Saturday, October 31, 2009

Leadership Interview's No.1

Paul Polman is the CEO of Unilever and shares his thoughts on leadership in this interview with the Mckinsey Quarterly.

In this interview Mr Polman shares his views on leadership, and gives some very grounded and sobering thoughts on the challenges and methods of leadership.

Mr Polman is very humble, yet strong and this is shown by his comments just before the close of the interview where he says "I hope that the word integrity, the word long term, and the word caring comes into that - but the word demanding comes into that as well".

Here a few points I think are important about Mr Polman-
  • Integrity and Trust. Mr Polman constantly mentions these two key operating ideals - which means they are the guiding principles he operates by.

  • Longevity. Mr Polman completed his MBA in 1979. There was no overnight success or lightening trip to the top. All good leaders take time to develop their skill and their philosophy of management.

  • Decisive. Mr Polman prooved he had the metal to operate and think clearly with in the midst of a crisis (Unilever chief Paul Polman ditches pay rises and targets).
Being a leader brings with it both privilege as well as responsibility. The leaders role is to guide, grow and go ahead of their followers to ensure there is some level of success. There is no better way of doing that than through transparency and honesty.

Strategy and Scenario Planning

Never think that your boss will say yes to you. You might be the shining star of the company on the quick road to success - but always have a plan B just in case.

If you are told 3 times by your boss - the answer is no, don't go ask again for a fourth time. Just let it go.

In any situation you need to have a plan b or an alternate course of action. Even if you are granted your request the first time you ask, that same success can not be guaranteed in the future.

By creating a plan B or alternate actions you will be forced to think about what other options exist. It may be that upon reflection your first choice isn't the best option to take.

Before placing a request try doing the following -
  • Climate. Know what is happening to your organisation, what the current pressures are and what strategy is being carried out.

  • Signs of the times. Study what is happening and to whom. Read and listen between the lines. Be aware of what is occurring in other parts of the organisation and let these serve as a barometer for the temperature.

  • Alternatives. Try practising De Bono's 'Six Thinking Hat's '. Learn to see the situation through a number of different views.

  • Opinions. Ask others what think of your options and let them provide constructive criticism.

The first choice option, while it may seem the most obvious and crucial, aren't always as crucial or beneficial as they may first appear.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Lessons University Never Taught Me - No. 1

People are different. Their work styles and methods are different.

So why do we focus so much on - creating and maintaining teams?

There is nothing wrong with individuals. Individuals make up teams and need to be treated as individuals.

"There's no I in team, but there is in win" Michael Jordan.

What does this mean? Teams are made up of individuals, but for the team to win the individuals must take responsibility for themselves.

Individuals need individual - coaching, development and time.

Here's a great article from Don Bobinski of Management-Issues that talks about the same issue in a slightly different way.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Education follow up stories - Where are they now?

After graduating on Friday from Waikato University with my Post Grad Diploma, I had some really interesting conversations with previous class mates.

A) One a successful engineer, who had previously worked on some very cool projects, was made redundant along with 139 other engineers - all at the same time.

B) Another had bought into a real estate company venture dealing only with top end customers. It was all fine until the recession hit.

C) A very good friend of mine went in search of the bright lights, found a new job, and then found it is the same job as she used to have - only in a far bigger setting.

What can we learn from these three people and their situations?

A) Used his class contacts to find a similar engineering role and is now doing very nicely and is the number two in charge. Lesson - contacts count. Meet people, stay in touch, strengthen relationships - you never know when you will need a favour.

B) Recessions go away. Okay it wasn't the best time to buy in - but - when is a good time? As the tide turns and fortunes increase, that company will have survived the absolute depths of darkness and will rise to stardom.

C) To make it in the city - you need to live in the city. Okay moving from one location to another for the same job may seem pointless. But the way you conduct business in the city is different to how you conduct business in the country! By moving to the city and re-learning the city culture - she will be better able to walk,talk and sell her skill sin such a way that employers will find it impossible to say no!

Creative Time and Personal Time Off

If you never watch another video or read another article - you must see/watch this one first!

This guy is now my hero.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Personal Leadership Branding

Sometimes selling yourself can be the hardest thing to do. How do you see yourself and your skills to lead others?

Human Resources, the magazine of the Human Resources Institute of New Zealand, features an excellent article on just this very topic. Written by Pip Furlong writes about how you develop your own strong personal brand.

The main points are as follows -
  1. Discover - analyse your skills and experience- understand what you are good at.

  2. Communicate - get feedback from your colleagues and managers on how you are exuding your and showing your brand.

  3. Define - how do you contribute to the organisation currently, and how can you contribute more.

  4. Create - work on a strategic plan where yo combine your personal strengths, passions and values to give maximum value inside and out of the organisation.

It all boils down to - knowing who you are, assessing where you at and changing the way you work. It is about making the most out of your performance both in work and out of work.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Middle Managers - Keep The Engine Running

What is the purpose and role of a middle manager? What exactly are they supposed to do?

The answers to these two questions are answered through an understanding of how your organisation works.

Example - In my organisation there are four tiers of employees. The top level has the CE and then all the way down to the front line staff. So the levels are - CE, Directors, Managers then staff.

By examining this structure the middle manager can begin to understand what their role entails.

The manager needs to know a few basic things before they can begin - the strategy and purpose of the organisation, then what their direct line managers role is and on to what the employees are tasked with achieving. These factors will help to determine the what and the how of the role.

In my organisation the managers role is to - ensure the CE's strategy is carried out, the Director's tasks are completed and the employees fulfill their tasks with excellence.

There is no one right way for any of these tasks to be completed by the middle manager. Similarly there is no one right way to be a Director or an employee.

Here a few ideas to make the task easier -

  1. Know your organisation. Get a feel for what customers and stakeholders think the organisation does and also internal persons as well.

  2. Learn what the overall KPI's for your department are.

  3. Find out what departmental KPI's are directly relevant to your role.

  4. Establish responsibilities, delegate tasks and empower your employees to achieve the KPI's you are responsible for. Allow and coach your employees do the work.

This is the best place to start. Through understanding what you are being held accountable for - you can begin to assess your department/team/employees - and then gear up to achieve success.

In a nutshell - the middle manager exists to keep the engine finly tuned, well oiled and running.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hot Tips For Networking

Networking is a positive method of - marketing yourself, seeking out new opportunites and maximising your time.

Networking can be either - external (outside the workplace) or internal (across an organisation).

Jodi Glickman Brown wrote an interesting piece on internal networking. That is you have been employed by an organisztion - now why do you work there?

External networking is similar but slightly different. However the basic rules to apply are very much the same. Here are some hot tips for networking -
  • Carry business cards with you all the time. Especially make sure you have them on you when you go to events where you know there will be someone you have never met before.

  • Seek out others and be the first to introduce yourself. Be open, friendly and ready to listen.

  • It's not all about you. People will be more open and receptive to you if you spend time asking about them and being genuine in your interest of them.

  • Listen. Be quiet, let the other person talk and mentally note what they have said.

  • Don't be afraid to sell your good points and strengths to others.

  • Introduce others. If you meet someone interesting or someone who may be beneficial to someone you know - introduce them. This benefits the others and the organisation because without you - the contact may never have been made.

  • Follow up. Make sure you call, email or visit again in the future to cement the relationship. Not all contacts are worth following up on - but many are.

Networking - not shameless self-promotion. But a method to make positive and valuable connections both for your benefit as well as others and eventually the organisation as a whole.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Customer Service - Contracts

Contracts and customer service go hand in hand. You cannot have one without the other.
When a customer decides to enter into a contractual agreement with a service provider - the provider needs to ensure they keep up their end of the bargain. Assuming a customer will always subscribe to the terms of the contract is a myth. Customers don't just sit and wait for service providers to make miracles.

How do you make sure the people who are contracted to you continue to use you?

The easiest way - Excellent Customer Service!!!

  • Maintain the conversation. Don't assume that because you emailed a client months ago and haven't followed up with them since then - that you are still the first choice deliverer of services.

  • Keep in touch with your clients. Make sure you are at the forefront of their thinking.

  • Don't assume because you have a contract you will always be their first choice. If your client doesn't hear from you or can't see you - guess what? They'll move on.

  • Treat your client the way you want to be treated - with respect. If they ask a question - answer it! Respond to emails, make telephone calls.

  • Create and maintain a communication plan. Emailing quarterly - just isn't good enough.

  • Make sure everyone in the organisation understands what the agreement is and sticks to it. Have copies of the agreement handy, refer to it, remind people about it.

  • If you make promises - make sure they happen. Customers don't forget. If you tell someone you are going to do something for them - do it!

The relationship between service provider and client is no different than any other relationship.

Both partners need to work together to ensure the relationship works!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Groups and Teams - No. 2

Angela Atkins wrote this really great book called Management Bites.

This is an excellent read! This was also where I first discovered the terminology in relation to groups and teams.

Here are a few excerpts from the chapter on Team building -

"Dealing with a group - include the entire group on strategy meetings, but don't make them play team games or activities. Do keep them informed."

"Dealing with a team - be aware of the four stages of team development - 1. Forming, 2. Norming, 3. Storming, 4. Performing" (Tuckman, 1965).

"A team works together and can be measured on team results. A group of employees all do different roles that don't directly impact on each other. Therefore a group is measured on individual results and is not held to ransom for team results".

I feel so much better in my performance as a manager - knowing this stuff! Now I can move forward and it will help to shape where I go to from here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Groups vs Teams

People who work near each other (in an office etc.) can be either - a team or a group.

Whats the difference?

Team - a set of people, completing the same or similar tasks, in a close proximity to each other. Have overlapping work requirements and similar task knowledge is shared by all the group.

Group - a set of people, completing different tasks, within a work environment. Specialised work knowledge is required and one person completes their own set tasks.

Both groups require strong leaders, however each group will need to be led differently.

Teams - can be led in a more relational manner. Decisions tend to be more democratic and everyone hears what is going on together at the same time. This occurs more in new and smaller size workplaces.

Team goals and outcomes are set by the team.

Groups - can be led more in a one-to-one way. Decisions are made by the leader and the individual and then the rest of the group are told.

Individuals are held to account for their personal goals and performance outcomes.

This is one area that I have struggled to understand. In my memory no-one has ever explained the difference or the need to lead in different ways. It was such a relief for me to figure this out! My management style and focus - just went to another level!

Check out - Leadership Development Coaching for this interesting article on leading teams and groups.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Job Hunting Advice

Looking for a new job isn't always easy. Sometimes - it's darn right hard!

Here are a few ideas that might help you -
  1. Spell check all documents you are sending out! A spelling mistake is not a good look.
  2. Make a plan. Decide what you want and start working towards getting there.
  3. Ask friends. Ask friends to ask friends. Network.
  4. If they say no - ask why. Why didn't I get the job? What could I have done differently?
  5. Don't give up. Having someone say no - doesn't mean it's the end of the world.
Here are a few more tips from Career Services and some more from TV3.

Staying Motivated

After taking annual leave, being sick or exiting a stressful time period at work it is easy to become tired and lack lustre.

Work standards fall and so does the quality of the work that is being out put.

Try these simple starters to help get you started -
  • Read all your emails first. Clear all the distractions.
  • Sort your tasks by rank - urgent, important, not urgent, not important.
  • Assign days to the tasks. That is a particular job can be done on Thursday rather than Tuesday thereby reducing the stress and pressure.
  • Delegate quick and easy tasks, then complete as many small tasks as you can.

After making some easy wins - you will feel more energised and better able to take on the big tasks that lie before you!

You may also find some more helpful hints here -, or the Harvard Business Ideacast 161: Stuart Friedman (iTunes).

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Learn on the run

There is lots of time in the day that you can maximise to learn.

One way is by listening to podcasts.

Here a couple I subscribe to -

Tune in, plug in - listen and learn!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Communication Skills

They both started with the same scenario from which they devised a question to ask the public.

Simple enough - what do you want in a bank?

Simon asked the question using a very direct and simple form. "What do you want in a bank?"

Marie asked the question providing some context - "I'm with some executives and they want to know what you want in a bank?"

What was the difference - context.

The first question has no urgency, empowerment for the answerer or potential for results. It sounds more like a muse than a direct question to it's audience. Hence that is the way that persons responded.

The second question says - I'm here with someone who has the power and potential to make changes based on your opinion. Tell me what you think - I'll let them know - let's change something. Result - a bunch of answers in a very short space of time.

How does this affect the work relationship?
  • What questions do you ask?
  • How do you ask them?
  • Do you provide context and a sense of urgency?
  • If someone answers - will anything change?

"If you wish to converse with me, define your terms". Voltaire.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Grow Your Own Leaders

Dr Emma Parry from the Cranfield University School of Management published a research paper that found - company's who invest into their own staff to create leaders and unleash their employees potential do better.

Here are a few interesting points of view of the managers interviewed from the published paper:

  • it is better to grow your own employees than hire in,
  • developing your own staff is a cheaper option than hiring in,
  • staff retention and motivation increase when current employees are nurtured,
  • it is a cheaper option to nurture your own employees.

(Source: Nurturing Talent, A Research Project by Dr Emma Parry, October 2008).

Staff development is one of the key areas for businesses to become strong, maintain their position and to move on and grow.

Another finding was that internal candidates may not always be the best choice though.

My personal view is -

  • When a middle management sized position becomes open - it is best to promote from within. Keep the knowledge and experience and move it up.
  • When a specialised or senior management position opens up - it is better to recruit from external sources.

External persons bring fresh perspective, new energy and different motivations.

Brand Loyalty

Recently two major brands have changed their product lines in the following ways -
  1. Changing the essence (flavor, size, production method) of an age old product (Cadbury's).

  2. Modifying the original product in an attempt to 'update' an old product. (Marmite).

What were the results of the attempted changes?

  1. Customers were told through the media that the product had changed. Instant backlash. Customers felt they were being short changed and not listened to.

  2. The customers ignored the new product, thought of it as a gimmick - and still bought the old product anyway.

So what conclusions and lesson can we draw from these instances -

  1. If it isn't broken - don't fix it.

  2. Customers know a marketing scam when they see one.

  3. Humans are creatures of habit and will stick with something that works.

The Coca Cola company attempted to change the taste of Coke in the 1980's with disastrous results. But management listened - changed the recipe back to the original - and have continued to do well ever since.

Maybe Cadbury's and the makers of Marmite should have learnt from the same mistake made 24 years earlier.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Organisational Structure

Economist magazine have an article looking at the pros and con's of decentralisation.

Organisational structures have two basic frameworks - centralise or decentralise.

Centralise means services, choices, decision and strategy is dominated by those at the centre and their commands are carried out by the sectors.

Decentralisation means a lot of the decisions and operational choices are relinquished by the central powers, and the sectors choose how they want to carry out their duties.

In my current workplace I have seen the shift from one to the other (centralised to decentralised) and somewhat back again.

Interestingly those located in the center found it hard to relinquish the ability to make operational choices and stick to strategy.

At the same time the sub-sectors found the new power to make their own decisions hard to understand.

It has taken at least two years for the central point to be reached whereby - central decide the strategy, the sectors make operational decisions and everyone works together (somewhat to achieve the goals of the organisation.

There is no perfect organisational structure and tensions will always exist between the role of central services and how much power they should exude compared to how many decisions should the sectors be able to make?

Which do I prefer? Both and neither.

"A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way". (John C Maxwell).

Leadership, vision and strategy need to come from the center that shows the way yet allows people the freedom to make decisions.

Friday, October 2, 2009


Dr Henry Cloud wrote a very interesting book called "Integrity: The courage to meet the demands of reality". The by-line is 'How six essential qualities determine your success in business'.

I picked up this book two days ago and have been impressed with all that I have read so far.

There are three particular pitfalls the author outlines in his first chapter -
  1. Hitting a performance ceiling that is lower than one's aptitude

  2. Having an obstacle or situation that derails you

  3. Reaching great success only to self-destruct and lose it all.

Interestingly the author believes each of these can be solved through a persons growth in integrity. I agree - but it depends upon your definition of integrity.

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