"Frank's skill in asking the right questions is un-mistakable, and is at the core of his leadership philosophy.

The power of these questions cannot be underestimated, especially if you want to lead and not manage."
—John Cave
Westhaven Worldwide Logistics

If not otherwise stated—all postings © Frank D. Kanu. All rights reserved.

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Archive for the 'Teams' Category

More ’bout Stables

I remember an associate once telling me about a fairly heated argument that took place in a meeting where office layout was being discussed.

On the table was the diagram of an ‘open-plan’ office layout. You know the sort… little rabbit hutches, sorry… work stations—set across a large warehouse style ‘floor’,

The argument wasn’t about this particular style of office versus a more ‘traditional’ arrangement of individual offices for management and larger but still not too large areas for sets of ten or so employees at the most. No… open plan offices were already an embedded part of the culture.

It was in fact about the height of the screens around the work stations.

Now… that might seem petty, but my friend wanted the screens to be tall. He wanted this because his work demanded a high level of concentration over long periods of time and he knew this requirement would be compromised by the distractions low screens would expose him to.

The ‘other side’ were advancing all sorts of arguments about improved communication, better informed staff and natural light levels. Of course, they were peddling the party line within earshot of the department manager. So, a political dynamic to an increasingly tense situation.

My take? Well, this contretemps, while trivial, reflects in my opinion some of the idiocy prevalent in modern corporate life. Leaders all demand maximum efficiency one day and often embrace and espouse the latest management thinking or business doctrine that actually gets in efficiency’s way the next.

I will leave my full views on open place offices for another blog entry, because I know you’re keen to discover the outcome of the argument. Well… high screens! And retained concentration levels for my friend. Just shows that common sense can prevail—sometimes.

Is effectiveness in your organization being sacrificed at the high altar of corporate political correctness and fashion?


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Contentious Exercises

Someone asked me recently what, in my opinion, was the most contentious exercise that organizations undertake. Several candidates occurred!

Implementing a new expenses policy is a good one to start with. And the annual pay review is always a source of some heartache. As for developing, launching and getting ‘buy-in’ to and compliance with new corporate identity guidelines—well let’s just not go there.

However, ahead of all of these and without question the toughest project must be the universal job re-grading exercise!

We’ve all been there. HR has been working with a team of job grading consultants and developed a new job grading approach blah blah blah… and now every job’s going to be looked at and a revised grade arrived at.

Of course, it’s not difficult to see why job grading exercises have to be done. Jobs change and a grading exercise is a good stimulus to updating tired job descriptions. A merger may demand harmonization of two different grading structures.

The business world changes as well, particularly from a technological point of view, so ‘grading points’ once bestowed for typewriting ability or management of a manual switchboard may no longer be applicable!

And, naturally, in large organizations, some rationalization of job grades is necessary to keep the whole process simple.

It’s also not difficult to see where contention creeps in. Colleagues once on similar grades can find themselves on different grades and therefore pay-scales. Some people feel promoted and some feel demoted. Some feel singularly put out.

The potential for a dip in morale is massive. So, I say, having seen the bull in a china shop approach so often employed in these situations, handle with extreme care. Explain why the exercise is being done. Commit to maintain current job-holders’ grades even if the job grade has been lowered. Make sure you’re happy with the approach HR and consultants are taking in weighting responsibilities and competencies. Be sensitive.

Oh… and if it’s an exercise that does not really need to be done?

Then avoid it like the plague!


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100% Performance?

Here’s a question for you.

Should your performance be 100%?
And should your organization’s performance be 100%?

In other words, should both your personal and corporate aspirations include doing everything perfectly?

If you answer ‘yes’ to all the above, then I think you could be heading for trouble. Because while you can influence, you cannot possibly control everything. You can set standards, but you cannot expect your staff to meet those standards all of the time. You cannot be everywhere at once. You cannot necessarily influence government policy making. You cannot prevent unforeseen environmental factors impacting on your business.

All of these uncontrollable make the 100% performance aspiration unachievable.

But there’s something else. Another factor. The good old 80/20 rule.

In your organization as a whole—and in your personal performance, the 80/20 rule suggests that 80% of the value resulting from what you or your organization is doing comes from just 20% of your or your organization’s efforts.

Let’s turn that around. The 80/20 rule suggests that 80% of what you or your organization is doing delivers just 20% of the total value.

So, striving for 100% perfection isn’t really the right goal or aspiration, is it?

A more useful objective is to look at the 20% of what you or your organization does that delivers 80% of the value … and do more of that!


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How Effective Are You?

Believe it or not, many leaders I speak to have nagging doubts about their own effectiveness.

I try to help them through these moments of self-doubt by asking them to try my leadership audit.

The point of the leadership audit is to try and put on a more quantitative footing the emotional feelings they have about their own success or otherwise.

Crucially, the leadership audit isn’t aimed at the senior management team. It’s aimed at the middle managers and more junior ranks.

It can be done by face to face interview, but is probably more effective and cost-efficient as a paper-based questionnaire.

The audit questionnaire can include questions like:
  • how rigorous is recruitment in this company?
  • what access to training do you have?
  • do you have a set of objectives for the year that are SMART?
  • how regularly do you have appraisal interviews?
  • do you understand the basic principles of your business’ current strategy and how your objectives contribute to achievement of that strategy?
  • what are the opportunities for progression in the company?

Respondents each have to mark the company on a scale relevant to the question. So, with the question ‘How rigorous is recruitment in this company?’ the scale is 1-10, where 1 is ‘Poor’ and 10 is ‘Excellent’.

The responses are collated and weighted and an overall score produced. A high score suggests good leadership in the company and lower scores suggest room for improvement. The key is that leadership performance becomes measured rather than guessed at. And benchmarking the exercise over the years reveals progress made.

By the way… a key question in larger companies is the one that asks respondents to name the CEO, MD and senior management team. When that comes back blank, the senior team know they have to get out more!

If you ask me—we all aren’t very effective. Not even by a long shot.

How effective are you?


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When Do You Go Undercover?

Ever seen one of those ‘Undercover Boss’ type series?

They are fascinating on a number of levels. The most obvious, of course, is the spectacle of members of staff doing their usual thing uninhibited by the presence of their Chief Executive or Managing Director—because they are unaware of the true identity of the newcomer in their midst. This leads equally to moments of hilarity and of tension for the viewer!

What truly fascinates me, however, is the voyage of discovery which the CEO or MD is about to embark upon. Their usual diet of good news reports that paper over the cracks in their organization is replaced with first-hand experience of what’s actually going on at the coal face.

In a recent episode the newly appointed CEO of a well-known UK fast food chain spent time behind the counter and serving customers in a number of outlets. She discovered:
  • the woeful lack of grass roots investment that left staff struggling with long past sell-by date machinery in unloved premises
  • poor practice… for example, the people responsible for food preparation unable to communicate with table-waiting staff that customer food was ready
  • lack of training and other human resource guidelines
  • poor decision making—like the decision not to relocate one outlet to a higher customer-footfall part of town.

Armed with this first-hand experience, the CEO was able to return to her management team fully versed in the key issues facing their business… and quickly set about making the necessary changes.

The obvious moral of the story is that leaders need, as a priority, to get their feet out from under their desks and out and about in their organization, particularly those areas which ‘touch’ customers. And two other things… firstly, the CEO was able to recognize the effort made by some junior members of staff because she had seen their commitment for herself. How many of these would otherwise have gone unrecognized? Secondly, she clearly had the budget to sort problems out… not all leaders have this (and should probably look for employment somewhere else if that’s the case!).


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Can You Change people?

Well, it depends on how old they are. If they are aged 6 or below, then the answer’s probably yes.

And if they’re above, then the answer’s probably disappointing.

Which means that the HR/appraisal/discipline industry is wasting its time. At least, it’s wasting its time trying to change people.

Let me try another tack. One of the latest corporate mantras is that ‘we need to embrace diversity’. Now, if that’s the case, why are so many leaders trying to get everyone to be the same?

The answer is all about control. If everyone in an organization is broadly similar in personality, outlook and thinking then the perception is that directing them will be easier.

The trouble is, with everyone the same, there is no internal challenge and teams suffer because they usually thrive on the differences among their constituent parts.

So, what I’m coming to, in a roundabout way, is that difference is good. And that what the HR/appraisal/discipline industry needs to do is harness differences and apply them for the corporate good. The customer facing guy who’s over assertive and should never have been let near customers in the first place should be allowed to move and apply his talents in, say, procurement (where his assertiveness may strike better purchasing deals). And the procurement guy who likes to please people can take his place in Customer Service.

It’s called horses for courses. And it’s common sense.

And where you cannot change someone and there’s no other course for the horse? Well… that’s one for the non-culpable inefficiency route, I’m afraid. And a mental note to look at recruitment procedures.

Can you change people?


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Telling How It Is

Bringing in outsiders is an interesting step for a Chief Executive or Managing Director to take.

Before I continue I have to declare an interest, of course. I am an ‘outsider’ for those companies who employ my consultancy. I will return to that point at the end of this blog entry.

Bringing in outsiders is an interesting step to take because it’s often expensive financially… and in terms of morale.

The first bit’s self-evident… but I should explain the morale bit. There resides in your workforce a collective knowledge about your business that you cannot replicate. No amount of briefing will ever bring outsiders up to the same point of knowledge of your business and marketplace that your employees have.

Why then ask someone outside your business to consider an issue when you’ve probably already got the answer on your doorstep?

I think the answer lies in the ‘t’ word… ‘trust’. Many business leaders have a psychological mistrust about what their employees might tell them about their business and a massive willingness to believe an outsider. Employees therefore see a consultant brought in and morale dips because they feel their own standing in their business undermined. This usually happens when the business is in the cost-cutting part of the ‘investment/cost-cutting cycle’… so the expenditure on outsiders sits uneasily alongside internal budget cuts, further undermining morale.

And the morale of this story (sorry… puns are a weakness!). Look inside your business before you look outside.

Oh… and why am I different?

Because I work with you as the leader… and am prepared to tell you how it is, as I’ve done in this article. That’s something you really might not get from your employees.


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I planned writing this article. There was a time when I was going to do it and a place. I knew the resources I would bring into play (my training and experience) and how it would be published. I knew why I was writing it and my expected return on investment (more traffic to my website and more prospective clients who I hope will sense the value I can add to their businesses).

So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you planning… a rational deployment of simple logic and common-sense that sets out how one or more objectives will be reached.


Well no, actually. Wrong.

Apparently, corporate planning has to be a lot more challenging than that. It’s got to be a tortuous, tough, man-hours consuming nightmare with output measured in double-figure iterations of elaborate documents that no-one ever refers to because they’re over-written, full of jargon and exhausting long sentences just like the one you’ve just read.

In other words, it’s got to be a waste of time.

Let me suggest some strategic planning guidelines for you
  • don’t feel it has to be a democratic process that involves everyone. It doesn’t.
  • do feel that it should be driven by the marketing department (and not the finance department, please) – because marketing and strategic planning should be one and the same
  • don’t feel comfortable with a 100 page document that’s destined for dust gathering on a nice appointed shelf in your office
  • do feel comfortable with a simple plan that analyses your marketplace and the development of your offering within it
  • don’t keep it to yourself
  • do share it with everyone (yes, that’s what that conference is for).

I could go on… but I don’t need to. And neither do you at the next planning round.


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