Monday, 30 March 2009

Time Off for Exceptional Behaviour

I have long since been a fan of setting staff stretch objectives. The basic objectives are what good performance look like but the stretch objectives, aimed at encouraging staff members to go the extra mile, represent exceptional performance. While some employees, especially those who are ambitious, will be driven to achieve their stretch objectives, others will be content to merely deliver good performance.

The problem has often been how to motivate staff to push themselves to achieve these stretch objectives. The 'what's in it for me?' syndrome. I first used stretch objectives way back when I was running sales teams and the motivation was simple - money. The more you sell, the more you earn. This could also be spiced up by adding an element of internal competition.

But what about all those support staff where financial bonuses cannot be so readily applied, at least in the short-term. How do you motivate these people to strive for exceptional performance? There are of course the longer-term elements that relate to career progression and in today's climate, one could even suggest job security as a motivating factor. But these are often not immediate enough to act as driving forces on a day-to-day basis. So here's a quick-win tool you might want to try out - Time Off Vouchers.

Let's be clear, this is not time off for doing merely a good job, that is, the job you are being paid to do. But what I am suggesting is giving staff time off for doing an exceptional job by going the extra mile and delivering above and beyond the call of duty. Maybe someone who delivers all of their stretch objectives in a month can win a half day off. That's valuable to people. An afternoon of pampering, shopping, golf or whatever as a reward for exceptional effort and performance.

And what impact will that have on the rest of the team? Make a point of asking the successful team member(s) if they had a good afternoon off, ask them what they did - make a big deal of it. And at your next one-to-one with the other team members make it clear what they have to do to win a time off voucher. Let them know what their stretch objectives are and what exceptional performance looks like. Then, it is up to them if they want to push themselves and gain the reward and kudos that will accompany the extra effort.

Give it a try and let me know how you get on.

Simon Cooper heads up ELC Training Solutions and is author of the best selling leadership development book, Brilliant Leader.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Leaders need coaching too

While we rightly expect good leaders to coach their staff (and as I have said on numerous occasions, this is a core part of the leadership role), what happens when the boss needs some coaching support? Who do they turn to? Their peers? Their boss? Or an outside expert?

Of course, it could be any of these depending on which source is likely to be best placed to help you find the answers you are looking for. As a leader, to ask for coaching from your peers will often be perceived as displaying a weakness. It might also present some confidentiality issues if the area you need some coaching on relates to one of your staff. The issue of being perceived as displaying a weakness might also apply to being coached by your boss. You might also find your boss is too close to the situation and is tempted to try and present a solution rather than helping you find the answer for yourself. An external expert will often provide the most effective route but it will also come with cost implications. But what value would you place on the solution?

I had a two hour coaching session with a middle manager earlier this week. His starting point was that he felt he was failing as a boss. He had performance and motivation issues within his team and he personally was visibly stressed about the whole situation. All I did was to ask him a series of relevant questions about the situation and his actions so far, listen carefully and then ask him some more questions about possible solutions. By the end of the session he had a clearly defined set of actions and was literally, bounding with enthusiasm to put those actions into practice.

Towards the end of the session he said to me, "It seems so blindingly obvious now, why didn't I think of it before?". He had the answers all along, it's just that nobody had encouraged him to think the problem through in the way I did (and he'd had several sessions with his boss before he met up with me). Now, that 2 hour coaching session has already paid for itself in improved productivity in the three days since I was with him, according to the email he just sent me. And there is a boss and several team members who are all going to have a much better weekend than would otherwise have been the case. I reckon they'll all be looking forward to work on Monday too.

Leaders need to be good coaches for their staff but sometimes, they need to be coached too.

Simon Cooper heads up ELC Training Solutions and is the author of the best selling leadership development book, Brilliant Leader.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Motivation Bite Size - Staff Development

I had an interesting meeting with a senior manager last week. The comment that stuck with me was, "We are investing in training at the moment purely to help keep our people motivated during the recession".

That comment alone tells you a lot about this motivational nugget. Many people are motivated by training and personal development. The acquisition of new knowledge and skills helps to make them better at their jobs and perform at a higher level while also enhancing their CV and improving future job prospects. By sending staff on training courses a company is sending out many positive signals:

- We care about our people
- We want our people to succeed
- Things ain't so bad, we still have money to spend on our staff

But of course, training courses are a whole lot more effective if people also know why they are attending, see the relevance to their job and have a clear link between the training course and their development plan.

And it's not just training courses that help staff to develop. Other tools in the staff development mix include:

- Coaching (by a manager or an expert)
- e-Learning
- Attending industry seminars, conferences and workshops
- Sponsorship of professional study
- Exposure to new experiences and opportunities

At every part of the staff development process an individual manager can make a real difference and the net result will most likely be improved motivation, improved capability, improved confidence and improved performance.

Simon Cooper heads up ELC Training Solutions and is author of the best selling leadership development book, Brilliant Leader.

You Just May Be a Poor Boss If...

In The Devil Wears Prada, Meryl Streep plays an editor. Fashion industry insiders have stated that the fear inspiring, scary, capricious manager (apparently, her character is based on a real boss!) played by Streep, is on target. In fact, the mean spirited actions of such bosses can be seen by some in the fashion and entertainment world as a badge of honor!

But can these bosses get results? My opinion is that a managerial jerk can never achieve good, sustainable results. One of the reasons why is discretionary effort. Discretionary effort is what makes people work overtime, stay late on their own time, create and innovate. One of the more disheartening results of poor bosses is the effect they can have on the discretionary effort of good employees. I've seen this effort, which can really boost an area, get smothered by poor bosses. People may work for a tyrant but they'll seldom give him everything they have.

Robert Sutton, an organizational psychologist, has a philosophy on bosses who are jerks. He says they are a tremendous drain on society and that the costs of retaining these bosses outweigh any benefits. They waste time and cause possible psychological abuse and even mental damage.
The other facet of the boss as jerk syndrome is that they may be unaware of the effect of their actions. So here is a short list of some signs that your managing skills may need some sharpening: You just might be a poor boss when-

- You claim an open door policy and wonder why no one comes through that door.

- Your employee has to ask you why her check increased instead of you telling her prior to payday that you gave her a raise.

- You feel sorry for the Dabney Coleman character in the movie "9 to 5"

- The turnover percentage in your area is the same as the winning percentage of the White Sox.

- Your leadership role models are Machiavelli, General Patton and Atilla the Hun.

- You find a copy of A Survival Guide for Working With Bad Bosses: Dealing With Bullies, Idiots,
Back-stabbers, And Other Managers from Hell by Gini Graham Scott on an employee's desk.

- You have a budget of 30k to spend on employee bonuses and never use it.

- You think it's good management to come in under the paltry 3.5% budget available for salary increases.

- You think that losing your temper is an indication of management strength.

Someone asked me why there appeared to be so many poor bosses. After all, in addition to real life horror stories, there are several movies and books that deal with bosses from hell.
Although I feared this may be a cliche my response was that the reason there are so many jerks as managers is that poor bosses don't work at being good bosses. Poor bosses become better by working at it. Managing simply by instinct or personality traits alone dooms bosses to the role of jerk.

If a poor manager desires improvement, attention needs to be paid to expanding his/her management skills. This means the aware manager reads books, goes to classes and seminars and even seeks out speakers about the craft. Then it's applying those lessons learned in the workplace. That's what can prevent a boss from being a jerk and turn a jerk into a manager worth holding the position.

Following are some indicators that your managerial style is working: You just may be a good manager when-

- Your area improves productivity by 20% and the people think you had nothing to do with it.

- You get invited to area social functions and they really want you to go.

- You like to manage by walking around your area. When you miss a day someone asks you where you were.

- You listen when someone needs to vent to you.

- You get Christmas cards from your employees.

- People leave your department because they get promoted.

- Potential employees apply to work in your area.

- Your employees tell you you're always fair.

Finally, you realize that you became a better manager the day you kept quiet and began listening.

Guest writer Steve Wyrostek is an internet copywriter covering websites to articles to white papers. All writing includes keyword research/placement, rewrites and proofreading.

Monday, 16 March 2009

The New Dance

Poor Pluto. Stripped of its planetary status by the International Astronomical Union and reclassified as a "dwarf planet," two years ago, Pluto's demotion heralds new rules for planet classification. Debate by renowned astronomers from seventy-five countries culminated in the decision to reduce the number of planets to eight "classic" ones.

This reclassification got me thinking. Like a company reorganization or leadership change, the rules were altered. And no matter if you were among scientists advocating for more planets or less, it no longer matters. The decision is rendered. Like it. Don't like it. It's done.

Organizational changes can be like that too. Like Pluto, I've spent career years with "classic" designation, status and access only to be "reclassified" with mergers, acquisitions, downsizing and reorganizations. Confident, comfortable and courageous with a current boss, you must reprove, readjust and reorient to a new one with a different style, focus and rules.

It's happened enough in my career-life to collect a few insights along the way. First, the suddenness is unnerving and often painful. Familiar shifts to unfamiliar and second-nature decisions become second-guessed ones. When the rules change it's uncomfortable.

But, you can't go back. You can't change the outcome. What was true yesterday is gone. So, my second lesson learned the hard way is let it go as quickly as possible. Your future depends on it. Third, recognize you're in a growth spurt. That can be painful, challenging or exhilarating. And while it might not be a growth you'd choose, use your talent to reinvent yourself, find your grounding and contribute in new ways.

You see, if change can happen to something as sure as planets, it will likely happen to us. When it does we can dig in, resist and fight, or after taking a deep breath and regrouping, we can find our courage and take a step forward.

That's what people who are winning at working do. They choose the future over the past, personal growth over fossilization, opportunity over defeat, and contribution over consternation. And as difficult as that is at times to do, people who are winning at working work through their disappointments and wounds, assessing their options, inventing their future and finding their wisdom. Like an African proverb reminds us all, "When the music changes, so does the dance."

Want to be winning at working? Learn the new dance.

Guest writer Nan Russell is the author of Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way (Capital Books; 2008) and host of "Work Matters with Nan Russell" weekly on Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. Sign up to receive Nan's "Winning at Working" tips and insights at

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Management Speak - Business Optimisation

There is nothing like a bit of management speak to warm the bones during the last throws of winter and the latest little gem to come my way this week was, Business Optimisation.

Business optimisation is the current buzz word among senior leaders seeking to adopt the right strategy during this economic downturn. Essentially, it is about putting in place the measures now that will make the business as strong as possible when the economic climate improves. Intuitively, this makes a lot of sense but what sort of areas are the consultants and strategists looking at?

Organisational Structures
There are many companies at the moment who are announcing widescale redundancies while simultaneously recruiting new staff. In case you are wondering how that circle can be squared the answer is of course - business optimisation. Companies are identifying the roles and associated skills they need to get them through the recession but also those that will provide a springboard as they come out the other side.

Business Workflow and Processes
If the remaining workforce is required to produce more with fewer resources, the workflows and processes need to become more efficient. Many companies are taking the opportunity afforded by a recession to re-engineer their processes and associated workflows.

Cost Management
Harsher economic times leads to a need for better financial husbandry. Finance directors must be having a ball. Their power base invariably increases during a recession as they dictate what the company spends money on and what it doesn't. Discretionary spending is being slashed in favour of essential spending and err, business optimisation.

One HR Director I was speaking with recently was bemused that the only department he hadn't had to reduce headcount in was the marketing department. Clearly, he had not heard of business optimisation! While companies might be reducing their marketing communications spend, a recession also provides an ideal opportunity to focus on developing the core offer of the company, refine the target market and analyse which part of the market is delivering the real, sustainable profits.

Organisational Capability
Companies might be reducing headcount but at the same time they need to make sure they maintain their skills base and capability going forward. They must ensure knowledge is being effectively transferred within the business and their staff are continuing to be developed. This means managers and experts within the business need to become effective coaches as well as the company investing in well targeted training.

You might have picked up a note or two of sarcasm in this article. It's not that I think business optimisation is a bad thing or that the term is inappropriate. My real problem with this being the current focus among many senior leaders and strategists is this - why weren't they focused on these things all along?

Efficient and effective deployment of resources, efficient and effective business processes and workflows, prudent cost management, a strong strategic marketing focus, good knowledge transfer and ensuring the workforce has up-to-date skills are all components of solid business management. Why do we need a recession to put us straight?

Simon Cooper heads up ELC Training Solutions and is the author of the best selling leadership development book, Brilliant Leader.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Motivation Bite Size - Recognition

Most people come to work wanting to do a good job. And when they do a good job or try their best to do so, it is vital for their manager/leader to recognise their efforts and achievements. In short, it is incredibly motivating when people receive deserved recognition and incredibly de-motivating when they don't.

And here’s the thing, it is also incredibly easy to recognise effort and achievement and yet, many managers/leaders do not do enough of it, enough of the time. When the pressure is on to get the job done, as it invariably is, it is all too easy to focus on correcting errors and mistakes, adjusting and improving output or simply to place more demands on staff. Nobody is suggesting these things should not be done but let’s not forget the old adage – a little bit of praise goes a long way!

The easiest way to recognise effort and achievement is by conducting regular one-to-one review meetings and highlighting areas where performance has been good or exceptional. But there are other less formal ways too. A simple ‘thank you’, ‘well done’, ‘you’re a star’ or ‘I really appreciate the effort you have put in here’ all tick the recognition box. If you have the budget, the odd gift (maybe presented at a team meeting) won’t go amiss either. And if someone has really gone the extra mile, why not send them a simple thank you card to show them that there effort is appreciated. Do not underestimate the impact of someone receiving a thank you card from their boss in the post, especially when that person has put in extra effort or produced exceptional results.

Perhaps the only note of caution in all this is to ensure you are being fair and objective with the whole team. Don’t leave yourself open to accusations of favouritism but at the same time, those working the hardest and producing the best results deserve to be praised.

Recognising the effort and achievement of your staff is incredibly easy to do. Are you doing enough of it?

Simon Cooper heads up ELC Training Solutions and is author of the best selling leadership development book, Brilliant Leader.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Become The Star You Are Meant to Be

You want more out of life than just a job. Whether you work for a large company, a startup, a nonprofit, or you are an entrepreneur, you want to be a star; a complete and total personal and professional success. But professional success is complicated and may be elusive. To achieve professional success and become the star you are meant to be you need a professional success blueprint.

Here is a strategic blueprint for becoming the professional success-the star-you are meant to be. The first thing you need to know is what the qualities of a successful person are. Research shows that all successful people have five things in common:

Successful people are self confident
If you want to become self confident you need to do three things: 1) Become an optimist. Learn from, and forget yesterday's mistakes. Focus on tomorrow's professional success. 2) Face your fears and take action. Action cures fear. Procrastination and inaction compound it. Failure is rarely fatal. Do something, anything that will move you closer to achieving your goals. 3) Surround yourself with positive people who are interested in professional success. Build a network of supportive friends. Jettison the negative people in your life. And just as important, find a mentor to help build your confidence and guide you along the way.

Successful people create positive personal impact
If you want to create positive personal impact, you also need to do three things:
1) Develop, nurture and constantly promote your personal brand. Figure out the two or three things you want to be known for and then act in a way that is consistent with these things.2) Dress for success; make your self-presentation impeccable. Check the mirror on your way out the door. Your appearance should show that you respect yourself as well as those around you. 3) Finally, use proper etiquette. Of course, the most important etiquette rule of all is simple; make the people around you feel comfortable.

Successful people are outstanding performers
There are three things essential for becoming an outstanding performer:
1) You have to remain technically competent. The half life of knowledge gets shorter every day. Become a lifelong learner to remain technically competent throughout your career to be a true professional success. 2) You need to set and achieve high goals. Set milestones to help you keep on track with your goals. Focus on your goals every day. Do at least one thing every day that moves you closer to accomplishing each of your goals. 3) You need to be well organized. Manage your time, stress, workspace and lifestyle well to achieve maximum professional success.

Successful people are dynamic communicators
Three keys to dynamic communication:
1) You need to become an excellent conversationalist. Listen more than you speak. Show a genuine interest in other people and what they have to say. You should do what you can to help them reach their goals, because helping other people find professional success is what makes you a success. 2) To be a professional success, you need to write in a clear, concise, easily readable style. Write like you speak; imagine yourself in a conversation with the person reading your writing. 3) Finally, you need to present well; to groups of two or two hundred. People who have achieved professional success almost always have the ability to make dynamic presentations that move their audience to action.

Successful people are interpersonally competent
The three keys to interpersonal competence complete the picture:
1) Become self aware. Understand yourself and your impact on others. Use your self awareness to better understand others and to increase your influence with them. 2) Build solid, long lasting mutually beneficial relationships with other people. Relationships are the key to long term professional success. Treat other people with dignity and respect, and they will reciprocate. 3) Finally, find ways to resolve conflicts with a minimal amount of problems and upset to relationships. Conflict is inevitable in business and life. Find ways to resolve conflict in a manner that enhances, not detracts from the relationships you've worked so hard to build.

Implementing these five essential elements of professional success and taking the time to learn the various aspects of each will help to ensure your professional success in any endeavor you undertake. Simply knowing them is not enough, you must take the time to learn and perfect each one as you implement them.

Guest writer Ray Subs is a public relations specialist working with The Common Sense Guy--Bud Bilanich. For more common sense advice about success visit