Responsibility in leading

In my last piece I talked about getting the best out of our employees and co-workers, and including giving them some responsibility for their work. Delegation is great, and as long as people do not feel out of their depth they should feel more energized. We will have more time to run and further the interests of the business and think where we are going, knowing that work is getting done on our behalf.

However, just because we have given our workers responsibility does not mean that we have given up our responsibility. It can be difficult working on one’s own as an employee in a larger organization especially, because bosses and senior managers will want something done in a certain way. It is important to check that those responsible to us are happy in what they are doing, and understand what is required of them. In particular, if they come to us and ask, we must listen and help them. It is no good waiting until they have finished the task as they see it, and then telling them we did not want it done that way, or they had misunderstood what was needed. If they have got it wrong, it is our fault, not theirs, and our responsibility for cutting them adrift.

I was reminded of this recently when I was asked to undertake a local project for a client with a particular brand, and I ended up on the wrong end of a poor relationship. Yes, I could and have completed the task in hand, and it will run quite effectively as it is. The frustrating part is, I can see ways of making it better, providing a better service to customers and giving them added satisfaction through feeling wanted, so increasing loyalty and reducing churn. The only cost will be in terms of my time, and I can get my reward directly through increasing my share of the revenue. The trouble is getting the brand owner’s permission to tweak as it will make the service slightly different but better than in the other areas in which the business operates. Of course if my idea were to be rolled out more widely, it would in my opinion make the whole brand better. However, unfortunately despite my best efforts I get no feedback, which is very frustrating.

So, do not leave your employees, workers or contractors high and dry after giving them that initial responsibility for their task. Listen to them and seek their feedback if you are not getting it. Otherwise you may be disappointed, and worse, may not allow them to improve on your original idea.

© Jon Stow 2009

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How to get the best out of our employees and co-workers

In the late seventies, when of course I was very young, Britain organised a recession all for itself. It was punctuated and marked by industrial disputes and strikes, notably by the seamen, the public service workers, and of course the rail workers. I need to say that this is not going to be a union-bashing piece or even a Government-bashing piece, though we have a scene now in a new recession which is quite reminiscent of those bad old days. People now forget the strikes of the seventies were the raison d’être for the confrontation with the miners during the Thatcher years. There was an understandable feeling of “never again”. With hindsight, the approach might not have been quite right, but the thing about hindsight is that you do not have it until after the event.

At the time of writing we have threats of a national strike by the postal workers (threats of staff cuts and modernisation of working practices), and a strike by Corus steel workers (closure of its final salary pension scheme to new entrants, i.e. mainly people who have not joined the company yet). One by National Express Rail workers (pay offer above inflation deemed insufficient) has been settled. One supposes that all these disputes are over genuinely perceived issues without a political agenda.

These strikes make me feel quite uncomfortable in that they can make the recession worse, affecting productivity through travel difficulties and raw material supply, as well as cash-flow, so important to many businesses including especially, small businesses. It really shouldn’t be funny, but there is a comic absurdity in all this, at a time when even the TUC is forecasting that there will be 4 million unemployed within the next year or so.

The confrontation and posturing we see on both sides of these disputes between major employers and unions is certainly not the sort of behaviour we would want to see in small business, and indeed we do not see it very often. However, unfortunately management and workers can still take very entrenched positions, particularly over productivity and in respect of staff absence. It can happen in respect of pay too.

Fortunately the small business owner is in a much better position to do something about these problems and to put matters right. It involves taking a friendly approach which might be alien to the big employers and their workforce representatives. Being nice to someone is certainly never harmful. So, if there is a productivity problem we, our small business owner or SME director should say to the workers individually or together (it depends on circumstances) “I know that you are doing your best, but we really are not getting the results we expect. Do you have a suggestion as to how we could get through more work? Is there a problem you can identify and something we can change?” That way the staff will feel happy that they have been asked and feel more valued. We will be giving them some responsibility for their work and there may well be something the business could change to make the system better and get more work done. At the same time, the staff will feel more able to volunteer issues that concern them and give useful feedback without being asked.

In the case of staff absence, it is always best at the earliest stage to talk to the individual because there may be an area in which we can help. Again, the person will feel valued, and perhaps one could allow some flexibility on working hours if there is something which keeps the person away from work. Of course, common sense must prevail, but again we encourage collective responsibility. Even pay issues are best resolved by talking first, and individual incentives related to personal productivity can also encourage valuable feedback.

None of this is novel, but both small business employers and their staff can get into entrenched attitudes if they do not talk enough or at all. We have nothing to lose by being friendly and kind to those who work for us. I have always found that if our team members like us, they will respect us and try harder to please, which of course benefits them hugely, as well as our business.

© Jon Stow 2009

Exemplary Consulting for Business Support
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Know your audience and do not rabbit

Last week my wife and I did something unusual for us – we went on what amounted to a coach tour. It was interesting and informative. Being a tour, we had a tour company representative or courier to accompany us, and naturally as we travelled on the bus she told us about what we were going to see and commented on the scenery and history. The lady was well meaning and herself quite well informed on most matters, but the trouble was she talked too much giving a vast amount of information, some of which was of questionable relevance.

Much of the historical detail we already knew because we and our fellow travellers were from the British Isles, and the tour was within the British Isles. Consequently we were all very familiar with most of the facts supplied, and the content of her talks would have been more suited to foreigners such as visitors from North America.

The second error the lady made was the the length of her presentations. It was as though she felt obliged to fill every moment of her and our time together talking to her captive audience. Much of what she said seemed unimportant, but if it had been important she would have bored us into paying little attention. I was not the only one who fell asleep during one of her lengthy discourses.

The third and most cardinal mistake our tour leader made was not to take into account the sensitivities and feelings of her listeners. Many of us had lived through quite a lot of history which would certainly not have left us untouched. Hence some of us including I on one occasion felt quite upset at some of the references made.

In a sense this is elementary stuff, but a useful reminder. I give presentations to several different groups. Some are in my own profession, some are fellow professionals in other disciplines, and others are potential customers or people whom I have met through networking. What we say and the information we give must depend on our audience. There is no point in my “blinding people with science” if they are not in my business or one allied to it. On the other hand, if I am talking to a business peer group, they will expect content of a higher technical level and perhaps very specific to their needs. One has to keep people interested and help them with the sort and level of information for which they are looking. Also, it is important not to go on too long, but to conclude when one has said just enough, and to still have the audience’s interest to ask questions. If they are snoring as I probably was in the coach, the speaker has failed, and even worse, has gained a reputation as a bore.

Much of this also applies when seeing clients or prospects. Of course, listening is then more important than talking, but when we do speak, it must be at the right level to give any information in a form which can be understood, and to make the person comfortable with us. Know your audience and don’t rabbit on!

© Jon Stow 2009

Exemplary Consulting for Business Support
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