In Business We Trust
I was offering someone some advice about their business, they did ask, I didn’t just wander in off the street and start telling them how to run their business, although this would be funny and I am now tempted to do it. No, one shall try and restrain ones more Monty Python-like impulses that occasionally ambush my more restrained Englishman outer coating. I suspect that this impulsivity to do silly and slapstick behaviour is not helped with my mix of Scottish and Irish blood coursing through these ageing veins and arteries. This Celtic heritage does explain my candid attitude at times, my wife would call this being closer to complete bluntness, but one needs to be sometimes. The occasional outburst whether comic based or annoyance generated helps refresh the air somewhat, well as long as you’re not on the receiving end I guess.
But back to the advice I was giving, as I am often called upon as a Consultant to assist companies overcome some form of issue. They can range from change management all the way through to exit strategy for the Director or Directors, who feel they have grown the business to a point where they want to now cash in and reap the reward for their efforts. The engagement of me always starts in the same way, I ask a couple of basic questions:
“What was the road you travelled that lead to you contacting me?”
Simple questions but they give me a broader understanding than just asking “what do you want”. And then I listen, focus in on what they are saying, but also figure out what they are not saying, as usually I am called in as there is a skill lacking in the team or in the Director themselves, and to find a sustainable solution I need to fix this skills absence, this lacking of knowledge or ability, and it is not usually the thing people talk about, as they think they will be negatively judged or viewed, which I never do. I am not brought on to judge, I am brought on to assess, agree the outcomes to be attained and the strategy to get there, and then work with the right people within the company to deliver what has been asked, making sure any fixes are of a permanent nature.
- Listening: As I mentioned, I tend to actively engage people and then sit back and just listen to what they have to say, and the story does vary from Employer to Employee. However, I need to listen to both and make sure my mind is open to what is happening. I gather a lot of information about the lay of the land within a company by talking to people as diverse as the Managing Director to the part time Cleaner. Often people are reluctant to open up at first but with reassurance of confidentiality and anonymity, and a cup of tea, people soon loosen up.
- Asking: Once you have listened then you need to follow up with the right questions, right qualifying questions, the right clarifying gentle probing. Often it just helps sort out the jumble of information swirling round my head, but feeling confident to ask for further info is key. Only by being able to see beyond the superficial to what really is going on can one find solutions, and this is a combination of the right questions and then listening without judging. But be prepared to hear almost anything, as I am often surprised at what floats to the surface.
- Analysing: I prefer to do this on my own, starting with a list of titles as prompts, ‘Communication’ for example, ‘Leadership’ as another. I take all the notes and make observations and usually use S.W.O.T. (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis for each of my headings, it’s basic but works for me and I have never had any complaints re my assessment and subsequent analysis.
- Planning: I then usually sit down with the key people and go through my observations, the analysis report, effectively my assessment of all the factors relating to why they called me in in the first place. I get the key people on board with the planning as soon as possible. If they are not involved they will feel any plan is imposed, and that is fatal to achieving the desired outcome. Cooperation is good to illicit but involvement and ownership of the solutions, the plan of action is 1000 times better.
- Motivating: By harnessing their ideas, their solutions, Employees don’t need to be asked for their agreement or participation as it is them that will drive the solutions forward. Often you find that by deliberately engaging employees in the planning, the motivation to deliver comes automatically. If the people concerned have a stake in the engagement it re energises them towards delivering the solutions and outcomes they also want. It’s not rocket science but you would be surprised how many companies never really involve, energise or harness the full potential of their own employees. To me it is wasted resources and therefore an expensive waste of the company’s most valuable assets – it’s employees.
- Delivering: With the employees and management working as one unit, it is important to keep them focussed on the outcomes that need delivering. All too often management feel the need to not only set the targets but then waste valuable time and effort in telling their employees how to get there. These employees are grown-ups and should be treated with respect and not like they are idiots. So I challenge the management to set the targets with the employees as I have mentioned above, and then coach them to tell their employees, “If you need help at any stage in reaching your targets please feel free to come and talk to me.” This is a much more respectful way of leading your team, acknowledging them as adults with abilities and skills, and NOT treating them as morons that have to be led by the hand as if a child. This negative behaviour speaks more to the insecurities and poor skills base of management than it does of employees’ abilities.
Now I am not suggesting that this works for everyone but it forms the structure by which specific and relevant information can be pulled to the fore, gathers and energises the employees with managers to form and implement solutions. I try and mentor the Directors that have called me in to move forward with the above ingrained in their mentality, employees need leadership but if harnessed will work with you to take the company forward. Employees do not expect management to have all the answers but they do expect management to work with them and lead from the front. I also reinforce and tend to have a couple of sessions with the Directorship, the management, as a group to make sure they have the message that employees are adults, are to be respected, are to be empowered and set achievable targets.
But there is one final and simple lesson that one tries to pass to Directors and managers; when there are problems within the employee or management group, look behind the behaviour and look at the causation, don’t be tempted to do superficial quick fixes. For example, if someone is in pain one can just give a few painkillers, which will help in the short-term. However, if you want the pain to go away you have to find the cause and deal with it, removing the appendix sorts out appendicitis, treating the pain does nothing to cure the condition. Perhaps it comes with experience but that’s why one is asked to step into various companies to help them, as experience does count in many respects. It is equally important to transfer this experience to the next generation of managers, of Directors, of Entrepreneurs, whenever one gets the chance. Plus I enjoy it!
Smiling Cat Ventures and Innovations Group
Smiling Cat Ventures Ltd (www.smilingcatventures.org)
Innovative Minds At Work Ltd (www.innovativemindsatwork.org)
Moments in Time Ltd (www.momentsinmind.org)
Innovative Business Consultancy Ltd (www.ibcv.org.uk)
Systems of Equality Ltd
Passport to Care Ltd (Social Enterprise – Not For Profit)
Spiritual Inclusion (Social Enterprise – Not For Profit)
Disability In Business Centre (in development)
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