“Let’s hope they don’t use that qualification here” ……. “If I do my job, I’ll be out of job” …… and other similar comments would make any self-respecting business owner lay awake at night. But it is happening within our $20 billion, 3rd largest export business – international education and training. The VET industry has been in the negative spotlight for quite a while now – the main issues being the wholesale sign-up of “anyone” into the Government’s VET FEE-HELP scheme and the related bankruptcy of many government-approved and licenced training organisations. The media chorus has been all about the huge sums of taxpayer dollars given to private colleges who in turn willfully signed-up anyone, most with little hope of completing the course.
But there is another big wrong happening with zero media attention – the hand-out of qualifications with little or no meaning. And “meaning” has two meanings. Firstly, due to the generic nature of many qualifications, there is a lack of meaningful connection to a business or industry. Secondly, and more critical, is the lack of meaning or motive to the individual, the student. As a qualified trainer/assessor, I’ve noticed the overriding motive of most international students is a long stay in Australia, not the learning. Unscrupulous operators hitch onto this motive by providing a tick-the-box service. What makes it even more illogical is that a typical Diploma course will set a student back circa $14 000. So you’d think there would be a strong desire to find a quality training provider and make the most of the learning opportunity. Some yes – most no, and the entire system is letting it happen.
Australian education and training, at every level has maintained a very high standard but my own anecdotal evidence suggests the drive for privatisation, profits, lack of regulation and an absence of business pushback indicates it is on a downward spiral. Left unchecked this will permanently tarnish our Tertiary/VET qualifications and the entire industry – and when that happens, it will be a long road back. And, of course, the ultimate customer, Australian business, will suffer. As a senior manager in a number of organisations, I’ve interviewed and employed a number of people in various roles. An individual who presented themselves with a Diploma in a field relevant to the business would have an additional quality that may secure them the job – and as an Australian qualification, I’d see no real need to question it. But all I can say now is, business leaders beware; there is a fair chance (and it seems, an increasing chance), a Diploma noted on a resume is just that – a line on a document.
Training is a critical component of any business’ growth strategy but in order to ensure maximum value you need to consider the following:
- Do your checks. A Diploma may have little meaning. Confirm the applicant’s knowledge. Check out the college’s credentials and the trainer (if possible) – Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) issues media releases when a training provider is de-registered. A college’s high completion rate may not mean quality learning but rather low standards. Quality must be the overriding KPI.
- Understand the Qualification. Go to www.training.gov.au for details on all approved VET qualifications. Review the topics and the relevance to the role and your business.
- Customise your Training. Work with an organisation that has industry experienced trainers and customise your training to suit your business. Most times, the standard generic course has little relevance – customisation links the training directly to your business. At an organisation I was involved in, we approached TAFE for specific training on a discipline to suit our business – no interest. With the help of an external provider, we developed a customised training package which directly linked the core outcomes to our business.
- Feedback. Industry groups need to put pressure on governments to ensure that appropriate standards are maintained.
Our largest exports, 1st – Coal, 2nd – Iron Ore and 4th – Tourism, like all successful businesses have their clients’ needs aligned with their product or service. Coal and Iron Ore’s price, availability and quality must meet the needs of their overseas and local clients. Similarly, with Australian Tourism, our beautiful country provides a quality experience for our overseas visitors – that is why they come. Our 3rd largest, Education, sadly, I believe the correct alignment is lost and therefore the growing concern is that the quality of education is trending down. Government and industry needs to act before it becomes an irreversible downward trend.
28th June 2016
All modern leadership and management courses will teach you that to be an effective leader you need to communicate and consult widely with shareholders, employees and, importantly, your customers. But, can there ever to be too much consultation? Too much listening? Too much support seeking? Maybe, in the leader’s mind, fear takes hold and consultation is used as a way of avoiding making a key decision and getting it wrong.
The recent Brexit issue raised a serious concern with me. As the story goes, back in 2013, David Cameron was experiencing a great deal of internal pressure from within his own party to exit the European Union. Unchecked immigration and the inability to act independently were seen as the big ticket items. To placard his support and put the issue to bed (he hoped) he decided to go to the UK public with a referendum and in essence, let them decide. Wow! This was not a question on a new flag design or the colour mix n match for the English Olympic team’s Rio uniform – important issues in their own right but quite small mash in terms of economic importance. The UK public or any public for that matter, with all of their combined intellectual power, will not have the necessary skill set to fully understand the machinations of the global financial markets and the critical detail on how the world machine works. And as we all know, our representatives, our politicians, always sell issues in fluffy hyperboles with very little supporting detail that the average layperson can understand. So, why is the key decision maker on the very important issue of EU membership, left to the outcome of public referendum? The post mortem of Brexit is starting to show that many voters voted leave/remain purely on a single issue affecting them, here and now – quite a number, racially motivated. And what of contingency plans – are there any? Surely, this is not the way for decision making on key issues.
Leaders are elected to lead. They have the skill set to fulfill this role. They understand the issues of their organisation and if they don’t, they find out. And they lead by setting a vision with short and long term goals, underpinned by well-thought-out strategic plans – plans which model in detail how each objective and the vision will be achieved. They develop trust, communicate and garner support, all the while committed to their vision. Unfounded opinion, no matter how popular, will not sway them.
As a leader, you need to understand where you want the organisation to go, its long-term vision, what will it look like in 5, 10 and 20 years from now. How you get there is the next key discipline to master. These are some of the steps:
- Vision broken down to short, medium and long-term objectives.
- Understand the issues. Communication and consultation at all levels. Seeking expert advice. Integrate these into your plans.
- Model your plans. “Role Play” your organisation through each of the steps in the plan. What does the P&L look like each year? Does it hold together? What are the risks? What are the contingency plans?
- Communicate your plans in terms understood by all – in sufficient detail so all levels of your organisation understand the steps, the risks and rewards these plans will bring. Be open. Great leaders will impart understanding and inspire to recruit support.
- Act. Decisively.
- Review constantly, consult, and adjust. Bring everyone along. Ensure a regular communication plan. Never be afraid to adjust or even take on a new direction.
In leadership the onus of responsibility is great. Opportunities, challenges and decisions come in many shapes and sizes with a diverse array of risks and rewards. Equip yourself with the skill set and importantly, a great support crew. But, ultimately, leaders always captain their ships.
Joe Napoli, Principal Consultant, NLogic Management Services Go To Top Of Page
17th May 2016
As some of you may know, I follow the English Premier League (EPL) and like many others, I could not, in my wildest, craziest dreams see Leicester City taking out the premiership. Before we try to find meaning in all this, let’s lay out the impossible, yet factual Leicester details.
- * At the start of the season, they were 5000:1 to win the premiership. Finding alien life is 1000:1
- * $45m in transfers versus Chelsea’s $426m
- * 10% of Chelsea’s wage bill, 19% of Manchester United and Manchester City, 23% of Arsenal. Remember, no salary gap in the EPL. Its billionaires v millionaires v handouts.
- * In 2015, 26% of Manchester United’s revenue.
- * Claudio Ranieri, at 64, accomplished Mr Nice Guy but no major trophy in 30 years of managing.
- * No big names. But now Jamie Vardy is EPL Player of the Year, Riyad Mahrez is PFA Player of the Year.
- * Premiership won over 38 games. Lost 3 games. 1 year ago they were fighting relegation.
Football is one of the most skillful, tactical and richest team sports on the planet. Owners pay huge sums at all levels - the best players, best managers, best facilities, best of everything. So if you get the best, you’d expect to win or at the very least get close. Conversely, if you’re at the other end of the scale, you’re obviously confident of being competitive, springing the odd surprise or two against the established kings, and better the previous year’s finish. But to come in as a relegation fighter and win it by a clear 10 points over a 38 game campaign - now we’re in 5000:1 fantasy land.
So what happened to Leicester City? Swapping places with Chelsea – last year’s champions, best manager, best bank account and big names with big salaries. How can it be? How does it all come together, the formula to winning, not a 1-off game, but a marathon of 38 games over a period of 10 months? Don’t put this down to luck. It’s intriguing. I’m not sure what formula was used for this Leicester win – I don’t think Leicester know themselves. I suspect, once the parties end, they’ll huddle to understand exactly how it all came together – the perfect recipe. If football is a sporting analogy to business (and I think it is) what are these Leicester “ingredients” that we should use in business. This is my opinion – I’d be keen to get yours.
- Hunger for success. Complacency was the enemy of Chelsea and the other former kings of the EPL. Leicester wanted it more. Hunger is the vital ingredient to all successful businesses.
- Belief and Resilience. A never, ever give up culture, as a unit, a family, a team of 11 field players, reserves, manager and support staff. How many times do you see it in a game - 1, 2 or 3 nil down and the losing team just give up? Leicester players and their manager never ever let this happen. Never. Great business leaders know belief and resilience are key attributes to a successful business. Plan and build a great team culture.
- Super fit. Mind and body. This was evident in Leicester’s play – space was shut down very quickly and counter attack opportunities were carried out at lighting speed, for the entire 90 minutes. How physically and mentally fit is your team?
- Tactics. All coaches plan each game based on available players, conditions and importantly, the team they’re playing against. Ranieri did his homework better than anyone else. In business, do we plan enough to win our next order, a win-win solution to a problem, productivity improvements, etc?
- Focus. Each opportunity, each game is the final. Know where you want to get to, but remember, each quote, each step, each game is what matters now. You can’t get your goal without them.
- Stay Humble. Enjoy. Good guys do come first and humility is their ticket. And if the journey is not fun and enjoyable, well, what’s the point. Ranieri and his chairman owner knew this and made it happen – for the players and their fans.
A lot of the commentators have said this will never be repeated. Maybe so. But isn’t it a great story. But better still, it’s an inspiring lesson we can take away and apply in our lives, private and business. The underdog not only stands up and gets noticed, it goes further and wins it against all odds and without the expensive resources. The exact winning formula will always remain elusive. However, without these key attributes there is no prize.
6th May 2015
I mention Sydney because it has the traffic cesspool I and my fellow sydneyites swim, sorry, drown in. I’m constantly frustrated and increasingly angered by the congestion. Our politicians and leaders talk about climate change, sustainability, pollution, work-life balance and improvements in productivity but it seems very little real thinking and action goes towards one of the major contributor to all of these issues. It is a slow killer of economic productivity, climate, environment, social life and we don’t even realise it. In 2014, the NSW government estimated a loss in productivity of $5 billion. Yes, many billions are dedicated to new roads, light rail, better management, however, at the rapid population growth we’re on, this will only ever be a band-aid to a wound that never heals but gets worse.
You spend an hour travelling to work, arrive frustrated, angry, and your work day has yet to begin. Chances of accidents, on the road and at work, increase. And spare a thought for the businesses which live on the roads – a recent survey found 43% of businesses had their vehicles stuck in traffic for up to 3 hours per day, and this is in the relative free pastures of Western Sydney.
What does a business and its employees do to minimize this massive anchor on productivity and overall well-being. Love to hear your ideas. How about…….,
- Relocate. You’ll have to wait until the current lease expires but ….. question ….. really question why you need to be in or near the CBD. Where do your employees live?
- Different Work Hours. An underutilised option. Do the investigation, think outside the square. Ask the employees or if you’re an employee, ask your employer if it’s possible. Can you redesign some jobs and processes so they are undertaken outside peak traffic hours? Trial it – in most cases, little to no harm will be done if it doesn’t work out.
- Work Remote. We are becoming more and more web connected with ever-increasing data transfer capacity and speed, so there should be increasing opportunities to work remotely but there seems to be very little take up. In fact, I was speaking to individual where their employer recently discontinued a very workable work-from-home option. Why? A minefield for work health and safety. This is where we need leadership from government to make it easier for employers. I heard of other instances where employers are reluctant to allow employees because of their fear that home distractions will interrupt a full day’s work. Meeting targets is the answer. The absence of team interaction, and the sounding board aspect of an office will be an issue. But consider two-way video streaming – it may also help with the safety concerns.
- Public Transport. Albeit there is a lot to improve, the public transport system is in good shape. Employers and government must encourage greater use. Employees need to give it a go.
- Car pooling. Not open too many but nevertheless should always be considered.
- Pedal Power. Creating bike paths is not easy – expensive and you need space. And where space is scarce, like most areas around Sydney, then encroaching on existing roads only exacerbates the problem. But, where they exist, it’s a great option. May take a little longer, but keeps you fit and that has to be a plus towards productivity and life in general. Good to see Barangaroo’s International Towers will have 1000 bike spaces (and only 600 car spaces) with an on-site bike repair shop.
- Autonomous cars. I know, quite a way for this to become reality and therefore of no real relevance for this article but hey, what a great idea for productivity. Imagine, a mobile office, where travel time is part your work day.
All of the above have been touted before and are in use (except autonomous car, damn), in various guises. But there acceptance and implementation is patchy and that is the point I wish to make. It needs governments and then businesses to lead the way, change laws if required and encourage, push, pull, incentivise to think outside the square and take on-board, these and other ideas. As a business owner, CEO, middle manager, employee, ask the question, think – what can we do to avoid this constant traffic mess and improve productivity and our overall well-being. Without any real action, Infrastructure Australia is predicting by 2031, lost productivity will be costing Australian businesses over $53 billion. Our green frog will well and truly be dead by then.
15th April 2016
The sun is all important. John Heywood and JFK respectively told us “Make hay whilst the sun is shining” and “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining”. An article by SMH’s
Clancy Yeates discusses the findings of a survey on culture within the banking industry. It concluded that “turning a blind eye to poor behavior” was a prevalent behavior within the major and highly profitable banks of Australia and Canada. Then there is the story of Clive Palmer’s Queensland Nickel. It confirms a lot about business: Profitable businesses can have many hidden problematic issues which are typically cultural in origin, and time bombs ready to explode in leaner times. We see it so many times, a business does extremely well for many years, in some instances decades, but then encounters a major “pothole”. The market has changed, products and services are expiring, low priced competitors are entering the market, overheads too high – the reasons are many and varied and typically hauled out in the crystal clear spotlight of hindsight. But rarely does the issue of poor culture get a mention. And typically, this is the seed to the others. In other words, in good times, due to workload or complacency, or both, managers fail to identify these problems or, if they do, just don’t care about them – “why should we?”– may be the response – “the sun is out, plenty of hay, and the $/straw price has never been better”. But the cyclic nature of business means that bad times inevitably happen and it’s these masked issues which “suddenly” appear, highlighting the true status of the business. At this point, management is forced to deal with the bad times and the issues. And as JFK reminded us all those years ago, it’s always a lot easy to deal with problems in good times.
Some organisations understand the value of a regular business review, many don’t, especially SMEs – they don’t understand the process; too busy or don’t believe they need it. Managers and employees are trapped in the comfort zone of what they know and what they’ve been doing for years – comfort is the enemy of innovation.
Invest in a business review and do it often. As a business owner, CEO or divisional manager, the steps you take should include the following:
- Understand the Short & Long Term Goals. The sad truth is a lot of SMEs do not have an active business plan in place. But they all have goals. What are they are? Is it a case of growth to win market share; profits every year; new products, etc. Get clarity on the goals – written or otherwise.
- What will be Reviewed? It may only be a certain division/department of the organisation. Typically, it should be the entire business. All facets of a business are intertwined – each supporting each other to achieve their respective goals. Financial performance, operations, sales and marketing, human resources and processes should all be reviewed. The culture of the business needs special attention – it reveals a lot about the underlying issues within the organisation. Always prepare with a list of questions and issues to review.
- The Reviewers. Who will lead this review? Large companies will typically have dedicated individuals tasked with the review. SMEs rely on their own management. Many rely on an external facilitator to offer a fresh perspective on the business and a dedicated focus on the review.
- Doing the Review. The key words are Communicate, Consult & Understand. To get the best results, it requires upfront communication on the review’s purpose and how it will be conducted. It must not be seen as a witch-hunt or as a pre-cursor to redundancies. Be open and transparent. If possible, undertake any interviews as one-on-one. It gives the greatest opportunity to understand any underlying gripes to surface – another good reason to use an external facilitator. Profile the organisation’s culture.
- Identify Development Needs. Throughout the process a good reviewer will get a good understanding of where the business is at – its financial performance, structure, culture and importantly, what are its development needs. At the end of the process, quiet time will be required to digest and analysis the information and the business – is it on track to achieve its goals? What improvements are required? How can it exploit its strengths and available opportunities, whilst addressing its weaknesses and threats?
- Regular. It’s important that a business review is conducted regularly. This is an independent hard look at the business – warts and all and best handled by a team which is not immersed in its day-to-day operation.
Joe Napoli, Principal Consultant, NLogic Management Services Go To Top of Page
The hard knocks of separation and later divorce forced me to cook – till then, it was sold to me as a mystical art form, only accessible to those blessed with the rare touch. I wanted healthy – I was carrying a 360 grab handle. And after reading a series of cooking articles aptly named “Any Fool Can Cook”, I thought, they’re talking to me, I can do this. After all, I’ve been called pedantic, anal, stickler for procedures, and so forth, so how hard can it be to follow a recipe and prepare a heathy meal? It turns out – not hard at all. This fool can cook. And when you can cook you can be a chef, to innovate and create your own improved recipes.
Which brings me to what I consider is a massive failure of many businesses – the absence of simple and effective recipes, their business manual. A manual which outlines their recipe for success – the steps to make the ideal widget, to carry out the high quality service, to ensure each client returns time and again. A recipe to employee proof, boss proof the process so the customer gets exactly what they ordered, every time, no matter who is at the company. Many organisations still rely quite heavily on their employees to make their own way through a typical day, developing their own procedures on the run in order to fulfil their roles. The end result is wasted time, frustration and a potentially negative impact on the business when the employee suddenly leaves. And, how can management be sure that the right standards, safety factors and certifications have been met? A business manual, followed and well-presented is a brilliant advertisement of an organisations professional approach – a major confidence boost to potential clients.
There are many steps towards a simple and effective business manual – I’ve identified five of them.
Understand the Plan: What is the strategic plan of the business and vision for the next 5 years? What is the best structure and roles to deliver this plan? How do each areas of business work together?
Get into the Detail: Review the way it’s done now. Continually ask why? Drill into the detail. Understand how all parts of the business link together. A skilled reviewer will ask probing questions without the confrontation.
Consult & Agree: Is this the best way to undertake this process, build this widget, and provide this service? Do other procedures need to change? Is the company structured correctly for optimal efficiency in carrying out its processes? Involve the people who have been doing it for some time but don’t leave it at that. Involve internal/external outsiders – the recipients of their service/product and others with knowledge or experience in another industry. It’s important to bring fresh thinking, a different perspective, an eye to simplify and innovate. Get agreement by all, especially those that need to utilise it on a daily basis. Their buy-in will make it work and allow the business to pursue continual improvement – a key goal of the business manual.
Document & Train: Get it down in written form, hard copy and electronic. Make it accessible and easy to follow. Have all the steps in sequential order and begin with a 1 or 2 worded title, capturing the essence of that step. And importantly, undertake awareness training – a process by which all employees are made aware of the company’s policies and procedures, the benefits, where to find them and the process by which they can initiate improvements.
Review & Improve: Many organisations have taken the initiative to develop a business manual but failed to keep it “alive”. The manual needs to be regularly reviewed, a process which prompts for improvements in policies, processes and procedures – a very important step in the application of an effective business manual.
Every professional, successful business which strives for growth and a sustainable future, needs a business manual. It needs to have simple and effective policies and procedures, which are consistently applied every day by every employee and continually reviewed and critiqued for improvement. It is the job of leaders, CEOs and senior management to take the lead and ensure this happens – without that leadership, the ship may float and go forward, but its course may be doomed.
Joe Napoli Principal Consultant, NLogic Management Services Go To Top of Page
It must be green. The amber lights are flashing. Many opportunities await the ever-ready innovative organisation. Is yours one of those? I hope so. This is the huge opportunity right on our doorstep and yet a lot of us see it as an annoyance, in some cases, a hindrance.
I’m a believer, always have been. As an engineer, the science argument on climate change always made sense. We live in a finite world where resources are limited and the capacity of the world’s atmosphere to absorb pollution is also limited. Something, at some point, has to give – simple logic to an engineer. And when you have Pope Francis publically backing the argument, you’d think he’d have the ear of someone who knows.
At the time of writing, the UN Climate Conference in Paris is in full swing and Malcolm Turnbull, the Australian PM, announced a $1.1 billion innovation incentive package. The economy is weaning itself off mining stuff under our feet and now gearing itself to mine the collective brainpower of our well educated society. And about time. A recent CPA Australia survey of 3000 small businesses throughout Asia-Pacific found that only 5% of Australian businesses planned to introduce a new product, service or process in the next year. This compared poorly against Indonesia at 46%, China at 32%, Malaysia at 29% and Vietnam at 26%. Converting research into innovative commercial success, the OECD ranks Australia 116th out of 142 nations.
Climate change presents many opportunities for business. Not only to be a great corporate citizen and protect the planet for future generations but also to help sustain their businesses into the future. It’s no secret, many investment houses are steering well clear of investing in fossil fuel industries and now focusing their funds towards greener operations. Yes, we can be cynical and view this purely as a PR exercise. But as long as genuine action follows, this can only lead to a win-win for both the environment and business. In this regard, a business should have two primary aims – be a great corporate citizen and to innovate with green products, services and processes. When it comes to climate change, you cannot have one without the other. And it’s no surprise, if you get the first two right, a third goal comes into play – a sustainable and growing business.
There are many green opportunities, but the secret is not what product, service or process – it’s the leadership to decide to look for the opportunities and take the plunge to innovate and fill the need. It’s the decision that believes climate change is real, governments will sooner or later act and the market will follow. Businesses that act on it now will win and have a sustainable future. Businesses that don’t, will wither and die. Large businesses typically have this concept in play and green innovations are already part of their R&D budget. My concern is the small to medium size business whose daily busyness prevents them from thinking about green innovations – remember only 5% will introduce a new product or service in the next 12 months. And yet, it is these businesses which have the greatest potential. In relative terms, the green market is still quite young and therefore not sufficiently attractive and viable to the larger players – fertile ground for the small business who wants to break in, take up a market share they can comfortably deal with and grow with the expected growth. Think of natural ventilation – an old style method of keeping cool which died with the advent of air conditioning. The focus on energy efficiency and clever design has now given new life to this mode of cooling. Similarly with evaporative cooling. Old technologies modernised with a new lease of life to provide comfort with low power consumption. The same can be said about wind and solar power. Recently, I was asked to evaluate a new roof mounted sky window for daylighting and natural ventilation. The optional blind was solar-powered – design simplification, avoiding labour intensive electrical cabling and no mains power. And who would have thought that we would get over the green energy storage issue as quick as we did? This big hurdle convinced many fossil fuel CEOs that their future was secure. Not anymore. Free energy on tap is nearly here.
Two simple messages – innovation is critical to the survival and growth of any business. Green innovation secures its long term future. Constantly critique your products, services and processes. And next time you have your regular innovation brainstorming session, green must be a key attribute. If it’s not, start again. Every problem has a solution. Every situation has a better way. Every product can be improved. Climate change is a good reason, now let’s find a better way – benefit the planet and benefit your business.
Like most, I was absolutely gutted by the horror of the Paris attacks. My immediate reaction was pure emotional – ranging from sorry, sadness and fear, to anger, revenge and hatred. But cool heads are required. What is the appropriate reaction and more importantly, how do we stop this from happening again? The right solution exists –believe it 100% – we need to find it. But we need to keep our emotions in check, and very importantly, think long and hard and be strategic. We need to avoid falling into the strategic trap set by these cowards.
A lot has been said and written but, to me, two pieces stand out worthy of further thought. One piece was written by Peter Hartcher from the Sydney Morning Herald titled “Five things the world must do in response” and another was a passionate verbal dialogue dispensed by The Project’s Waleed Aly. Their theme? Let’s not take the bait – a bait based on race, religion and horror which, by its very nature, will shock with the intent to ignite and fuel an emotion filled response. In order to solve this problem, we need to consider the following:
Counter the plan to Divide & Recruit: Via these atrocities, they seek to divide society on religious grounds, driving young disfranchised recruits to their cause. Leaders make a mistake by referring to these crimes as an “Act of War” – it only fuels the attraction for an immature mind looking for a cause of grandeur. They need to be seen as criminals not soldiers.
Minimise Publicity: By their very nature, these atrocities shock and unfortunately become newsworthy, fueling worldwide publicity, publicity the cowards’ strategic plan craves. It’s madness! Imagine for a moment, the extreme opposite – little to no news about the Paris attacks. Yes, we would all like/need to know but, the lack of publicity kills the cowards’ plan. Virtually all media outlets have images (video and photos) with “fighters” posing with guns, ammunition, tanks – images which an immature, disfranchised mind may view as grandiose and heroic. And yes, we want to live in a society of free speech but when free speech works against us, we need to think again – governments and the media must work together.
No Branding: More madness! Why do we continually refer to this group of thugs as Islamic State – it only supports their plan to divide and recruit on religious grounds. If there is one very simple thing all governments, its people and importantly, and all media outlets must do, is alter the reference – call them Daesh, ISIL, X, Cowards but avoid this reference to the Islamic religion. These atrocities are not based on religion but on a grab for unfettered and brutal power – pure and simple.
Refugees: Finally, should we fear the influx of refugees? As long as tight controls are in place, the humane thing to do is for all nations to take their fair share of genuine refugees. There may be the odd individual that infiltrates with ill intent but is it best to have this individual on the outside or within our circle of influence and control?
Like many problems in life, the right solution exists and it has many parts. We will succeed against these cowards if we avoid being sucked into their plan of dividing a cohesive society along religious, race or other lines. This is not about religion or race – it is about brutal power. We must not react purely on emotions. We must avoid providing them publicity they crave. But importantly, we must think, plan and be resolute to eliminate this evil.
How many times have we seen it? A company, small or large, decides to change direction or simply target a specific audience. It may want to target the high end well-to-do clientele, or simply change its product mix. Another may decide to leave the country altogether, deemed too small or the wrong market for its products. A change in direction or targeting a specific group of clients is done for many good reasons, however, there is no good reason for poor customer service. Some real-life scenarios to contemplate:
The High-End: Recently in Sydney, a traditional pub decided to introduce stricter dress codes and (by all reports) banned the hi-vis worker’s uniform. In principal, nothing too wrong with the idea, in fact, considering the inner city location, it had a lot of merit. Become a more presentable establishment and attract a more up market clientele by introducing better dress standards. The unfortunate part with this strategy was that management did not communicate it well and the media had a field day. The hi-vis uniform ban was perceived to be an act of class discrimination against all blue collar workers.
A Larger Audience: The A-League football competition had its inaugural season in 2005. Prior to this, the top level football in Australia was the NSL, made up of ethic-based clubs such as Marconi (Italian), Sydney United (Croatian), Sydney Olympic (Greek), etc. It was believed this only attracted people from those backgrounds, resulting in poor and often racially hostile crowds. So the A-league was born with new clubs devoid of any ethic ties and designed to appeal to a much broader audience. In the main it has worked well, however, they left behind a lot of disgruntled NSL club supporters – foundation fans of the game, who felt they had been disrespected and ignored. A lost opportunity to bring those fans along, all great advocates and supporters of the game.
The Nuisance Sale: You know the one I’m referring to – typical Joe Public who wonders in and purchases a $10 item which costs the company $15 just to process the paperwork. A lot of organisations will abruptly state there is a minimum order value and provide little to no option on how else the client can purchase the product they’ve been buying for many years. It makes perfect business sense to eliminate this type of loss-making transaction but it makes no sense to alienate these traditional loyal clients – walking, talking billboards. It makes perfect sense to courteously communicate well in advance and provide suitable options.
The Tyrekicker: As a child, I’d go to the Sydney Markets with my dad, a farmer who sold his produce directly to greengrocers. His produce was excellent. My dad had many great traits but customer service wasn’t one of them. I specifically remember when certain potential clients would rock up and start handling the vegetables with what I perceived to be a strong intent to purchase. I’d look at my dad and motion to do his stuff. His gaze would only budge momentarily away from his Italian paper. Not interested. Why? He made a call that this guy couldn’t afford his produce. The potential walked off. He could not know for sure and he didn’t. A lost opportunity to convert another, another’s friend, another another’s friend and so on, and so on.
CEOs and business owners are constantly looking at ways to target the market which allows them to maximize their margins and build a sustainable business in an ever-changing world. This is necessary. But always keep in mind your clients, current and potential. Yes, it’s true you will not mind if the non-targeted/nuisance/low value customers all move on – after all, you have factored that into your plan. But, what you do not want is an army of disgruntled ex-customers or wannabe customers bad-mouthing your brand – especially in this age of social media. Plan, consult and communicate well. Treat all clients with respect, try to keep them all on board but if you can’t or they just don’t fit the new model, fine. Respect them, communicate well and provide alternatives – if they can’t be clients, they’ll be great ambassadors of your brand. Renovate and build but don’t damage the foundations.
Joe Napoli, Principal Consultant, NLogic Management Services Go To Top of Page
The ongoing VW scandal is fascinating the business world. A full understanding of how it was allowed to happen is yet to play out but I’m confident there’ll be a lesson, again – management’s and the board’s failure to understand what is happening in the “engine” of their business.
At this stage, it seems that the CEO and the board had no clue about the defeat devices. But they carry full responsibility. Obviously, if they were an integral part of the whole sordid affair, well then that’s another ball game – for this article, I’m assuming they were completely blindsided. VW is an extreme example and seems to be one built on deceit and illegal conduct. Many other less newsworthy examples exist, all with improper conduct at the core, making a mockery of the “values” adorning receptions at many organisations. So, why is it that boards, CEOs and managers allow their companies to get into these situations?
When things are going great, management tend to leave their direct reports alone – sales and profits are up, huge backlog of orders, winning many awards, no accident in 30 years, employer of the year, excellent balance sheet, etc. You know what I mean – KPI heaven, the sun shines where it doesn’t normally, the company and its people can do no wrong. Manage by exception, don’t fix it if it’s not broken, are all well-worn clichés. Unfortunately, in too many cases, there is a time bomb ticking away, an insidious diseases taking hold – in the extreme, it could be an illegality of how sales and profits are won, but, normally, it is more a case of legal but damaging actions (or no action) such as a new head of division making wrong calls, a top heavy inefficient overhead, no systems and a toxic culture building rapidly within the organisation. When problems appear, the CEO, the board and management pay attention – micromanagement and corporate governance is the order of the day. But in many instances, it’s all too late. Damage is done, the company is on a slippery slide and good people are lost. Good people? Yes, amongst the cheats and bad leaders, there are good decent people who did not want to jump over their immediate manager and be seen as “snitching” – any actions like this will typically be career ending. In a lot of cases, this is true but the irony is that keeping quiet and toeing the line may have a similar outcome. Again, think VW, there will be a lot of innocent employees as collateral damage. They should not be put in that situation in the first instance.
As a manager, how do you avoid this from happening? Obviously trust and integrity in leadership is a given but that alone won’t stop a VW moment. It also requires a great team, effective and simple systems with consistent oversight. As a great leader and manager, not only will you have a thorough understanding of your own immediate level of responsibility but you will also be across your direct reports’ level of responsibility. You’ll be in regular touch with the people that make up those two levels. Some direct reports may see this as undermining or micromanaging. It’s not. You need to understand what is happening, the dynamics of the department/division, know the personnel, what is working, what is not and, importantly, all valuable inputs to allow you to provide support and guidance. It also provides a comfortable conduit for any personnel who may wish to have a confidential discussion – for obvious reasons, a very delicate area but if managed correctly, a very effective people management skill.
It’ll be very interesting to see how this whole VW scenario plays out. Did they have an effective leadership regime which involved managing across two levels? I reckon not. What do you think?
It’s lonely at the top; I wish I had a sounding board; and it’s a steep learning curve. Common headspace dialogue by a person involved in an important endeavor. It could be the CEO of a multi-national, an employee recently promoted into a new role or anyone who feels uncomfortable and is struggling to adapt to a new set of circumstances. Mentoring or coaching or a combination of both is a valuable skill to assist in these areas. An important pre-condition is that the mentor/coach enjoys imparting their experience, knowledge and wisdom. And, of course, the intending mentee is all for it, prepared to share his/her thoughts and be open to new ideas. The following are what I believe to be the key tenets of great mentoring/coaching:
- Be Authentic: Establish trust. Authenticity is vital. Outline your history, your experience and importantly your human touch. Without trust, it will be difficult to move forward and provide value.
- Listen and Understand: Meet with the mentee’s manager and/or with the mentee. Listen carefully – the issues may not be well articulated. It could be to address low confidence in taking on a new role; how best to handle a series of issues; or to learn new leadership skills. The issues and objectives could be wide and varied. Listen and understand the overarching objectives.
- Understand the Mentee and Environment: Attain a good understanding of the mentee, their history, job and environment. This is important information for your mentoring/coaching. As the sessions proceed, further details will inevitably emerge. Take notes and continue to refine this understanding.
- Crystallise the Issues: Prior to this step, you may only have a broad understanding of the issues and objectives of the mentoring/coaching. This step sharpens the focus. Agree on the desired outcome. List them out in a program – a document which captures the objectives, strategies, actions and timelines.
- Brainstorming Sessions: Make these regular – weekly is a great interval. Prepare. Ask open questions and get the mentee’s thinking juices flowing. Gently steer to solutions that are worth pursuing. A good mentor/coach will listen, empathise, plant idea seeds, all the while using their experience and wisdom to steer the mentee along the desired path. These sessions will also unearth other issues and strengthen the bond between the mentee and mentor/coach. Importantly, document your agreed strategies, actions and timelines and at each session monitor the progress and drive improvements.
- Practice and Implementation: Between the sessions, the mentee will practice and implement the agreed strategies and actions. During this period, it is important that the mentor/coach is available in person, on the phone or via email for guidance if required.
- Feedback: Constantly give and seek feedback – to/from the mentee and other stakeholders as may be appropriate. Adjust your approach to improve.
- Completion: When and how the sessions end is very dependent on the circumstances, the mentee and the objectives. I strongly believe each objective you address will have an ending or at the very least the attainment of an agreed level or milestone. The sessions may continue to attain further improvements.
- Follow-up Review: Once the desired objectives are met, the relationship may end. However, I believe it is important to organise a follow-up review – in 1, 2 or 3 monthly intervals – to ensure the mentee is still on track and has not fallen away and returned to old habits.
A successful mentoring/coaching program not only benefits the mentee but the organisation and the mentor/coach. It is one of the best methods of passing on knowledge gained via the school of hard knocks – business acumen not easily found within the education system.
You’re sinking under a mountain of work, married to 12 hour work days. I can do this, you keep telling yourself. I know the intimate details of this issue, so I’m the best person to handle this. Anyway, what would my minders think if I delegated this to someone else…..wait, what would I think? The company depends on me. Anyway, John is flat out on other projects so no use delegating to him. Outsourcing? Great, if there was anyone who knew our business. Sound familiar?
Early on in my career, I had a middle manager who needed to deliver a technical presentation to a potential client and he sought my assistance on our product range and ideas on the presentation. I helped, however, I went further. I also stated I’d go along and help with the presentation. He didn’t say no but I failed to read the signs. My intentions were good, provide support and improve our chances of securing a major client. However, in hindsight, it was the wrong move. He was very capable, I had to let go and trust – and I had a stack of more strategic issues on my plate.
A productivity survey I was reading recently, revealed that approximately 25% of managers believe they could be more productive if they delegated/outsourced and reduced their personal workload.
So what stops us? What is it about this failure to let go? Is it lack of trust? Is it the fear of overloading your colleagues and then creating a bottleneck at another point in the business? Is it an issue of pride – do we want the glory of a job well done? Maybe it’s our comfort zone – a subject we know well and get great enjoyment in. Whatever the reason, a business manager’s effort must be focused on the big issues – strategic planning, team building, liaison with stakeholders and major clients, and driving the plan. Easy to say but hard to do. This is what I learnt along the way:
- The Plan. Get this done. Know where you want the business to go and what it will take to get it there. Know the budget. And remember, this plan, like all good plans, must be constantly reviewed and tweaked/altered as required. Understand your “driver” role in this plan.
- In-house Resources. The plan will have this covered. Know what is required to deliver the plan. But as we all know too well, management issues and projects come and go – some planned, some unplanned. Typically, the unplanned creates the extra workload.
- Delegate. Understand your team’s workload, constantly look for efficiencies, prioritise and where possible make room for the unplanned projects. Delegate. You cannot be the leader/driver of the business if you’re also personally immersed in a compliance issue, a WHS plan, a new training module or other project.
- Management Buddy. Outsource. Rarely considered. Most managers believe that an external party will not understand the business, and in the time it takes to come to terms with the detail, the manager or other employee will have completed the project. Yes…but at what cost? The cost of taking yourself out of the leader’s role. A smart, experienced external party will apply a fresh set of eyes to your business and quickly come to terms with the detail. This understanding phase, is a one-off event which will reward many times over, with the option to turn it on/off as required and avoid the non-productivity of a permanent resource. And the cost? Typically, the biggest objection of them all. What is the cost of the manager not acting on his/her responsibilities of planning and leadership? Nebulous as this may be, there is a high cost.
Plan correctly and acknowledge the truth – you can’t do it all and remain productive. Plan, delegate, and have a management buddy or two on the reserve bench and importantly, trust and let go. Great managers know this.
Joe Napoli, Principal Consultant at NLogic Management Services Go to Top of Page
Another year and another challenge for the NLogic team to put their individual and team stamina to the test. The City 2 Surf started at Hyde Park, Sydney and finished 14 kilometres later at the beautiful Bondi Beach. Joe and Melina bettered their time over last year. To participate is great. To improve is the icing on the cake - and, we can all have a bit of cake after a gut-busting run.
Recently, I visited Italy for the first time, the birthplace of my parents. My passion for business, tends to lead me to look at most things in a business context. And let’s face it, a country is a business. And so, poor Italy was about to cop my take on how it all works, what’s right, what’s wrong, etc. Yes, yes, I know, how can I possibly judge a country over 5 weeks, especially as a tourist sunning himself on the beautiful beaches of Positano, Riomaggiore and sunny Sicily…well guess what, I’m going to give it a go. I’m sure there are many of you out there who know Italy better than I do and I would love to get your thoughts on this beautiful country.
Potential: Brand “Italian” is massive. Look at the relatively underdeveloped areas of Sicily, Calabria, the southern east and west coastlines, the climate and of course its vast history and on-going tourism potential. It has a large manufacturing base, global brands across a number of industries. Italians are inventive, polite and very service driven. “Prego” (your welcome) or “grazie a voi” (thanks to you) are responses you’ll hear at just about every encounter – be it an enquiry, window shopping or an actual purchase. Small gestures, but nonetheless, delivered genuinely, they are quite powerful. In relative terms, the cost of living seems to be on the low side compared to Australia. There is a zest for life and companionship, constantly on display in cafes, sidewalks, and piazzas, at all hours, weekday or weekend – of course, the climate helps. And it yet, it seems to be constantly swimming in a pool of massive debt. I read a report recently which stated it had only grown 4.6%, total, since it joined the Eurozone 16 years ago.
Corruption: A dirty word and no one wants to talk about it. And yes, a lot of countries and organisations have it, but it seems poor old Italy has it in truckloads and has had it for a very long time. To say it is now part of the fabric of society is maybe stretching it too far and would be admitting defeat but it is awfully close to the truth. Everyone points the finger in this direction but yet it seems there is very little political courage to do anything about it. True leadership is not only missing, the sad part is that very few Italians believes it’s ever possible.
Complacency: Unfortunately, you can understand how this trait sets in and it’s a travesty. There are seat belt rules, but very few comply. In fact, patiently waiting at the edge of a pedestrian crossing for a break in the traffic, a quick survey revealed only 30% were wearing seat belts. In fact, at first I was admonished by my host for my automatic reaction to fasten my seat belt. “Don’t worry about the belt, don’t waste your time, there is very little enforcement” was the reason given. And yes, by the 2nd week my automatic reaction of grabbing the seatbelt had waned to a faint memory. There is a lot to be said about the Australian government sponsored health campaigns such as “Click-Clack Front & Back”, “Quit Smoking” and “Skin Cancer”…they may be expensive, intrusive and somewhat sickening to see, but, with consistent follow through, they do change habits and attitudes and ultimately save lives and a positive outcome to the national budget. On my observation, this is missing in Italy.
Discipline & Leadership: When I recounted the near miss of being run over by a 20 tonne lorry at a pedestrian crossing or side swiped by cars overtaking me at over 100km/hr on a 50km/hr stretch of winding mountain road …. I got the “what’s the big deal” shrug of the shoulders signifying that the rules are there but little to no enforcement. Small examples of what seems to be the culture of the political will within Italy. At this stage, Italy may have bigger problems on its plate, but these issues all point to where the problem lies – leadership – strong political leadership to make this cultural shift. Some say this is the attraction of Italy, this is what defines Italians and the Italian lifestyle, the “laissez-faire” attitude, the antithesis of German or Swiss rigidity….maybe so, but who says you can’t have both. Yes, it’s a massive mountain to climb but with the right leadership….wow…watch Italy go then.
Joe Napoli, Principal Consultant, NLogic Management Services Go to Top of Page
Training, in whatever form, is good. It could be a VET approved training package or an in-house session which informs/trains on a business plan, WHS or other company specific activity. It imparts knowledge and skills on the discipline being taught. However, it is also an opportunity to gain many more advantages for the individual and the business.
Throughout my career, I’ve been a trainee, a trainer and a manager of people, many times over. I’ve experienced these other advantages, in many instances, far more beneficial than the primary knowledge and skills outcomes. When planning you next training, consider ways to achieve the following – all of which will give an enormous boost to your business and assist with an individual’s development.
Self-Confidence: Many require an “expert” to confirm what they already know. Yes, this is an over-simplification but it highlights the self-confidence many people gain by undertaking training – not only due to the knowledge and skills learned but also because they’ve been through the process and attained the recognition.
Inclusion: Many employees feel left out of the company - “just a number” is a common reference to this feeling. Training is an opportunity to bring people into the group and make them feel part of the process and recognise they have an important part to play. Obviously, the training has to have relevance to the employee’s role and it may need to be tweaked to allow for meaningful participation.
Consultation & Feedback: Consultation at all levels of the organisation has been proven time and time again, an important strategy of all great businesses. It’s where great feedback in the form of new ideas and fresh thinking comes from. Training is an opportunity to solicit consultation and seek important feedback. Obviously it has to be specific to the topic and sufficient time needs to be factored in to allow for this interaction. Some people just clam up when feedback is sought directly on a specific subject but when couched in a different context, many will open up. Use this opportunity to consult and seek this valuable feedback.
Team Building: With relevant role plays and exercises built into the training, you can foster many opportunities for colleagues to work together and build camaraderie. For various reasons, many co-workers avoid contact during their work day. A role play at a training session will break the ice and lead to a more affable and productive relationship. Seek advice from the individuals’ managers on any barriers to teamwork within the workplace – it may be a great opportunity to help break down those barriers.
Ownership: “I wasn’t trained on this product/system/process.” A common response to questions on poor performance – most times justifiable, sometimes, just an excuse. Training can eliminate those reasons. It imparts ownership to the individual and states, “I’ve been trained, so now it’s up to me to make it happen.” Obviously, the training must not be superficial but relevant, detailed and delivered by a competent trainer in delivery and subject.
Training should not only be about imparting knowledge and skills – it should be more. It’s ideal opportunity to solicit consultation and seek feedback, impart a feeling of inclusion, instill individual and collective confidence and ownership, and importantly, help build a great team spirit within the business. Your business and employees will be all the better for it.
Recently, Joe enhanced his Engineering degree and other qualifications with a Certificate IV in Training & Assessment. Previously, industry experience was sufficient to demonstrate competency in undertaking training at TAFE and other related institutions. That recently change with the Australian government in conjunction with industry introducing stricter guidelines, one of which was the requirement for all trainers to be qualified at the minimum level of Certificate IV in Training and Assessment.
This qualification is a regulatory requirement within the Australian Quality Training Framework (AQTF) standards that must be met under the national training framework. Certificate IV in Training and Assessment is the qualification required for all trainers delivery Australian government approved training package qualifications and accredited curricula in the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector. Joe has many years of experience in undertaking mentoring, coaching and training of employees and customers' personnel and in order to be fully compliant and compliment this experience and knowledge, he undertook and successfully completed a course in Certificate IV Training and Assessment (TAE40110). Congratulations Joe! Go to Top of Page
On this sombre occasion, the 100 year anniversary of the Gallipoli landing, ANZAC day, again, I caught myself thinking of the unimaginable horror that confronted our very young soldiers forced onto the shores of Gallipoli. The greatest of all physical courage. Unfortunately, history indicates there was a lack of moral courage on the part of their leaders - did they act correctly by sending these soldiers into a situation with little to no chance of survival, let alone victory? We will never forget the heroism and sacrifice of our men and women, past and present, who continue to sacrifice and serve to protect our great country and its values – it is after all, the ultimate courage to put your life on the line for the protection of others. Lest we forget.
In the relative safe surrounds of business, fortunately, the act of courage isn’t a matter of life and death, but similarities exist. Picture this, you have a secure job, a mortgage to service, yet, you go off on your own and try your luck – it takes courage to do this. You’re an employee who knows right from wrong and annoyed that the business owner has taken an unscrupulous path, and you’re part of it. The encouraged act of camaraderie with work colleagues, an important ingredient of teamwork often presents uncomfortable gossip situations – deep down you know your colleagues' view of your boss is wrong or unfair. Do you shut them down?
These are all typical examples of situations we constantly face which challenge our courage, the will to go against the popular view, face the fear, anger and possible vindictiveness that may come from it all. I think we’ve all been there.
Courage is never an easy virtue to exercise. We all want to be liked, keep the peace, maintain the harmony, etc and therefore having the courage to state your belief against the norm will always challenge us. Yes, some bridges may be burnt, but these virtuous acts have a knack of all coming good. And we certainly do not want to be a rebel, a troublemaker, looking for opportunities to exercise our courage.
In the context of business, there are many characteristics of courage. I’ll start with the following but I’m keen to get your thoughts on others:
- Deliberate often, decide once: Think long and hard about an issue, consult widely, weigh up the pros and cons, place your values and beliefs at the centre of it all. Then decide and stick to it, attempting at all times to take others with you knowing full well there will be a few who will not follow.
- Accept Uncertainity: As John Finley, English historian and mathematician aptly put it ….. maturity is the capacity to accept uncertainity. Understand the risks, the potential pitfalls and develop contingencies. Build resilience and perseverance in your plan, knowing full well that uncertainties may occur. But remember, true courage is not foolhardy, but prepared.
- Moral clarity: A great book, “Right & Wrong” by Hugh Mackay outlines ways to test the clarity of your moral courage….would I do this if this was the only thing that people would use to judge my overall integrity and write my epitaph? Would I stand in front of an audience, made up of my family and closest friends and tell them what I did?
- Tell it the way it is: When a view or belief is popular, it is hard to contradict it and swim against the current. But when the situation demands it, courage requires that we do just that.
The courage required in business and our daily life pale into insignificance when compared to the physical courage shown by the men and women of the armed forces who place themselves in harm’s way to protect our way of life. As we go about our normal lives, let’s not forget.
As the working week comes to end and the annual Easter break starts, it got me thinking on the similarities and differences between religion and business. Many religions are experiencing a decline in followers and it’s well known that this is occurring predominantly in the industrialised, more educated economies. Education is typically associated with history, science, cause and effect, and proof. The older, less educated generation, stalwarts of faith are being replaced by the better educated next generation. This change is working against the stagnant religions. Due to a never-ending conga line of paedophile claims, priests, at one time the most revered and trusted of people, have lost a lot of their gloss. But yet, history, such an important part of education, is also on the side of religion – the recounts of hard work, suffering and miracles, all helped to build a reputation enduring thousands of years.
Overlay these issues to business and it will be an organisation with few believers and in rapid decline. So discard the bad and keep the good – embrace change, build on your history and most important of all, do not destroy but build trust every step of the way. A great experience underpinned by trust ultimately defines faith and faith does not require re-occurring proof. Now, isn’t that a great place to be.
To you and your family, have a safe and restful Easter break.
You’re not happy with how your business is tracking so you need to make changes. How do you get the team behind it? This challenge is made more difficult when a poor culture exists – ironically, the most likely reason for the poor business performance.
Culture is one of those nebulous areas of an organisation. Difficult to define, it has many origins, takes on many forms and typically has developed over many years. As a result, culture change is difficult but not impossible. A great team culture is probably the biggest single factor in the success of a company. Equally and unsurprisingly, a toxic culture, its demise.
How do you do set up the right culture for your business? I’d be keen to get your thoughts. I believe the following are at the core of all possible answers to this difficult question:
1. Encourage the Team to Understand and Own the Plan: From the very beginning have the patience and set aside the time to involve your entire team in the development of the plan of whatever you want to do. Be positive, seek participation by all team members and solicit their feedback and ideas. Encourage understanding and buy-in of the goals and the strategies to get there, and importantly, the individual role of each employee. On an on-going basis, communicate this at every opportunity. Do this in an open, transparent manner, building trust and relationships with all employees.
But some might say, “My management team and I just don’t have the time to do all of this – we need to make quick decisions and move on”. You need to find the time. If you want a prosperous business, you need a great team to get there. Open communication and patience are the key attributes.
However, sometimes no matter what you do, no matter how you present it, and how hard you try, some employees will just not “own” the plan or idea. That’s OK. At the very least, they will know the rationale behind the plan.
2. Promote and Instill the Continuous Improvement Habit. Everyone wants to improve. And as C.W. Barron quite rightly stated, “Everything can be improved”, equally applying to an individual’s self-development as well as a business’ systems, services and products. A mindset of continuous innovation and improvement is at the heart of every successful sustainable business. The ideal situation is to have every employee with this innovative mindset, continuously throughout the working day, always thinking if there is a better way of doing things. Encourage employees to improve their own skill sets via training and, wherever possible, taking on different roles within the company. Schedule regular meetings or incorporate a feedback system where ideas and thoughts can be presented. Set up KPIs/Metrics with incentives to encourage participation and improvement. The goal is to instill a mindset which always looks for continuous improvement. A team which does this and is recognised for it, is motivated and a key component of a great team culture.
3. Trust, Communicate, Lead. Throughout the entire business, trust must be developed. Without this, great teamwork will not take hold and any good plans and continuous improvement systems will quickly falter. Truly lead by example. Don’t let an attitude of “do as I say not as I do” be a part of the organisation – the single biggest contributor to a toxic culture. Communicate in all forms and often. Build and maintain open relationships with the team members, take a genuine interest in the individual’s personal life. Be positive, genuinely compliment, confidentially rectify any issues and quickly eliminate any persistent unfounded gossip and rumors. Via appropriate questions at the appropriate time, monitor the mood and culture within the business and quickly address the issues – do not let it fester.
All simple basic stuff here right? Yes, but how many of us fail to implement these best practices citing lack of time, policies set in stone, troublemaker but indispensable employee, and a host of other reasons. History tells us that time must be found, policies can be changed and indispensable is dispensable in order to build a great team culture – a mandatory requirement for a sustainable business.
For many workers, especially professionals and managers, increasing workloads and a never-ending flow of unplanned issues compete for fewer suitable resources. The challenge is to manage these opposing forces and find the balance which delivers a sustainable and profitable business. But, what about a sustainable private life for the individuals that make up this business? So many of us think we’re invincible and no workload is ever too great – some are in denial and truly believe that somehow, at some point in time, it will all get done. Typically, reality proves us wrong.
The solution to this problem has many parts. I believe the following are critical:
- Plan for absolute chaos, nirvana, or anything in between. We all know what we need to do to deliver our responsibilities – it’s in our plan. But yet, when it comes to actual implementation, there are many excuses and diversions that get in the way. Don’t let it happen. Plan the chaos into your day but also plan the things that must get done – in detail. Don’t sell yourself short, allow sufficient funds and resources to deliver the plan. And don’t set yourself up for failure by the self labelled “aggressive” other half of your brain or superiors that hand you impossible goals.Most importantly, don’t isolate yourself from the world. Many time-management gurus will tell you to ignore emails, network meetings, seminars, exhibitions, open door policy and the like. Yes, in some instances, they can be time-wasters but they can also be doorways to team building, new products and services, new markets, suppliers, etc. – all potential seeds of innovation and improvement. And if there is one thing above all else that is required in Australian industry, it is innovation. Stuck within the confines of your business is not the best way to make this happen.
- Focus and Discipline – until it hurts. Focus, focus and focus some more until it hurts. Park the diversions to one side to be dealt with at a later planned time. Now is the time to focus – it could be listening, it could be brainstorming about the next new ideas. Get in the zone and listen to every word spoken, absorb every written sentence, and engage all the senses and the brain solely to the task at hand. You’ll find this results in quality thought, answers and an overall very productive use of time. It takes constant discipline and practice but the outcome is worth the effort.
- Trust, Delegate, Outsource – let go! This is one of the best skills you can master – to learn how to trust and delegate. For those set in their ways, always hands-on and not prepared to let go, this is not an easy task, but a necessary one if they wish to manage and grow the business. Your subordinates may complain that their day is full – fact or fiction, it is an area that requires careful management. An underutilised strategy is the use of external resources that an overloaded business can easily tap into, as and when required. An external experienced organisation that will quickly attain the full confidence and trust of the team can be a valuable part of your contingency plan.
- Simplify and Systemise and do yourself out of job. Simplify and as much as possible, auto-pilot tasks, processes and other functions. Constantly innovate, develop and implement work processes with the clear objective of simplification with greater effectiveness. This could mean to eliminate a lot of cumbersome policies and procedures. Conversely, as is the case with a lot of SMEs, the work is more time consuming because there are no formal policies or procedures. In these instances, the SME survives day-to-day purely on the self-developed “in-the-head” routines of the individual employees. A lot of time can be freed up with the introduction of innovative and simple systems, which are continuously monitored and improved.I’d love to hear your thoughts on these points and others that you believe work towards a better work-life balance. I’ll end this piece on a warning. Once you get to this place where your work-life balance is just right and the workload fluctuations, unplanned interruptions and projects are appropriately planned and managed – beware of Parkinson’s Law. Many professionals and managers are their own minder, manager and motivator, a difficult set of responsibilities. And this is where your true strength of character is tested – to have the self-awareness and self-discipline to keep to your plan and move forward.
With all the negativity surrounding the Sydney siege, Abbott’s stop the boats program and the recent Charlie Hebdo terrorism attack, you’d be forgiven for thinking a multicultural workforce is not only bad for business but bad for all parts of Australian life. With the many religions, cultural customs, work ethics, language barriers, discrimination (open and hidden), the never-ending unrest in the “motherlands” and with the unavoidable, wall-to-wall media coverage, how is it possible to make it all work in harmony. But, on balance, and on any measure, it does work and as far as history tells us, it has been working well for a very long time. Consider, for a moment, approximately one-third of us were born overseas, coming from more than 200 nations all with unique languages, sub-languages and dialects.
And as much as we criticise the political class for many things they get wrong, our leaders over the years have managed to get the integration of this very diverse mix of cultures pretty well spot on and Australia has been much better for it. But who is an “Australian”? Our relatively short history can define it as ….. an indigenous or other person with the bloodline of another country but fully committed to Australia.
Against all the good intentions of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, unfortunately, there are still businesses that only target, covertly of course, a workforce with traditional anglo-saxon names, accents and traditions. The best businesses don’t – these savvy organisations not only reap the direct benefits of getting the right person for the job but also the other benefits that multiculturalism brings to the business. So what are some of these benefits? I can think of three but I’m sure there are many more.
- Import and Export Opportunities: Migrants bring with them, unique knowledge, external relationships and recommendations. The unique overseas-based supplier hidden from google, a potential agent or distributor for your business’s product back in the mother country – a sample of the opportunities that may open up. The new employee’s ability to understand first-hand the customs and converse fluently is a massive boost to the business keen explore import/export opportunities with their country of origin. Consider the 3-week long Asian Cup football tournament played in Australia throughout January. Take note of the strong local supporter base of what many would consider “obscure” countries such as Uzbekistan, Qatar, Oman and others such as Iran, Iraq, UAE, etc. The local Chinese supporters at the Australia v China quarter-final played in Brisbane was many thousands strong with a record breaking 27 million TV viewers back in China. Due to their commitment to Australia and strong ties to their country of origin, a strong local migrant presence will help to strengthen brand Australia. The local businesses that understand and tap into this will benefit.
- Diverse and Innovative Thinking: It is common knowledge that the more inputs, as wild and wacky they might seem at first, the greater the chance of the next big idea for your business. Therefore, it makes sense, that if you add cultural diversity into this mix, the quantity and quality of ideas will only increase. If you want to tap into the wants, needs and mindset of the large Indian market, who better to have in your focus group, than an employee with a strong Indian heritage.
- The World Socialising Locally: Every employer knows that adding a social element to the routine of work helps with employee morale, overall wellbeing and teamwork. If encouraged and managed well, employees from many backgrounds add diversity to the normal work routine – the commonality of work is positively influenced by the different unique experiences of the employees. A workgroup consisting of employees with the same background could end up very one-dimensional with little to no unique experiences to add to the group. The movement “Taste of Harmony” builds on this idea of diversity within the workplace – www.tasteofharmony.org.au . Having a monthly sporting event which communicates at all levels across all nationalities, such as football (aka soccer) helps to convert employee cultural diversity into great teamwork.
So, in the afterglow of our annual celebration as a nation, Australia Day, let us make sure we do not work against cultural diversity but rather make all efforts to embrace it. Embrace the many opportunities it presents, embrace the opportunity the expansion of ideas and innovative thinking that many cultures, religions and backgrounds will bring to your business. And, of course, the social diversity it can bring to the workplace can be a boost to the overall wellbeing of your employees and this can only be good for your business. Let Tariq, Debbie and Hari enlighten your world and your business.
Joe Napoli, Principal Consultant at NLogic Management Services Return to Top of Page
Whilst doing a spot of Christmas shopping in my local Westfield, I couldn’t help but notice the hurried look on most shoppers’ faces – typically frown riddled, their expression saying, actually yelling, “I just want out of here!” Like most, I can relate to this. You leave your deadlines and commitments behind at work – at least you try – only to be compounded by those at the personal level. But yet, once the pre-Christmas stuff is done, there is a certain peace and liberation at this time of year which you secretly wish you could bottle and sip on it throughout the year. It is that time of year when genuine friendliness and mateship is freely given and family bonds reconnect and take hold again. It is that time of year, when in the quite of the day and night, relaxing on the beach, a spot of fishing, or in front of a winter’s log fire, that new thoughts and ideas about anything and everything tend to germinate. Personal development, that book you want to write, a new business idea and many more thoughts make welcome appearances. Maybe this is how the tradition of New Year resolutions came about.
So what is it about this time of year, that amidst the angst and stresses of gift and food shopping, preparing meals, that there is so much positivity. Is it the religious meaning - a new life? Is it the long uninterrupted time that you can spend with your loved ones? Is it that the mind is not fragmented in many different directions, but emptied and able to roam free, not bound by any office hour constraints with the stressful commute, endless meetings, reports and deadlines. This is probably one time you shouldn’t ask why, but just unchain the mind, let the negatives slip by, forgive, reconnect, connect and allow goodwill to take over. It makes us all better people.
Best wishes for a safe and beautiful Christmas and a prosperous, enjoyable 2015.
Joe Napoli Return to Top of Page
A disc shaped object appears above Canberra’s Parliament House and sits quietly for a couple of minutes. It then disappears. It saw and heard enough – if this is leadership, we’ll bring our 3rd graders to take over planet earth.
I’m not a political “junkie”, far from it. With the flood of media coverage concerning the machinations of our “leaders”, you cannot help but get dragged into what is happening – after all, the decisions the politicians hand down affect us all in some shape or form.
Politicians are constantly referred to as leaders – the Prime Minister, senior ministers, the Leader of the Opposition and others with the substantial authority of representing and leading us, the Australian people. They may be referred to as leaders but do the majority truly do justice to the great discipline of leadership? Do they conduct themselves in a manner that befits a leader? As my alien friends found out – not very well.
There has been a lot written about the attitude and broken promises of Tony Abbott and co. But let’s not just focus on Tony – there has been far too many terabytes of commentary written about him already. A substantial number of politicians the world over behave along very similar lines. Yes, in stark contrast to business leaders, they’re constantly scrutinised by radio shock jocks and other media forms, so in many ways, it’s difficult to blame them for being a little careful with their words. But careful is one thing, ignoring blatant reality and using “verbal gymnastics” to hopefully smooth over (i.e. fool) the people you serve is something totally different and very wrong and definitely anti-leadership. To be a great leader there are many attributes and we’d need many more words to cover them all here. Lead by example is one of those key leadership attributes but as the following points highlight, don't look at the bulk of our politicians and, for that matter, some of our industry “captains” for that guidance:
- Integrity & Genuineness: With our political class, broken promises abound. It seems that this is a mandatory inclusion in their Position Guides – make promises to get elected and then go ahead and feel free to break them without any need whatsoever to explain why you had to go back on your word. It is probably the biggest issue when it comes to the trust status of our most recent federal governments. There seems to be no motivation or desire to own up to an error of judgement and the reasons for the change in strategy.
- Great Role Models: Snouts in the trough is a well-worn cliché when a conversation turns to politics. “Do as I say and not as I do” is a fallible human condition which is repeated daily in most areas of endeavour. However, with nth degree attention from the media and the public seniority of the role, you’d think a politician would be a little more guarded to ensure they do not stray too far off the righteous path. It seems the temptations are stronger than the leader.
- Professional & Respectful: Really? Listen to any parliament sitting or even some media interviews and watch our alien friend’s hairs stand on end when politicians attack each other with the fervour of 1970’s school yard bullies. Vile interjections are common place. Even racial and sexual innuendos seem to pass as acceptable. Politicians introduced strict laws against bullying and harassing conduct – yet it seems, this only applies to other workplaces the rest of us work in. Words do matter, no matter what the context or the environment. And the constant negative trashing of ideas, policies and suggestions between the political parties is abhorrent. In business, as a mark of professionalism and respect, a golden rule is not to trash your competition. No such rule with our political leaders.
- Communicate the Vision: As a leader, you explain in clear and concise language where the business is heading, the vision and the plan to get there. You seek to get buy in so everyone is pulling in the same direction. Very little of that with our current crop of political leaders. Their verbal fluency is good but that alone is useless. Their lack of explanation of their vision and strategy is more a case of avoiding scrutiny by revealing as little as possible and hoping no one will notice, including the opposition, the media and the rest of Australia – the people they lead.
It’s a shame that our political leadership conduct themselves the way they do – it may be great entertainment, keeping the media busy with “interesting” news stories but, as examples of leadership, we need to look elsewhere. It will be a great day when politicians take an extreme paradigm shift and truly represent their leadership role in public life. Until then, we may need to continue believing in aliens.
I’m a fan of Tom Cruise and the other night I was watching Minority Report. And I got to thinking, it would be great to have business “precogs”, people constantly wired to foresee your industry’s future killer innovations. Innovation is a massive topic and with an equally massive set of opinions and research data. And it is well understood that organisations just can’t survive for the long term without innovation. How do we grow revenues/improve profits? How do we combat the ever increasing competition? How do we increase our market share? What new markets can we move into? Great questions but do we ask them often enough? Maybe at budget time, maybe not. Most business leaders will tell you that in the normal hustle and bustle of any working week, month or year, very little is dedicated to innovation. So how do we get out of this rut and ensure innovation is routine and provides long term “food and water” to the business?
- Always Believe: Believe there is a better idea, better product, better process or system. The world is littered with skeptics, left behind by proactive innovators. Think IBM & PC; Kodak & Digital; Nokia & Smartphones; etc.
- Identify the Industry Trends: Polish the crystal ball and closely consider – a must of any good business plan. What are the trends and opportunities – now, 5, 10, 20 years from now? What opportunities do the trends of Climate Change, Social Media, Time Poor Society, Technical Labour Shortage, provide for your business. List them all, whether you believe at this point it will be a minor or major impact it doesn’t matter – it suffices to list out the trends and let them trigger any ideas for new products, services, methods, etc.
- Continually Ask Questions: What if? Why not? What’s the upside/downside? This questioning opens up the channels of ideas and challenges the questioner’s and recipient’s set thinking patterns.
- Seek & Encourage Feedback – Anything and Everything: Pack your emotions away and put on your thick-skinned rhino suit. Encourage feedback – employees, suppliers, customers, visitors, and the public – allow it to be done anonymously if possible. It’s important that it’s easy to do and definitely without fear of embarrassment, intimidation and hopefully in a way that the respondent will see it as beneficial and not a waste of time. The feedback will come in all shapes, sizes and colours – genuine, sarcastic, nuisance, etc. It will spike thoughts and generate ideas. The downside is that some providers will expect a response and, especially in large organisations, this can be a daunting task.
- Seek & Encourage Input on Ideas: A more formal focused approach on new ideas. It will most likely consist of a group of employees that represent certain areas of the business. Ideally, the representatives should be rotated to allow a sense of inclusion to all employees. The environment must be open, intimidation free and appreciative in order to encourage constructive contribution – in some instances, a work colleague may be best to lead the group rather than a senior manager but with the knowledge that the process has the full support of management. There should always be the option to provide the input confidentially. It’s important that return feedback is provided back to the participants.
- Make it a Routine: Whatever system you adopt to generate ideas, make it routine. Routines form habits and this is a must-have habit for a business wanting long-term success.
- Keep the List and Regularly Review: An old discarded idea which may not have suited the times may have its time at some point in the future. So don’t discard the list, instead regularly review for relevance and potential.
OK, all pretty standard stuff but, let’s be honest, how many businesses do this on a regular basis – weekly, monthly, quarterly or even yearly? Maybe at Business Plan or Budget stage? I suspect that very few organisations have it as a routine and many would do it sporadically and some not at all. And yet, we all agree that innovation in its many guises is a fundamental requirement of any business for its long term survival. This piece is a prod in the ribs, a slap in the face that - this thing called “innovative thinking” has to be a part of our normal business routine.
Joe Napoli, Principal Consultant, NLogic Management Services Return To Top of Page
No, I don’t have one of those - to my knowledge they’re all law abiding citizens. A little embellished I know, but the headline does have relevance to this little piece. We see this “principle” all too often in our working life and some of us mortals (my hand is up) are guilty of allowing it to creep into our own management repertoire. Especially when performance is measured by hard cold KPIs, the worst being the sales, margin and profit variety. Hit your targets, and you can do no wrong, you walk on water, your No 2 are considered a Chanel No 5 – in fact, the greater you exceed your targets, the greater the chances of canonisation at the next pope conference. To your superior, you’re the best friend – maybe even a marriage proposal. There is never a problem, they’ll turn a blind eye to any of your faults, obsessions, lack of reports, un-authorized expenses and sloppy timekeeping and yes…even criminal charges. What charges? A vicious, spiteful rumor. Conversely, if your results are not where they should be, everything you do is all wrong, you can’t swim, no amount of Chanel will fix the smell – your sins are way beyond the remit of any known religion. A sudden drop in market conditions, a major order has fallen through, abnormally high warranty issues maybe given a hearing – but listening? In fact, the law of this principle is quite simple; friendship and blindness are directly proportional to degree of improvement over target. Anti-friendship and distorted forensics is directly proportional to degree of shortfall to target. A lazy (and lousy) way of managing.
What drives a CEO, manager or other “leader” to do this? Prepared to bypass and ignore the values and policies set by the company and proceed to turn a blind eye when it suits. Obviously, it’s a driven obsession on results and personal reward. They’re not going to let some “minor” lack of compliance to abstract values and cumbersome procedures get in the way. They believe they can get away it – after all, who’s the winner here? Everyone knows this does not define true leadership. But yet, we all know it happens and if we think long and hard about it, we’d also agree that at some point in time, it all comes home to roost with consequences.
Let’s make it quite clear, results and full accountability are all important, there is no argument there. The concern is the consequences of ignoring the values, policies and procedures. The impact of playing favorites. And consequences of little to no interrogation, analysis and true understanding on why the results are great or bad.
What does a business do about it? Of course, very difficult if the CEO is party to this conduct. Continuing to reinforce basic leadership principles will go some way to improving attitudes.
- It starts from the top. If the CEO and the senior management team wants to be taken seriously, it must have the fortitude and transparency to apply the values and policies – equally and unhitched to targets.
- Each manager must have sufficient knowledge and understanding of the layer immediately below their sub-ordinate manager. Whilst it’s fine in theory to lead and manage purely on results and “management by exception”, in practice, too much autonomy can lead to irreversible damage.
- Maintain the politeness, respect and balance at all levels, in all situations with all employees and only deal in facts and not the person. Maintain an amicable relationship.
The eradication of this “principle” is easier said than done – some will always view profitability and pure survival as independent to any foyer-posted company values. In fact the opposite is true and great leadership ensures compromise is not an option.
What is trust? Trust is defined as a “firm belief in the reliability, truth or ability of someone or something”. Everyone knows that trust is a big deal in any walk of life – whether it be between husband and wife, between partners, between friends and in any relationship including business. We need trust to develop and grow relationships – put simply, without trust there is no worthy relationship and if any “relationship” does exist, it is an empty shell. But in the quest to secure a quick fix, fulfil an urge, seek an advantage, put up appearances, or in some instances, avoid a perceived fear, the trust factor can be easily forgotten, it’s meaning distorted or just purposely ignored. You may be pursuing a business deal, urgently required to meet this month’s budget, or you want to avoid that dreaded family gathering, so you tell a little white lie in order to gain that order or avoid a family confrontation. The result, a possible short-term gain but the seeds of a long-term decline have been sown. Once trust is lost, it is very difficult to regain. In fact, many fail to realise these “problems” are opportunities to develop trust and to get on the path of building a strong relationship for the future.
So how do we ensure trust forms part and parcel of our normal business dealings. A startup business or even an established business searching for new markets and new customers is a good example to demonstrate how this can be achieved. This startup or new market initiative has a finite and aggressive timeline and therefore, the business has to get going as soon as possible. There are stakeholders to consider, salaries, rents and other expenses to pay, so it’s crucial that sales and profits are made as soon as possible. Temptations to shortcut the proper process are ever present. Excitement builds, you’re keen to get ahead of the curve and give yourself some wriggle room, just in case unforeseen events happen down the track. The business over-embellishes the truth, sells the client a product or service they do not need, provides poor product support, enforces strict trading terms when the customer may have a point, and many other acts which work against the building of trust. How do you avoid these temptations, the traps that so many businesses fall into? Consider these golden rules:
- Time to Develop Relationships. Review carefully to fully understand the time it will take to develop the trust and relationships with potential clients in order to sustainably build the business. Include this in your planning. Relationships must be formed. Trust will help you do this. Allow sufficient time.
- Great Team of Disciples. Your team must believe and propagate trust in all areas of the business. Ensure this is a key criteria of the recruitment process – everything else follows from this core attribute.
- Integrate Trust. This should form part of your sales pitch. Let it be known that integrity and trust are key fundamentals of how you do business. Be prepared to follow through and ensure that these are not just words but actions that are integrated into every aspect of your business dealings.
- Expect Hesitation. Any new potential client will always be on guard – “once bitten, twice shy” is a saying which will ring true for most people. At first, the trust element will be quite low, if any at all. It could be due to a bad experience from a similar company to your own or just an innate trait of the individual you’re dealing with. Unfortunately, in most instances, this stone cold rejection or at best, hesitation, is reality. Work on the basis that all new contacts will start from a “no trust” level.
- Develop the Relationship. Communicate and demonstrate the trust, live it and ensure it is real and not just sales talk. Referrals, ongoing open communication, readily confronting issues, prompt responses, over-servicing are all initiatives which will help the client overcome the initial reluctance to deal with and trust your business.
- Readily Provide Goodwill. When the first problem occurs, do not automatically reach for the T&Cs, especially if the client does have some real gripes. Some issues are not black or white, so give benefit of the doubt to the client. Reassure that the issue will be resolved – the sooner you make this known, the greater the impact. Include this as part of your strategy and ensure the business cash flow allows for these costs. Rest assured, this investment in trust building will reap benefits in the medium to long term.
- Always Follow Up. Not only when you know there is good news but, most importantly, when you know there is bad news. This simple act of following up bad news may carry immediate pain in the form of stress and financial cost but it has the greatest impact on your client’s respect for your business and the obvious benefit on trust building. From a client’s perspective, the pain of the one-off problem is outlived by the memory of the ever-present support. Slow to act or worse, no action at all, may save immediate costs but will lose you a client and possibly many others who are within their circle of influence. Within a close knit industry, this can be a death sentence for your business.
- Be Selective. An important element of building trust as a key cornerstone of your business, is that it must propagate through all areas. This includes your clients, who are critical partners in what your business does and its objectives. Be selective. You cannot be a trust-based organisation if you’re partnering with people and organisations who work against this key value. Trusted clients are well known by other trusted companies, and by association, provides a great opportunity to build your client base.
Make no mistake, trust, in any area of life, is a key ingredient to success. It’s the oil which lubricates the relationships we require to efficiently function in all aspects of life. Without it, each step would be a stop-start, laborious affair, dotted with checks and counter checks –overall, a very suspicion-laden, inefficient process. This is akin to the high security measures we now have in place at all airports, stadiums and other public places – due to the spread of terrorism, trust is no longer a consideration in these places. Develop your business in the opposite direction where a client knows that trust is a key ingredient in the relationship. Deep satisfaction and sustainable growth will be the reward.
We all know that training or learning is a very important part of business and for that matter, all aspects of life. With the right attitude, we all live and learn every day. Sometimes, via the normal events that happen each day, other times it is due to our purposeful application through an organised course. Whichever way we do it, the benefit of training is indisputable, especially in business.
As important as we all believe it is, many businesses fail to plan, and therefore fail to implement any organised training. This lack of training generally leads to many negatives, including:
- Disheartened employees who get frustrated due to the lack of knowledge and skills to do a specific function. Typically, they’ll be dismissed for poor performance or they just leave out of frustration. One of the most common reasons you’ll hear from a departing employee is that there was little to no training provided. Yes, it can also be a very convenient excuse and in many instances far removed from the real reason for the departure.
- Job tasks take longer, delivered with poor quality leading to customer complaints, large warranty costs and worse of all, lost customers.
- The employer is not an attraction to potential new recruits. A very common question asked at interviews is if specific training is provided. And in specialised industries, finding people with the right skill set is very difficult – customised training goes a long way to bridge the gap.
- Employees develop their own way of doing things, ignoring company policies and procedures which in turn cause a host of other issues.
- Customers need reassurance that their partner and supplier, your business, is continually providing proper training to its employees. Lack of training, perceived or real, could mean loss of contract and/or loss of a loyal customer.
In summary, all of these negatives come together to have an overall detrimental effect on the business. But negatives are opportunities. Small and large businesses must acknowledge that training is a necessary requirement for ongoing success.
However, many of the above points will not be satisfied by simply providing generic type training – that is, training which will satisfy some KPI checklist but delivers little in the way of improvement to the employees and the business. Too many businesses spend a lot of money on generic type training which are too general and often fail to provide any real benefit. The most effective way of achieving maximum benefit is to customise your training to suit the employees in alignment with the business needs.
Yes, customise training does involve spending a great deal more time and effort to organise the package but to achieve maximum benefit, it is the only way to go.
What is meant by customised training? There are two main issues to address – one is to ensure the training aligns with the current knowledge and skill level of the employees to be trained; and the other addresses their needs and the needs of the business. As an example, the subject of Project Management is a specific discipline but applies across many industries with varying products and services. As a result, there are many levels of knowledge and skill required, from the project management of small $10k manufacturing equipment installation to a $200m multi-storey commercial building. In addition, many businesses operate differently to one another, utilising unique methods and processes to deliver their products to their specific markets. Therefore, to maximise the benefit of any training, the course must be tailored to take into account the current skill level of the employees and their subsequent needs. And, it must be specifically orientated to the business including its products and services, its policies and processes, its target market, and its own objectives for the training.
So, what are the best steps to take to develop the ideal customised training package which addresses these critical requirements and most importantly, improves productivity? Consider the following;
- Identify the Subject Matter. What are the business issues? Issues specific to employees? They’re typically intertwined. Will a standard “generic” training package provided by an external provider adequately address the subject matter? Or is it too generic?
- Identify the Skills, Knowledge and Needs of Employees. What qualifications, skills and experience do they have? Are they all at the same level or does it vary greatly between employees? What are their learning objectives? Remember, a customised training package must be set to suit their current knowledge and skill set and meet their learning objectives.
- Identify the Needs of the Business. What does the business want out of this training? Retention of personnel? Improved delivery times? Improved quality? Less customer complaints? Be quite specific on what the learning objectives are – avoid being vague. It may mean that the subject matter may change from its original concept as defined in point 1. The final outcome is to improve productivity.
- Develop the Training Plan. Outline the specific topics you wish to address, in what order and their duration. These will be aligned with the needs of the business and the employees and presented in a manner which relates and is applied to the real world.
- Develop the Material. This requires the most work and it’s advisable to appoint a leader who seeks input from a number of people and collates the material.
- Align with the Business Systems. Another common failing of generic programs is they do not take into account the specific business policies, processes and procedures. To have maximum affect, the training must take into account the company’s business systems.
- Workshop Activity. Avoid the “I talk – you listen” classroom type environment and always look at integrated workshop activities to improve the learning experience. Provide an interactive environment and workshop the important elements. With a bit of lateral thinking, any subject matter can be configured into a workshop activity.
- Deliver the Training. You’ll need to set aside an appropriate time which suits the business and the trainees. Issues to consider include time of day in relation to alertness; avoiding interruptions; clearly outlined breaks; etc. The person who delivers the training must be capable of speaking in front of people and good at maintaining interest.
- Solicit feedback. This will help to refine the training for the next time whether it be a new group or a refresher course.
- Develop and Issue a Certificate. Acknowledge and recognise the employees' attendance for training on a specific subject matter.
- Refresher Training. Once you have developed the customised training package, it is advisable to undertake refresher training at set time intervals. This ensures that the individuals remain in sync with the learning objectives. It also provides additional feedback to further improve the training.
Customised training should be a standard requirement of every business. Each business has its own systems, set of unique products and services, market requirements, customers and a business plan which identifies its clear objectives. Each business has employees who have varying level of skills, experience and knowledge and therefore their own unique set of needs and learning objectives. Customised training will align these objectives and maximises the learning of each attendee which in turn provides added interest and motivation to improve and excel in their role. Meeting the needs of the employees and the business will help deliver sustainable productivity improvements. Return to Top of Page
Ask any manager of a technical business to name one of their biggest frustrations and within the top 5 will be the shortage of good technical people. For the purpose of this article, a technical person refers to a tradesperson or technician who is a certificate qualified, skilled individual involved in a hands-on, specialist activity. The qualifications are normally obtained via an apprenticeship or traineeship scheme at a TAFE College or similar institution. It also refers to a technical sales representative or engineer who typically started out as a tradesperson and took the initiative to move into a sales role, or a degree qualified engineer who had a keen interest in new business development of technical products and services. These employees are damn hard to find. Administration, finance, design engineers, warehouse roles are normally not a major problem. With some rare exclusions, this problem applies across most technical industries - Air Conditioning & Refrigeration, Hydraulics & Pneumatics, Construction Trades and many others. It's obviously a case of supply and demand but why the imbalance, especially considering it has been around a long time and only seems to be getting worse. This article is not about drilling into the detail of "why?" - there are many reasons - but more about how or what does a business do to minimise the impact of this problem.
Before we get into the "How?" its prudent to provide some reasoning for the "Why?". An experienced Chairman of a mid size organisation was heard retorting to a middle manager who used the lack of good technical people as an excuse for his lack of progress......"Have they all died?". The message was blunt but to the point. They existed last week, last month, last year so if they haven't died, where did they go? A good point but does not provide the answer to the "why?" nor does it help to provide a solution to the challenge.
Why? There is an increasing number of high school leavers keen to gain a university spot rather than take on a trade career - that seems to be the cool thing to do. An ABS report of 2012 states that in 1970, only 3% of Australian workers had a degree, whilst in 2001 it was 20% and 2011 it was approximately 28% and continuing to rise. The level of Australian workers with a trade or equivalent sat at around 33% between 2001 and 2011, and is projected to reduce or at best remain unchanged over the next few years. Add to this, the tendency to have the hands-on tradesperson wanting to migrate up into management - physically less demanding, prestige and a promise of more money - and the issue is exacerbated. To a manager, it means little to understand why but more importantly to understand "what" practical ideas he/she can implement to minimise the negative impact.
The following ideas will help and can be applied to just about any technical business;
- Look after your people: This is obvious but unfortunately, too many times complacency sets in and it is too late to make amends when a resignation notice is presented. Keep abreast of the best pay rates in your industry. Consider incentives schemes such as bonuses, commissions. Improve work conditions. And always communicate and care.
- Provide a Career Path & New learning Opportunities: Talk to your employees about their aspirations and their 5 and 10 year goals. What do they enjoy? Many apprentices/trainees are impatient and want to learn all areas of their trade and industry as quickly as possible. Consider a rotation program through the different departments of your organisation. Consider a 3 to 6 month exchange program with your competitors, suppliers and clients.
- Develop your own: This is an investment in time and money and it takes 2-3 years before a business can say they're getting productivity out of the young apprentice, trainee or cadet engineer. However, it is one of the best ways to develop and retain your technical team.
- Recruit Wisely with Great Mentoring & Coaching: Cast the net out far and wide. Use all available methods; the online recruiting services (Seek, CareerOne, etc), social media, local and city newspapers, private apprenticeship organisations, School, TAFE & University Noticeboards, etc. Find the individuals who are ambitious, enthusiastic to learn and passionate about what they want to do. These traits will outweigh any experience, qualifications, age or gender. Then ensure a great mentoring program is in place to nurture and accelerate the learning - the individual will greatly appreciate it and full productivity will be achieved sooner rather than later. A win-win! And remember, older experienced tradespeople, engineers make great mentors.
- Present to Local schools & TAFE: Be proactive and visit and present at schools as part of career and information sessions. Present the organisation as a great employer and as experts in the field. Young minds, unsure of what they want to do may have a "light bulb" moment and see your company and the technical career as their future.
- Take on Work Experience students: Hands-on involvement at an early age will test the interest for the technical positions on offer and it will also give the company a great insight into the young person's enthusiasm and interest.
- Make It Attractive for Girls & Women. An area which is greatly overlooked is the potential for girls and women to enter the technical fields, an sector normally dominated by the male gender. If the interest is there, women bring other qualities (high emotional intelligence, empathy, social skills, etc) which are sadly lacking in many of the technical roles. Recent studies reveal that of the Top Global 500 organisations, only 5% have women CEOs and it is primarily due to their lack of operational/technical experience. A rare exception is Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, an electrical engineer who worked her way up through many operational and technical roles - use her as an inspiration to young women to enter the technical field.
- 457 Visas: An option which opens up your search area outside of Australia. There are many countries where the specialised skill the business graves is in abundance. The downside to this option are the many immigration department hurdles, the cost and it is never a short turnaround. However, it does remain a very good option and if time is on your side, the cost and red tape is a small price to pay.
- Outsource: Relook at your business model. Can this skilled function be outsourced to another company which does have a good pool of technical people? You may find that when you add up the idle time (poor utilisation), the overhead costs and the frustration of finding suitable individuals, an outsourcing arrangement may allow you to put on a small margin and return a better bottom line.
- Inform & Train your Customer: Instead of providing the actual hands-on technical support, consider providing the training instead to train your client's employees to service/repair and maintain their own equipment. You may find the revenue from the training and spare parts is more lucrative. This idea could also be applied to alleviate the need for a field sales representative. Instead, redirect that cost towards providing very good literature on your website.
- Redesign the Product, Process or Service: Consider eliminating the requirement for this technical skill. On the face it, this seems counter-intuitive. Why do you want do away with a revenue stream, e.g. service and spare parts? If you cannot support your product or service, your clients will move on to another company. By redesigning and simplifying the process, product or service which does away with the complex technical support, you maintain and in most cases increase your revenues - this is true innovation and leadership in your field.
The above are just a few ideas which can help any business struggling to minimise the impact of a shortage of good technical tradespeople and sales staff. Some of these suggestions may not suit your business. In most instances, your strategy should be to adopt them all or some. There may be other ideas, and in any good business, the ongoing habit of that business must be to take on the challenges , invest and innovate, not just in new products and services but in the way it does business. For its part, governments at all levels must assist businesses to overcome skilled labour shortages, develop and support programs to attract young people (especially girls and women) to take up technical disciplines, incentives for businesses to hire apprentices/trainees and keep older workers, reduce red tape and other hurdles for skilled migration visas. It's in the interest of Australia's economy that we provide support to businesses that continue to struggle with an obvious shortage of skilled technical employees. The above list with go some way to address the skill shortage.
A lot of managers and the organisations they work for, feel they can do it all and don't believe any external person or company knows their business well enough to add any value to a project or function they may need help on. Unfortunately, this is an attitude that prevails all to often in most industries but more so within the Construction Industry. However, reality tells us we cannot do it all and we should not only welcome but go searching for external help - those with the required specialist experience and knowledge. Those businesses that do "take the plunge", enjoy the benefits of new ideas, a fresh set of eyes on their situation and the actual hands-on work that external specialist consultants provide. The following are some of the key ways that a Specialist Management Consultant will add value to a Construction Project;
- Improve Sub-contractor Delivery Performance: Via regular expediting audits on sub-contractors. This refers to regular visits by the Specialist Management Consultant (SMC) to the sub-contractor’s premises to see first-hand the progress of the work, including all the stages of purchasing, fabrication, powder coating and assembly. This process will confirm that the work is progressing as per the project plan and if not, to work out ways to get it back on track. Face-to-face representation provides greater urgency to the sub-contractor that the program is followed and any slippage is reported early, so action can be taken quickly to get it back on track. It also improves communication and eases some of the frustration and angst experienced between the main contractor (the builder/developer) and the sub-contractors. Too many times, the sub-contractor’s program is out of sync with the main contractor’s program and typically, this is realised too late, leading to rushed manufacture, air freight, defects, LDs, damages – these negatives become the theme of the relationship. Never a win-win for either party.
- Bigger Pool of Qualified Sub-Contractors: Identify alternative suppliers and sub-contractors. Good reliable sub-contractors and suppliers are difficult to find in any industry – strict WHS & E requirements, compliance to Australian Standards, licensing requirements, IR issues, project management capabilities, high $ value of contracts are some of the issues which make the Construction industry one of the most difficult. The experienced SMC offers a service to source, research, and evaluate potential sub-contractors and suppliers.
- Avoid Sub-Contractor Compliance Issues: Assisting a sub-contractor to comply with the Main Contractor’s requirements. Most main contractors have identified sub-contractors who manufacture and install a quality product however, have a number of shortfalls in their processes, licensing and contractual obligations. The SMC will assist the sub-contractor to come up to speed with the requirements of the main contractor. In this instance, the SMC may be commissioned directly by the sub-contractor or alternatively by the Main Contractor as an offset.
- Avoid PC delay due to Defects: On-site detailed QA inspections of installed systems. Typically, each sub-contractor must fulfil its contractual obligations by completing and issuing ITPs. Unfortunately, at times, these are rushed and key areas are overlooked. The SMC provides a service which undertakes a detailed review of the installation and therefore ensuring any poor workmanship is picked up early.
- Avoid Work Overload & WHSE Issues due to Poor Systems: Policies, Processes and Procedure development and documentation. There may be certain areas of a project or area of the business which lacks a business system or WHSE procedure. The SMC assists by working in with the relevant personnel to develop the most effective, efficient and safest processes and procedures, and then, document, communicate and train if required.
- Improve Performance & Retain Staff: Standard or Customised Training. The Main Contractor may not have the resources on hand to deliver a standard training module. There may also be a specific situation which requires specific training and a new customised training module developed and delivered. In either case, the SMC provides a training solution. NLogic has developed a Best Practice Project Management training & mentoring program to assist employees such as technicians, engineers (qualified and junior), tradespeople, etc who wish to move into this discipline or are in this position and require training or as a refresher course. One key benefit of this training and mentoring program is that it is specifically geared towards the construction industry. Where required, it is further tailored to suit the Main Contractor personnel’s skill level and business requirements.
- Promote Success via Technical Case Studies: Typically, this is an area normally handled by the marketing department - where one exists. However, from experience, marketing people typically lack the technical knowledge and the finer details of the project to allow them to put together an informative and technical presentation on a completed project or an interesting element of the project. Experience also tells us that, trying to tie down a Project Engineer or Project Manager to get the technical details together is also a near impossible mission. An example; there may be a unique technical development or methodology on a specific building which has been developed by the Main Contractor and is worth promoting through the many channels – brochures, magazines, internet, social media, etc. The SMC will take this on as a project, gathering the details and compiling the story.
- Avoid PC delay due to Poor Operations & Maintenance Manuals: Typically, these are supplied by the sub-contractor although in most instances, a “thorn in their side” and therefore poorly written with scant details on spares and maintenance requirements. There may areas of a project where the responsibility for the manual does not sit with any specific sub-contractor. In either case, the SMC will research and compile the system details, spare parts, technical and maintenance requirements and present copies in paper and electronic versions. Some SMCs (e.g. NLogic) have many years’ experience in developing and managing service divisions, therefore, fully understand the importance of comprehensive manuals containing troubleshooting charts and detailed service/maintenance regimes.
- Avoid PC delay due to Work Overload: Project Management Assistance. There may be instances where your project managers may need assistance on certain elements of a project. The SMC will take on specific elements of the project, such as Tender Reviews; Inspection & Reporting on Defect Rectification; etc.
- Get the Best People & Improve Productivity: Recruitment & Mentoring/Coaching program. This is a time consuming and often frustrating but yet very important responsibility. Large Main Contractor’s will typically have their own HR department. Either way, the experienced SMC will assist with the recruitment and importantly, the on-going mentoring/coaching – a critical step to help new employees reach full productivity in the shortest possible time.
As the well-worn cliché goes, if we had a $1 each time we heard the above comment, we'd be doing ok. In reality, the world of good business depends of good policies, processes and procedures. The ISO9001 accreditation system and many like it, hinge on a business demonstrating that it has workable processes and procedures which are documented, communicated and diligently followed. The main objective is that there is a very high level of confidence that the final result, the product or service, is repeated each time to the required quality. Obviously, there is a lot more to it than this simple statement but it suffices to say that without good policies, processes and procedures, or the 3Ps, it is unlikely the business will have any accreditation to its name. However, accreditation should not be sort for accreditation’s sake – many businesses who have done just that have little to show for it except reduced sales. In a competitive world, where quality, pricing, service and productivity need to be at their very best, the 3Ps will help the business gain that advantage and help sustain profitable growth.
Why are the 3Ps so important? We constantly hear;
“I've survived without them for so long, why do I need them now!” or
“I know what I have to do, why do I need a document to tell me that!” or
“Producing all these procedures, keeping them updated and forcing people to use them is a huge waste of effort, time and money - for what purpose?”
These are questions which have been asked and will continually be asked until the end of time, although, if competitors and good managers are doing their job, the frequency will get less. One answer to all of these questions is simply, no you don't need the 3Ps to survive and make a living. The caveat we should put against that is; as long as you have a monopoly, you and your people remain in the business forever, you’re content with the status quo, you don't wish to grow, from a WHS&E perspective, you operate in a bubble, and finally, your competitors don't use the 3Ps. If that is your situation, then you're fine. Otherwise, to survive and grow you need the 3Ps. We all live in a democratic society which functions extremely well because of the 3Ps. How many times, have you been in an organisation and you continually hear the questions "what do I do to organise this?" or "who do I see about this?" or "what is the boss's view on smoking, internet use, etc?". In many 3P absent businesses, the way things are done are normally communicated via word of mouth or, if it is difficult to get that help, the employee refers to the manager and hope that he/she is available to help. In addition to the difficulties of finding colleagues and managers with available time to help , there is the added concern that verbal correspondence can often be misunderstood, misinterpreted and very quickly forgotten. So make no mistake, having a good set of 3Ps which are regularly updated, easily communicated and accessible by all employees is a key cornerstone of a professional business.
What exactly are the 3Ps – Policies, Processes and Procedures?
Policies: A policy is an overarching guideline or framework containing principles, values and decisions that the company and its employees will abide by for a particular area/function of the business. The policies of the business align and help drive the strategic direction of the organisation.
Processes: A process is best described as an identified number of inputs coming together in a defined sequence to produce an output. Inputs include labour, material, contractors, plant, etc, whilst the output is a final outcome, typically a product or service. A process is best represented in a flowchart format.
Procedures: They are the specific individual steps required to undertake a defined task. A process may contain many procedures.
In any good business, the 3Ps are a must. Obviously the more complex the business the more rigour and importance should be placed on the 3Ps. However, a word of caution. Business leaders and their managers can at times go too far with the number and amount of detail when formulating the 3Ps. This is unnecessary as it makes the document lengthy, complex and arduous to follow and only achieves in annoying the employees required to follow it. The KISS principle must always be observed when formulating the 3Ps. They must be easily followed, reflect reality and be of benefit to the user.
So how does an organisation go about developing and incorporating the 3Ps into their business? This depends on the size of the organisation, the number of separate functions and obviously the availability of resources to undertake the task. It must also consider how to communicate and access the 3Ps – electronically off a central server that all employees have access to; electronically and hard copy – some employees may not have access to a computer terminal; or hard document only, with the master electronic version centrally controlled by one person or department.
The following are some of the key steps to follow. Please note that this is a much summarised overview and a host of variables will dictate how complex the process becomes:
- CEO Support. The plan needs support from the highest management position that is the CEO, MD etc. Without that support this important management project will flounder and ultimately fail. It is worth noting that many key personnel need to make time to undertake a task they would rather not to. So it’s important that it receives and be seen to receive, continuous support from the top. Regular communication via email, newsletters is strongly recommended.
- Business Status. Understand where the business is now. Are there any Ps and if so are they documented or are they in employees’ heads and verbalised throughout the organisation? This understanding will help determine the size of the task and the steps involved. The following steps assumes that there are very few Ps documented and they're followed because they have been transferred through word of mouth.
- Project Leader. Nominate a leader to drive the initiative. Ideally, this should be someone from within the organisation in a senior management capacity, has the ability to grasp the technicalities of the business, an eye for detail and is organised. Another good option is to contract an external organisation with industry experience in this discipline who reports through to the CEO.
- Plan. Develop a plan complete with timeline and the required team to get the job done. The team should consist of personnel directly involved with the task or area which is subject to a 3P. In most instances, these people are frontline and key to the daily operation of the business. There is a good chance that these employees are not good at or in some cases, unwilling to transfer their task to words and onto a document. A resource from within or external to the organisation should be sought to help with extracting the important information and properly scripted to a document.
- Team Leadership. The leader clearly communicates the plan and timeline to the team and regularly stresses its importance. Meet once a month to ensure satisfactory progress as per the commitments and timeline.
- Policy Development. Policies are generally the realm of senior management, typically, the CEO, MD or GM. However, the CEO can seek advice from others with knowledge in the relevant business area or discipline and request they draft a policy. The CEO will review, refine as required and then sign off on the policy and organise it to be communicated to all employees and where required to customers and the public. Processes and procedures normally flow down from policies so they generally come first.
- Processes. Due to the quantity and variable nature of the inputs, the more complex processes will generally have a team involvement. In this case it is best to flowchart the process and either add notes on the flowchart or have an additional document which describes the steps in words. This detailed analysis of the process will reveal ideas on how to improve the process - a major benefit of this exercise.
- Procedures. Ideally undertaken by the actual person doing the task however, due to workload and capability, this is not always possible. It should always be complied with a thorough understanding of what the task is and what it is meant to achieve. In many instances, thinking about the steps involved raises questions and concerns about why it is done a certain way, which in turn seeds ideas for improvement. An outsider’s perspective will also throw different ideas on how to improve the task - again, a major benefit of the 3Ps.
- Communication & Accessibility. The 3Ps must be communicated and easily accessible by all employees. Easy accessibility cannot be overstressed. If they are not accessible there is a temptation not to bother and rely too heavily on memory or what feels right. In a typical organisation, a combination of electronic and hard copy is typically the best method to ensure accessibility. However, as stated above, it does depend on the type of business and how it functions.
- Training. It’s very important that all relevant personnel understand the 3Ps. This is especially important for new employees however, a regular refresher training is recommended every 6 to 12 months.
- Continuous Business Improvement. Due to growth, downsizing, introduction of new product or service and other factors most businesses undergo change. This means the 3Ps must also be regularly reviewed for relevance. As part of continuous business improvement, new policies, processes or procedures may need to be added.
- Audits and Measure. A measurement system should be put in place which records and provides feedback on how the 3Ps are working. This system will measure and report on compliance to the 3Ps, business improvement as a result of the 3Ps, what are the productivity gains, employee satisfaction level, etc.
- It never stops. Ensure a culture of ownership on continuous business improvement and the entire 3P system
Businesses that wish to sustain profitable growth must implement a continuous improvement program with the 3Ps at its core. The 3Ps of Policies, Processes and Procedures allow business to function as a self-governing team, continuing to deliver quality products and services even when the inevitable hiccup occurs such as a key person is sick or on leave or when a new employee joins. Employees are not to blame if they do not have easily accessible and clear guidelines on how to achieve a repeatable quality outcome. The 3Ps come together to form a system of guidelines, owned by the employees and management and which delivers a repeatable quality product or service ensuring continued success for the business.
A question asked by many Chief Executive Officers, Managing Directors, General Managers and senior managers, more often than they care to admit. When all the talk is about work-life balance there seems to be an ever-increasing imbalance towards more work and less of the other stuff - life! More a typical scenario of leaders within small to medium size businesses however, not that uncommon in larger organisations. Managers within larger organisations may have the slight advantage of a greater pool of internal and external resources to tap into however, there will be quite a few who will disagree. It suffices to say that this is a very common problem which faces many managers - the higher up the ladder the more likely you will have a fluctuating workload - from high to very high to "how am I going to get through this" level!
Why does it happen? Why is the manager's situation so different to a person working in administration, finance, sales, engineering or the factory floor for that matter? Any excess workload in these areas are typically identified, scheduled in and suitably resourced; or turned away or referred to the manager for a decision. In most organisations, examples like this are very rarely turned away and from a manager or business owner's perspective will take precedence over their growing list of management projects. In the ideal world, a typical CEO, MD and GM's workload is made up of a list of well-defined management projects requiring planning and strategies with timelines and due dates. These are intermingled with planned meetings, client visits, presentations and an allowance of time to handle typical day-to-day issues. Unfortunately, the "ideal world" does not always happen. Extraordinary board requests, production emergencies, client complaints, personnel issues, WHS&E matters and other unplanned activity are the cause of the overload situation. The manager then gets caught in survival mode for the business and in many cases their own job, and their immediate concern is about ensuring the here-and-now are looked after. The planned management projects will either be delayed, indefinitely delayed or cancelled and unfortunately the future of the business at best is left in neutral or in many cases, not thought of again.
What to do about it? In the quiet of those rare but important planning periods, the management projects were identified as important for the future of the business. Therefore, they must be done. In some instances, postponing is OK, however, in most cases, indefinitely delaying or cancelling is suicide. The following is a step-by-step process on how you, the manager, can get over this impasse:
- Complete a well thought-out business plan. This will flush out the important management projects.
- Regularly review the business plan for relevance. Add or deduct from the list of management projects. Some may need changing.
- As part of the business planning process, identify a timeline and responsibility team for completion of each of these projects.
- Understand where you and the team's key strengths sit in the organisation. Are you a planner/strategist or more hands-on day-to-day type of manager?
- Understand what the real world is like. It will have emergencies and other day-to-day interruptions. Can the unplanned be planned into the timeline?
- Plan the necessary resources. Delegate? Additional full-time or part-time employees? Outsource to an external organisation? The budget and overall financial constraints of the business are key elements to also consider. The cost benefit analysis must consider a long term outlook and not only a short term view.
- Experience indicates that sole reliance on delegation (i.e. use of existing internal resources) typically means delays, lack of focus, shortcuts, that is, a slow painful death to the project. Additional and dedicated resources is the most successful that is, via direct employees or outsourcing to an external specialist organisation.
- If you go down the additional employee(s) route, ensure you identify the responsibilities of the role(s) and carefully recruit the talent to match. This takes time. The budget must support the additional employee(s) and for the long term, they must be fully productivity in their assigned roles.
- The advantage of the external specialist are many. They will come in and understand your business, gain your trust and be ready to work with you as and when required. They then become your "go to" management resource when the workload demands it, turning them on and off as required.
- Select the external resource wisely. They need to have the industry experience and technical capacity to understand your company and what it does. The one size fits all approach will not work. You must have absolute trust in their ability and service levels.
Whichever way you go, via delegation to an internal resource, additional employees or with an external specialist organisation, the decision to seek assistance is justified many times over. The manager's day-to-day responsibilities are paramount - they bring in the profits today, next week and next month and we all know that without profits there is no business, no company, and no employment for the dedicated employees. However, we also know (but circumstances prevent us from following through) that the future of the business, the company, the employment opportunities in 1 year, 2 years and beyond is very dependent on the diligent undertaking and completion of the identified management projects - the projects identified as critical to the future of the business. It comes down to understanding where the business is and where it wants to go and most importantly, the diligent planning and execution of the management projects. Other key components are the financial constraints and importantly, the work-life balance of the manager and his/her team. However, to do nothing and not to progress is not an option.
(following is an abbreviated version. Go to Downloads for Full Version)
It is an obvious but often forgotten fact that losing a valuable employee is a costly event. The temporary void left by the departing employee is not only a frustration for the manager and the remaining employees but there is also a hard cost attached to it. Combine this with the recruitment and training of his/her replacement and you’re typically facing a direct and sizeable cost of $70k or more excluding any lost patronage which in itself, can be quite devastating to your business. Recruiting the best possible talent is not a task to be taken lightly. Finding and keeping the right talent to best fit the role is very difficult, more so for those roles that are specialist in nature and/or that require a number of skill sets. So it pays to get the recruitment process right – not only to hire a person right for the job but also someone who fits in well within the company’s DNA and is there for the long term.
The best practice recruitment process involves many steps and must be taken as a project and not another painful task to be “ticked off” on a To-Do List. The foundations of successful companies are good people. And keeping good people motivated and happy are key ingredients of this process. However, no matter how good you are as an employer, some good employees move on. Managers must be prepared for this eventuality by providing good succession planning and considered risk management as part of their planning process – more on this in a future article. This article specifically focuses on the best practice recruitment process – key steps condensed from many years of “hands-on” managerial experience – all targeted to give you the greatest opportunity of landing the best talent for the role.
- Understand the role and availability of suitable individuals
- Understand the Business’s Short & Long Term Plans
- Develop or Update the Position Guide
- Develop an Analysis Matrix
- Develop a List of Interview Questions
- Consider People from Within the Organisation
- Consider Your Network
- Recruit a Recruiter
- Employer Does its Own Recruiting
- 1st Cut
- 1st Interview - Phone
- 2nd + Other Interviews – in Person
- Psychometrics Testing & Personality Appraisals
- Mentor, Coach & Train
In summary, best practice recruitment is never an easy and quickly implemented responsibility. In addition to the unplanned issues and frustrations a highly valued departing employee causes, there are the issues of finding the time to undertake a thorough recruitment process. Typically, this pressure falls on you or other senior management. And in many instances, this pressure translates to a rushed process and a rushed decision which invariably causes further issues – shortcuts very rarely provide successful long term solutions. Conversely, it is rare to have a situation where an employer can spend infinity number of hours and money searching for the ideal applicant. It is a matter of applying a thorough process and striking the right balance. When it’s all said and done, best practice recruitment requires a well thought out, methodical and thorough approach and disciplined undertaking. And even then, there are no cast-iron guarantees that you have the right fit you think you have. However, this method will minimise the risk and give you and the company the best opportunity to continue building a successful team to grow the business – there is no argument, good people make good companies – this is the difference.
NLogic Management Services has just released its new Corporate Brochure highlighting the comprehensive suite of management project and consultancy services available to business. The brochure summarises the key products and services targeting the 3 critical business areas of Business Management; Technical Projects and Recruitment & Training.
In any business, marketing your product or service is a key ingredient to the success of that business. This is especially important in the technical field. Technical businesses must rely on communicating the advantages of their product or services in a way that connects to the technically minded and the not so technically minded. It must also develop a narrative, diagrams and/or photos which promotes and sells the "want or need" emotion to buy the product or service. In many instances, it's very important that the entire business and the support structure behind the product or service is described in detail and eloquently conveyed. All in all, a complex and very important responsibility which brings together a number of different disciplines and expertise.
NLogic's professional engineering qualifications and diverse experience within technical industries provides excellent hands on expertise to communicate the technical detail of any product or service. NLogic harness the many years of experience in technical design, training, sales and marketing to understand some of the key ingredients to promote the product to the relevant market and the decision maker. NLogic understands how to combine the marketing disciplines, the technical detail, diagrams and photography to not only capture the products and services detail and applications but also the required "want or need" emotion for the best results - be it training impact or sales and marketing. NLogic's intent, will be to do both!
NLogic specialises in Technical Case Studies, Technical Literature and Brochures, Technical Training Manuals & Webinars and Websites requiring the accurate and eloquent communication and promotion of Technical Products and Services. NLogic can work with the clients' own resource providers for diagrams and photos or alternatively, use it's own strong affiliations of designers, printers, photographers (Sydney Lush Photography) and others to provide the necessary expertise. The NLogic team has the experience and understands what is required to design and develop a technical training or marketing publication. NLogic will project manage the entire project, research the needs of target market, immerse itself into the technical detail, organise the photography and publication of the document or website. For more information please contact NLogic on /contact-us Return to Top of Page
The primary objective of business management is achieving or exceeding the budget - normally this translates simply to a profit number. The number one goal is to ensure the manager gets his/her team to deliver or better the budgeted bottom line. This is true of Product Managers, Divisional Managers, Business Unit Managers, General Managers, CEOs, Managing Directors and any other position which has this or similar financial objective as a direct unit of measure - and lets face it, it is very rare to find any senior position that does not have a financial metric as a key indicator of performance. And yet, we all know there are a myriad of other corporate governance, environmental, safety, quality assurance and other responsibilities and objectives that must also be met. The secret of good business management is to get the "balance" right.
What does it take to get all these responsibilities and objectives on target in order to hit the all important sustainable profit target? Good business planning, strategies and action plans are a given. Good people with a great team involvement is a critical ingredient. And an unwavering desire and focused commitment to implement the plans is an obvious and crucial step. Plans are not worth the paper they're written on if they are not implemented or if implemented poorly. The element which receives little to no attention is the risk associated with variables. Variables such as unplanned employee leave, resignations, an unexpected major rework or warranty issue, loss of a "sure fire" order, etc. The list goes on. They say, this is where the good managers earn their keep - that is, how quickly they react and what they do to resolve the issue which defines bad or good business management. The dynamics of each business play a critical role here - small business managers need to have an array of hands on skills whilst the large corporation manager typically has a more focused approach to the "managerial" elements of his/her role and greater flexibility to engage external resources such as business or management consultants to assist with recruitment, training, interim management, technical projects, etc.
Management is not a prescriptive step-by-step job function. In a typical business, especially small to medium size organisations, business management involves a number of functions interspersed with any number of emergencies, unplanned meetings, an employee's gripe or threat to leave, unplanned calls from clients, etc. Therefore the manager's lot becomes a hectic day of many mini projects with very little focused attention on the planning, strategies and action plans required to hit the key objective of the sustainable bottom line. Is this a familiar story? You're not alone. This scenario plays out to a vast number of managers in Australia and around the business world - battling each day, working very long hours but very little focus on the business planning, the sales & marketing strategies, the organisational and productivity improvements, the employees and team building interaction - that is, the planning and actions required to build a profitable sustainable business. This is the manager's primary No 1 objective and yet, very little time is spent on this - this is the dichotomy of the manager's lot. He/she knows what they have to do, but the "other issues" just keep on coming. This is not a commentary of time management albeit that poor time management can be another major influencing factor which contributes to this lack of focus. This is an opinion piece on the "balance" that is required by a manager to be successful - to improve the business - not a one year wonder but many years of sustainable profitable growth.
The "balance" skill does not come easy but one that must be mastered in order to succeed.
It's the skill that says, we will balance this employee's weakness against his/her many strengths the business relies on. We will look at organisational structure and understand is there a better fit, a better career path for this individual. We will seek help to develop a customised training program that will help overcome his/her weaknesses.
It's the skill that says, we balance the downside of an unexpected major warranty or rework problem with the upside of understanding what went wrong, fixing the problem ASAP, learning from it and strengthening the valued relationship with the customers and ultimately the value of the business. We will understand in detail what went wrong and then undertake organisational improvements, developing policies, processes and procedures to avoid or minimise a reoccurrence. We will implement a customised training program to communicate to relevant employees.
It's the skill that says, we need to balance the faith we entrust our employees, our colleagues, our team members to carry out a function well against the possibility that we may need to step in and manage the exception. We will recruit well, develop career paths for our valued employees, undertake training and clearly outline their responsibilities and provide incentives.
In short, the "balance" skill is one that acknowledges that we do not live in a perfect world but our business plan, our culture, our company DNA insists that we strive for perfection. It knows to always ask "on balance, what is the right course action here?"