1. The Most important management skill

    February 23, 2017 by ahmed


    Originally posted on Linkedin by Terry Traut

    I’ve been teaching management and leadership skills now for over 25 years to new managers and supervisors as well as to seasoned veterans.I’ve met, researched, and worked with some of today’s renowned leaders including Captain Mike Abrashoff, Warren Bennis, Marshall Goldsmith, Jack Welch, Sir Richard Branson, John Kotter, Dave Ulrich, Pat Lencioni, and many others.

    I’ve talked to thousands of employees and looked at what they wanted – NEEDED – from managers that they felt they weren’t getting, or getting enough of.

    And, perhaps most importantly, I am a manager. I hire, fire, manage performance, coach, cajole, and counsel.

    Based on my unique set of experiences, I’d like to share my belief of the most important management skill and I’d like to count down to that skill in Lettermanesque fashion. You can see which skills I considered and why I believe each is important in its own right, but not THE most important skill.

    #7 Know What Motivates People – Motivation is an intrinsic thing; theoretically you can’t motivate someone who doesn’t want to be motivated. While I agree with that, effective managers draw from a variety of techniques to cajole, encourage, inspire, recognize, and otherwise create an environment where many people ARE motivated. They recognize that each person is motivated by different things from simply having a job to contributing to something great. They also realize that what motivates someone tomorrow may be different than what motivates them today.

    #6 Walk Around – The best way to manage – to know what’s going on, to build the credibility that only comes from someone “in the know” – is to regularly and frequently get out there. More and more managers and supervisors are isolating themselves to get the things done – reports, updates, budgets, analyses – that upper management is demanding. Effective managers know that without the effective performance of their people, all of the ancillary work is for naught. The best way to see what’s going on – and to be seen – is MBWA, Management By Wandering Around.

    #5 Use the Right Tool – Effective managers can draw from a treasure chest of tools to use one that is most appropriate for the situation. Leadership and management research over the past 100 years has come up with a single definitive conclusion when answering the question, “what’s the best approach?” The answer is, “it depends.” It depends on the situation, the skills of the leader, the needs of the employees, and the unique interaction of the three. Effective managers have an arsenal of tools to draw from and, most importantly, they have the performance analysis skills to know which tools to use. Coaching, feedback, counseling, feedback, information sharing, self-disclosing, encouragement, recognition, problem-solving, corrective action, and others are options that the effective manager can use at will.

    #4 Learn and Practice Your Craft – Like parenting, most new to the position find themselves underprepared for the awesome responsibilities. In management, as in parenting, those who are most effective study the craft and consciously practice the art. While most of us were promoted to management positions because of our technical expertise (and to some degree our ability to not bump into furniture or tick anyone off), what brought us here won’t keep us here. In fact, many of our technical competencies work against us as managers and supervisors. We must learn a new set of skills and continuously hone those new skills. Fortunately, there is no shortage of books and courses on management and leadership.

    #3 Self-Assess and Course Correct – Almost any management failure can be traced back to an almost conscious decision to ignore the realities of the situation. Ineffective managers and leaders rely heavily on hope as a strategy to get through challenging situations. Effective managers and leaders welcome – and seek out – feedback. Effective managers and leaders are like guided missiles knowing that the only way they can reach their target is if they seek in-flight feedback and make in-flight adjustments. Effective managers use the “start, stop, continue” method of self assessment; to increase my effectiveness:

    • What should I start doing that I’m not currently doing?
    • What should I stop doing that’s not working?
    • What should I continue doing because it is working?

    #2 Develop Your People – Tom Peters calls this “Job One.” Effective managers and supervisors know that they are only as good as the people who do the work. Talented, committed people are a company’s #1 asset. Effective managers and supervisors find ways to develop the talents of their people. Training, coaching, peer tutoring, cross-training, in-job development, online learning, job sharing, and delegation are but a few of the techniques that effective managers use to grow the capabilities of their people. In the process, they foster commitment and increase productivity. Not a bad deal for the investment of time and money.

    #1 Provide Regular and Balanced Feedback – While the other skills are important, the most important – and the one that most employees consistently ask for more of – is feedback. “How am I doing?”

    I conducted a survey recently asking employees for their input on their bosses’ skills in a wide variety of areas from setting clear expectations to creating an upbeat environment. Three of the four most critical areas – areas needing the most attention according to employees – relate to feedback:

    • Provide specific positive reinforcement regularly.
    • Provide me with regular feedback about my job performance.
    • Tell me when I am not meeting expectations.

    Out of the 20 questions asked in the survey, only these three related to feedback – and all three appeared on the list of “most needed”.

    Providing regular and balanced feedback, I would argue, is the most important management and leadership skill for a variety of reasons:

    • Employees want it. In my 59 years of living, the most important lesson – from management to parenting to being married to sales to servicing customers – involves 1) finding out what people want and need, and 2) giving it to them.
    • It is free. As managers and leaders, much of what we need to provide our employees costs real money. Desks, computers, health insurance, compensation, and so on all cost money. Giving feedback costs nothing in real dollars; while it requires that you invest time to give feedback, it is just that – an INVESTMENT that will reap huge dividends in increased productivity and morale.
    • It elevates the employees’ perception of you as a leader. As General Tommy Franks states, “you can’t ‘manage’ a troop of soldiers up a hill under fire; you must lead them.” By giving feedback, you put yourself in a role of one who knows and cares. By focusing feedback on the employee’s PERFORMANCE (as opposed to the PERSON), you cement your role as a performance-based leader.
    • It increases performance. With a focus on performance, feedback is instrumental in improving the likelihood that you’ll get more from your employees. Feedback is the difference between an artillery shell and a guided missile. Artillery shells are lobbed in the general direction of the target and much of the success of the shot can be attributed to the planning of the shot. Contrast this with the guided missile whose initial trajectory is far less important than the continual feedback it receives as it hones in on its target.
    • It is motivational. Most employees – as we’ve seen in the survey results – want to know how they’re doing – with both positive feedback and developmental feedback. The reason feedback is motivational is because most employees want to do a job as effectively and efficiently as possible. With your appropriately worded feedback, you can create an environment in which employees are motivated to perform.

    Hold on a second before you rush out to tell your employees “a thing or two” under the guise of feedback. HOW you give feedback is as important (maybe MORE important) as WHAT you say. Feedback must be helpful, unbiased, balanced, and specific (HUBS).

    Helpful — Feedback is given for one reason and one reason only – you are thinking in the best interests of the employee. You want to sincerely help the employee. You recognize the contribution and potential of the employee.

    Unbiased — Effective feedback focuses on performance and results. As a result, it is relatively unbiased. Others observing the behavior or results that you’re commenting on would agree with your interpretation. “When you raised your voice, several in the group stopped providing input,” is relatively unbiased (and actionable); “You frustrated everyone with your rudeness,” is biased and exaggerated.

    Balanced — Over time, your feedback should be balanced. Providing only positive or only developmental feedback reduces your effectiveness. Note that I am NOT suggesting that you “sandwich” developmental feedback inside of positive feedback. I AM suggesting that you provide all employees with a balance of positive reinforcement and developmental feedback.

    Specific — Effective feedback is specific, enabling an employee to address a specific developmental need or repeat a specific desirable behavior. Unfocused feedback such as, “You did a great job on that report,” is not actionable since the employee doesn’t know what specific performance elicited your positive comment. What should the employee do again? What behavior should be repeated? Conversely, what behavior should be stopped? Or how should it change?

    Forget the “sandwich method” of feedback – you know, say one good thing before you slam ‘em with the bad thing; then make nice by saying another – usually trite – good thing. Nobody’s fooled! Make it ALL positive: “You’ve being doing this well and that well. To make it even better, you may want to try doing this….”

    Want to be even more effective? Provide feedback on an ongoing basis by regularly coaching your employees to higher and higher levels of performance. Be a leader – give your employees what THEY want and increase the productivity and morale of your team.

  2. Best Practice Report – Achieving High Levels of Employee Happiness

    February 20, 2017 by ahmed

    BPR_employee HappinessEvidence from decades of research has shown that improving happiness in the work­place delivers significant increases in profit, productivity, and innovation; it also leads to substantial cost savings.Happier workers are healthier, more effective team players, and provide better customer service. Happier businesses attract top talent, and are more likely to retain their best workers.

    This excellent report outlines the best practices research undertaken by BPIR.com in the area of employee happiness. The best practices have been compiled under seven main headings. This new layout is designed to enable you to scan subjects that are of interest to you and your organisation, quickly assess their importance, and download relevant information for further study or to share with your colleagues.

    1. What is “employee happiness”?
    2. Which organisations have received recognition for achieving high levels of employee happiness?
    3. How have organisations reached high levels of employee happiness?
    4. What research has been undertaken into employee happiness?
    5. What tools and methods are used to achieve employee happiness?
    6. How is employee happiness measured?
    7. What do business leaders say about performance happiness?

    For a limited time this report will be available for FREE via this link.

    Over 80 best practice reports are available to BPIR.com members so why not join? New best practice reports are added every one to two months.

  3. Gettging airborne: Cultural transformation in the Navy

    February 14, 2017 by ahmed

    getting airborne 01

    Originally posted on BTOES insights by Chris Seifert

    When Ernie Spence arrived as the new commanding officer for the Navy’s largest F-18 training squadron, he was met with disarray. Of the squadron’s 117 planes, most had fallen into disrepair – leaving just one plane safe to fly. As a result, the team responsible for training about 60 percent of Navy squadron pilots was more than a year and a half behind schedule.The maintenance and spare parts delivery schedules for the Navy aircraft had been planned back in the 90s. As American involvement in the Middle East began to ramp up a decade later, Navy missions required these planes in action far more than initially expected. The squadron quickly found itself going through its spare parts at a much faster rate than it had resourced for, forcing planes out of commission while awaiting components that never came. As time wore on, the squadron deferred regular maintenance on the idle aircraft, eventually even using them as sources of spare componentry for other planes in need of repairs. Soon, the amount of work it would take to bring any single plane back to service became far too daunting to take on.

    “While there were external pressures, the majority of the group’s issues were internal.”

    The way Ernie saw it, while there were certainly external factors that put the squadron in a difficult situation, the majority of the group’s issues were internal.

    “There are externalities that affect every organization,” Ernie says. “But does the leadership actually take stock and measure what the effects of those will be? Do they allow the cumulative effect to pile up to the point where they appear to be unmanageable? If so, what becomes the tipping point where they decide, ‘We have to start dealing with this issue?'”

    To remedy the mindset that made the squadron so vulnerable to change, Ernie set out to augment its culture.

    Implementing culture change in a complex environment

    The F -18 training squadron is the Navy’s largest, comprised of about 1,300 military personnel, contract partners and government civilian employees spread across multiple sites. Implementing deep and lasting cultural change is never easy, but it is made far more difficult in such a complex environment. To truly change the way the squadron approached its work, Ernie had to engage with people both as individuals and as a collective unit.

    “Every single individual in an organization has the ability to make a difference.” Ernie says. “But for the organization to truly be successful, every single person must contribute to making that difference.”

    “That was the fundamental difference in culture that the squadron was missing. It was the notion that of those 1,300 folks there, any one of them could have sent them on the path to making the squadron better and more capable of operating the way it should have been. But, in order to really get the results that were required, we had to get every single person on board and working toward the same collective goal, taking a very methodical approach to how we were doing business.”

    getting airborne 02
    Ernie’s squadron was responsible for training about 60 percent of Navy pilots.

    Seeking alignment through belief

    To align the group, Ernie’s first step was to decide what a culture of success would look like. What mission, vision and values did they have to embrace to better perform their jobs? Having defined these ideas, the next step was to figure out how to turn them into action. In Ernie’s squadron, this posed a particular challenge. Because military leadership is relatively transient, people who don’t agree with particular leaders’ strategies can simply wait them out, resisting change until the commanding officer is replaced. So, Ernie knew he could not be passive – he had to actively make sure every individual bought in to the new culture.

    What Ernie realized motivated most people was meaning. For the problem he witnessed wasn’t that people weren’t willing to work hard, but that they believed their jobs didn’t matter.

    “Once an organization starts to falter, it’s easy for folks to come to work and say, ‘It’s not important what I do today,'” Ernie says. “What I saw in that particular squadron is that a lot of folks were coming to work and they were working very hard, but they were working on things that were meaningful to them at a very individual level – they were not contributory and not focused or coordinated across the entire organization. You had a lot of folks that were doing a lot of things, but not working toward what the squadron existed for.”

    Before he could expect someone to get behind the culture, he had to demonstrate why the new mission was meaningful, then explain precisely how that person’s job would contribute to realizing the mission. Having inspired belief in the new culture, Ernie eliminated actions and processes that did not align with the squadron’s values or move it closer to its mission. In their stead, the leadership established a new set of fundamental expectations designed to guide future action toward the squadron’s mission.

    Cementing culture with constant communication

    To drive their importance home, Ernie made these expectations the focal point of every policy decision, newsletter publication, team meeting, performance review and hiring decision going forward. Every action the squadron took from then on was shaped by the culture it was striving toward.

    “Driven by a new organizational culture, Ernie’s squadron saw dramatic results.”

    After about six months of constant communication, every member of the squadron was able to repeat from memory the group’s mission and the expectations that guided their behavior. According to Ernie, this is when he truly began to see a shift in the squadron’s day-to-day productivity toward the goals they had set out to achieve. Rather than taking his foot off the gas when he smelled success, Ernie says the key to sustaining the new culture was working as hard to promote it after six months as they did on day one.

    Driven by a new organizational culture, Ernie’s squadron saw dramatic results. Within six months, it had managed to bring about 20 airplanes back into service. By the time a year went by, it had completely restored nearly 60 planes, returning about $3.5 billion worth of Navy aircraft to the skies. With a functional fleet back in the air, it took less than a year for the squadron to get on pace to complete its training schedule. Plus, the new operating models were more efficient, cutting maintenance costs by as much as 36 percent.

  4. Podcast: Benchmarking – An interview with Dr Robin Mann

    February 12, 2017 by ahmed


    Listen to Dr Robin Mann, Head of the Centre of Organisational Excellence Research at Massey University, discussing one of the most powerful, yet greatly underused organisational improvement methods – best practice benchmarking. This was an interview by Michael Voss (CEO of Pyxis and MichaelVossNZ.com).

    Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.

    Topics covered were:

    • Tell us about what benchmarking is and why a business leader should pay attention to it?
    • Our listeners will know about benchmarks – and I am sure that many are comparing their performance measures with others in their industry, but will probably not have heard about best practice benchmarking. Can you briefly explain how these two are different?
    • I have noticed the term ‘best practice’ seems to have lost favour with many lately – everything today seems to be put forward as best practice. Do you think the term has lost its meaning?
    • There are many benchmarking processes on offer, what made you decide to develop the TRADE methodology?
    • I know that you have taken TRADE further than just Singapore where we used it to pilot the Jumpstart Benchmarking programme for the Civil Service College back in 2006. What impact has it made in Singapore and elsewhere?
    • What are the key things that a leader needs to know to run a successful benchmarking project in their organisation?
    • Tell us what made you set up the BPIR.com?
    • You have also set up the International Best Practice Competition. How does this work? And what types of organisations is it for?
    • There does not seem to be much appetite recently here in NZ for excellence or benchmarking other than in the local and central government sectors. Why do you think this is?

    For more information about TRADE and Best Practice Benchmarking go to COER.

  5. It’s not how much you practise, but how often

    by ahmed


    Like many people, I like to make resolutions at the start of new year. New Scientist reported that only 10% of the resolutions made in January will survive until December. In many instances, it is because new habits were not formed so we can make the necessary changes to our lives.Lots of my resolutions involve learning new things – a language, a new way that I want to behave, a craft I have always wanted to master. I am not alone in saying that I don’t achieve mastery for every resolution that I’ve made over the years, and it’s not without the best intentions.

    Psychologist, Ebbinghaus observed that once we learn something, without practice we soon forget.

    Did you know that 70% of what you learn is lost within 24 hours after learning without practice?

    In 2008 psychologists at Carnegie Mellon University discovered that if you test your knowledge regularly at carefully timed and ever expanding intervals, new knowledge will be retained. The good news is that there is an easy way to retain 70% of what you have learnt for the long term. ?


    How do you do this? The research suggests that to learn new things, you need to be able to recall and regularly use what you have learnt.

    But what happens if you take a break and don’t use this knowledge often? Will you forget? How long have you got before you need to completely re-learn what you have lost?

    he Carnegie Mellon psychologists found that to retain 70% of what you have learnt you need to practice within 1 hour after receiving the information, and then again after 1 day, 1 week, 1 month, and then after 6 months.

    My advice is, when planning to learn anything new that you want to become competent in, answer the following questions first,

    • Will I need to use this knowledge within the next few months?
    • Do I have time to practice within 1 day following the learning?
    • Will I be able to practice, or apply this new knowledge 1 week, 1 month and 6 months following the learning?

    Unless you answered yes to all, you may be wasting effort and you should change your current plan.

    This article has been provided by Michael Voss, Owner of PYXIS & Associate Consultant of COER (Centre for Organisational Excellence Research, NZ)