Showing all pages regarding one one.
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.
So Obama is back after what seems like a never-ending US election. He faces some tough challenges but, with the first term behind him, I think he stands a better chance of success. When Barack Obama was elected as President in 2008 he, more than other political leaders, carried with him the unrealistically high expectations of those who put him in power. The euphoria around his entry to the White House fuelled the suggestion that here was the new Messiah, capable of performing impossible tasks, eradicating corruption, conflict and inequality in the world. Not long into his term of office he was being criticised for not delivering on his promises, but most of these were promises he never made. The expectations of him were unrealistic and there was very little he could do to manage those expectations.
That is not the case for most of us. Managing expectations is essential if you want to earn respect, keep your customers and maintain support from the people around you. Yet so many of us fail in this respect. It is all too tempting to over promise and under deliver. We get carried away by our own enthusiasm for exciting ideas, we want to galvanise support, we want to be optimistic rather than negative about what can be achieved. With our customers we don’t want to say ‘no’ or give disappointing news. But enthusiasm without substance leads to raised expectations and, if we don’t deliver, the result is loss of confidence in you, scepticism, and disaffected colleagues. Customers will leave you if you don’t follow through and do what you say.
Managing expectations doesn’t mean that you can’t be enthusiastic or set out your aspirations or ideas for the future. It simply requires an honest approach when communicating these ideas. Describe the goal and be enthusiastic about it but be realistic about what can be achieved by when, perhaps setting out the obstacles to be overcome before the dream can be realised. Aspirational talk has to be tempered with practical guidance. People will be more ready to accept your ideas if you are realistic about their implementation. Recently I gave some feedback to a client of mine which came from one of his colleagues. The colleague said “he has a positive ‘can do’ attitude and always delivers.” I know that my client has a positive attitude to his work but he won’t say he ‘can do’ something when he knows he can’t. That’s managing expectations.
And the same goes for your customers. How many times have you, as a customer, been promised a call back in 5 minutes or a delivery within 2 days and been disappointed when the call or delivery doesn’t come? Rather than feeling delighted our customers feel angry and let down when we fail to deliver. How much better to be honest with them about what can you can do by when. It might not be exactly what they want to hear but they will appreciate your honesty and you won’t disappoint them.
There was little Barack Obama could do in his first term to manage expectations. We however, have many opportunities to ensure that we are honest and realistic in our communications and that we only promise when we know we can deliver.
(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.
I don’t know many people who have been gripped by the recent round of political party conferences in the UK. Despite the effort that goes into staging these events and the forensic analysis by commentators, political conferences are generally dismissed as being high on theatre and low on substance. However, I must admit to taking an interest this year from a professional point of view – it is the presentation skills on display at these conferences that fascinates me.
The two main party leaders, Cameron, and Milliband (sorry, I didn’t watch Clegg), have more or less mastered the basics of good presentation skills (no doubt with a lot of help from advisors, trainers and experts in the field). In fact the format and style of their delivery is so similar that there is little to differentiate them. Both speeches were evidently well prepared ; there was a coherent structure which included repetition of the key messages (‘One nation’ for Milliband and ‘Aspiration’ for Cameron). Each speaker included some sort of personal anecdote to show the softer more human side of their character. And both finished with a clear ‘call to action’ to demonstrate inspirational leadership (Milliband: ‘A Britain we rebuild together!’; Cameron: ‘Let’s get out there and do it!”).
Both leaders looked relatively at ease and authoritative. Their speeches were polished and obviously well-rehearsed but, so as not to appear too scripted, were littered with conversational touches. For example both Cameron and Milliband seem to favour “y’know” as a way of showing informality and mateyness.
So Cameron and Milliband both did a thoroughly good job? Well, yes to an extent. But there were two problems for the party leaders.
First, neither appeared to be clear about who their audience was. Ostensibly the speeches were directed at the party faithful in the auditorium waiting to be reassured and inspired to support their leader. But as Radio 4’s Carolyn Quinn said to Michael Gove yesterday ‘at the end of the day, it’s the public’s reaction to (Cameron’s) speech that really matters’. One of the rules of successful presenting is to know your audience and respond to their needs. Unfortunately the party leaders were attempting to speak to two quite different audiences – their party and the electorate. Trying to keep both happy detracts from the overall impact.
And why, despite the polished performances, did these high profile presentations fail to impress the general public? The problem is that politicians are not widely trusted. Both Cameron and Milliband are dealing with an electorate that is losing its respect and confidence in politicians who are known to say one thing and do another. One fantastic speech is not going to change that. Every good leader knows that demonstrating competence, honesty and integrity can only be achieved by your actions over time. Our political leaders have a bit more work to do before what they say can be believed.
Get JPA’s top tips on delivering the perfect presentation here. Top Ten Tips for Presenting
The spotlight appears to be on the big four accountancy firms as they struggle to address the lack of diversity in their partnerships. The domination of white men from elite universities continues in these firms with Ernst and Young, for example, reporting that just 17% of its 549 partners are women. Clearly the people occupying senior positions in these companies ought to more closely reflect the diversity of its client organisations and society as a whole – it makes good business sense quite apart from being seen as a progressive and fair employer. Yet the pressure to address current imbalances at the top suggests that some firms are placing more priority on the achievement of diversity targets than on the quality of their partners or the inherent causes of male-dominated workplaces.
Ernst and Young has announced that, within 3 years, at least a tenth of its new partners will be black or from other ethnic minorities. It has also pledged to make at least 30 per cent of its new partner appointments women in the same time frame. Such ambitions might be impressive but are surely misguided. Where are these senior women and ethnic minority partners going to come from? We know that most women entering management roles in the city tend to leave in their thirties or fail to achieve promotion to senior levels. Maternity breaks and child care responsibilities and are part of the explanation for this but there is also evidence that corporate culture discourages women from aspiring to senior management roles. Being a partner means long hours and the high stress involved makes it difficult for women to cope with the demands of work and family. On top of this, the male-dominated, performance-driven culture is off-putting to many highly capable young women.
Any company that is serious about achieving diversity at the top needs a long term talent management strategy. The aim should be to ensure that the firm’s organisational culture and policies reflect a genuine desire to engage, develop, support and promote talent – wherever it comes from. The desire to achieve diversity at senior levels in business should be welcomed, but the problem cannot be resolved overnight. A slavish and superficial focus on targets alone suggests that the top firms are paying lip service to what is a complex and more deep-seated issue.
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.
One of the most valuable attributes a leader or anyone in a management role can have is self awareness. With a deep and accurate understanding of yourself; your strengths, weaknesses, habits and preferences, you have the basis for becoming a great leader. Not only can you make the most of your strengths and address your failings, but you can also build a team around you that fills the gaps in your own skill set. For instance, I am aware of my tendency to get excited about new projects and my desire to get going as soon as the idea finds general support. I tend to overlook the detail at this stage and can overlook potential risks. As a Chief Executive I made sure that my top team included someone I trusted to always consider the detail and to keep my enthusiasm in check if necessary.
But self knowledge can be difficult to acquire – we are often blind to our own personality traits and don’t see what others see in us only too clearly. That’s why it is important to get feedback from people you work with in a carefully managed and anonymous way. I use 360 degree feedback quite regularly with senior managers and teams and I have seen how the results can change behaviour and improve performance. The feedback gives you better self knowledge and shows you how you are perceived by others. Such rich information not only forms a great basis for self development but also provides a tool for measuring improvement (by repeating the same feedback exercise in, say, 6-12 months time).
360 degree feedback involves the identification of a group of people who you work with whose opinions you value and trust. Normally the number of people chosen will be between 6-12. The selected group should include a good cross section of work contacts (for instance a mix of peers, managers, juniors, external clients, board members etc). Ideally you should avoid choosing only the people you like or who you know like you, but you should be confident that the feedback you receive will be constructive and helpful.
The feedback questionnaire can be designed to give general feedback on a number of management issues. Alternatively it can be specific, focused on giving some in depth feedback on an issue where the aim is to build new skills (e.g. effective communication). An independent expert should develop the questionnaire ensuring the questions are valid, clear and fair. All questionnaires are completed anonymously and returned for analysis by the independent expert who then presents the results to the people concerned in a professional and constructive way. Of course, the results might be surprising or even upsetting and so this stage must be handled sensitively. However, it is often the case that people recognise the need for improvement when presented with the evidence. They are also pleasantly surprised at positive feedback which they hadn’t expected.
There are a range of costly and sophisticated business tools used to help improve self knowledge and our understanding of the people we work with. I prefer 360 degree feedback above all of these. It’s simple, relevant and cost effective. Most importantly, it works.
Two male public figures have recently got themselves into trouble for their comments on sensitive issues. First George Galloway, not known for his tact, waded into the Assange affair by introducing the bizarre notion of “sexual etiquette” in the context of rape. At the same time, in the US, Missouri congressman Todd Aiken suggests that there is a special case to be made for ‘legitimate rape’. Both parties (Galloway and Aiken) clearly regret their choice of words and have since been engaged in damage limitation exercises. But the damage is done. In fact the damage gets worse for George Galloway who has just sparked another storm by using a derogatory term for disabled people on Twitter.
I have no intention of getting into the rape debate – that’s not the purpose of this piece. But I think these recent episodes demonstrate the importance of taking some time to think before you speak. Politicians are often caught out when faced with difficult questions without notice. But we are all at risk of humiliation and embarrassment (or worse) now that Twitter, Facebook and social media in general encourages spontaneous communication.
I worked with two senior managers recently who were aiming to improve their ability to present themselves with confidence. They wanted to be able to communicate clearly and fluently, so that they could influence others and gain credibility with peers and clients. Both were enthusiastic, intelligent people with a lot to say. When we first met I asked them to deliver a presentation to me. Both presentations were full of information and moved along at a fast pace. The managers spoke very quickly , sometimes deviating from the topic, sometimes stumbling over words and ultimately failing to get their message across.
When we reviewed their presentations they both admitted to being nervous. “The more nervous I get, the more quickly I speak” said one. “Then as I start to panic, I use all the wrong words and lose my thread entirely – I completely lose my confidence.”
I asked them both to rethink their presentation, paring it down to the most essential points and the key message they want to deliver. Then I asked them to deliver the first five minutes of the presentation to me at a snail’s pace. They had to speak as clearly and as slowly as possible, pausing properly for each comma and full stop. The result was remarkable. Both found that the slower pace gave them time to articulate clearly and to think while they spoke, so that they could anticipate the next sentence and the words they wanted to use. By giving themselves extra time they lost their nerves – and gained control.
Both managers have been practising the ‘slow’ technique regularly and use it when preparing for presentations. Obviously in real situations they speak at a normal pace (which is always going to be a bit faster than it feels) but neither of them rush or gabble as they used to. Neither do they end up getting the words wrong or losing the thread – they now have time to think before they speak.
My first piece of advice to Galloway and Aiken would be to stay away from the topic of rape in the future. But whatever the subject they might also benefit from slowing down a little rather than rushing to an answer. In fact perhaps we could all try a little less spontaneity and a little more reflection before opening our mouths.
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]
Latest posts from my blog
Are you listening to your clients?
Face to face conversations with clients are the best opportunity you have to win them over. Yet this critical stage in the process is often poorly managed. How can we have an effective conversation?
Why coaching works
With the right coach you will quickly recognise the benefits of coaching
How personal impact can make the difference
Personal impact is not easy to define, but with some attention to the way you look, move and talk it can be acquired.
How to manage the pain of change
We change our behaviour when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing.
Andy Murray – feel the love!
Are you an emotional leader? Emotional connection is as important in business as it is in sport.
Women should not, like Jane Austen, be ‘quietly waiting in the wings’
Jane Austen may still be ‘quietly waiting in the wings’ – the rest of us don’t have too.
How to create a winning bid
Often the task of preparing a tender or bid falls to staff who lack the required training and skills. Putting together a tender is not difficult, but knowing more about the pitfalls and what makes a winning bid can make all the difference.
How to be an engaging conversationalist
Trying to build a new and important business relationship? Here's a crib sheet for that all important conversation.
Alex Ferguson’s leadership legacy
Tough, aggressive, uncompromising. Would Alex Ferguson's leadership style work in the real world?
What Margaret Thatcher did not do for women
Margaret Thatcher might have demonstrated that it was possible to shatter the glass ceiling but she failed to help other women into leadership roles. But what can women learn from her leadership style?