Archive for the ‘Performance improvement’ Category

What do we measure?

I’ve just finished reading an article about testing your marketing messages.  The example used was of testing the effectiveness of one headline against another. Its common marketing wisdom and we know that overall, those that follow the dictum have great marketing success than those of us who randomly dump words on the page and hope we hit the target.

The point of this article is that these days there are loads of clear and easy-to-use tools that will deliver feedback from the market to tell you whether you are reaching your tHead-measurementarget audience, whether the message is clear, and whether its on the mark. More and more people – even those who don’t have massive marketing budgets to spend – are coming round to the logic of testing your marketing message.  It just makes sense. Understand where there’s room for improvement and then make the changes.  Couldn’t be clearer.

Strange then, that the same logic doesn’t always apply when people consider training. So often companies make an educated guess at what training is required. Yes, sometimes its fairly obvious. But sometimes, its just what the MD thinks would be a good idea, or what a current management guru is talking about, or even the latest training brochure lands on the desk.

Surely, its just as sensible to assess skills gaps before deciding what training to apply?  It would seem logical to measure performance first and then decide on action.  Hopefully, just like the measurement of marketing messages, quantifying strengths and development needs is becoming accepted as the logical starting point for actions.  360-degree feedback is a pretty good starting point.

A Route to success

We all know that Business Link is a great idea. Helping small enterprises to do business better (or in fact, to do better business) is good for the whole economy. And traditionally, the East of England has had a pretty good track record in that respect. I’m sure that EEDA and Business Link have had a part to play in that.

But, the frustration I share with many has always been the fact that finding out exactly what service and advice they provide, and which bits of it might be applicable to your business, has felt rather like catching smoke. And to be honest, the last couple of times I’ve talked to a Business Link advisor, its seemed a little as if they’re in the same position.

I was really pleased to read about their new Business Map, launched on their website today.  EEDA’s Space for Ideas campaign in 2005 had a fresh, information-rich appeal and the graphic way of illustrating their advice and support for businesses launched today has a similar approach. Finally, I can see all that the development agency can deliver through Business Link.  The map is clear, uses the feel of the London Tube map to create a sense of familiarity and usability – and it just works.

Energy vs engagement – which takes the lead?


Have you noticed that people who are really engaged with what they do, also seem to have a special kind of energy. So here’s the question – what comes first: the energy or the engagement?

Can we be energised by being more engaged with what we do? Or should we find ways to boost our energy levels in order to become more engaged with our careers?

What do you think?

The Craving for Clarity

I noticed a new pattern of conversations last week. In all the meetings I had with associates and others in business, whenever the subject of credit crunch, recession or the euphemistic ‘cut backs’ (which for some reason makes me think of hedge trimming – sort of neat and green) came up, one theme came through loud and clear.

The desire for clarity. People are concerned about the downturn in the economy. But when you listen to them, its clear that they are more concerned about the uncertainty it brings. If we all had crystal clear knowledge of the extent and timescale of the downward trend, it would all be easy. We’d know exactly what action to take to sail through tough times. Trouble is, when there is less clarity, we have more options and therefore more choices we could make – but we have no clear indications of which we should take.

We’re told that we should cut back on spending, sit tight and ride out the storm. Then we read that companies that do so seldom thrive, but those that have taken risks and used recessionary times to expand have come out of the other end ahead of the pack. “Focus!”, we’re told – its critical. But wait! We also need to diversify to make sure our sales don’t suffer.

Last week I heard all of these opinions at some point or another and that when I realised that its panic that causes the problem. Everyone has a view but no-one really knows how to respond to the changes in the economic state of the country. We’re all just guessing to a large extent and therein lies the real problem.
Clarity is what we crave in order to reduce our choices and and increase our chances. Its easier to manage when we simplify the activities being completed but that’s not an easy thing to do. We feel compelled to work faster, harder and smarter. In fact, perhaps all we have to do is pause for long enough to make some clear decision.

I’ve just started reading David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” in an effort to make my life simpler and my time more productive. He points out that until we learn to manage our actions, we can’t control our productivity and stress levels. And further, that clarity of thought is what helps us to make better decisions on the actions we take.

The trick is not to seek clarity in the media, or from associates or colleagues. We have to learn to trust our intuition to some extent. Get to the essence of the problem, work our which actions will potentially give you the best outcomes, and then roll up your sleeves. That way you’ll spend less time worrying about what’s going to happen in the next couple of years, and more time focused on what actions you can take to be effective.

Most Influential – the morning after

Last night's event was really interesting. I attended Human Resources Magazine's Most Influential in HR Awards at Claridges in London. It was a great event, where I had the opportunity to meet some really interesting people.

We had some great conversations about metrics and how you prove the returns on measuring the engagement of your staff (amongst other things). 

It was generally acknowledged that measurement was essential in HR, and that there was enough soft evidence to show that keeping your finger on the pulse of staff motivation and competence is critical. What is not quite as easy is to do is to find hard figures to help build a case to the board. It is possible and we discussed a few examples from personal experience. By and large though, I think its going to be up to HR directors who want real growth in their people, to argue their case strongly and persuade the board to give it a try. After all, as we said last night, even 1% growth in employee engagement can make a far greater contribution to the bottom line.

So here's a question for you – when did you last take the pulse of your organisation? If not recently, then measure the engagement, or the competence levels in your organisation at the very least, and see what you discover. There will be something – I can guarantee it.

Oh, and you want to know who are HR's most influential thinkers and practitioners this year? They're listed on Human Resources magazine's website.

Energy banks

Energy is a company asset. I don’t mean utilities. Electricity and Gas are essential to operations as anyone in South Africa will know all too well at the moment. But what I am talking about is people. The energy that is applied to thought, to problem solving, to customer relations. Its critical to any business, but I wonder how many count it as an asset?

Over the past few weeks I’ve been working on the concept of Entrepreneurship with Graham Singleton of Make Yourself. We’ve been discussing a model for a presentation. As we explored what could be done to enhance entrepreneurship within companies, we discovered the links with energy. Its been a great experience working with Graham. His enthusiasm is infectious.

Energy is the life blood of an organisation. Its the fuel that drives both the pace and the quality of growth. But the challenge lies in the intangibles. Some people have it in spades, and others don’t have quite the same amount of ‘go’. Those that have it can infect others with enthusiasm, but they can also overwhelm. And although its not finite, it does need to be nurtured and sometimes conserved.

Its value is hard to measure – it never appears on the company’s balance sheet. But without it nothing happens. Although we can’t always control it, we should perhaps look after it – think of it as deposits and withdrawals from a bank. If we keep drawing on it without top ups, we’ll start running low. But shared with others effectively, it multiplies rather like compound interest.

Investing in your energy bank could well pay great dividends.

Creating Entrepreneurs talk

I’ve been asked to speak at the Institute of Directors Annual Conference in Suffolk. The topic is Entrepreneurship and I guess my opinion is considered relevant as East of England Business Woman of the Year Enterprise Award recipient. Public speaking isn’t an area where I have much experience. Those of you who know me may well raise an eyebrow at that statement and think ironically about the fact that I talk up a storm – all the time. But speaking in public is quite different to just having a big mouth!

I decided for a number of reasons that if I was going to accept this request I would need to make an investment in getting the final product to the state where it was absolutely the best I could do. Firstly, I know how valuable time is to people who run businesses. I owe it to the audience to make it worth their while to sit and listen to me for half an hour. I also owe it to myself to use this opportunity to develop a killer presentation and the skills to deliver it really well – because then I can do it again in June when I have a second speaking engagement.

Over the past 6 months, I’ve been working with two great people to get my output to a professional enough level. More about them in a later blog.
For the current presentation I’ve been researching companies that behave in exceptional ways. And I found it fascinating. I just had to share one of the best stories I’ve come across:
Southwest Airlines took part in an event which became called ‘Malice in Dallas’ in 1992. At 61, with a smoking and drinking training regime, Herb Kelleher took on 37 year-old weight lifting head of rival company, Stevens Aviation in an arm wrestling match. And all because they didn’t want to involve the lawyers in a dispute over the use of a slogan. If only all corporate disputes could be settled so brilliantly – its worth reading the story.

Its easy to see why Southwest Airlines is one of the USA’s top companies to work for when you understand just how far they go to make work fun.

Getting help with the ‘What next? question

fortune cookieGreat to see MSA gets a mention in Personnel Today’s article on training for before and after 360 feedback.

The expertise that wraps around 360 reviews is a key component in the ultimate result. Making sure the ‘What next?’ question (or even the ‘So What?’ question) is properly explored makes the difference between it being a box-ticking exercise, and something that delivers powerful results.

Welcome Aboard

planecrash2Earlier this month a new “free” 360 review service was launched. Its a DIY, no service, no support, one-size-fits-all product which comes with no advice on how get any value out of the reports. This scenario is a classic case of ‘You get what you pay for.’

How many people would be willing to fly on an airplane that had not been safety checked, had an unqualified pilot in the cockpit, no cabin crew and no baggage handling staff – even if it was absolutely free?

Yet somehow, there are still those who would rather save a few pounds than make a solid investment in their people.

Hard to understand.

The Right Questions

Ten times a year I give myself the gift of a day of developing my business skills. As part of a fantastically powerful group called Association of Business Leaders (ABL), I have the benefit of being able to focus entirely on my business issues for a day, and share current issues, problems and suggestions with other members.

The impact of this peer coaching is surprisingly powerful given that the members are not professional coaches. What we are tapping into is the shared experiences and perspectives of a group of highly motivated people who understand the pressures of building a business. Although the industries, business sizes and specific expertise of every member is different, the common thread is the willingness to share knowledge, support a fellow member, and help each other grow in capability, and profitability. This is powerful stuff and every one of us is loathe to miss a single day despite our heavy pressures.

Our speaker this morning was Anne Miller, a highly knowledgeable and enormously talented author, inventor and entrepreneur from Cambridge. Anne has recently published her first book, The Myth of the Mousetrap, in which she unravels some of the critical barriers to getting new ideas adopted. For anyone attempting to build an innovative business, Anne’s book is an essential management tool.

It turns out, we learned from Anne today, that its really important, when gathering information to back up a hunch, or provide data as the basis of an important decision – to ask the right questions. So often, we miss some critical nugget of knowledge just because we forget to ask some of the more obvious questions. Anne’s example of NASA’s Challenger disaster is a poignant reminder of at least one instance where this critical step wasn’t included, with devastating results.

Clearly, in most situations, the consequence of asking the wrong questions (or omitting the right questions) isn’t catastrophic. But even in our discussion of business issues during our ABL sessions, effective questions provide greater clarity in the least amount of time.

Consider your teams and your organisation’s culture. Do you encourage lots of questions? Do you focus on asking the right questions to get the whole picture?

Ask yourself those questions.