February 27, 2009

Unique people bosses can learn great lessons from - Part Two

David Brent
David is the boss from the TV show “The Office” (non USA version). One thing you could learn from him is to constantly ponder your management style. On the show, David spends endless hours at his desk chewing on and on to the camera about the ‘how and why’s’ of his management style. Some bosses land in management and never once ponder their style or philosophy – they just do the job. I believe a constant pondering and questioning is necessary to keep growing and improving. Spend at least an hour a week pondering your decisions, your interactions and responses and how you could do better. Make sure you are regularly reading magazines and books that extend your thinking. A very high level of self awareness is needed if you want to become exceptional.

Santa Claus
Santa listens to what his ‘customer’ wants and he delivers it. In a managers case your customer is your staff. They should come before the actual customers. Like Santa you should take lots of time to regularly listen to your ‘customers’, and do your darnedest to deliver. Santa also has a big imagination – nothing is impossible in his world. How can you positively apply ‘Santa type thinking’ in your daily work?

The movie Borat was just madness! Something positive to learn from him is the fact he is not scared of sticky situations (he created hundreds of them in the film). He was bold not afraid – he faced the most uncomfortable situations! As a boss you also need to be unafraid to tackle the big issues. Ask the scary questions and dig where you’d prefer not to – but should.

Flight of the Concords

The world’s first comedy duo band, there is no one else like them – they created their own niche! They call themselves "Formerly New Zealand's fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo a capella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo". These guys are committed to their craft. They are not afraid to zig while others zag. They found huge success in America after New Zealand TV producers turned them down and now have a cult like following. Bosses can learn outside the box thinking from Bret and Jemaine. Don’t be afraid to make decisions and take actions that really separate you from those in your industry. Such a strategy is called “Blue Ocean Strategy” (there is a great book by this title about it).

Check out my article at USA website Slow Leadership (its on one of my fave topics: "Never avoid the yuck")

February 24, 2009

Unique people bosses can learn great lessons from - Part One

Steve Irwin
I could write three million reasons why we should all be like Steve. The most important one is probably his energy and passion. If we lived life how he did – with that much joy and excitement this would be a very different world. Steve is real, he is so authentic. He has a love of everything. If you launch into Steve mode in your office all of a sudden you’ll probably scare the heck out of your staff (or they’d think you’ve finally lost your marbles!). You should ponder areas you need more Steve in your management style and gradually let him shine through. You may even end up quitting coffee! An interviewer once asked Steve if he drank coffee. He responded “nah mate the top of my head would blow off” and it probably would have! Imagine having that kind of energy and excitement in your life everyday. Create it within yourself!

Gordon Bethune
There is a well known story about then CEO of Continental Airlines Gordon Bethune. Before a flight, he was chatting to staff. He then left them so they could get ready for the flight. As he was taking his seat on the plane he saw a passenger making a scene. The passenger had seen empty seats in first class and wondered why (with his elite member card) he wasn’t up graded. The flight attendant said she'd contact a gate attendant to see what they could do. The passenger started swearing. Gordon approached and said to the man "can I help somehow?"
The passenger said "who the **** are you"
Gordon responded "I’m the CEO of this company. May I see your ticket sir?"
The passenger handed it over to him. Gordon saw the price, pulled some notes from his pocket and handed him the cash, ripped the ticket then said "now, you get the **** off my airplane” the flight attendant could hardly keep a straight face.

This story was circulated by email and fast became well loved. Gordon had a reputation as a leader who really respected his people. He gave out a great message to the team that day – he will back them, and protect them no matter what. He will not tolerate his staff being disrespected. This is quite different from some businesses that always put customers first “the customer is always right” and encourage staff to do whatever it takes to please them. There are some customers that are just not worth it. Lots of businesses have ‘banned customer’ lists – they are people that are not worth the trouble, and are not welcome as customers. It is an awesome way to keep your staff #1.

Ellen DeGeneres
Ellen has an almost cult following all around the world. Her talk show is like NO other. I always say “that could only ever happen on Ellen.” Like Steve Irwin, it is her energy and attitude that makes her amazing also. Her show has won so many awards and gives people a daily dose of happiness and positivity. I am not going overboard when I say she is changing the world. She helps loads of great causes and people in need everyday – that’s right – through a talk show! The best lesson to learn from Ellen would probably be the craziness. Applied to your business it would mean thinking from a unique perspective and coming up with solutions that are a bit wild. Having no boundaries and being prepared to do things differently. By watching her show you will also learn how humour can fit into a workplace and engage a team.

Richard Branson
Richard has always been known as a bit different. He is the king of PR stunts and is an all round fun and crazy guy. It’s his approach to life that has made Virgin so unique. My favourite incident is definitely the ‘river’ incident. When visiting my home town of Christchurch in New Zealand, he was in a small punting boat with two of his airline staff launching some new initiative. He jumped out of the boat into the river and pulled the two ladies that were with him in as well! Perhaps don’t throw your staff in the river, but consider where you could apply such an impulsive attitude. Are you being too serious and scared of the water? Do you have an over the top adult attitude of “oh but we’ll get wet”?

I'll profile four more people to learn from in Part Two of this article. Check out another of my articles in USA website 'Winning Workplaces' newsletter here. The direct article link is here.

February 19, 2009

How should you deal with complaints?

Recently I wrote about Ex-Virgin Blue employee Torsten Koerting who designed a board game using Virgin Blue branding that criticises his former employer’s decision-making process. Well now Virgin Atlantic is in the spotlight. Passenger Oliver Beale found the inflight food bizarre and gross so wrote a letter to Richard Branson about it (complete with photos) and it is hilarous!

“I know it looks like a baaji but it's in custard Richard, custard.”

“ I'll try and explain how this felt. Imagine being a twelve year old boy Richard. Now imagine it's Christmas morning and you're sat their with your final present to open. It's a big one, and you know what it is. It's that Goodmans stereo you picked out the catalogue and wrote to Santa about. Only you open the present and it's not in there. It's your hamster Richard. It's your hamster in the box and it's not breathing.”

“Now I know what you're thinking. You're thinking it's more of that Baaji custard. I admit I thought the same too, but no. It's mustard Richard. MUSTARD. More mustard than any man could consume in a month.”

You can read the letter in full here. It, like the board game turned into a big media circus. When the media asked Richard Branson about it he said “I read it and laughed my head off.” He had a great chat with Oliver Beale about it and asked him to help improve their food presentation.

Complaints to your business may not be as epic as these two Virgin stories, but they are just as important. What mechanisims do you have in place to deal with complaints (big and small)? It is something you need to seriously consider before it happens not when it happens. Some companies have fantastic, fast systems and really really go all out for the customer, while others show a really rubbish attitude and try and argue with the customer telling them why they are wrong. It is these places that don’t feel the need to compensate the customer in some way. That attitude makes the complaint even more serious and annoying for the complainer – a defensive attitude from the company is a terrible way to react, and speaks volumes about their business. Think carefully about how your company deals with complaints at every level.

*Do you treat written ones different to verbal?
*Do you react faster when the customer has smoke coming out their ears (and drag your feet when it’s a softly spoken old woman complaining)?
*Is your whole team up with how to handle any complaint?
*Who has authority to compensate the customer?
*How will you deal with future complaints? What actions are you going to take/policies will you change?

I find it very necessary to end with a priceless quote which I shall now use whenever I’m short of something to say…. “Everyone likes a bit of mustard Richard”.

February 16, 2009

How to do a skill stocktake in your workplace

Number 16 in The Boss Benchmark is about staffs unutilsed skills. It talks about doing a skill stocktake in your workplace. I've recently written an article about how exactly you can go about this. You can read it here (full link is http://www.thebossbenchmark.com/How%20to%20do%20a%20skill%20stocktake.doc ). Please send it on to any people you know that are trying to:
* gain a deeper understanding of their staff
* increase staff happiness and engagement
* identify ways to increase productivity


February 10, 2009

How to use the collective wisdom of staff

There is a great book called “The Wisdom of Crowds” by James Surowiecki. It basically says if you ask enough people a question you will end up with the correct answer. If you ask just one or two people you’ll most likely get a wrong answer, but if you ask 20 people it will most likely be right. Ask 100 people and it’s even more likely to be right.

An example James uses in his book is when the Challenger blew up. It could have been the fault of a handful of companies and would take a while to figure out which one. After the accident many shares in the companies involved were sold. It turned out that the company that had the highest number of shares sold was the one who caused the problem! The wisdom of the shareholder crowd was right – they didn’t even need to wait to hear the official cause, the crowd knew.

4 things that make crowds wise
1. Diversity of opinion (private info, interpretation of known facts)
2. Independence (peoples opinions aren’t determined by those around them)
3. Decentralization (people are able to specialize and draw on local knowledge)
4. Aggregation (private judgments into collective decisions)

There was a test done to see if people care about ‘the wisdom of crowds’. They made one person stand on the corner of a busy street looking curiously up at the sky. Loads of people passed and nobody else looked up. They then got 10 people to stand there looking up and some passersby did look up. However when they made 50 people stand on the corner looking up everyone passing stopped to look up. The conclusion was the more people doing it the stronger the ‘social proof’ that something was happening - lots of people doing it means there must be a reason.

There were lots of other cool examples of the wisdom of crowds in the book such as to decide if you’ll need an umbrella check if everyone passing your house is carrying one, if not it probably wont rain – apparently this rarely fails. The same goes for moving your car off the street for cleaning in London – if others haven’t moved theirs it’s probably been cancelled this week.

So are businesses engaging the wisdom of crowds? Are they asking their staff loads of questions about things like new product innovations, marketing ideas, solutions to problems or customer relations? The answer is NO. Businesses still seem to be indifferent to the wisdom of crowds – they aren’t actively, constantly and frantically asking their employees anything! The staff surveying I did in the past convinced me of the power in the voice of the employee. But the wisdom of crowds goes even deeper than that. I highly recommend reading the book and figuring out exactly how to make it a way of life at your company – you will stand out a mile.

February 5, 2009

Are you a hypocrite boss?

Should this letter be addressed to you? Bosses may have it a bit tough sometimes – always being the ‘bad guy’, the one that needs to change. Staff aren’t perfect of course, but they are a reflection of their boss in many ways.

I think the main problem with bosses is that they are oblivious (or in denial) about their management and leadership abilities and performance. They judge their performance by their intentions, not by their actions.

A fan of The Boss Benchmark told me recently that when reading the book he kept thinking “gee my boss needs to take notice of that” yet the list he had for himself to improve on was suspiciously short. This guy had enough insight to know that something was not quite right about that! He realised he was probably seeing his skills through rose tinted glasses. So… he gave the book to a couple of his direct reports so THEY could tell him areas they wish he’d improve on. GENIUS! I hadn’t even thought of that myself! (This tip will be added to the intro for The Boss Benchmark second edition which should be ready about the end of March).

Number 35 in the book is ‘Don’t Be Soft On Yourself’ which is about getting real and being your harshest critic. Don’t take things personally; instead ask tough questions of yourself such as:
When am I a hypocrite?
When do I practise what I preach?
When don’t I practise what I preach?
Where am I showing a ‘my way or the highway’ attitude?

When you become awesome, so should your staff as they are a reflection of the attitude, skills and expectations of the boss. Before you criticize them, search yourself.

February 2, 2009

You can’t control your staffs every word, glance and decision

I was charged twice for an item at the fruit and vege shop so I took my receipt back with me next time. When I showed the checkout lady she rolled her eyes and pulled a face…. I wondered if that look was directed at me for 'being such a pain' or if it was a 'sympathy look' apologising for the error. I was going to ask, as it seemed quite rude, but then I decided it didn’t matter. I chose to believe (in good faith!) it was a ‘sorry about that’ type eye roll, but if it was meant for me instead – sheesh!! It got me thinking about how things can be misinterpreted.

A boss was giving a power point presentation to a boardroom chocka with people and a slide was a bit jumbled. The boss said “Amy it’s broken AGAIN”. The people thought the boss was berating the assistant in front of everyone and were embarrassed for Amy, they thought they were seeing a new, mean side to this boss. What they didn’t know was that the boss and Amy had worked together all morning on this crazy slide that refused to behave – she actually meant the comment as “I can’t believe it – how funny”. The boss had no idea she had been misinterpreted as a dragon boss.

You can train your staff till the cows come home, but it doesn’t mean they won’t sometimes give the wrong impression to a customer, say something dumb or make a silly decision. I read somewhere that the only thing worse that spending a fortune training your staff then having them leave is not training them and having them stay! So true.

Impressions last. Facial expressions, comments and body language – even the most discrete things can be picked up on. Empathy and fast thinking are not always something you can ‘train’ into staff. Maybe mystery shopping is a great idea to ensure the staff are making the right decisions. As for you the boss, so many things you say and do can be misinterpreted. Most of the time you may have NO idea, but it may cause your staff to fret for days and days – telling the rest of the team “can you believe what he said…” instant workplace fire! If you are the kind of boss staff are totally comfortable with and not afraid to say “what the heck does that mean!!??” it will help you avoid many misinterpretations. If you don’t like being painted as the big meanie (especially by mistake) it pays to be very approachable!

Check out another very simple, very very silly mistake a staff member made, purely because the boss probably hadn’t told them any better:

What can you do in your business – with yourself, the culture and the team to ensure these type of incidents don’t happen in your business? Talk these stories over with your team so they can understand how little things have a huge impact. They would be mighty peeved if such things happened to them as customers.