We live in difficult times, especially for those of us in small but growing businesses. Competition is intense, technology ever-changing and economic circumstances variable. George Osborne may well believe we have reached the shore after years of deep water but it could be simply an illusion. It may be just a sandbank.
This change imperative is fully appreciated by nearly every business executive I meet. But the real dilemma is in which change to pursue. There are so many options about and so many differing opinions that the whole issue is totally perplexing for even the most enlightened executive.
When asked the question, I always give the same advice. Recognise that nearly all these potential holy grails promising to” transform your business at a stroke” share one common characteristic: they are all far too complicated. This is simply down to the fact that they have been designed by consultants or academics. As a consultant with academic leanings, I can see the temptation.
As a consultant, you have to have something to sell: the more complex the offering the bigger the need for consultancy support. As an academic, you often have to satisfy a demanding audience if your four star paper is to gain credence. So clarity is often sacrificed for pedantry.
Less than 20% of management initiatives succeed. It is not surprising given the above.
So what are we to do? The solution I would suggest is in doing the simple stuff and then talking about it with your peers so that learning experiences can be extracted. That is why I believe organisations like the Manufacturing Alliance can be so useful, particularly for the entrepreneurial.
Don’t touch any of the traditional approaches to business improvement until you have done the following. It will cost you nothing, save you time and, done correctly, have immediate paybacks in terms of performance and morale. There are four steps to take:
1: Learn the vital importance of motivation.
You cannot achieve anything without your people. The more engaged and motivated they are, the better. You need to adjust your autonomic behaviour so you are conscious of the opportunity to motivate in every interaction you have during the day.
The first lesson is to appreciate that it is not about money. My experience tells me that bonus schemes, whatever their form, are more likely to demotivate, focus on single performance criteria at the expense of other often more important ones and absorb a disproportionate amount of management time in dealing with the consequent negativity. Trying to motivate through money is lazy and ineffective management.
2: Start learning how to express appreciation
All employees want to feel that they are doing a good job. Often less than 50% of employees feel valued by management in even healthy concerns. In dysfunctional businesses, this can be much lower. But if you managed to get all of those in positions of authority in your company to start expressing their appreciation when jobs are done well, you will find that morale goes up remarkably quickly.
Again appreciation has nothing to do with financial or pseudo – financial rewards. It is about relevance, sincerity, frequency and impact. It is a skill that most managers seem to believe they have already. Around 5% actually do but it’s not difficult to learn.
3: Create a positive agenda
We Brits love moaning to such an extent that it’s a national art form. Unfortunately this can easily translate into a pernicious workplace culture. Success will come much more readily if the ambience in your business is constantly positive. Can-do may be a bit of a cliché nowadays but, having experienced both worlds, there is an excitement about the latter which employees respond to enthusiastically.
You must work hard to ensure that those in the management cohort exhibit this constructive positivity in all their dealings. This includes the way challenges are given to employees, in the language used and also in the demeanour adopted by those in charge. You have to be careful to achieve a balance and not to stray from a realistic line into over-optimism. Understanding the 20:60:20 division in workforces helps. 20% of your people are likely to be very enthusiastic about workplace goals, 60% are likely to be neutral but interested and the remaining 20% consistently negative. You must spend all of your discretionary time with the upper 80%. Spending a disproportionate amount of time with the moaning classes will, whatever the intention, damage. Resist the temptation at all costs!
4: Understand your Shadow of Influence
Finally and most importantly, you have to get your managerial colleagues to appreciate that they have a shadow. And it is that shadow which determines their ability to motivate, the key to success in 21 century business.
This shadow consists of the perceptions of your conscious and unconscious behaviours which dictates how people, particularly subordinates, see you. Find out to access that shadow frequently, at least twice a year initially. Then you can adjust your behaviours to move in a more favourable direction.
And that’s it! Get these four steps right and you and your management team will create a much more effective and energetic corporate ambience. There is a lot more you can add later but these are the priorities. But what you will have succeeded in doing is in changing the basic management/leadership paradigm to one which will deliver far more, provided it is nurtured and constantly developed.
It’s painless, rewarding, time generative and profitable. And it is far less confusing than the world of consultant driven orthodoxy.
So ask yourself:
Do all in management appreciate the need to motivate and how to do it?
Do most of my employees feel valued?
Is the atmosphere in the company uniformly positive?
Do all in managers understand their personal shadows of influence?
If the answer is no to any of the above, you have a huge opportunity to explore and exploit profitably. Get on with It!