Should someone who is bad at email be promoted?

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 Is there such a thing as email prowess? And is it important enough to be one of the core criteria for promotion? Many would disagree, but there’s evidence which suggests that electronic messaging is no longer a diversion from your work, but an essential component.

It’s fair to say that most managers see email as a nuisance, an activity they would gladly do without. Professionals from an older generation can remember a simpler age when it didn’t exist. They recall the false promise made that it would save time, a goal it certainly has never achieved.

Now, it’s become an obligation – a burden which distracts and takes attention away from the real jobs managers are supposed to be doing. If it were to disappear or be banished, many would cheer with relief.

Of course, that’s wishful thinking. Asynchronous electronic messaging isn’t going anywhere, even if it gets a slight makeover via tools like WhatsApp. The benefits it brings are far too great and there’s not a single company which has avoided the culture change it’s wrought.

Amidst this transformation, managers don’t understand their role as a skillful user of email. Here are three research-based conclusions which illuminate the need to develop this skill long before a promotion is contemplated.

 Email Skill Does Matter

Researchers at Microsoft have been mining email usage data for several large companies for many years. Their expert analyses can predict how well a team performs. A key factor in measuring employee satisfaction is how quickly managers respond to messages sent by their direct reports.

This makes perfect sense. Managers who become the bottleneck to their team’s proper functioning can create havoc, bringing all work to a standstill.

Further research shows that the size of a manager’s email network also has an impact. Those with small networks tend to wield little influence, thereby putting the unit’s mission at risk.

Finally, managers who send email outside of working hours while insisting on immediate responses have an adverse effect on work-life balance. They merely have to forward a single short message to upset a subordinate’s weekend, vacation, holiday, sick-day…or labor pains. Ask around in your company and you may hear some real horror stories.

Collectively, these findings put to bed the notion that a manager’s email skills don’t matter. Unfortunately, many who are promoted fail to understand the centrality of these skills to their new role and never become proficient. As managers they lament: “Sorry…I’m really bad at email.”

Your Email Volume is Your Work Product

The quantity of managers who complain about their email volume is startling. To hear them tell it, they have nothing to do with the number of messages they are obliged to process each day. They are victims.

While this particular nonsense has no place in the managerial ranks, the company that fails to teach the right lessons to its staff fosters its continuance. In the cases where the executive are the worst complainers (and offenders) the entire firm suffers. All firms must therefore give staff the skills to manage ever-increasing volumes of email.

In a June 2012 Gleaner column entitled “How executives unwittingly turn employees into morons”, I shared a true story. A Vice President consistently and blindly ruined the productivity of those around him by insisting on replies to his messages within an hour. His ignorance and the ripple effect it produced could have been avoided with the right intervention customized for his level.

That training would have reshaped the common understanding. Email messaging is a multi-faceted activity that requires a number of simultaneous skills: operational effectiveness, writing, call-to-action crafting, reading between lines, tone management, plus others. They don’t come without effort and practice, yet most companies are blind to studies showing that the average manager spends 20% of his day on this task. The cumulative time spent producing and processing poor quality messages is immense.

The Human Resource Department’s Role

Traditionally, HR has been one of the least productive units in this area. When email was first rolled out, the department was often the last to adopt the new technology. Playing catchup ever since, many Human Resource professionals live in a perpetual email backlog, use poor techniques and never move beyond the basics. As a result, they aren’t role models.

Instead, most staff members are left to fend for themselves. This means that promotions occur without these skills being taken into account. If the 20% statistic is true, and email has the multiplier effect we just described, then the problem in your company is probably expanding as volumes increase.

In most firms, this logjam can only be broken by top leadership, which must start by taking responsibility for its own lack of skill. After a good intervention, the frequent complaints about email should be replaced by positive, collective action and include everyone who sends electronic messages.

 

Why Strategic Planning Offers Team-Building Opportunities

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Listen to this episode here.

Why is it said that a well-conducted strategic planning retreat can be the best executive team-building session ever? What elements should you include so that the time spent helps participants work better than before?

First, you must start by setting aside any recent, fluffy definition of “team-building”: it’s  become synonymous with “entertaining.” For many it means “changing out of work clothes to engage in an activity completely unrelated to the job”. Here in the Caribbean activities such as paintball, casino nights, church services and Soca parties have all earned the label, even as they deliver a “feel-good” experience.

However, many executives are not amused. They see it as unproductive, a way to bribe employees by giving them some fun (they supposedly want) in exchange for doing work (which they don’t really want.) This perverse logic represents old thinking. It comes from a time when productivity had to be coerced.

By contrast, the highest performers who typically make it to the executive ranks are already motivated. For them, team building shouldn’t be a break from work. Instead, it should enhance it by giving them a focused, intense opportunity to fix communication problems, deal with unresolved issues and learn new soft skills.

However, if you are designing such an outcome, don’t expect it to be easy. The best way to start is by focusing on observable behaviors which are missing. Once they are identified, provide your trainees the chance to practice them in a safe environment. Think of it as the equivalent of sparring with a partner in boxing, practicing in the nets in cricket or doing 100 free throws in basketball practice. Repetition, especially under the watchful eye of a demanding coach, works.

A strategic planning retreat, due to its intense nature, can be engineered to produce such outcomes. Here’s how you do it.

  1. Recast the Retreat as a Balance

The worst mental model to have of a strategic planning retreat is to think of it as a round-about way to develop a key document. In fact, it’s easier to get the CEO or consultant to just sit down over a weekend and type away until the task is done.

When convinced by others, some leaders condescend to conducting a full team retreat just to get other people to agree to their ideas. In these settings, the event is simply a rubber stamp. The goal of including colleagues is to sell them on the CEO’s or consultant’s brilliance.

By contrast, an authentic retreat which infuses team-building at every step views the process of developing the details as co-equal with the final product. When they are both respected, you can achieve a fine balance between engaging participants and upholding the quality of the end result.

  1. Use the Retreat to Engage and Train

The best process to create a group strategy involves two kinds of thinking activities. The first, “divergence”, means generating new ideas. The second, “convergence”, is the activity of bringing about agreement between different parties.

In a strategic planning retreat, it’s possible for you to emphasize these two opposite phases, teaching participants how to recognize each one. Now, they can learn the relevant skills within each activity and how to switch between them.

In particular, convergence is fraught with danger. In these phases, a good retreat should have moments when the fight for contending ideas becomes fierce. After all, the stakes are high and people from separate disciplines see the same facts with the special lenses they have been trained to use.

Don’t be like members of weak teams which try to avoid such tussles by putting decisions to a vote. Effective groups work out their differences in an open discussion. Before doing so, take your participants through a self-evaluation of the specific skills needed when diverging or converging. As they make progress towards the end result, get them to reflect on how to improve them in real time.

The truth is that a strategic planning retreat is actually made up of everyday conversations. It’s just that you can seize the opportunity for participants to reflect on the quality of these discussions as well as the final output.

If you also provide an experienced coach to give feedback in the moment, that’s a huge bonus. She should encourage each person to take risks, to try out fresh skills. Expect some new behavior changes to occur in real-time that stick around for years to come.

The bottom line is that a strategic planning retreat is an ideal chance to practice and up-level everyday executive skills. By the end, the benefits the company gains far exceed that of the best party or outside exercise. That’s real team-building.

 

 

 

 

 

Why Effective Leaders Never Play It Safe

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The audio version of this article can be found here, plus an archive of past publications

What allows a few corporate leaders to take risks so effortlessly? And why are so many of the rest over-cautious, trapped in behaviors that leave staff uninspired and disengaged? These tough questions resist one-size-fits-all answers but much can be learned from the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King.

Few realize that he died with a disapproval rating of 75%, higher than any leader in modern times. At the time, many believed that his approach was not only wrong, but unnecessary. As a result, according to those close to him, he became increasingly disillusioned inside, but to outsiders, he just kept moving. He continued to put himself at physical risk, and today Americans revere him with a 90%+ approval rating.

However, King’s example isn’t only for CEO’s and Managing Directors. In fact, anyone who wants to make a difference must face similar challenges, regardless of their level. Here are two ways to remain motivated as a change agent in your company.

Fleeing Familiarity and Safety

Anyone who is inspired with the ability to see a shiny new vision is cursed by their good fortune. Why? Inspirational feelings soon wear off, revealing an opposing force which feeds on fear and pulls them backwards. It represents the familiar parts of their lives, the routines to which they have become accustomed, the comforts they have embraced. These were all-important right up until the moment when that new vision disrupted everything.

King was no different. He was living a comfortable, middle-class life as a pastor of a church and a father of young children when he was recruited as a spokesman for the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. He was 26-years old.

Over the objections of others, he steadily abandoned the path other ministers in his circles had followed. This brought him into a sustained, dangerous confrontation with enemies intent on destroying his work and personhood.

However, at the very beginning he may not have perceived the upcoming threat to his life. Like many of us, it was probably more about giving up everyday middle-class certainty for a vision of the unknown.

In fact, a week before he was caught unawares by a nomination to lead the Montgomery Improvement Association he turned down an opportunity to head up the local NAACP chapter. He was too busy, he explained, taking care of this church to serve in a community position.

Thankfully, he accepted the new role in spite of the time pressure.

As a corporate change agent, you may know what it’s like to fail when the moment to step up to lead arrives at your doorstep, dressed in unfamiliar garb. Like Lot’s wife, you glance wistfully back at the fruits of your hard work, afraid to lose them. It pays to look ahead. Here’s why.

Being Willing to Be in Harm’s Way

As a first-time manager you may have been shocked to discover that the easy life you imagined after being promoted doesn’t exist. Now, you find yourself in harm’s way: the subject of criticism from employees below and executives above.

But it’s just the beginning. With every promotion it only gets worse: the risk increases, takes on new forms and arises in ways you never thought possible.

Seasoned executives will tell you that their perks pale in comparison to sleepless nights, undeserved attacks and targeted gossip that comes from any move into the limelight. They also share that leadership is about accepting such uncertainty, while consciously putting oneself in harm’s way. In other words, it’s a bad idea for the employee who has learned how to avoid risks at all costs.

Even King admitted that if he had been given time to think about becoming the leader of the new organization, he would have declined. It was a decision made in response to the moment.

Yet, we only understand it as a historic turning point in hindsight. On that critical occasion, the choice before him was similar to the ones you face each day. Like every other chance to lead, it eventually passes and life goes on, but the difference that you could have made is lost; sometimes forever.

Take this example and multiply it a few hundred times to get an idea of why change in your firm takes so long to bring about. Many company cultures are built on staff members clinging to familiar gains while habitually avoiding risks. They have learned to avoid the key moments when they could step up to lead.

As an agent of change, don’t run: instead, look for these rare opportunities. Prepare yourself to be in harm’s way. It’s not about being reckless, just understand the risk and accept it as part of the cost of leadership. The history of icons like Dr. King shows us that your decisive action in these key moments makes all the difference.

 

 

 

 

How to Reach Customers with Engaged Communities

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Click here for the audio version.

What can be done about the apparent high level of dissonance between local brands and their respective customers? Most executives and customers at companies like JPS, Digicel and NCB want a close, trusted relationship, but why do managers complain that this outcome is harder to deliver than ever?

As a consumer, I notice that the brands I frequent spend a lot of time and energy shouting (i.e. advertising) at me. They behave like someone who has become unhinged: yelling out unexpected things at inappropriate times, forgetting they know who I am and trying to interrupt to satisfy their insatiable need for me to “Buy Now.”

In their haste they forget that I once made a purchase and was probably satisfied. This dementia leads them to pool me with other strangers who have never spent a penny, treating us all alike.
This is an expensive error. Instead of having inexpensive, quiet conversations with frequent customers, they crank up their advertising budgets to an anonymous public that’s already complaining about too many distractions. They’d be much better off creating online communities that allow their customers to interact with each other in fruitful ways. In fact, they should know from experience why this is crucial.

Most companies have long abandoned the idea that an employee should never speak to someone outside their department without going through their immediate manager. It’s more productive to talk directly. Yet, firms are perfectly fine treating customers as if they are silos, doing nothing to encourage cross-talk. Consequently, they pay a high cost.

Not that your customers submit to this treatment and stay silent. They are too busy talking to each other about your brand via the latest technology. Behind your back, they are using WhatsApp, Messenger and other social networks that share news faster than any announcement, billboard or banner ad.

Some motivated fans go further, and set up their own Facebook pages, groups and Twitter hashtags. Case in point: West indies Cricket. There is one official Facebook page, but ten groups set up by individuals. Given the squad‘s poor performance, and the animosity felt towards its administrators, it’s not hard to imagine the content of these forums.

Unfortunately, in the case of the three major brands I mentioned, their Facebook pages are also filled with complaints. Hardly a complimentary note can be found. Why? People with strong feelings just want to know they are not alone and actively seek out others.

Fortunately, inexpensive technology now exists for your company to be proactive and turn the tide. Instead of waiting around, launch online communities that serve the needs of all stakeholders by giving customers a way to speak with, learn from and help each other.

In the past few months, I have set up a new (free) network for Human Resource professionals at CaribHRForum. To avoid making big mistakes, I did some research into online communities and was amazed: what used to be a hit-or-miss affair now has solid, recent resources and studies behind it. Here are the steps I recommend you take, condensing best practices I am learning to use.
1. Define Community Goals with Customer Input
Effective online communities are a partnership intended to satisfy the unmet needs of brands and their customers.
Your company should simultaneously develop objectives for the community while fostering a small group of customers. Give them access to a basic platform and get them talking to you and to each other about their needs.
2. Upgrade to a Scalable Platform
This is the point to make some tradeoffs. While Facebook is free, it’s noisy and distracting. The average person spends only a few seconds viewing their brands, according to data collected.
Paid community platforms allow members to be more focused and are built for growth. Select one of the many which exist that suits your needs and find someone to manage it.
3. Match hypothetical with actual behavior
Once you get up and running, put yourself in learning mode. Perform the following tests of your community member’s habitual behavior and your tactics.
Test #1 – Members should all be treated alike.
See what happens when you offer a feature or piece of content to different segments. They may not be real.
Test #2 – Members respond to incentives.
This assumption is the lazy manager’s default. In reality, people’s motivation can be complex, especially within communities with long-term relationships.
Test #3 – Members will recruit others.
Ask them to invite others and see how they respond.
Remember, your customers probably had an initial positive experience and desperately want to relive it. Your new online community is a structured way to bring them together to achieve a win-win: a meeting of your goals and theirs. Repeat the trick often enough and they’ll thank you for trading in your shouty ads for decent, engaging conversations.

Why Your Business Needs a Mature Relationship to Standards

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You can find the audio version of this article here.

We Jamaicans have a difficulty noticing high standards, even when they hit us right in the face. This habit ruins organizations when leaders are the worst culprits.

For example, even our savviest business leaders sometime fall for hucksters who promise miracle “opportunities” which provide instant, effortless riches.

Case in point: I recall intelligent friends trying to convince me that Olint and Cash Plus were legitimate ventures being made available to the common man “by God’s Grace”.  These weren‘t isolated con jobs. Apparently, we Jamaicans have a weakness for this kind of argument. We want to achieve success without giving in to the high standard which it demands.

In this context, I can think of two situations in which we are challenged.

1) The first occurs in the moment when we realize that we have just become part of a relationship which calls for higher standards than we have lived by. It’s often a shock. In one situation, a coach I hired threatened (in writing) to double her rates, then triple them, then fire me if I missed another appointment.

In another unrelated case, my late arrival at a meeting was met by a locked door.

As human beings, we don’t react well in these circumstances. “How dare they?” we exclaim, then indignantly try to beat down an “oppressive” standard. We look for weaknesses, loopholes and back doors. If there’s a bly or relationship we can find to free us from the obligation, we’ll use it. At the very least, we get everyone to agree: the upholders (like my coach) are Nazis, no better than Backra.

Paradoxically, we all love the end-result of high standards. Government and Rhodes Scholarships. Winners of Champs and Schools’ Challenge. The manicured lawns of the JCAA. Profits. The teacher we had in school who demanded greatness from us, and got it.

Perhaps we need to adopt a new personal maxim: “Whenever I am forced by a new environment to meet a higher standard, embrace the opportunity.”

2) But what should we do when the opposite situation occurs? Instead of being hit by a high external standard, we find ourselves in organizations where standards are eroding before our very eyes.

At Wolmers, I saw first-hand what happens when incompetent leadership suddenly replaces its opposite. Imagine a student being caned in the middle of prayers, interrupting a scripture reading. Eventually, teachers began to give up their role as disciplinarians. By the time I reached 6th form, prefects were giving twice as many detentions as teachers.

When standards deteriorate, most of us complain loudly. However, we may be disingenuous. Case in point: We desperately  want to have an effective JCF, but also want to be able to safely “let off a smalls.” (Arguably, the only reason the JDF remains relatively unsullied is because it has fewer contact hours with our citizens.)

In daily corporate life, it’s just as easy to abandon high principles. For example, when a CEO or MD displays low standards, few are willing to confront him/her.  Unlike our best police, soldiers or firemen, employees are unwilling to put themselves in harm’s way.

In fact, the propensity to play it safe is seen by many as a necessary skill for corporate survival. Sticking out your neck for an abstract ideal is judged as unrealistic.

If you find yourself in either of these two situations, resist the urge to walk away. Instead, follow these steps.

  1. Gain a deep understanding

Create a clear picture of the behaviors that comprise the standard. Break it down into small actions anyone can learn so that you can act accordingly to fix the problem.

  1. Look for colleagues who agree to the standard

While not everyone will see the situation the same, some may. Find others of like mind and strengthen each other’s resolve to take a stand and face the attendant risks.

  1. Campaign

This is no short skirmish. The battle to change a culture involves much introspection as protagonists struggle to either attain a high standard or keep one from disappearing. To succeed, they must find ways to speak truths on ever larger, more public stages. Do it well and you can create an internal change movement.

But that is only the start. The daily battle is to take risks in the face of disagreement and ridicule. It requires courage to live out of higher standards in both situations.

While we Jamaicans are usually not social cowards, our workplaces are staffed with people in play-it-safe cultures. They sincerely believe there is no alternative. They are wrong: there is. We just need to step up and accept the cost of high achievement. It’s no more than an inner resolve to take brave actions in service of higher standards.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2018, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

How your business can sell a transformation

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It’s obvious in hindsight. Our very best customer service memories happened when something special left us different than we were before. As a result, when we approached the seller again, we were not the same person: we had been transformed.

Lest you think this is an impossible task for your business, take another look. This transformation can happen anywhere. For example, my local pan-chicken man offers more than food in each interaction. It helps that his product is superb, but to really understand what he’s doing that’s special, let’s contrast transactional versus transformational products and services.

Transactional products and services only involve an exchange of value. You pay your money and receive an item or action.

However, those which are transformational leave you in a difference place once the transaction is complete. It could be that the experience consistently improves your mood. Or you learn so much that you become informed. Perhaps you may be motivated differently.

The reality is that you enter the next transaction transformed. You have been changed on the inside.
By contrast, buying chicken from KFC, Popeye’s or Island Grill doesn’t have this effect. It’s an anonymous activity in which I only expect to be treated humanely, fairly and consistently. The seller is satisfied if they receive the funds, and I walk away with my meal.

However, when I buy from my pan-chicken man in Sterling Castle Square, he (perhaps unintentionally) offers more than barbecued meat. He knows my wife and I by name and I expect to hear about him, his friends and the community. He’ll tell me some of the inside scoop on the latest happenings, such as recent efforts to develop a football field for local youth. I’ll ask him for extra sauce and give him specific feedback on the last purchase.

When I get home, I sit with a bottle of wine and eat slowly to prolong the experience. Sometimes, it even gets cold because I take too long. My wife and I have a recurring conversation about the finer points of the food, such as its spiciness, or sweetness. Plus, whenever we see him in the neighborhood we stop for a few minutes and have a chat.

It’s tempting to believe that a big business can’t be transformational. However, I worked for a world-leading training company that delivered transformation in 200-person workshops in dozens of countries, making me think it can happen for your firm. Here are some strategies to adapt, regardless of size.

1. Define “The Transformed Customer”

This particular end-result is far beyond that of a satisfied or happy customer. It also does not occur simply because the buyer has received the product or service.

Instead, stand in the world of a customer and ask yourself what they would really want to have. Do they need to use your product in a unique way? Are they trying to improve the value-price equation? Are they hoping to get the service for free in the future on their own?

Make a list of these experiences, place them in rank order and brainstorm different ways to provide them.

To complete this exercise effectively, you must consider as many angles as possible without restraint. To feed your ideas, I recommend examining your personal, first-hand experiences for clues. Find those moments where you have received transformational value.

Then, study brands which are able to stack one transformation on top of another. Use them as inspiration to stretch beyond the edges of your thinking.

2. Look for Limits

Another way to define a transformation for your customer is to look past your limits. For example, start by stretching the time boundaries of each interaction.

Some who have done so, like Disney, offer “Backstage” tours of their operations. They help customers learn what happens before a product or service is delivered. (Some firms provide such experiences virtually, via Instagram.)

The mindset needed to create such a transformation sees value in educating customers so that they become better people, and therefore more loyal. It’s a low-cost way to offer a powerful kind of “Brawta.”

3. Plan for the Long-Term

If your company is currently transactional, don’t expect this shift to happen immediately. Instead, pick a number of smaller changes and spread them across several years.

Too many Jamaican companies are at war with their customers, giving as little as possible while keeping all they can. The few transformational firms are seen as aberrations, impossible to replicate.

This excuse just keeps brands stuck at low standards of customer delivery, turning their product or service into a commodity. This leaves their company ripe for disruption or displacement by customers who won’t hesitate to adopt a better solution (like Uber) when it becomes available.

Save your brand an awful fate: find a way to use transformation to gain a competitive advantage.

 

How to Gamify Employee Engagement

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For most companies, staff engagement is just like a religious belief: Someone either has it or doesn’t. This separation between those who are blessed or cursed is familiar to any church-goer, but does it have a place in corporate Jamaica? There may a better way starting with a key assumption.

Many managers assume that high performance is an innate characteristic. “Is so dem stay!” is a retort that ends arguments. In their mind, it’s due to personality, culture, upbringing, ethnicity, or some other intangible factor which can’t be changed. They pass a final judgement that throws an employee, with all his potential, into a box…which is then locked from the outside.

Following this logic, the only resolution is to hire engaged staff-members from the start. However, that not only takes a long time, it hardly lasts. Why? The vast majority of new hires are honestly engaged for their first three to six months after which they slip into the same disaffection that afflicts their colleagues. After a while, they are as ordinary as everyone else.

A more fruitful approach throws out the old concept of engagement as a belief, replacing it with a higher standard. Let’s narrow it down to a collection of observable behaviors which can be captured on a video camera, thereby passing what I call “The Video Tape Test.”

Using this standard we can focus on the precise habits, practices and actions people take when they are engaged, or not. However, we must be careful – my work in the region shows that engaged behaviors vary widely between companies, and sometimes even between working groups. There are no cookie-cutter, universal answers.

This challenge means that you, as a manager, need to do some legwork in order to help your staff succeed. Follow these steps.

Step 1 – Group your employees’ jobs
Examine the positions which report to you and group them by the behaviors demonstrated to be engaged. In some rare cases, you may find that someone’s formal job description may be too narrowly defined. For example, their role in building positive relationships around them using engaged behaviours may be diminished. In these cases, redraft the job description to be more realistic and holistic.
Step 2 – Distinguish Low Engagement
Set aside hostile behaviors which are clearly antagonistic or simply a demonstration of “Bad Mind.” Then, define the level of low performance which is just enough to prevent someone from being fired but not enough for them to contribute more than a minimum. Start to detail the behaviors of this person.
What practices does she engage in each day? Which ones is she unlikely to initiate?
Break down complex behaviors into small, practical atoms which are easy to observe. For example. “Being a standoff” is not a detailed behavior. However, “skipping the Christmas Party”, “refusing lunch meetings” and “leaving at 4:30 on the dot every afternoon” might be.
Step 3 – Clarify High Engagement
Perform a similar tear-down of high engagement.
Step 4 – Identify interim behaviors
Between the two extremes, distinguish additional levels an employee would climb on her way to high engagement. Think of it as a ladder. Then, turn these steps into an assessment for people to apply for themselves.
Step 5 – Teach Employees to Self-Assess
As staff-members evaluate themselves, show them the benefit of conservative grading which allows for room to improve. Serious employees will be glad for the opportunity to improve, now that they have a clear yard-stick and direction.
Step 6 – Offer Coaching
Ask employees to take the initiative to improve performance. Most should be able to put together long-term improvement plans, but they will need your help to craft a strategy which isn‘t too aggressive – these skills always appear easier to implement than they are.
In fact, employees require a great deal of support to achieve their goals. You may not be the one to provide it, but you should help assemble a framework that makes it easy to make stepwise improvements.

If you suspect that this sounds a bit like self-gamification, you are correct. As the manager, you are actually providing a clear-cut game people can play to become more engaged, one step at a time.
In summary, it provides a huge win for both parties. Employees’ attention will be diverted towards the task of giving themselves the gift of focused energy – a life engaged in purposeful activity even at their workplace.

The problem your company faces is that employees who are bored and disengaged are comparing their work-life with other parts of their lives. The only way for it to measure up is for you, the manager, to play your part in helping them adopt a game they can win.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20181216/francis-wade-how-gamify-employee-engagement

Change your business model

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There’s a certain false comfort which comes from believing that your organization’s profitability will always occur in the same way, year after year. That is, until the magic stops. When a disruption takes place, you must face the facts: your products are stale, your people disengaged and your loyal customers are doing business with someone else altogether.

Now, it’s time to transform your business, except that you are too late. The perfect moment was several years ago while you were enjoying the fruits of your success. Back then, you suspected that you would eventually have to make a shift, but never expected it to come so quickly… so suddenly. You thought you had more time. In retrospect, you should have paid more attention to the disruptions already taking place in other geographies.

If your business is able to survive today’s onslaught, how can you ensure it never happens again?

One way is to plan the kind of strategy that assumes a future combination of new technology, external competition, poor economic performance and government regulations. Put them all together and you imagine a perfect storm in which you are forced to react to monstrous changes.

But is there a way to be proactive?

Start by using the Jobs to Be Done framework introduced by Clay Christiansen. It asks the question “What are my customers trying to do when they purchase my product or service?”

For most industries, a rough answer might be: “To achieve a decent balance between price and value.”

For example, look at the value-price equation for a highly competitive niche like internet access. Over the years, the consumer has been able to enjoy the best of both worlds, as both sides of the equation have improved dramatically. How can you provide such a benefit to your customers that would endear you to them?

  1. Change Your Mindset

If your company views customers as scoundrels to be defeated, or as disloyal partners to be scorned, it might be time to shift your mindset. Instead, think Win-Win, in which each transaction is an opportunity to build goodwill on both sides.

Consider that the average transaction delivers a dose of goodwill which “satisfies” both parties. However, that might simply be ordinary.

What if you were to commit to a mindset of providing extraordinary goodwill? What difference would a systematic approach to increasing value and decreasing cost make to your company?

  1. How to Increase Value

Imagine if you were to keep your prices constant. Ask yourself, “How can we deliver even more value to customers, while continuing to achieve a Win-Win relationship?”

As tricky as this may sound, it’s a principle embedded in Jamaican history. “Brawta” – the little extra offered by a supplier to sweeten a transaction – has been a part of our island‘s commerce for as long as most remember. The idea is simple: a supplier can improve the buyer’s experience in ways that are asymmetrical.

For example, imagine visiting the local butcher. She offers some raw dog meat as Brawta – a gift of scraps that were headed to the garbage bin. To her, the cost is nothing. To you, the benefit is substantial.

As a supplier of value, you probably have lots of ways to make your customer’s life easier. You just need to look for them with the right level of creativity. Once found, can they be packaged up and delivered so they add significant value yet cost you relatively little?

  1. Cut Prices

Here’s the more difficult part. How could your company deliver the same value, enjoy the same margins while lower prices at the same time?

This is no theoretical exercise. Instead, you are anticipating a time when you won’t have a choice – a future in which you may be forced to cut prices in order to remain competitive. The difference is that if you do so now, you will have higher margins, and retain some powerful flexibility for later.

In effect, you are building a buffer against disruptions.

Plus, you’ll be able to provide customers the kind of price cuts that make them fall (and stay) in love with your business. As foreign as this may sound, look around at companies who consistently offer you the lowest prices. If they are smart, they are being aggressive to find ways to continually cut the amount you must pay.

What you may not know is that there’s a secret benefit to this effort. If your company commits to reducing prices, it will discover the technologies necessary to keep competitive advantage. In other words, you’ll never be surprised by a disruptive technology because you already use them.

Together, these three strategies can launch you into a different world from your competitors: one they’ll find hard to replicate.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20181202/francis-wade-change-your-business-model

 

 

 

Key Strategic Skills Managers Must Master to Become Executives

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Why do managers sometimes flounder when they become executives? One reason: their new role requires them to create a corporate strategy. It’s a task for which they have never been trained.

I have often told the tale of the just-promoted manager who, everyone soon discovers, was elevated based only on his technical skills.  As the rubber hits the road, it becomes clear that he is ill-prepared.

Another similar problem occurs when a manager is appointed to the executive ranks. All of a sudden, she finds herself sitting in a strategic planning retreat, failing to contribute. In the moment, she realizes that her well-honed ability to produce short-term results are of little value.

Now, she’s on her own as she struggles to uncover what’s lacking. If your firm recently promoted you to the highest level of leadership, here are three areas you must develop to be effective in creating strategy.

  1. Understanding the current environment

Whereas managers are encouraged to stay in their lane, put their heads down and ignore parts of the company that don’t apply to them, that advice won’t work for you. In this new position, you need to comprehend the entire company’s operations all at once.

This means far more than being able to fill out the names in an organization chart. Now, you must see the enterprise as a complex system in which only some of the cause-and-effect relationships are

explicitly defined. To gain this level of knowledge, you should study the functions you know little or nothing about, mastering jargon that’s unfamiliar along the way. Also, you should be able to explain how the company works in layman’s language to anyone who cares to listen.

At the start of a planning retreat, you’ll use this skill to bring your team to a joint understanding of the current state of the business. This includes all external trends which may impact the organization, ranging from disruptive technology, competitive threats, to changes in the economy. Your far-reaching, expert contribution is required to complete the exercise.

  1. Creating a Long-Term Target Year

Most companies promote managers based on their ability to produce short-term results through teams of direct reports. However, when they are faced with the challenge to create a corporate plan that’s 20-30 years out, they flounder.

 

As a manager, you knew how to set and accomplish goals you could control. By contrast, executives marshal forces they don’t control in order to hit long-term objectives. The longer the timeframe, the more skill required.

The benefits of such plans are well-established in management practice and theory. It’s not hard to realize that such efforts are the only way to safeguard your firm’s future.

But that’s of little help when you must complete such a task for the first time. Some newcomers to this process even rebel, complaining: “I can’t think that far ahead!”

Don’t be like them. Long before your promotion is finalized, look for (and create) practical learning opportunities to develop long-term plans. This will prepare you for the moment when your role as an executive requires you to craft visionary strategies.

  1. Envisioning Details

Most lower-level employees are satisfied by overarching vision statements which use vague language. They assume that leaders are effectively managing the next steps.

In your new position, you should go much further.

Now, you must describe a detailed, numbers-based vision of what will happen in the long-term target year. In other words, your team develops a picture of the future painted in concrete metrics such as revenue, EBITDA, headcount and market share.

Furthermore, to ensure that these figures are not just being made up, they need to be “back-casted” to connect with today’s results. While many are familiar with the idea from their days studying for an MBA, doing the task in a real group setting is quite a challenge. Once again, it’s best to practice this ability in advance.

Developing these three skills in concert prevents leaders from running off in different directions, investing time and effort in solo plans. The fact is, your organization is at risk if it doesn’t create a collective strategy which includes all the relevant points of view. If your team is poorly trained, expect it to conduct planning which is weak, leaving your company vulnerable.

Another trap is to dress up “More of the Same Stuff, But Just a Little Different” as a strategic plan. This is a cop-out—a way to avoid making hard choices based on the most recent information.

Don’t make this mistake. These skills are trainable even though they may be rare. Invest in them early in a manager’s career so they can be practiced long before their promotion occurs. It will save your company from producing weak strategies that ultimately endanger its future.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20181118/francis-wade-key-skills-managers-need-become-executives

 

The High Cost of Low Turnover

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Note – in this column, I have also prepared some audio notes to expand on some of the ideas that would not fit within the limits of text. Click here to listen in.

In most Jamaican companies, there’s an unquestioned assumption that long staff tenure is an indicator of strong company loyalty. Maybe it’s not. I suggest that as the economy grows it may reveal a deeper truth: these benefits occur with a high price tag.

As you sit at your company’s long service awards function, are you right to wonder if you will ever earn such recognition? Is it disloyal to reconsider the idea of sticking around the same company for decades? After all, your parents advised you to find a good job in a decent organization and cling to it for as long as possible. This was their metric of success.

Were they right? Or could company loyalty and its alter-ego, low turnover, actually be signs that something is wrong? Here are three underlying causes which confound the popular assumption.

  1. A Tight Job Market

The general perception has always been that a steady job is a ticket to a car, mortgage, family and stability. Without it, these accomplishments are said to be impossible.

However, the Help Wanted section of the Gleaner’s Classifieds has been anemic for decades. This sad fact has led employees to develop the skills of a barnacle – they have learned how to cling to their current employment for dear life. Their practices? Building alliances among colleagues while playing internal political games so that they can move around the company, finding one safe haven after another.

For most, this represents a standard operating procedure. When the odd individual acts differently, striking out for a better opportunity in the form of a different job or (God forbid) some kind of risky startup, they are seen as crazy. Once gone, they are forgotten – dismissed as aberrations. Managers simply search for new barnacles to replace the few who exit.

However, this may be about to change. As the economy improves, workers may begin to act on the fresh opportunities it affords.

I once stood in line at Trinidad’s Piarco Airport and watched as a customer service agent, announcing that “I can’t take any more of this,” simply picked up her handbag and walked off the job. At that point, Trinidad was at full employment. Her behavior was typical of a new attitude: anyone could leave a position, rely on the social safety net to handle their basic needs, and re-enter the workforce later.

Local companies should expect the same practice to emerge. It will reveal “loyalty” as a reflection of lack of opportunity, not true affinity.

  1. What Lef’ Mediocrity

But there’s a deeper problem. Today, a firm which is able to attract a Millenial hotshot can fool itself into thinking that a job offer is enough. Managers unconsciously believe that, once hired, she’ll behave just like her barnacled colleagues. In other words, she will cling around “waiting for her time to come”.

In reality, it eventually dawns on her that those who lead the organization, and seal her fate, are clueless. They have failed to keep abreast of developments in technology, their industry, and profession. As a result, they make a series of poor decisions which no-one in their immediate bubble is brave enough to challenge.

That is, until the young talent shows up and, like an Old Testament prophet, starts calling a spade, a spade…to no avail. As she’s ignored and excluded, she becomes frustrated and eventually quits. But it’s not her departure that’s the most dangerous act. After all, a replacement can be found.

Instead, look at what she leaves behind: an organization which systematically repels people like her, while simultaneously encouraging the barnacles to remain. It’s a recipe for perpetual mediocrity.

Survey your company to see if the talents who leave are the ones who challenge the status quo the most. If so, are they leaving behind a stale core of mediocre performers? Under these circumstances, rewarding the “What Lef’” for their “loyalty” is a terrible mistake.

  1. No External Value

Finally, if the new, growing economy doesn’t put your company under fresh pressure to retain employees, consider that it’s not because they are loyal. They just might not be valuable.

Most companies have too many insular people. They don’t keep their Linkedin profiles up to date…if they even have one. They have never crafted a resume. Their only email address was given by the company.

They may be the only ones who can run the firm’s obsolete XYZ machine in the entire world, but these skills are of no external value. Once again, this isn’t true loyalty.

Instead of being lulled into false accomplishments, push your people hard to become the best, while allowing them to pursue whatever career path makes sense. Putting performance over loyalty may probably increase turnover, but it’s a strategy which will pay off in better results.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20181104/francis-wade-avoid-exorbitant-cost-low-turnover

P.S. Here’s that link to the audio once again.