Monthly Archives: August 2022

Creating a Culture of Innovation

Innovation iceburg

Icebergs and Innovation

Involving your team in innovation and improvements.

I’ve talked many a time about the importance of listening and tuning in to your team. However, today’s article is also about listening, but this time with a view to involving them, making continuous improvement & creating a culture of innovation.

Sparked by a webinar I attended recently on the topic, here I share my own perspective on this.

Where does the iceberg come in?

The ‘Iceberg of Ignorance’ is a term Sidney Yoshida used, based on an earlier study in the 1980s which stated that “only four per cent of a company’s problems are known to top managers”. This is represented by the part of the iceberg which is visible.

The theory is that only 9% of problems are known to middle management

74% of problems are known to supervisors

100% of an organisation’s problems are known to front-line employees, i.e. collectively, employees know about all of the problems.)

Now, although the study was based on mid-sized organisations, and within your business the gap between front line employees and senior management may be much smaller, the message is still the same. If you don’t consult with your front line you are probably missing a wealth of information that impacts the success of your business.

My own experience of this was back in the late 1990s when I was still in the corporate world, and our then CEO took part in the popular TV show “Back to the Floor”. Because he was working ‘under cover’ he got to hear of a multitude of issues, bottle necks in the system and some brilliant ideas that could be brought back to the business.

As a trainer and facilitator, I also get to hear of all sorts of issues that stand in the way of team members being as effective as they might be – sometimes through irritating glitches which are often (admittedly not always) really easy to fix. The sad thing is, very often these issues could have so easily been rectified if only they’d been asked for their feedback.

Quite apart from the obvious benefit of being made aware of problems, let’s consider why else it’s a good thing to involve your team, and what can you do to apply these principles in your business, or within your own department.

5 reasons why Creating a culture of Innovation is a good thing

  1. Involving your team in making continuous incremental improvements, helps you evolve and stay fresh, on an ongoing basis. Whether it’s a cost saving, something to improve the customer experience or simply making their lives a little easier – shaving a few minutes off a task in one area, may free up a few extra minutes to devote to customers. Those incremental improvements all add up over time. **
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  2. One of the questions I am frequently asked is how to engage your team; involving them in innovation can drive employee engagement; if employees are involved with creating new ideas they are emotionally connected to the ideas, so will want to see them succeed.
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  3. The more opportunities and encouragement they get to be involved with generating or sharing new ideas, the more they feel a connection to the business which helps drive engagement & performance.
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  4. Your team are often closer to your customers than you are so will often spot potential problems before you do, and see potential solutions to those problems.
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  5. When you ask them for their ideas, and encourage them to think outside the box to solve existing problems they will and come up with ways you’d probably have never thought of to move the business forward or improve your customers’ experience.

7 principles to make Innovation work

  1. Your team need to understand your purpose and what you are aiming to deliver to your customers. It’s difficult to recognise opportunities for improvement or come up with ideas if they don’t know what you – as a business – are trying to achieve.
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  2. Create a safe and conducive environment for people to come forward with ideas; where they are not seen as a criticism of the business or systems, but as a positive contribution.
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  3. Involve your team in the development and deployment of possible solutions to problems not just come to you with the problem.
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  4. Many new managers are afraid of asking for ideas in case they fail. Failure and risk are part of the process. If something doesn’t work ask for ideas on how to improve.
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  5. Be open to quirky or off the wall ideas – they may not be the ideal solution, but may be a starting point to asking, “what can we do the build on that idea?” Even if you’ve tried something before, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. If you quash suggestions people will be reluctant to come forward with ideas in future; instead ask “how can we make that work this time?”
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  6. Don’t go in search of radical revelations, all those small incremental changes add up over time.
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  7. If your team haven’t been actively involved in putting forward ideas or if those ideas have fallen on deaf ears in the past, recognise it takes time for employees to feel comfortable or willing to do this. It takes time to create a culture of innovation.

Take action

If you only do one thing: Next time you want to make a saving or find a better way of doing something, don’t sit in an ‘ivory tower’ and try to solve it alone – ask your team.

p.s. a starting point for flushing out issues and ideas is through anonymous surveys such as Engagement Multiplier. If you’d like a test drive to see what it could do for your business, request it here directly with Engagement Multiplier who will be happy to arrange this.

** Waitrose are reported to have saved £460,000 in till roll paper as a result of one small change following a suggestion from a staff member’s idea.



Systems in Management

Systems in management

Systems to help not hinder

If you’ve ever been shopping and forgotten your shopping list, you’ll know how annoying it is.

Not only are you in danger of forgetting important things you need, but it takes so much longer as you end up going down each aisle to remind yourself of what you need.

Your shopping list is a type of system.

A system doesn’t have to be complicated to help you or team members to:

  • Save time
  • Ensure consistency
  • Avoid people having to reinvent the wheel
  • Avoid having to redo things or back track
  • Take the pressure off you

But

Systems should help, not hinder.

Poor or outdated systems can be not only frustrating for team members, but also impact productivity, the customer experience and ultimately your bottom line.

Here are a few to look out for:

  • No system in place for routine tasks so staff reinvent the wheel every time they carry out similar tasks.
  • Not fully understood, so not followed
  • Over complicated or cumbersome
  • Too much red tape or to-ing and fro-ing that slows everything down
  • Unworkable due to lack of time, right equipment, tools, or products

Any of these inevitably puts extra pressure on your team, particularly when there is a direct impact on customers… They are there to support the team, not create red tape, or stifle personality, initiative and good ideas.

Indications that a system needs reviewing include:

  • Team members failing to deliver the job on time
  • When team members frequently struggle, ask for help or make mistakes
  • Recurring customer complaints

It’s easy for us to become oblivious of how ineffective a system works or poor the equipment when we’re not using it every day. So, check the systems and processes you have in place are still doing the job they were designed to do.

If you only do one thing:

Ask your team for their observations and feedback on existing systems and how the system can be improved.

Systems in management Video

I can’t do that 



A question of questions ~ Question technique for managers

question technique

Mastering the art of question technique

On a recent Managing Performance Workshop one of the skills we discussed that cropped up time and again was question technique.

As any self-respecting salesperson will tell you, question technique is a key skill in the sales process.

But it’s also a critical skill for managers too.

Why?

Because by asking good questions you can:

  • Check understanding
  • Create buy-in
  • Get people’s involvement
  • Discover the root cause of a problem
  • Understand someone else’s perspective
  • Find out what’s going on
  • Find out how your team are feeling
  • Learn from your mistakes
  • Help others learn from their own mistakes
  • Help put people at ease
  • Find out what’s important to others
  • Identify people’s expectations
  • Seek ideas for resolving problems
  • Check on people’s progress
  • Help people identify their own strengths
  • Help people identify their development needs
  • Encourage people to think things through for themselves
  • Encourage people to take responsibly
  • Help people open up to where they need help or support
  • Keep difficult conversations on track
  • Help people plan and prioritise
  • Get to know your team better
  • Build rapport

I could go on, but you get the idea…

On my workshop the emphasis was on asking questions in relation to managing performance, but the ability to ask good questions is also important in recruitment, in meeting customers’ expectations, in dealing with complaints, in coaching, so it’s a skill well worth developing.

Of course, the way you ask questions is also important; we don’t want team members (or customers) to feel like they are being interrogated.

Questions to open up the conversation

To get people talking use ‘open’ questions, starting with the words:

What, how, when, who, where, why, give me an example, or tell me about…..

This will encourage the team member to go into details and not answer yes/no.

However, “why?” is a question to use with caution; it can easily come across as judgemental if we’re not careful. Also asking someone why something happened can be too broad a question which they may not know the answer to. So, as an example, instead of asking “why did you do that?” ask questions along the lines of “what triggered your response?” or “what was your reasoning for approaching it in that way?”, “what had you hoped to achieve?”, “How did you decide?

In the context of managing performance, e.g. in a one to one review, here are some questions to ask:

  • General: What did you do, how did you do that, what results did you get, how has that helped you, what’s was the impact on the customer/team/department.
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  • If something worked out well: what did you do differently this time, what was the end result, how did that help others (business, colleagues, customer, etc), how will you build on this for next time.
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  • If it didn’t go well: how did you overcame the problem, how did that work, what have you learnt from this, what can you do/can we do to avoid it happening again, what will you do in future, what help do you need from me?
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  • If they’ve had a challenge: what do you think led to that, what have you done about it, what have you learnt, what support do you need from me?
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  • When planning forward: what will you focus on, how will that help you or others, what will you do first, when will you start, how will you know when it’s working, what milestones will there be, what obstacles could get in the way, how will you overcome these, when shall we review progress?

Listening to answers

Whilst mastering your question technique you’ll also need to listen well.

  • Build rapport by looking and showing you are listening, by maintaining eye contact, nodding and using open gestures.
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  • Avoid taking notes while they are talking.  If you need to keep a record of the conversation, you don’t need to document everything, just key points, so wait until they have finished, then make a note of the relevant key points or anything you want to come back to later.
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  • Watch for any hesitancy in their answers. If you’ve asked a tough question they may need time to think about it, so avoid jumping in before they’ve had a chance to do so.
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  • Avoid jumping to conclusions or making assumptions – if they don’t give you all the evidence you are looking for, or their answers don’t give you enough detail, follow up with more questions.
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  • Listen to what’s not been said too.
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  • Stem the flow of irrelevancies or hobby horses by interruptions like “I understand your point.” or “I can imagine”…. “So what can you do…?”
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  • Summarise their points (using their words) to show your understanding.
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  • Don’t be tempted to stick to pre-formulated questions; build the next question round the answer to the last.

Because we all filter or delete information, it can mean the information we receive or questions we ask very general or vague, making it difficult for others to fully understand the question, issue or action required. Often it is necessary to drill down to get specifics.

This can be the case when reviewing performance with team members. We might ask a question about a situation and they may be vague or ambiguous with their answers. We interpret their response in one way (and often make assumptions about the detail) when they mean something else. Or maybe they are being vague deliberately, as they don’t have any details to give!

For example: you ask someone how they are getting on with a task you have asked them to complete by the end of the week. When you ask them on Wednesday how they are getting on they answer “Fine”. What does that mean? Does it mean they’ve nearly finished; that they are just half way though; that they have started it but waiting for some information from someone else; that they are stuck, but too shy to ask for help; or they haven’t even started yet?

This is when we may need to do some “Fluff Busting” and I’ve written about that here.

Take action and practise your question technique

If you only do one thing:

Next time you ask one of your team for an update ask specific questions so you come away knowing exactly where they are up to.

video: Understand your customers and team by asking quality questions..



Making your team feel valued

How to help your team feel valued

How to make your team feel valued

Recruitment and staff retention is a hot topic currently.

Like me, I know you know how important it is to have an engaged team, and the impact this can have on productivity, staff retention and customer experience. 

I recently gave a short presentation on just one way to help keep your team engaged, and that was to show we value them. 

There are many ways of you can make your team feel valued, but the one I’d like to home in on today is that of tuning in to team members.

Failing to spot disengaged employees isn’t always easy. But if we don’t, we run the risk of these people being a drain on others in your team, being less productive and negatively impacting your customers’ experience. And ultimately resulting in higher staff turnover and all the knock on effects this can have.

So here are 10 ideas to help tune in to your team and individuals within the team so you can not only demonstrate to your team you value them, but you can also nip in the bud any problems brewing before they fester and impact everyone else.

  1. Know what’s important. Making your team feel valued starts with understanding what drives each of your team members and what’s important to them. Although something might seem trivial to you, it may be highly significant to someone else. When you know what these are you take account of these with this person.
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  2. Be available for people to talk to you on a one to one basis or in private. Not everyone will feel comfortable raising concerns or questions in front of colleagues, and some situations may not lend themselves to be aired in public.
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  3. Be approachable. Make it easy for people to come to you when they have question or concern, and create a no blame culture and let people know there should be no embarrassment in making a mistake, so long as they learn from it.
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  4. Keep your ears and eyes open to spot when things aren’t as they should be, and you can pick up on concerns quickly. Not everyone has the confidence to ask for help when it’s needed or let you know when they’ve a problem. Listen and observe so you can spot any staff concerns quickly. Left to fester these can snowball into bigger problems.
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  5. Regular one to ones. Never under estimate the value of sitting down in private with each of your team on a one-to-one basis. Schedule these in advance and stick to your schedule. Nothing smacks more of I’m not valued than constantly cancelling these meetings.
  6. Show you value their opinion. Ask their advice in areas where they have more involvement than you, e.g. many of them will spend more time with customers than you and often spot things you might miss.
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  7. Ask for feedback regularly. Things change and problems can fester. Use briefings to get feedback on any customers’ comments, discuss any questions or suggestions that arise about operational issues which could affect them in any way.
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  8. Provide support when needed and be receptive to when this is required; not everyone will be confident enough to ask for this.
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  9. Be brave. Ask your team for feedback on how you are doing in their eyes. It can feel uncomfortable to give feedback to the boss, so ask in a more conversational way such as “What could I be doing to make your job easier?” We don’t always want to hear about the things that frustrate your team, particularly if you may be contributing to the problem! Be open to the truth and willing to listen. Accept feedback with good grace and thank them for an honest response.
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  10. Create the opportunity for people to give anonymous feedback (using a tool such as Engagement Multiplier). People may be afraid to say what they really think if they’re concerned about being labelled a problem or complainer. Address concerns. This doesn’t mean that you have to resolve every personal whim, but it means identifying trends, recurring problems or prioritising what needs attention.

Action point:

Help your team feel valued by asking for their feedback. If you consider yourself to be a brave, caring owner (or senior decision maker) of a growth focused business, and you’d like to find a simple way to get direct and honest feedback from your team, take a trial assessment. Register your interest here:

to get your company’s engagement score, and discover where to take action to make an impact right away.



How to set goals

How to set goals

Setting mini goals

Longer term goals are important, but it’s also useful sometimes to set some mini goals. This can be a useful exercise when you want to kickstart some action such as:

  • When people are returning after a long break, to get the momentum going
  • For new recruits, so they feel they are making a contribution early on
  • When people are promoted or moving into a new role
  • When a team member is struggling with their performance
  • At the start of a new project

By putting tangible metrics in place to measure success, team members can evaluate their progress. And of course reward their success once achieved.

So when defining goals set the KPIs or metrics and describe what good looks like. The more people can visualise the end goal to easier it is for them to work towards this.

Most of us familiar with SMART goals, which are a good starting point.

Here SMART goals are explained; however I’ve added in a few more criteria to make goals that bit more robust and to get more buy-in which means they’re more likely to be achieved.

 

S

Be as SPECIFIC as possible.  What will they see, hear or feel when the goal is achieved.  The more vivid the image the more powerful it will be. Can you easily explain it to someone else?  I want you to increase sales is not specific; how much more sales, in areas, at what profit margin, by what date……?

As well as being specific, the goals you set must be STRETCHING.  Is the goal something that will get the business further forward, but still provide an element of challenge?

 

M

Goals must be MEASUREABLE so you can all quantify their progress and track it.  What MILESTONES will you set?

Any goal you set must be MOTIVATIONAL too – What will achieving their goal get them?  How well does it fit in with their values and what’s important to them?  Does it inspire them?  Will it give them a sense of accomplishment on achievement?  If not, then the chances of them achieving it are slim!

 

A

Getting a balance between being stretching and motivational and at the same time being ACHIEVABLE is key.  Unobtainable goals will have a negative impact.  But it is important that they are ACTIONABLE by them, not dependent on others’ actions out of their control.

It is also important that the goals you set are AGREED with the individual. If they don’t agree with the goal, maybe because they think it’s unachievable, or not part of their job you will get reluctance and the goal will be put to the bottom of their priority list.

 

R

How RELEVANT are the goals to them, their role and the business as a whole?  A goal that is incompatible will mean inevitably that something will have to give.

Once you are both happy with their goals ensure you RECORD them.  Then keep the goals as a focus of your review process. If they are working on things which do not contribute to their goals ask why.

 

T

When wording your goals specify what you are moving TOWARDS rather than what you want to avoid. Our brains find it difficult to process negatives, so by concentrating too much on what you want to avoid actually focuses the brain on this rather than what you want instead.  So, for example, if a goal is to reduce complaints, focus on the reaction you want to get from your guests instead.

Finally, goals must be TRACKABLE (including TIMESCALES) so you can review at any time how well your team are on track.  We all know the results of leaving everything to the last minute, so set some specific timescales when you’ll review progress, and schedule these into your diaries.

What short-term projects or goals can you set which eases people in gently, but still enables them to see some results quickly.

Setting expectations article

How to set goals video