Tuesday, 13 May 2014

When is a team NOT a team?

As Laurence Fishburne says to Neo “Welcome to the Real” referring to the real world as opposed to the dream world in the film ‘The Matrix’. This links nicely to the subject of this blog which is the effective management of virtual teams through matrix management systems - something nearly as complex as the film itself!

A ‘virtual’ team refers to groups of people who work together across space, time and organisational silos. Matrix management is the term used to identify people who report into more than one line manager. People managing virtual teams using a matrix management process are often as baffled and challenged as Neo was in the film. If matrix management is difficult for the manager, it is even more so for the people who make up a virtual team.

Frequently matrix management and virtual teams run together as the team members have more than one manager and more than one task. However, on occasions, virtual teams are put together for one task/project and have one manager although all the team members might be in different locations or even different countries with different time zones. Confused? Well that’s the way many virtual team members feel most of the time.

Putting yourself in the shoes of someone who works in a virtual team will help to understand some of those challenges.  Start by thinking about the best team you have ever worked with - how did you get on? what did you achieve? what made you so effective?

It was probably something to do with team dynamics, the way people interacted, playing to each others’  strengths and weaknesses; perhaps a strong sense of ‘we are in it together’, good humour, and a great work ethic? Now imagine that you had to do the same tasks but the members of that team have never met, they work in different countries and time zones and ask yourself just how effective would that team have been in those circumstances?

Ironically the answer to the challenges matrix management presents is surprisingly simple to summarise although exceedingly complex to deliver. As the character of Morpheus says in the film (if you haven’t watched the film you should): “I can give you the answer but you need to see for yourself.” The answer to good matrix management can be identified in three words; communication, communication, communication!

Told you it was easy. Now think about the challenges - firstly who do you as the manager need to communicate with? Unsurprisingly, it’s likely to involve a number of interactions, including:

1.      Members of the team as individuals - they need your time.
2.      Members of the team in various groups.
3.      Members of the team as a whole - not possible? Make it possible.
4.    The primary manager (if that isn’t you) of those in the team - you both need to understand the workload of individuals reporting to you or one, or even both, of you may be disappointed.
5.   Team members also need to communicate with each other, perhaps in different countries and time zones - you need to facilitate this. 

Of all the above, the most neglected is communication with other managers who have some degree of responsibility for the team members you are working with. Remember in many organisations where matrix management is the norm, there may in fact be more than one other manager involved. You must communicate with these managers collectively in order to understand the workload being placed on the individual - you can’t just rely on that individual to tell you. People find it easier to say ‘yes’ than ‘no’ and before you know it they are overloaded and struggling, making them feel overly stressed and pressured and resulting in quality and performance issues and deadlines being missed

Your task is therefore not just to communicate - hard enough for many managers - but to ensure that communication takes place effectively and frequently.

So how can you achieve this goal? Well if cost is not an issue, you might use a mix of trains, planes and automobiles to get everyone to a central location on a regular basis - great, but not realistic for most businesses. IT therefore becomes king, and let’s face it, it is available, it just needs coordinating. Skype, conference calling, video conferencing, are all pretty mainstream, and slightly official.

Internal communication systems such as Yammer and Chatter (and there are many, many more) allow for greater collaboration and in theory should encourage teamwork and knowledge sharing as the purpose is to enable employees to converse, collaborate and connect through real-time conversation. The nature of social media means that anyone can participate in discussions, allowing communication to flow from the top down, bottom up, and even from side to side. If you are part of a global company it also means you can connect with people all over the world on a more involved level than just email and phone.

But as with all things, it takes the buy-in of everyone, including managers, (see our earlier blog: Leaders and social media: a question of fight or flight?) for it to be used truly effectively and for the real benefit to be achieved.  

Whatever the communication strategies you as the manager bring into play, arguably it will never be able to replicate the atmosphere created by a good, well-developed team working together in one location. 

The question is how close can you get to it? The challenge, as it was for Neo, is to make it real!  

(Blog post written by Chris Channer)

Monday, 31 March 2014

Authentic Leaders Take the Checkered Flag!

Is it possible to be an effective Authentic Leader at the upper levels of an organisation without having worked your way up from junior and middle levels?

Lets review the challenges any new senior manager has, whether or not they have a background in that particular organisation, they need to understand:

  • The mechanics of the organisation
  • How the various strands fit together
  • The challenges faced by staff
  • The people within it
  • Policies
  • Internal politics
  • Structures
  • Culture

Although not exhaustive this list does highlight the challenge new leaders have in assimilating large amounts of information in order to become effective. Whether they are an Authentic leader or not, these challenges are considerable and if the newly appointed individual struggles, organisational performance can suffer.

Conversely if you have worked your way up through the ranks, you will already understand many of these challenges, especially the roles that your various reports have, and how they fit into the wider organisation which does take the edge off any induction period. One, you should already know what your staff know, and two, you should know when they are wrong or dare I say it, trying to have one over on the boss... yes it happens!

Arguably the most important issue of all - people promoted from within are more likely to understand the consequences of their decisions on the wider organisation. The knock on effect that changing something, which may on the face of it appears relatively minor could have elsewhere in the organisation.  For example you set a new target for someone who is already working at full capacity, they therefore stop doing something else and further down the line in another department thing grind to a halt, sound familiar?

There are of course advantages to bringing someone in from the outside, which are worthy of consideration ie. an external person brings a fresh pair of eyes and a different perspective; they are not bogged down in the ‘we have always done it that way’ mentality; and can offer innovative practices and fresh ideas.

This, however, does not outweigh the challenges, so in an ideal world know matter how good someone is, there must be considerable advantages to both the individual and the organisation if the new appointee has developed from the ground floor up. 

Of course we don’t live in an ideal world, so sometimes the only option is to seek new talent from outside. Lets look at the original question from a different perspective. You are the CEO and you know you have to look outside in order to fill a key role. With all the challenges this person will have over an internal candidate, can they really be expected to deliver and be effective relatively soon after they take office?

Much depends on the person’s mindset; they must ‘recognise’ and ‘acknowledge’ the challenges presented by coming into an organisation at a senior level without having done the junior roles. Their ability to assimilate the information identified in the first list of this blog becomes vital. The quickest and most effective way to gather that information is through direct reports and other staff members, at all levels. Therefore ‘relationship building’ is essential, the ability to develop the relationships to the extent where your staff trust you and you trust them is key.

This fits into the Authentic Leadership model, because only genuine people can develop trusting relationships with multiple people quickly and effectively. A coercive, approach would be a disaster, people will withdraw and you won’t know what you need to know until its too late! A passive approach is equally ineffective because you can’t move relationships on without actively engaging people.

The relationship building approach requires time and effort, you need to be:

  • Visible
  • Approachable
  • Honest
  • Communicative
  • Able to listen well
  • Credible
  • Respectful
  • Caring
  • Inclusive
  • Personable

Again not an exhaustive list but sufficient to demonstrate the challenge faced.

Few organisations have quality handover periods so it is unlikely the new leader will have the luxury of ‘time’ they will have huge pressures from above and below, so time management becomes a strategic imperative.

The answer then must be along the following lines - it is challenging to bring in an outsider to a senior position.  If that person understands the challenges and that the development of relationships is he key to success they may well be able to overcome the disadvantages discussed earlier and add value by bringing in new ideas and practices.

Think of it in terms of a formula one Grand Prix: two different leaders starting at the same time, one is an Authentic style leader the other is not. Who would cross the finish line first, having formed strong working relationships and assimilate the required information as quickly and effectively as possible? And who would be stopping in the pits for assistance and a helping hand because they didn’t know what those around them could have told them?


Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Feedback is vastly underrated.

Question: why is that when you hear someone say “can I give you some feedback?” most people will automatically think that the ‘feedback’ is likely to be negative. I don’t know how much research exists on perceptions of the word, but I know of a number of studies that suggest positive feedback increases motivation and vice versa.

Granted, it is about mindset – some people that I’ve worked with have not had much of a problem giving feedback – although if I’m honest, it’s tended to be more noticeable when things have gone wrong, rather than when’s everything’s fine and dandy. Typically, people tend to pay more attention to ‘feedback’ from managers, rather than their peers or colleagues.

There again, it isn’t just about mindset: the environment and organisational culture will also have a huge impact. Feedback is vastly underrated in our culture because it’s a missed opportunity to see what’s gone right and what’s gone wrong. In a sporting analogy context, feedback is simplistic, unambiguous and instant ie you either get the shot (or goal or target) or you miss the shot (or goal or target)! Not so in an organisational context however...

Even culture in its broadest sense may be a factor. In this  country we’re perhaps more reticent about addressing issues when things aren’t going quite right or indeed when they are  – whereas our European neighbours (French, German) are far more likely to give direct (and certainly more formal) feedback without thinking twice... I caveat this by saying this is my experience of having worked with organisations who operate in these countries, as well as the UK, rather than what some may consider is a stereotypical view. What it highlights is that understanding the nuances and expectations of how things work within an organisation are important, but it shouldn’t stop you from finding a way of encouraging two-way feedback – it just may not be in the way that you’ve been used to (or are comfortable with).

I believe that ‘mistakes’ in organisations are embraced by those individuals who seek to grow, because it gives them feedback - ie lessons learned to enable them to move forward. Clearly, when you’re the person that the buck stops with, the ramifications can be wide-reaching and may influence how brave you will be in the approach you take next time, but wouldn’t you want to know what went wrong or could have been improved, as well as the successes?

As a leader, taking the time and the opportunity to take things on board and making space in your head, as well as in your diary, to reflect can be one of the most valuable things you do to benefit your own development as well as the organisation you work for.

Whether you are the one who is giving feedback or receiving it, here are some things you may want to think about:

1.  What you hear may not be what others hear

Not everyone hears what is being said to them in the same way as everyone else (particularly when addressing things that haven’t gone well). It’s always a good idea to paraphrase what you’ve heard or get someone to give their understanding of what has been said as part of your conversation.

2.  Don’t always expect an immediate response
Be mindful of the fact that some individual’s have a preference for being reflective and may want to go away and think about what’s been said before giving their thoughts about it to you.

3. It isn’t just for the appraisal process
By its very nature, feedback is all about communication. As a leader, you should be communicating with those around you every day. ‘Feedback’ shouldn’t just be reserved for the appraisal process.

4. The follow-up is equally important

What you do with the feedback and whether you incorporate it into how you do things in the future is as important as giving or receiving the feedback itself. 

5. Don’t be afraid of the ‘f’ word...
But don’t overdo it either! Sometimes, the connotations of the very word have exactly the opposite effect of the reason for it.

The process of listening, critiquing, reviewing and sharing what’s gone well and what’s not gone so well should be part and parcel of your approach – all you need to do is to find the approach that’s most effective for you.

Feedback anyone?

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

You either have talent or you don't.

Success. It's about two things: having talent or putting in the hard work and effort that will make you a success. How you view it is dependent on your own perspective... so, which camp do you fall in?

This was a question I found myself asking listening to a keynote speech given by Matthew Syed at the recent Association of Business Psychologists (ABP) conference - an excellent and engaging speaker who clearly has a deep knowledge and real passion for his subject (he was also promoting his book!). As with all of these tantalisingly controversial questions, my response tends to start with "it depends..."

Clearly, there are business implications for leaders which I'll come on to because I think many organisations may start off with the best of intentions but the implementation of a 'talent' management strategy or succession plan either gets lost in translation or is poorly executed.

Let me start with a great analogy used in the session which I thought hit the nail on the head with identifying the issue of labelling high potential performers (often referred to as 'Hi-Po's'). It's a sporting analogy – at which point I normally sigh deeply, but the fact that the speaker had been a three-time Commonwealth table tennis champion and a two-time Olympian, suggested to me that he may just know what he was talking about – that actually made the point very well.

The analogy used the example of a premier division football academy that is a feeder to the likes of Chelsea or Manchester United.  The coaches at this academy felt that the young footballers were just not hungry enough ie they weren’t motivated enough to really put the effort into each practice session. What’s interesting is the psychology behind this which is: hard work becomes embarrassing for those that had already reached the dizzy heights of being accepted into this football academy; in other words, having to work hard and put the effort in would suggest that they didn’t have any talent... because if you have talent, you don’t need to put the effort in do you...

Once you get this fundamental premise, aspects of how this translates in organisational development and effectiveness terms become clear. It relates to an assertion of a fixed mindset vs a growth mindset – how motivated people are to stretch their capability, to try to do things better and to try new things.

People who are perceived to have ‘talent’ – which could be a particular skill that they excel at (and is scarce in the organisation), or they have a particular level of qualification such as a Masters or an MBA or they have proved themselves in a project or a particular role – and have been labelled as high performers, are arguably those people who won’t stretch their capabilities, try to do things better, or try new things because they feel they have already achieved their potential and have been acknowledged for it – so why would they need to try harder?
The speaker of this keynote concluded by saying that talent does exist... but it is vastly overrated. My own view is that it’s all dependent on how you define talent and high level performance because it isn’t the same in every organisation.

In practical terms, it also means that just because an organisation has put together a talent management strategy, that’s not the end of the process, it’s merely the start. Whilst this can be a really valuable exercise to identify those who have promotion potential or whose skills can be used in different parts of the business, what organisations must not lose sight of is that this is a fluid process – or it should be.

Certainly in the case of promoting individuals, the right support and development needs to be in place to ensure that both the organisation and the individual benefit from the very potential that may set them apart from others. However, when individuals get to the point of achieving the more senior position, the parameters for success change and so does the motivation. I would go so far as to say that once high potentials achieve success (however that’s defined), they lose that ‘talent’ label because they need to put in the effort and hard work to shine again.

Some will agree with this, others may not. What do you think?


Wednesday, 2 October 2013

How good is your “gut feel”?

Most of us widely use this phrase. As leaders and managers, going with your “gut feel” or something that “feels right” is usually somewhere in the mix when you’re making a decision – it’s your intuition.

Some do it very consciously and openly. I met someone recently who confided in me that when he’d been the head of a large company in a previous role, his interviewing technique to find if an individual would be a good ‘fit’ for the business was to take them to the local pub for a few hours and see how they handled themselves! I should caveat this to say that the example he used was from about 20 years ago (and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is something that still goes on), but my point is that this person was very clear that he went by his gut feel and, to his mind, his decisions had always been right.

I wasn’t totally surprised then to hear then that he wasn’t entirely convinced about how using psychometric assessment when you’re recruiting people or developing people will help to give objectivity, impartiality and transparency on which to base decision making - which is where our initial conversation had started...

This whole notion of gut feel or intuition is one that I’m particularly intrigued about and it’s a subject that I’ve heard Professor Eugene Sadler-Smith from the University of Surrey, who has carried out a lot of research in this area, talk about on a couple of occasions. It’s based on Dual Processing theory (sometimes referred to as the two minds model for which Daniel Kahneman is notably renowned for).

So, what is intuition (or gut feel) and what isn’t it?

What it is...

-          It’s involuntary

-          It’s affectively charged (which means it involves feeling good or bad)

-          It’s rapid

-          And it’s non-conscious
And what it isn’t...

Intuition isn’t insight and it isn’t always right!

The reason being that insight is being able to explain to others the solution, whereas you’re unlikely to be able to do that with a “gut feeling”.

It’s how intuition is used in business that was of particular interest to me. In a work environment, middle managers are more analytical, whilst senior managers are more intuitive... that’s probably because middle managers are normally required to be more task-focused, while senior managers should be focusing on vision setting and relation building, so it follows that senior managers have more of a balance?

Interestingly, there is little difference between males and females in intuition – so much for the notion of “female intuition” which, according to this thinking, doesn’t really exist! (Although of the four types of intuition: creative; expert; moral; and social – females are supposedly better at the social...).

Dr Sadler believes the intuitive mind can be developed and it’s about building ‘intuitive muscle power’. The point that stayed with me was about practicing these skills to build expertise – in other words learn to trust your hunches and gut feelings but be aware that what may be right for one person may be completely wrong for you. So, the more often you do it, the more it will develop, but don’t just rely on a hunch or a gut feel. The longer you’ve been in the world of work, this becomes harder to do because most of us equate experience with being ‘right’ and, whether consciously or unconsciously, will let our gut feel take precedent.

So, if you’re a manager responsible for recruiting and developing people, just going on your gut feel isn’t always going to get you a positive outcome. Be a ‘smart’ intuitor and use analysis (such as psychometric assessment going back to my scenario at the start) to feed into your decision – if your intuition and the analysis say “yes”, then there’s a much higher likelihood of a good outcome to your decision; if your intuition says “yes”, but the analysis says “no”, then go back to your analysis... but don’t just disregard it. The more you do it, the more you’ll develop your ‘intuitive expertise’...

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Every organisation needs a leadership brand.

I want to qualify this statement by defining what I mean by leadership brand. It isn’t, as many may think about an individual leader’s brand (what I would call a personal brand) – what I refer to is what collectively the leaders within an organisation, from the executive team down, want to be known. It should be articulated in a clear and compelling way, ideally in one short statement, that supports and reinforces the organisation’s brand.

To use a well known and ubiquitous example, Apple is known for innovation and design, that's the brand; its leadership brand is creating new products and services outside the industry norms and everything and everyone within the business will be focused on making it happen. Indeed, one could argue that maintaining this is currently Apple's leadership team's biggest challenge...

Size or sector doesn’t matter either - it isn't just for the big players such as Apple. Of course, if yours is an organisation that employs people in the tens rather than the hundreds, then the process of establishing a compelling leadership brand maybe more straight forward and take less time to develop than an organisation that has several tiers of managers or stakeholders – that’s the theory anyway. It’s true to say that if a broad consensus doesn’t already exist then it can still be a time-consuming process!

Why is it important? It’s important because every senior manager member should be absolutely clear about the behaviours and the skills that will set your business apart from another and these should stem from the leadership identity (brand). Believe it or not, this isn’t as straight forward as it may sound. It’s surprising how aspects such as giving support to their team or encouraging innovation can vary widely dependent on the individual manager’s own definition and style.
Leaders with top leadership skills are 50% more likely to outperform revenue expectation and 80% more likely to outperform profit expectation than those with poor leadership skills, according to the Corporate Leadership Council’s Engagement Research Survey. Those are some pretty powerful percentages. While companies often spend a lot of time and money developing the leadership skills of their individual senior managers, they give very little attention to the collective skills of the senior management team as a whole. These companies may be missing a trick because the collective behaviours of the senior management team underpin the company’s reputation or brand.

The vision and values of an organisation should form the basis, but it’s also about clearly defining what ‘good’ (and bad) looks like and then making sure that all of your managers understand this and start to embed it throughout the organisation. Designing your leadership development programme or activity, which has the leadership brand at its heart, will set the direction, tone and style. How effective it is will become clear from the experience of your employees and your customers. The simple fact is that leaders’ behaviour will affect the behaviour of employees – which will in turn impact customers because the reality is it’s your employees that your customers deal with on a day-to-day basis.

I would encourage all businesses to go through the process of developing a leadership brand – an initial strategy meeting can be the starting point and usually throws up some of the key areas that the business does well or not so well in. In my experience and from feedback from clients, the process itself helps gives the senior management team a renewed focus and clarity on what’s important and identifies the leadership development priorities.
How closely aligned is your leadership development activity to your organisational leadership brand?
Click here  to read a recent client case study.


Thursday, 6 June 2013

Which animal best describes your leadership style?

This is the type of slightly left field question that some organisations have been using during interviews. It seems to be more prevalent at the moment – maybe it’s an attempt to make a particular organisation appear more interesting and memorable... there’s at least one business school using an ‘animal’ theme as the basis of their current advertising campaign to attract students.

Organisations may be choosing to use this type of question to further understand an individual’s self awareness in terms their personal characteristics - possibly as an alternative to ‘stock’ competency based questions - perhaps as an antidote to the boredom of having to listen to well rehearsed answers which greater resemble the organisation’s competency framework than the interviewee’s individual attributes.

So, which animal would you choose? Something predatory?  Lion, cat, and wolf seem to be popular choices (according to a highly unscientific survey we carried out at a recent networking event – connotation of leader of the pack maybe?). The rationale behind these choices: characteristics such as ‘bold’, ‘courageous’, ‘confident’ and ‘assertive’ were also fairly consistent and there appeared to be more of a focus on mainly the positive characteristics.

However pause to reflect for a moment. Whatever animal you choose to best describe you, consider not only those strengths and positive characteristics, but what potential negative impact those positive characteristics may have on others.

If overplayed or not kept in balance, positive, personal characteristics or strengths can have negative repercussions on working relationships with others. Yes, it may be good to be bold, assertive, confident and courageous – but at what cost? Boldness can sometime turn into arrogance if there is nothing or no one to keep it in check or regulate it. A courageous risk taker may frighten the last ounce of self belief from a team already bruised by a previous setback. An assertive and confident leader can run the risk of overestimating their talents and ignore valuable critical feedback from others.

In terms of leadership style, personal strengths can contribute to success. Sustainable leadership is more about understanding not only how these personal strengths help but also how they can sometimes hinder relationships over the long term with colleagues and customers if not kept in check.

A strong and compelling leadership brand (what the leaders of an organisation collectively want to be known for) will help to articulate the right messages to attract those individuals that will be a good ‘fit’ for the organisation making the recruitment process more focused right from the word go.

So once you’ve decided which animal best describes you, think about what kind of animal best describes your organisation – what factors lead you to that conclusion and if you were attracting potential employees externally, would they think the same?

Your answers may well highlight the strength and alignment, or not, of individual and collective leadership styles within your organisation.


Acknowledgement: Thanks to Stephenie Curnock for her great input into the content for this blog.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Mental Toughness: do you have what it takes?

If you heard the words mental toughness would it conjure up a picture of someone who is super resilient, able to deal with any situation no matter how stressful and no matter how critical the decisions to resolve that situation?

If the answer is yes, or even partly yes, it would be perfectly understandable – the very word ‘toughness’, if taken in a literal sense, means robustness or hardiness.

Having attended a recent seminar, it certainly dispelled some myths for me around the topic because it isn’t just about being strong in character. From a business psychology perspective it is indeed the ability to ‘bounce back’ and have resilience (one of the foundation stones in our Organisational Base Building™ model discussed in an earlier blog: http://www.ipsoinsights.com/2012/04/normal-0-microsoftinternetexplorer4.html).  

I liked the analogy used by the speaker which was simply to ask the question ‘Are you the sort of person who would say “bring it on” or hide under the duvet...?’ This puts the notion of mental toughness into context because it has relevance for us all regardless of the type of work we do or organisation we happen to work for.
That said, it clearly also has resonance for those in a leadership role and within a framework of ‘resilient’ leadership. Are leaders expected to be superhuman? Of course, this would depend on your definition of ‘superhuman’,  but most will expect leaders to be resilient in that they have to be able to deal with the slings and arrows that any ‘business as usual’ or crisis situation throws at them – it’s part and parcel of a leadership role (which comes in many guises).
It’s also actually about a mind-set of how we respond when we’re asked to do something and relates to a personality trait which determines how people deal with challenge. Positive thinking is a component of mental toughness - someone who is low on the positive thinking scale is probably more likely to have the ‘hide under the duvet’ mindset than the ‘bring it on’. I would suspect that most of us know of or have worked with people who fit the former rather than the latter!
The model of mental toughness discussed in the seminar was that devised by Dr Peter Clough from the University of Hull. It has four components, (nicely summed up as the “four C’s”), and is the basis of the MTQ48, a psychometric tool designed to measure mental toughness.
The four “C’s”:
  • Challenge (you see opportunities rather than threats)
  • Control (your perception of self worth – this sub-sects into Life Control  
           and Emotional Control)
  • Commitment (your tenacity or “stickability”)
  • Confidence (how you deal with adversity)

Apparently, of those who have completed the MTQ48, results show that the majority of the ‘population’ sits somewhere in the middle of the scale (not quite an 80/20 split but not very far off) with the remainder either as ‘low’ or ‘high’.  This has quite interesting implications for those in a leadership role...

Another interesting nugget which I wasn’t necessarily surprised about, (although this subject could easily take up another couple of blogs with the various research and viewpoints that exist), is that of the four “C’s”, ‘Confidence’ is the only factor where there is a gender difference: men have more confidence in their ability; women more confidence in their interpersonal skills...
The components of resilient leadership, and what most leaders need, are said to be:
  • Leadership skills
  • Mental toughness and
  • Emotional intelligence

It’s good to know that there are ways you can increase your mental toughness which I’ll explore in a future post. For now I’d like to end this blog post with a phrase that brings together the essence and underlying principle behind mental toughness because of its simplicity and power: “we are what we think...”

Would you agree?

Friday, 19 April 2013

Five business reasons to invest in developing your people

Once a business has hired people, whether it’s as little as two or as much as two hundred, giving employees the opportunity for development is a must. Why? Put simply, developing your employees effectively helps to improve the success of your business - both the individual and the business benefit - it’s a win-win situation.

Shrewd managers know that their people, as much as their products and services, differentiate them from their competitors. They recognise too that people are the key to delivering effective change and laying the foundations for future growth.

This will mean an investment on the part of the business, whether that’s in time and/or money, and although sometimes this may need to be in a ‘classroom’ format, these days there are a wide range of learning tools that don’t require that and indeed, dependent on the development needs, the workplace itself can provide a ‘real-time’ classroom.

Five reasons to develop your people:

1.  To maximise on the time and money you’ve invested in hiring - think about what it takes to find and hire really good people. If you’re not giving them the opportunity to make the most of their existing skills and learn new ones then you’re not capitalising on your investment – in fact, you’re watching it depreciate in front of your very eyes!

2.  To increase productivity - Engaged and motivated employees are more productive. There’s a lot of research that exists about the link between people being engaged and motivated and how productive they are in the workplace (the Government backed ‘Engage for Success’ initiative is just one example) and funnily enough that’s the reality too. Cast your mind back to the last time you were bored or uninterested in something...  if that’s your state of mind, are you really going to want to do your best and focus on the task at hand or are you more likely to do the minimum that you can get away with? In a small business, this arguably has an even greater impact.

3. To improve customer satisfaction - Your employees are your brand ambassadors. Every contact an employee has with your customers either reinforces or undermines the organisation’s image and reputation. Engaged employees will help promote the brand and protect the business from the risks associated with poor service levels or product quality.

4.  To keep your best performers – you may think that pay would be the biggest motivator for people to leave (or stay) with your company, however, lack of appreciation, poor management and limited promotion prospects come higher than pay. The average cost of employee turnover can be several thousand pounds (dependent on the role) when you consider the cost of recruitment and selection, cover required during the period there is a vacancy, and induction training for the new employee.

5.  To gain a competitive advantage it keeps employees in the loop while constantly presenting them with the challenge of learning. This makes it easier when the need arises to implement new technology or processes which will keep your business ahead of the game.

There are clear business returns in developing your people. The challenge for many companies however, is to capture the metrics that demonstrate a return on the time and money invested.

Any development should be clearly linked to business goals and performance and part of the business strategy and it should also be a two-way conversation. As with anything, setting clear and tangible objectives beforehand will manage expectation on both sides of what will be achieved and how it will help both the individual employee and the business.

For many small and medium-sized businesses the first barrier is sometimes to change the mind-set of managers to ensure that they are bought in to the value that learning and development initiatives can deliver; then it’s about ensuring staff are given the encouragement, direction and support to get the most out of the development opportunities they are given.

If you would like to know more about how people development can give your business the edge, then please get in touch at  naheed@ipsoconsulting.com or connect with me on Twitter @NaheedMirza


This article appeared in freshbusinessthinking.com - an on-line resource for business owners, directors and entrepreneurs.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

The ONE thing to do if you want to hire staff in 2013

There have been a number of commentators and surveys in the past few weeks that, in one way or another, suggest more businesses will be looking to hire staff in 2013. Although growth is likely to be slow, The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) reports that employers are feeling optimistic about their hiring process and KPMG cautiously hint that the “war for talent” may be returning for sectors with skills shortages. 

Salaries will be your biggest cost dependent on the size of the business and to some extent the sector you operate in. This is why so many companies quote that often used cliché that “people are our greatest asset”. The fact of the matter is that recruiting and retaining good people is one of the fundamentals to business success; make a bad hire and you’ll soon hear about it through your customers and staff.

Clearly then it’s important to get it right and yet so many businesses make a basic error by not including relevant psychometric assessments as part of the hiring process to inform their decision making about who to recruit. Put simply, psychometrics are formal, structured exercises designed to measure qualities such as verbal, numerical or reasoning ability and personality factors. Well designed assessments are tested to ensure they are fair, reliable and valid and there will be a test that is relevant for whichever role you could recruit for.

 As a business person, would you launch a new product without doing some sort of market research to understand whether there’s a demand for it? Or ignore feedback from your existing customers...? Of course not, because without your customers, your business wouldn’t exist for very long. Why then, would you recruit new people without objectively assessing their strengths and whether they are the right ‘fit’ for your business? If this is the one thing you are not doing then your organisation is missing a trick and in the current climate it’s a risk your business can’t afford to take.

Having been a manager who has recruited people for a variety of roles and worked with many organisations to advise on the most effective recruitment and development processes, I know how critical this is. What you want is to hire people who don’t just have the technical skills to do the job (that’s the easy bit because you can get most of this from a CV and an interview) but what I call the right “motivational” fit for the business – that is the more elusive.
I’m sure that every manager will at some point have come across individuals who sounded great on paper and interviewed well enough but turned out not to be quite right for the business – unfortunately, when they’ve already been hired this becomes a more problematic and costly issue to resolve! The fact is that if psychometric assessment had been used then this would have been highlighted before an offer had been made.

There are many myths that exist about psychometric assessment and in my experience the three most common misconceptions clients have are that: 1/ it’s expensive; 2/ they can’t see the value of using it – why pay for something when ‘gut feel’ has always worked for them in the past; or 3/ they think using psychometric assessment will make the process even longer and they need someone in post right now!

The facts are that, dependent on the level of role and type of assessment used, the cost can be tens rather than hundreds of pounds – the real question should be how much it will cost you if you make the wrong decision for your business.

While ‘gut feel’ may have a part to play as part of the overall process, it will never aid decision making in an objective and impartial way; this is where some managers can fall into the trap of recruiting clones of themselves and demonstrate unconscious bias (judging someone according to a stereotype, positive or negative, that we are familiar with), rather than what the business needs.

With regards to the time it takes, most psychometric assessments can be completed online and so the turnaround from completion by the individual through to analysis and feedback given by a qualified practitioner to the manager could be done in as little as a day or two rather than taking weeks.

So if you are looking to hire new people talk to a qualified and experienced assessment practitioner and involve them from the word go. They will be able to advise you on the key skills you should be focusing on and the most appropriate psychometric assessment tools for the role and level you are looking to recruit to.

Here are some things you need to think about:

1.   Be clear in your own mind as to the knowledge, ability and technical skills required to do the job – which is essential and which is desirable. Be realistic with this as it will give you clarity on what’s really important and what you will assess applications on.

2.   Really think about the type of person who will succeed within your organisation – remember, someone who thrives in a creative and fluid environment may not function effectively in a highly regulated, procedure-driven organisation.

3.   Provide honest information about what the company is like and what you expect of your people from the very start of the process – give people the opportunity to sift themselves out before they make an application – this avoids disappointment by both parties at interview stage.

4.   Incorporate these elements into a role profile and use this as the basis for all job advertisements and communication about the role/s and state that applicants will be expected to complete a psychometric assessment as part of the process.

5.   Ask candidates to complete the relevant psychometric assessment before they are interviewed, or if you’re recruiting a high volume for a particular role (eg customer service or graduate level), at the start of the process so it helps you to sift early on.

This will give you an opportunity to probe any areas that have been highlighted. Specific questions can then be incorporated as part of the interview process and allows for a two-way discussion.
Follow these tips and you should have a fit-for-purpose and less stressful process whether you’re recruiting one person or several.

If you would like to know more about how to improve your recruitment or development processes, then please get in touch at naheed@ipsoconsulting.com or via Twitter @NaheedMirza

This article appeared in freshbusinessthinking.com - an on-line resource for business owners, directors and entrepreneurs.