Showing all pages regarding experience.
After running a residential weekend on Leadership Skills for some MBA students I was keen to make sure they applied their learning when they got back to work. I wanted them to commit to at least one action that would change the way they work and improve their management skills. “So what are you going to differently tomorrow?” I asked. The responses were many and various but were not specific enough for my liking.
“I’m going to try to listen more and talk less” one said. “I’m going to improve the way we make decisions in my organisation” offered another. These were encouraging resolutions but were not specific enough for my liking. Then one of the quieter members of the group said “Well from now on, whenever I am giving feedback or carrying out an appraisal, I’m going to start the conversation with ‘How do you think you did?’”. It’s a little thing, but her words made my heart sing!
The weekend course had involved a lot of group work where individuals gave feedback to each other on their performance after each exercise. At first they approached this by immediately reeling off a list of what they thought the other person did well and what they didn’t do well (sadly the emphasis was nearly always on the negatives). However, I had been encouraging them to start each feedback session with a question: “How do you think you did?”. Gradually, they got the hang of it and began to see the benefits of this approach.
There are many situations where managers are called on to comment on the performance of their staff. It could involve one of those difficult conversations where concerns about performance need to be raised. It might be part of a performance appraisal or it could just be because someone has asked you for feedback. If the feedback is positive the conversation is fairly straightforward. If not, the approach needs careful handling.
There are two main advantages of starting with the question “How do you think you did?”:
- If things have gone wrong or there are performance problems there is a good chance that the other person will talk about these problems in their response to your question. How much better is it for them to raise the issues rather than you? Immediately you have been offered a way in to a discussion about why these problems came about and how they can be addressed. Yes, I know that there are some people who will never own up to mistakes or short comings but in my experience most people are reasonably self-aware and, given the right environment, they are relatively honest.
- If the performance issues are identified and raised by the other person, rather than you, there is a much better chance of them taking responsibility for the problem and doing something about it. When a person is simply told that they’ve got something wrong, even though they might agree, they are more likely to question their manager’s judgement and go on the defensive. In this situation they will feel much less inclined to address the issues, and so improving their performance becomes an uphill battle.
Giving feedback and managing performance involves a lot more than opening the discussion with a question. But that question can make difficult conversations a whole lot easier. I loved my group member for giving herself a simple practical action that she can implement immediately at work. Just six words – “How do you think you did?” – can be surprisingly effective.
(Firs published 9 March 2011)
Last month the UK Employers’ Federation, the CBI, called for more proactive steps to redress the gender imbalance in Board Rooms. A report from Cranfield University had found that only 12.5% of Board positions in the UK are held by females and that there had been little change in this proportion over recent years. To its credit, the CBI argued that, with women accounting for half the population and making up just under half of the workforce, their continuing under representation at Board level was unacceptable. Indeed, there is strong evidence to suggest that companies with more diverse Boards tend to perform better than others. Instinctively we can appreciate how a more diverse top team, involving different perspectives, attitudes and experiences is likely to make for better, more robust, decision-making.
But the CBI’s proposal, that UK listed companies should be required to achieve internally set targets for female Board participation, is too simplistic a response to a complex issue. Enforcement through legislation only aggravates the ‘political correctness gone mad’ lobby – who would argue that, in bending over backwards for women, we end up with female executives who achieve their senior positions not through merit, but solely because of their gender. In fact targets and quotas for achieving diversity at the top may redress the gender imbalance but such measures are unlikely to change attitudes or workplace practices that lead to inequality in the first place. The reality is that there are many reasons why women are in the minority at the top and each reason requires a particular and different response.
As Chief Executive of the Association of MBAs I became particularly interested in understanding why there were so few women MBA students. Women account for between just 25-30% of students taking MBA courses anywhere in the world and this figure hasn’t changed much in the last 10 years. My investigations and research into the issue failed to establish a single explanation for the low number of women MBAs. But there is evidence to support a fascinating range of possible causes:
- MBA students tend to be in their late 20s and early 30s – this is not an ideal time for women to commit to such a demanding and rigorous course as many are likely to be having or considering having children at this age;
- There is a continuing perception that the MBA environment is competitive, macho and hard-nosed – concerned primarily with big city finance and number crunching. Although this perception no longer reflects the reality, many women are put off by this impression of MBA study and the business school environment;
- It appears that, when it comes to sponsoring staff to undertake MBA study, employers tend to favour male employees over females. Prejudice may be at play here but there are other factors including the way in which women view their own self-development and their apparent lack of assertiveness (relative to men) when it comes to seeking support for their advancement at work;
- There are very few high profile female role models at the top – in business or in business schools – thus reinforcing the perception that women have no place or little chance of success in leadership or at an executive level in business.
I could go on. There are further issues relating to the lack of confidence that some women have in their own ability and potential. The point is that the many and varied reasons behind the low number of women MBAs also tell us something about the under representation of women in the Board Room.
Telling employers to simply appoint more women Board members is not the answer. Helping employers to recognise the skills women bring to business and their value in the workplace; working with companies to improve the recruitment, development and support given to female employees, is likely to be a better solution in the long run.
In a recent interview Mary Berry, food author and queen of cakes, recounted the first time she was asked to write a cookery column for a newspaper. She was terrified and had no idea how to go about explaining a new recipe to readers. However, she picked up on the advice of her boss who said “just write as if you were showing me how to cook” - and that is exactly what she did. It is this style of writing – giving clear and practical advice to budding cooks – that helped to establish Mary Berry as a popular and accessible food author. There is little doubt that, for Mary, the advice of her boss was life changing.
Most of us can remember a time in our careers when we have learnt valuable lessons from others, usually, but not always, from a manager or more experienced colleague. Little pearls of wisdom or remarkable acts we have witnessed tend to stay with us and help us to improve. I had a difficult and demanding boss when I was a young manager who, despite his faults, demonstrated to me the importance of regular communication with customers. ”It almost doesn’t matter what you say Jeanette” he said “so long as you say something to your customers, and often.” I was about 28 and hadn’t, until then, appreciated the benefits of good communication and the value of keeping all your stakeholders in the picture. I have never forgotten and continue to apply that advice.
Of course, learning from others and benefiting from good role models depends on having the good fortune to work with people who are willing and able to pass on their wisdom and knowledge. But it also depends on our own ability to observe and listen to what’s going on around us. When I am coaching I often ask clients to identify someone they have worked with who they admire and respect and then work out what these people do that makes them effective. Most of us work in environments which are a rich source of learning, but we will only learn if we are open to new ways of working and inquisitive about the nature of success in business.
Mary Berry could have remained a competent but unknown journalist if she hadn’t listened to and applied the advice of her boss. So be observant at work, listen carefully to others, be willing to consider new ideas or different ways of thinking about business problems. You never know, you might just learn something that changes your life.
This week I was delighted to support and sponsor the launch of a provocative and insightful book – “How to make a million jobs” by Colin Crooks. You can order a copy here. Colin is a social entrepreneur who, in his book, challenges all of us to think differently about unemployment and its causes. His solutions are radical but not unrealistic and are based on Colin’s experiences as well as persuasive, independent evidence.
As a leadership specialist, working with corporates, professional associations and universities, it is not immediately clear why I should decide to sponsor such a book.
The main reason is that I share with the book’s author a concern about people and their development. I also believe in the capacity for people to change their attitude and behaviour and to learn new skills.
The book is full of real stories about people, young and old, who had given up all hope of finding work. They were poorly educated, lacked confidence and had few social or employability skills. When these people were offered an opportunity to work and when this was accompanied by some support and encouragement they responded positively. Many went on to better jobs and have not looked back.
The book, and my own experience, demonstrates this: that when people at work are supported and developed in the right way they tend to be good employees. They become committed, engaged, interested and keen to learn. They gain in confidence and in ambition. Of course there are always exceptions. But, in general, we know this simple statement of cause and effect to be true.
The problem is that so many employers do not have the commitment or the capability to provide the support required. The challenge for government, policy makers and anyone with an interest in this area, is to change the attitude of employers. We need to be better at getting employers to truly appreciate and realise the business benefits of developing their people. Then we need employers to be better at motivating, supporting and engaging their staff. Employers should be asking whether they and their managers are managing people effectively and providing good role models to all staff.
The people in Colin’s book were fortunate to be taken on by a good employer with good people management skills. Sadly that’s not true of all employers, and many people entering a new job do not get the support and development they need.
Developing people and changing their behaviour requires patience, and this isn’t easy in the current climate where many companies are driven by an obsession with short term results. But understanding that link: between managing people effectively and building a successful business is fundamental to good leadership. It informs everything I do and it is at the heart of Colin Crooks’ book.
There was an interesting discussion on Radio 4 this morning about the value of an MBA and whether MBA study was worth the investment. Josh Kaufman, author of ‘The Personal MBA’ argued that successful businesses are built on a few basic principles and that the greatest entrepreneurs learnt by experience, not in the classroom.
These views – that you can’t teach good leadership and that the MBA has little value – have been around for a long time. Business schools do a good job of defending their position by highlighting the scope and rigour of the MBA and its importance in terms of career progression and earning power. Still the debate rolls on.
It is well known that I have my criticisms of the MBA and have long argued for a fundamental review of the qualification (see my article in the FT on 16 April 2012). However, despite its faults I still believe that MBA study is worth the investment (see my presentation to the City of London Business Library http://www.slideshare.net/jeanettepurcell/10-reasons-why-you-should-get-an-mba-14264411).
So while I welcome the ongoing discussion about the MBA’s future and sympathise with some of the critics of the qualification, I take issue with the argument that is has no value. In particular I do not accept the claim that you only learn how to do business by experience.
First most people’s experiences in business are limited to a single industry, sector and job role. Granted, we learn a great deal from experience, but there is no guarantee that our experiences will cover all aspects of business and management. The MBA fills those gaps in our work experience, giving us access to knowledge and skills that we wouldn’t acquire just by being ‘out there’ in business.
Second, learning by experience is only really effective if we reflect on that experience, analyse it and use it to inform our actions and behaviours in the future. MBA study provides the environment, specialist support and structure for such reflection – encouraging students to share and discuss their experiences so that experience becomes the basis for further learning and improvement.
Let’s have an honest debate about the MBA and its future. But let’s not pretend that experience is all you need in business. It’s the depth of experience and what you do with it that counts.
When did you last win a major piece of work without having to put in a bid? Doesn’t happen very often does it? At the very least you or your company will probably be used to writing proposals on a regular basis, or submitting statements about why you should be given the job.
Not many years ago tendering was largely associated with large supplier contracts or with public sector procurement. Now, bidding for work is common practice for most organisations. In a heavily regulated environment, companies are under pressure to manage risk, act with integrity and to demonstrate transparency in all their dealings – especially with their suppliers. Jobs for the boys are a thing of the past. It takes more than a quick chat and a handshake to win work these days.
Often the task of preparing a proposal or bid falls to staff who lack the required training and skills. They may be senior managers, they may be experts in their own field, but have they had any experience in bidding? Do they really know what makes a winning bid? For such a crucial task it is surprising that companies don’t spend more time developing staff in this area. Putting together a tender is not difficult, but knowing more about the process, the pitfalls and what makes a winning bid can make all the difference.
There is always the context to take into account when helping businesses to create winning bids. What is the company trying to achieve? How is the company positioned? What are its strengths and how are they communicated? When I am working with teams or individuals on the subject of bidding, the answers to these questions inform the design, content and presentation of the bid document. There are also some general tips and techniques which help to create the perfect bid. My top ten tips are at the end of this article. If I had to highlight one tip it is the importance of asking questions. In my experience people are reluctant to enter into a dialogue with a buyer or prospective client during the bidding process. They are even more anxious about asking questions, fearing this will be taken as a sign or ignorance or weakness. On the contrary, asking intelligent, questions demonstrates that you are interested and want to ensure that your bid is relevant, useful and informative. It also helps you to build a relationship with the buyer. And evidence shows that buyers tend to give the job to people they know they can work with.
The old boy network may be gone, but relationships still matter! Download JPA’s Top Tips for creating a winning bid
I was amazed and encouraged by the overwhelming response to my article published this week in the Financial Times (“Rip up the MBA and start afresh”, The Financial Times, Monday 16 April). My mission to reinvent the MBA has sparked quite a debate. In the article I call for a review of the MBA, arguing that, if it is to continue to provide business with well rounded, effective leaders, it needs to change. I have long been an advocate for the MBA and have first hand experience of its benefits. I will continue to recommend the MBA as a means of broadening your business knowledge, acquiring new skills and achieving a step change in your career.
My concern is that the MBA curriculum has become too crowded and confused, partly because business schools have, to their credit, responded to changes in business and to demands for more skills and specialisms in the MBA syllabus. The time has come for a fundamental review starting with a fresh look at what it takes to be an effective business leader. I would like to see an MBA that truly reflects the needs of business today and that places a much greater importance on the development of practical leadership skills.
I demonstrate in my work every day that, with the right support and coaching, people are capable of learning how to lead effectively. It would be a significant step forward for the MBA if leadership development became central to the qualification. The mission continues.
To read my FT article go to http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/c5b11ece-6229-11e1-872e-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1sOUZwmeO
10 reasons why you should get an MBA
Free lunchtime event, City of London, City Business Library
Thursday 10 May
12.30 – 1.30pm
Are you considering an MBA? Or are you wondering whether a member of your staff should take the qualification? The MBA is the leading international qualification and can represent a life-changing experience. Jeanette Purcell will offer 10 reasons (or more!) why you should get an MBA. But you need to understand what MBA study involves, how to choose the right programme, how to cope with the demands of the course. Before founding “Jeanette Purcell Associates” Jeanette was CEO of the Association of MBAs (AMBA). Her expert advice will help you to understand the MBA’s value and how to get the best return on your investment.
Free, but you must book in advance 020 7332 1858; firstname.lastname@example.org
I heard the term ‘imposter syndrome’ for the first time today. It described a situation I recognised immediately and have often talked and written about – and I was fascinated to hear that the situation has a formal definition. The term popped up during an interview with one of the world’s leading astronomers – Dame Jocelyn Bell-Burnell – on Radio 4 this morning. She described how she pursued a career in astrophysics in the 1960s, struggling to achieve recognition in an entirely male dominated field. She applied for a PhD post at Cambridge University not expecting to get in and, when her application was accepted, she was very surprised. Jocelyn Bell-Burnell remembers her first year at Cambridge as a very daunting experience. She felt she didn’t deserve to be there and, in her interview, talks about ‘imposter syndrome’ as a way of describing her feelings. To paraphrase Jocelyn’s explanation of the syndrome : it is experienced by people, mostly women, who lack confidence and who believe that the success they have achieved is the result of some terrible mistake. The feeling involves a nagging fear that at some point the mistake will be uncovered, revealing the person as an undeserving imposter.
This feeling will resonate with many women and, perhaps, some men. To some extent I experienced it myself when I was first promoted to a senior management position. Despite the rigorous selection process, I couldn’t help wondering whether I got there by luck or by somehow pretending to my seniors that I had got what it takes. My older sister, a successful occupational therapist and academic, has told me that she occasionally felt like a fraud in her job. She half expected someone to tap her on the back one day and say “sorry, we’ve just realised you’re not up to this job and you’ve been getting away with it for too long”. When I am coaching women in senior roles it is not unusual for them to express feelings of doubt about their ability to do their job. They are also quick to tell me why they are probably not capable of progressing any further. I rarely encounter a man expressing the same reservations.
Women who suffer from this lack of confidence are often their own worst enemies. They fail to aim high, underrate their own capabilities and do themselves down in front of others. I am not suggesting that women should learn how to be more arrogant – it is often the sincerity and honesty of women leaders that earns them respect, trust and success at the top. Rather I wish that women would believe more in themselves, acknowledge their strengths and realise the positive impact they have in business. I can well understand Jocelyn Bell-Burnell suffering from ‘imposter syndrome’ in the scientific field in the 1960s. It shouldn’t still be happening today.
UK customers are more likely to complain about poor service than customers anywhere else in Europe. A study of 11,000 adults across Europe found that 96% of people in the UK would complain if they were unhappy with the service they received. This compares with the European average of just 67%.
The study, by Kelkoo, found that poor customer service, rude employees, poor quality products and delivery issues were the main reasons for complaints in the UK. Gone are the days when we would ‘put up and shut up’. Today’s customers know their rights, they are better informed and have more choice. And in a highly competitive environment, it is far easier for customers to take their business elsewhere if they are dissatisfied with the service they receive.
So the business imperative for good customer service is clear. Treat your customers badly and they will complain. Deal with their complaints badly and they will leave you. Worse, they will tell others about their bad experience.
But there’s a positive side to all of this. First, it’s not hard to get customer service right. With some investment in recruitment and training, and with committed leadership from the top, you can create the culture, attitudes and behaviours required to deliver great customer service. Second, all customer feedback (even complaints) is valuable and can be used to inform the development and improvement of your services. Third, an unhappy customer can be turned into a happy and loyal customer if their complaint is dealt with properly.
I worked with a company recently where most customer contact was by phone or email. Dealing with demanding, unhappy, confused and angry customers was the responsibility of a busy call centre staffed by a young enthusiastic team. The team were patient and polite to callers but lacked some of the basic tools and techniques to really delight their customers. I put together some top tips for this team. Feel free to download these tips and pass them on to others. Top Ten Tips for keeping customers happy
In today’s complaining culture it’s unrealistic to aim for 100% customer satisfaction. But making even the most difficult customers happy is not an unreasonable goal.
Jeanette has over 20 years experience in management and was Chief Executive of AMBA for 7 years. She has worked in both the commercial and public sectors. Having completed her MBA (with distinction) at the Cass Business School, Jeanette was asked to join the school's academic team as a Visiting Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour... [read more]
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