it when I get to the platform and see one of these maps (eyes right)! Us human beings function much better in the middle of a busy day with the second kind of map rather than the first. Sure we need the big picture and the strategic plan about how it all connects together. All of that should be put together away from the front line where our thinking is clearer and our focus undiluted. Stepping out into the hubbub of the day I need a simple, crystal-clear one page plan that plots my route from A to B and tells me exactly which line I’m on (I don’t want choices now) and how many stops to Swiss Cottage!

Translating all of this into the reality of our lives, our businesses, and all the stuff we have to get done, the obvious lesson is that we need both kind of maps. So many individual leaders and management teams I’ve worked with have struggled to create the proper ‘big map’ or, having done that well, have then failed to translate that on a daily and weekly basis into the single line map that plots the fastest and most effective path from where we are now to the next identified milestone.

One of the most valuable habits to develop in this respect is the ‘Ten Magic Minutes’ – ten minutes spent planning before setting off on the journey of any day to establish what must be done, in what order, in which time slots and exactly what ‘finished’ looks like, or in other words, translating the ‘big map’ into today’s single line. The same thing when you get there – ‘Ten Magic Minutes’ to review, note the escalator repairs at Green Park for the next six weeks and alter the route for next time!  Obvious really, but it’s amazing what comes into focus during an ordinary Tuesday on the London Underground!


I’m still being WAY too reactive (& so are you, probably)!

November 26, 2014

There is a certain conversation I often have with people attending the Effective Personal Management workshop, and sometimes even those seeking to take their productivity to a seriously higher level through our Effective Personal Productivity programme,

I say, and almost everyone agrees, that we do our best work and achieve loads more – typically three to four times more – when we are in the ‘non-urgent / important’ quadrant of the famous time-management matrix, compared to when we’re reacting to people and things shouting loudly at us that draw us into the urgent side of the matrix.

But then the objections and qualifying circumstances are raised. This kind of thing:

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“That’s great Nick,but our industry is really reactive….”

“I understand what you’re saying, but in my role I have to be super-responsive to the customers.”

Whether it’s external – customers, typically – or internal – the boss, department heads, finance etc – we all have those things going on in our work that make what seem like super-urgent demands upon us that we just can’t ignore.

You know what, sometimes that’s exactly right. We should respond because it’s really, really important and definitely requires immediate attention. But how many times can we say that is genuinely the case? One in ten? One in fifty?

The vast majority of what comes my way in the usual week can be predicted, generally speaking at least if not the exact detail, planned for and provision made to schedule the appropriate time to deal with. The same is probably true for you too.

I’ll end with a quick example that illustrates what I’m saying.

One particular manager I was working with on our Productivity programme was having a lot of trouble getting things done on time because of the incessant demands of a few of the company’s best customers. “We can’t afford not to respond to these….the customers pay the wages”. However, the constant interruptions by phone and email were having a seriously negative impact on the business as a whole.

The solution: In seeking to apply the ideas in the programme, the manager in question approached the biggest culprits and said something like this:

“You’re great clients of ours and we really appreciate your business. In fact, I’m so keen to make sure that we’re giving you the attention and levels of service you deserve, I wonder if we could try something that I think will help. Rather than me responding haphazardly to your needs and requests, i’d like to be certain that I give the work we do for you 100% focus. Would you mind if we set up a regular conference call, twice a week for half an hour to begin with, where we go over everything to do with our current projects and anything you need to share with me… and vice-versa?”

Far from being annoyed, the client loved it! No-one had ever shown them so much consideration. The manager in question freed up about half a day per week as a result of being less reactive. It was definitely a Win:Win scenario. A similar approach to the above can often work interally when, for example, it’s your boss who’s your biggest source of urgent interruptions.

I could tell dozens more stories like this, but the simple truth is that I, and perhaps you too (!), are still being WAY TOO REACTIVE.

I’m on a mission to help busy leaders and managers find an extra day a week for the important work (and pleasure) activities that they don’t currently have time for. If you’d like a gentle kick up the backside to get you going with this, drop me a line – I’ll be glad to have twenty minutes on the phone or Skype to assist with kickstarting your own major productivity boost…perhaps to the tune of a whole extra day per week!


Another day of practise

March 18, 2014

This morning I am running the Effective Communication session on the LMI Leadership Forum course. It’s lesson 4 of 6 of a programme that’s focussed on practical ways to improve the productivity of leaders and managers in their workplace.

Without fail, every time this communication lesson comes round (& I must have led this at least 50 times!), I find myself immensely challenged. Every single day we are communicating back and forth with so many people via so many different media and I reckon there are at least half a dozen instances every day where I’m involved in communication which could have been better.

I don’t think of myself as an expert, just someone embarking on another day of practise to try and communicate better….to listen harder, to show more empathy, to ask better questions and to clearly share ideas and information.

How about joining me in seeking to communicate today just a little bit better than yesterday?