A fascinating meal of Burger and Chips

It’s refreshing when I encounter a leader that delivers change by making sense of the change process
Last night I spend a facinating few hours with Phil Jones, MD of Brother UK Ltd.
Over a burger and chips Phil and I discussed how he had restructured his team.

Phil Jones MD Brother Ltd

It would be impossible to record everything we talked about. So much of what he had to say around team management and generating increased productivity interested me, particularly as we obviously share the same outlook.

What impressed me was his emphasis on the importance he attached to his leadership style of emotional intelligence. It allowed him to deliver the far reaching change he needed to implement and with his colleagues support (even those that were disadvantaged). There were three things that struck me. The first was that he numberswiki.com

referred to all those in his team as “Colleagues”, employees was a title he rejected as not desirable or helpful in team relations.

The second thing was his sense of fun. For instance He permanaently gave up his reserved car space. The first day he announced the decision he offered free coffee all day to the first person who first occupied it the following day. He was even able to show me a picture of the car that had arrived very early to park in the space once reserved for the boss. I wonder how many CEO’s would consider doing the same?

The third thing that struck me was his emphasis on agile work groups to avoid boredom. A work practice that could reduce turnover of good talent if adopted by other businesses.

I shall be watching Brother Ltd with renewed interest and suggest that others do to

Stephen Harvard Davis

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Why don’t people remember…?

Last week a Company Director phoned Assimilating-Talent and was talking to me about his frustration with communicating change to his employees. He told me that “People don’t read stuff”.
Actually his frustration was that his employees seemed not to remember information.

I pointed out that this shouldn’t be a surprise when you look at how information is available and the way people retrieve it. Wikipedia doubling each year, over 200 million searches on “Tax advice” from Google, staff handbooks that run to 100 pages or more, 200 emails a day into their inbox and so on. People don’t need to remember information any more, they just need to know how to retrieve it.

Another result of all this information is that people are reading information differently. They scan for keywords as they hunt for specific topics, they read horizontally dipping in and out of text and store information, without reading it, for later reading.

This has huge implications for how organisations communicate with their people. The frequency of that communication and what people are being asked to look at. Possibly, instead of large memos, a shorter one line asking people to read: ‘“Section 2.4” of the change programme as this has changed‘.

Someone who I follow and talks huge sense on the topic of communication with people and businesses is Chris Street, The Bristol Editor and I would recommend a discussion with him if you want to improve your internal communication

Stephen Harvard Davis

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Language Predicts Poor Service

It’s always obvious when management are to blame for a team’s poor productivity. I often find that poor service is predictable from the language used by people in contact with customers.

This was demonstrated to me a couple of days ago I found myself in Putney (London) and visited Wallace & Co, the restaurant part owned by Gregg Wallace and the man who co-presents BBC’s Masterchef for lunch. Since the restaurant aims to bring the best seasonal fruit and vegetables to the customers plate it sounded great for a light lunch with a colleague between business meetings.

Sings of poor management

The first clue that things might not be as good as expected came when I asked the waiter “What’s the soup of the day?” He went off to the kitchen to find out. For me, “I’ll ask the chef” is always a sign that the management are doing a poor job and have a disregard for the customer and it’s a problem easily fixed by communication. It turned out to be Leek and Potato. “What’s the Quiche of the day”, Spinach I was told. My colleague chose the soup and a beef baguette and I opted for the Quiche salad.

Gregg Wallace

Five minutes later the waiter returned saying that the Quiche wasn’t as billed but something else much less appetising! I changed my order to the soup. When the two bowls arrived the soup was tasteless, just warm, unsalted, glutenous and devoid of any garnish. It was probably the worst soup I’ve ever had in a restaurant! (Gregg would have had lots to say in criticism on “Masterchef” if a contestant had presented such slop to him)

Such a shame when the vegetables, said to be specially selected from the best produce the owners could find, should have been ruined by the inability of the kitchen. Both bowls were sent back to the kitchen and I opted for a beef baguette that was  then served in a soup bowl!

I find it extraordinary that a restaurant could be so bad but even more that a personality allows his brand to be spoilt by such poor food and service. Gregg Wallace and his partners, Vernon Mascarenhas, Justin Carter and General Manager Dan Cooper surely can’t be oblivious to the changes that they could make which would improve productivity and customer. In looking through reviews being given by customers it seems that I’m not the only person to be disappointed because my comments are consistent with others.

However, rescue is at hand.
Here’s an offer for you Gregg.
Should you wish to contact me I would always be happy to help with your cafe’s problems.
As a start, I have promised to email the chef with my recipe for “Leek and potato soup”!

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What’s the Difference?

I often find myself talking to team managers about the differences between “Change” and “Transition”.
The reason for the discussion is that so many people assume that they are the same.

In my experience nothing could be further from the truth and very simply:
Change: Is a physical move to a new place. (This includes move of office, new way of working, dieting, learning and so on).
Transition: Are the mental stages that people move through to arrive at the new place

The definition illustrates why some team leaders find it difficult to implement change when they have other people to lead along a pathway to change. One of the major problems that contributes to change failure is that the leader works through the transition before those being led are given time to do so.

More information on transition management HERE

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No Coffee at Team Meeting!

I heard on the radio today that the cost of coffee is likely to rise as a result of crop failure due to “Rust”.
This attacks the leaves and they fall off and the berries containing the bean also fall off before they mature.
Could this mean that there will be a food shortage in this item and that coffee will become scarce and the cost increase to enter the “luxury” market making it unaffordable at most team meetings (unless you bring your own!).

Leaders often find it difficult enough to talk to their people in such a way as to engage “Hearts and minds” as it is 
With no coffee at the team meeting or in the Boardroom. It might mean that team leaders will have to ensure that the content of their meeting is more stimulating

Meeting for a coffee could become a real invitation that denotes real generosity and possible even cost more than the entertaining allowance and I can see a number of my friends finding the working day almost impossible without their fix of coffee.

I wonder if tea will be a substitute?

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Who needs a teambuilding away day?

I’ve had a number of meeting where team managers have suggested an “away day” as part of a team building strategy.

When asked “What’s the objective” I’ve sometimes been told “So that they’ll be motivated”
Further discussion around the outcomes can sometimes generate a confused response from the manager.
On one occasion I was told “I don’t know what outcomes but I want them motivated”

I was tempted to ask “Motivated to leave?” but persevered to a conclusion which resulted in the team’s manager attending one of my 1:1 strategy planning seminars. The result was even more positive than the team attending an awayday.
The lesson is to focus on the who as well as the outcome when planning team development.

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Judged By The Promises You Keep, Not The Ones You Make!

Almost of my working time is spent with restructured teams. Often this includes a complex analysis at processes or relationships to make the team’s restructure more effective or profitable. However, I find it strange that some team leaders can’t see an obvious and simple flaw in their team’s process and how damaging that flaw can be to their reputation and business.

Let me give an example:
A few weeks ago I introduced a friend to my Gym at David Lloyd in Hatfield. Very impressed with the facilities my friend became a member. I discovered that I was eligible for a reward for the introduction. Nothing much, just a couple of cinema tickets I think. Well, I was delighted and as a James Bond fan looked forward to using them with the latest film. I was told that someone would email me or phone.

Heard nothing
Since then I’ve heard nothing. No email (as promised), No phone call thanking me for the introduction, just silence!
Until now I would happily promote the club to other friends. The facilities are good and it’s always nice to have friends in the club.
I didn’t refer my friend for the reward but having discovered it was on offer I consider that a promise was MADE.
Their silence suggests that it’s not being kept.
So now I am judging David Lloyd by the promise they are  not keeping!
It’s a bad system…and badly managed and would have been better if the reward promise was never made at all.

My suggestion to David Lloyd for a simple solution
Ensure that all those who refer a friend are contacted within 24 hours to thank them.
It’ll make the customer happy to refer again

Promises can be implied
Another example of a broken promise, but one that’s implied, and that harms a brand is the Starbucks issue over their tax paid in the UK.
Perfectly legal…congratulations to their accountants for their work in achieving a small tax bill.
The problem is that it’s not seen to be fair and a business making huge profits has an implied promise, to pay taxes.

Business needs to learn that if you break actual promised or implied ones then you damage your brand
and others will take advantage of it!

Coffee anyone

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Believe the worst…It saves time!

I’ve just finished working with a business team that was paralysed by rumour.

I was brought in by the owners of the business because sales and productivity had fallen drastically. In addition rework on products had increased because mistakes on production had increased. The problem, it seemed, was that the team members believed various rumours that the business was looking to find someone to buy it and that inevitable lay-offs could be expected. Despite being told that the rumours were untrue the team members seemed to believe the worst and that was… “The business was in trouble”

The first question I asked was whether there was any truth in the rumour. I was assured there was not and there was a great deal of evidence that showed that the business was, in fact, doing well and Profits for the coming year were expected to be greater than in 2012.

Why people believe the worst
It’s partly being conditioned by TV to expect bad news and partly because the human naturally expects the worst as a survival tactic.
The problem is that it doesn’t help in business where anticipation of the worst is built upon the wrong facts.

So why the rumours of business meltdown?
I began to investigate by asking five questions to various members of the team:

  1. Who is supplying the information?
  2. Why are they saying what they are saying?
  3. Where did the information (facts) come from?
  4. What’s their motive for supplying the information?
  5. How did they arrive at the conclusion that the business was being sold?

After discovering the source of the rumours (people saying that person A had told them then person A says they heard it from B and so on).
The source said that they had concluded that the CEO, CFO and legal Directors were going outside the business for meetings as opposed to meeting in the Board Room. QED…there were problems and the business was looking for a buyer.

What was actually happening was that the CEO, CFO and lawyers were meeting with clients to agree contracts for future work. On my recommendation a strategy was created for the situation. Implementation began by spreading a new rumour that there was some “Good news” about to be announced and that next year was gioing to be really exciting. This was backed up by Directors walking around with smiles on their faces and  engaging staff in conversation. This didn’t reduce the rumours of the business being sold, in fact it confirmed it to some, but people believed that perhaps things wouldn’t be so bad. Then once we were able to tell the team what was actually happening morale and productivity soared.

The team was then told how the rumours had harmed productivity and that there was no conspiracy theory…just that there was little point in telling people about sales that had yet to be concluded. In this way the rumour manufaturers are likley to be viewed with some suspicion the next time!


Moral of the story.
Don’t always believe the worst…it might not happen!

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Business Teams That Work Hard At Staying Still?

I had a facinating discussion yesterday with a business friend on my observation that “Business teams are working hard at staying still”.

Teams standing still to survive
I suggested to him that, in the current economic climate, a majority of business teams had stopped evolving and developing new ideas. It seems that many businesses are afraid of the future and of spending money that may be needed for some unsepecified reason. The result is that teams have stopped evolving new ideas, improvements in process and new projects. They are standing still in the hope of surviving.

The problem is that doing nothing is NOT a survival strategy. Let me give the example that I gave my friend. The fewest number of business bankruptcies within the EU seems to be in Greece, Portugal and Spain. Countries where innovation and development and new business is at an all time low. The reason is that few businesses are being opened, fewer initiatives being created and a stagnation in entrepreneurial activity.

In Sweden and Norway, on the other hand, business failure is as high as ever…but then the number of businesses being opened and business success is also high. The proportion of success, however, vastly outsrips the failures. In the Uk the business teams that I’m working with have an energy that is developing new ideas, bringing in greater results and profits.

Formula for acceleration
It strikes me that the formula for mass and acceleration is applicable here: That being F=mA (F=Mass X acceleartion called a newton).
Replace F(Mass) For T (Team) and multiply it with ideas, innovation and experimentation and you can only end up with acceleration

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Tactics for surviving a cock-up?

I was facinated by the use of deflection tactics following the UK Government cancelling the West Coast Rail bid
The Transport secretary said, “A detailed examination by my officials into what happened has revealed these flaws and means it’s no longer possible to award a new franchise on the basis of the competition that was held” and Mr McLoughlin added that members of staff at the Department for Transport (DfT) will be suspended over the flaws and announced a number of investigations.

The cost to the taxpayer for this “Cock-up” is around £40 million so I daresay that it’s only right that some people are suspended over the error. On the other hand those people simply following Government strategy of obtaining the most amount of money for the license?
After all, saving taxpayer money and reducing the debt IS a Government policy.

Apportion Blame
Luckily the new Minister for Transport is new in post so it won’t be him to blame and the previous holder of the post is a great candidate for taking the blame! After all, blaming the previous job holder for every mistake is always a great tactic for the first six months in a new job.
So what can we learn from this episode to bring to our own business life and avoid being blamed for a cock-up

Tactics to divert blame
So what can we leart from this episode that we can bring to our own business?

1) Whenever possible blame someone else, preferably someone who’s left the firm / department
2) Announce an investigation to buy time and in the hope is that it deflects criticism until another cock up hits the proverbial fan
3) Suspend someone. You can always reinstate them when the heat is off!
4) Tell everyone you’re on top of the situation and making appropriate changes
5) Wander about looking concerned and clutching a thick file of papers. To observers you look as if you have all the facts
6) If anyone stops you to question you apologise, say you are off to meetings, bow head further and walk purposely away
7) Adopt phrases such as, “Had I been told all the facts none of this would have happened”
8) Cancel holiday or weekend away with partner. This always looks good to observers!
9) Blame “the process”. State that you’ve implemented changes and that “It can’t happen again”
10) If all alse fails…say you’re stressed, overworked and didn’t have time to check the figures

But well done to Richard Branson for pointing out the “Cock-up” before it became a real crisis!

Virgin trains

Richard Branson and Virgin Trains

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