Friday, May 21, 2010

Acres of Diamonds

The Baptist preacher Russell Conwell wrote the original story titled 'acres of diamonds' about a farmer that sold his farm to seek his fortune in diamonds only to fail; yet the person that purchased the farm discovered what he thought were crystals in a creek; that turned out to be diamonds in their raw state. The very diamonds the orignal farmer sought were on his own farm - if only he had taken the time to study what diamonds in their raw state actually looked like. Many of us chase the gleaming, polished gem that others have already discovered while we fail to look for the raw, undiscovered gems in our own backyard.

Earl Nightingale expanded upon the story in his series of motivational lectures where he asked the following questions (which I have adapted and modified for managers)

1: How well do I do what I do at present? Think in terms of customer satisfaction.
2: Can I call myself a first-class professional at work? Think in terms of continuous improvement.
3: How does my management compare to other managers? Think in terms of best practices.
4: How well do I understand my sector and its environment? Can I link impacts of emerging events?
5: How can I improve customer service? Ask how do my customers use our services?
6: How can I increase my customer service? Ask my customers how I might better help them.
7: Do I understand what a 'rough diamond' looks like in my sector? Think in terms of customer benefits that remain unexplored.
8: Have I broken down my work and removed barriers and blockages that impede effectiveness and customer service?
9: How well do I understand how we might serve customers in 20 years time?
10: How can I look ahead, do the things that are not yet being done and lead the way?

To often during a recession we hucker down into our bunkers and try to protect the status quo while all round us the status quo is changing, being taken away or ceasing to remain the same. When we emerge from our bunkers we discover that what we were trying to protect has gone and we are all alone.

All to often when times get tough we begin to look at other people's gleaming gems (cars, houses, jobs, holidays) and we leave our farms in search of riches. What we fail to understand is that they got what they have by being ahead of the game, in the past.

Your farm is yourself, yet the one thing we neglect to develop is ourselves. We are to busy following the development of others. On your farm you have an undiscovered diamond mine of opportunity. For a start you are in control. You can choose what you want to do. You can make your own decisions. You own your farm, noone can take it away from you. Others can take your home, your car, your passport, even your freedom but they cannot take you away from you. They cannot take away your ability to choose a future for yourself.

No matter how difficult your life may appear you have options, lot of them. Start by looking at yourself. What do you have to offer? How could others benefit from what you have to offer? Look at your work situation. If you could do something better for a customer, what would you do? Then go and do it. So many of the things we take for granted today started with an idea in a garage, a pub or a kitchen. Yes money invested made the idea big - it was passion and self belief that got the idea off the ground. Someone said, bugger the world, I'm going to do it anyway. There is something very satisfying about giving the one-finger salute to those that would rather you drowned in mediocrity!

Stop thinking about you. It will only make you miserable. Instead think of others, think of customers. Instead of saying to yourself, this is what I want or this is what I need, change it around and ask yourself what am I interested in? You will soon discover others interested in the same thing. They become your initial customers. Change how you perceive a customer. Many people perceive a customer as being someone that purchases something from them. This is wrong. A customer is someone that benefits from your services. It's not about money dummy, it's about what you can do to help others obtain their 'polished gems'. In helping others to succeed they then help you to succeed.

Let The Journey Continue
John Coxon

Taking You From Frontline Manager to CEO

Friday, May 14, 2010

Why They Change Jobs

Recent research conducted by Catalyst and reported in Harvard Business Review, March 2010, showed that almost 25% of women, and 16% of men left their first job due to experiencing a difficult manager.

This serves to underline the importance of those in frontline management roles and in line management. This is often a new employees first experience of working with a manager in a full time work environment. Your experiences here impact upon us and form our perceptions for a long time, maybe forever. It is feasible more talent is lost at this stage than at any other stage. Yet now more than than at any time in the past 30 years we need to focus on retention rather than recruitment.

The initial direct report relationship is critical. The development of frontline managers is critical and it is important those in such management roles develop the ability to build effective manager-employee relationships.

The traditional 'sink or swim' approach is a dinosaur, a rock around your organisation's neck. When you fail to develop the potential of your frontline management team you risk the future of your organisation.

What can managers do to build good workplace relationships? The first thing is to ask questions and listen. People want to feel they are valued for their experiences and their ideas, they want to contribute. Collectively those in your work group have a better understanding of any issue than you, alone will ever have. Tap into that collective knowledge. Your team will perform well, they will achieve their outcomes and you will get the brownie points because you have the title of 'leader'.

The second piece of advice I offer frontline managers is to 'shut up'. No one cares about your opinions, and rightly so. Your role is not to tell others what you think, it is to facilitate a process of collective decision making. That doesn't mean you abdicate responsibility for making a decision; it means you make an informed decision. How? By asking questions and listening to what others have offer.

Thank people for their input and provide them with feedback on progress. When it comes to the workplace, it is preferable to over-commmunicate than to under-communicate.

Take time to learn about the people on your team. What are their individual strengths and weaknesses? What does someone do well and where do they need development or support? Encourage people to use their initiative and support them through the learning process than comes with making mistakes.

Get out of their way and let them get on with the job. If you want to do something then remove or minimise the impact of organisational barriers that get in the way of actually doing stuff.

Lastly, celebrate every little win as if it were a landing on the moon, give credit to those that did the work and came up with ideas; then start the cycle all over again.

The benchmark has been set. The challenge is in place. What can you do to ensure you minimise the loss of new people and continue to build the experience in your team?

Let The Journey Continue
John Coxon

Taking You From Frontline Manager to CEO

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Dare To Dream

Over the past few months I have followed the progress of Jessica Watson in her epic sail around the globe. From the outset their have been those intent on knocking this young girls adventure; these are the couch potatoes, sitting wrapped in their own mediocrity. Living in a world where it is easier to criticise than it is to actually get up and do something positive and innovative themselves. These are those with unfulfilled dreams. Yes Jessica Watson has done something a little daft, even silly. yes she is very young, almost too young. Yes it could all have ended in disaster, with a couple of weeks to go, it may still, but so far it has not, but she followed her dream.

When was the last time you followed your heart? When was the last time you sang like noone was listening, danced like noone was watching and loved like there was no tomorrow? When was the last time you took a risk that made your heart pound with excitement? I don't mean taking out a mortgage on your house either. I am talking about the sort of risk that you find so exhilerating that you want to share with the world. The sort of risk where the sheer absurdity of it makes you want to laugh.

There are a lot of Jessica Watson's in this world, but not enough. There is vast untapped potential in any organisation, in every community, yet instead of fostering and encouraging people to be innovative, we put in place processes to actively discourage them.

There are some lessons to be learned from Jessica's achievements. She didn't try to do this alone. Yes Jessica sailed alone, yet at the same time she is surrounded by a support team of managers, sponsors, family and supporters. She may have been physically alone but she was not alone. Innovation often fails because the person with idea is unable to gather the support team around them. The support team has a dual function, it not only provides support, it acts as unofficial media and it champions the change. The support team provides reassurance and demonstrates safety.

Jessica's support team utilised a variety of media, constantly, to inform, to education and to enable multi directional communication. Jessica did not function in isolation. At all times she, and her support team were guided by the feedback of thousands of others, including the couch potatos.

At the end of the day Jessica chose to not sit on the couch and dream about the possibilities; instead she got off the couch and did the things that needed to be done to make the dream a reality. Each of you has exactly the same choice. You don't need to sail around the world, there are so many other things you could do that will provide you with the same amount of excitment and satisfaction.

Imagine what Jessica will be talking about for the rest of her life, imagine the stories she will have to tell her grandchildren, her mokopuna, imagine how in 80 years time she will look back and smile. Will you have able to do the same?

Let The Journey Continue
John Coxon

Taking You From Frontline Manager to CEO