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"You don't have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great." ~ Zig Ziglar, 1926 - 2012

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What if you could clone your top performers?

First published - August 2019

Superstars, top talent, high potentials.  It doesn’t matter what you call them, but wouldn’t it be great if you could replicate them? more

Recruiting for skills and fit

We all have them – team members who consistently outperform their peers. They are always on top of their workload, always willing to tackle the next challenge, quick to solve a crisis, rarely phone in sick and are an excellent fit to the culture you’d like to see throughout the team. They are the superstars, top talent, high potentials. It doesn’t matter what you call them, but wouldn’t it be great if you could replicate them, if your entire team could share the same attitudes, motivations and behaviours?

Historically, it’s been relatively easy to recruit for skills and qualifications – define the requirement for the role and filter applicants on how well they match the criteria. Recruiting for attitude is much more difficult, despite the recent shift in emphasis to values-based recruitment.

What if you could get under the skin of your candidates and discover their personality, aptitudes and motivations? Better still, what if you could compare those candidates against the attributes of your current top performers. That insight into each candidate would give you a much better chance of recruiting well, make long-term retention much more likely, and help you minimise the cost of recruiting and retaining suitable team members.

Insights to help selection

Psychometric assessments give you exactly that insight into your candidates by measuring candidates against a set of scales that show their abilities, occupational interests and personality.

The best psychometric assessments for recruitment are normative, that is they compare the assessed person against a sample population. For example, if you’re recruiting a business analyst, a scale that measures how motivated a candidate is to work with data will be illuminating. A candidate who scores as highly motivated to work with data is likely to be a better choice than a candidate who scores low on that scale.

Selecting the sample population to compare the candidate against gives even greater insight. If you have a team of business analysts already working well and you need a new team member to join them, a benchmark created from assessments gathered from the current team will give you a robust basis for assessing the likely fit of each of your candidates.

A free trial

If you don’t have recent experience using normative psychometric assessments in your recruitment process, our free trial gives you an opportunity to see first-hand what a difference it will make for you. We’ll carry out a full assessment of two people free of charge and give you reports that compare their results against a population of London cabbies (always fun!).

If you want to rely a little less on instinct and a little more on science, get in touch and see if you qualify for the trial.

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Is there an arsonist in your team?

First published - August 2019

Firefighting – the ability to handle the unexpected and the unplanned, to respond quickly in a crisis and restore calm... more

Crisis management skills for managers

Firefighting – the ability to handle the unexpected and the unplanned, to respond quickly in a crisis and restore calm. It’s a valuable skill and, for those of us who do it well, it’s a time-honoured route to greater responsibility and promotion.

The common feature for all firefighting incidents is the need for an immediate fix, and that often means disruption to the planned stuff that you could more usefully be doing. In an ideal world, there would be no emergencies, but this is not an ideal world and there will always be fires to put out and, if you’re spending too much time fighting fires, you must develop processes, behaviours and habits that minimise wasted time and reduce the chance of the same thing catching fire in the future.

Step by step process

First, consider the steps in successful crisis management:

  1. 1. Stay calm – getting angry or displaying other behaviours that might look like panic will only make the situation worse. If you are responsible for fixing the crisis, maintain a calm, professional attitude and be conscious of the impression you are giving others while you deal with the problem. Remind yourself that this is not the first crisis you’ve dealt with and it certainly won’t be the last.

  2. 2. Cleary identify the problem – what exactly is wrong? What must be fixed to return the situation to normal?

  3. 3. Understand the consequences – what loss are you avoiding by fighting this fire? If the potential loss is small, make sure that the cost (time, effort, money) of your solution is also small. If the potential loss is large, the cost to fix the problem will be less critical.

  4. 4. Resist taking control – ideally, the person dealing with the crisis should be the person who is usually responsible for the activity. Give help where it’s needed, but, if at all possible in the situation, take a coaching approach to assisting – ask the person responsible what options they have consider, which option do they prefer, can they explain the benefits of their preferred option over other options they’ve considered. Offer only enough help so that you are confident the person in charge can resolve the crisis, then trust them to do so. Giving in to the urge to take direct control every time a fire must be put out is likely to build a culture of dependency in your team, something good leaders avoid.

  5. 5. Learn – carry out an autopsy to find out what went wrong and how to avoid the same situation in the future. Resist any urge to blame individuals. If your autopsy process shows you that one or more team members are repeatedly the cause of crisis situations, make certain that each team member is appropriately trained, properly resourced and empowered to complete the tasks assigned and manage the responsibilities given. You will also want to make sure that you can monitor performance and that your disciplinary process is up to date, robust and fit for purpose if a team member proves incapable of achieving the reasonable requirements given to them.

  6. 6. Plan – review your recent firefighting activities. Where did the crisis start? Who was the ‘arsonist’? Who usually does the firefighting? Is there some untoward motivation for creating the problem or coming up with the solution? You wouldn’t be the first manager to have someone in their team who wants to appear indispensable by covertly starting a crisis and then being the superstar who comes up with the solution. Neither would you be the first manager to be the fire starter yourself. Take an honest look at your management techniques as a regular part of your crisis management process. Look for patterns in the crisis situations. Consider how you will use what you’ve learned to change and improve future performance.

  7. 7. Make changes – improve your training, redesign existing and implement new procedures, carry out maintenance, install new equipment, give a team member greater authority, change workflow patterns. For each crisis, take a planned, strategic approach to understanding the problem and implementing change to minimise the risk that the problem will occur again.

A real-life example

An LMI client organisation manufactures a bespoke product that is individually specified by each of the company’s customers. The product ships in sacks and each sack must ship with a label that contains the precise details of its contents’ composition. Without those labels, the shipment will be rejected. Labels are printed in house as product arrives from production to the logistics department, with product leaving site en route to the customer the same day. Delivery to the customer is time critical, so any delay potentially jeopardises the contract. Individual contracts are high value and the loss of any contract would be a serious issue. Additionally, the third-party transport company has a contract clause that permits ‘waiting costs’ to be charged once the loading time exceeds the agreed duration.

With that background, imagine the sense of crisis when the only printer capable of printing shipping labels failed at the start of the shipping process for a lorry load of 20 kg bags. Fortunately, the manager responsible is very experienced in her role, used to responding quickly to fix problems and known for staying icy calm in the face of crisis.

A clearly identified problem

Her first action was to establish that the cause of the printer failure was an empty inkjet cartridge and the company had no replacement in stock. As this printer is a specialised printer, no local supplier had cartridges in stock and the usual, online supplier could deliver no quicker than next day.

The potential consequences if the crisis was not resolved quickly and successfully included the loss of a substantial, highly profitable contract with a leading customer and the increased costs from the transport provider. The manager was prepared to do whatever was necessary to put out this fire.

Options

Options suggested by the printer operator included manually trimming the template labels so that they could be used in some other printer or handwriting onto the template labels. After further investigation, it was agreed that trimming the labels was likely to cause paper feed jams in the non-specialised printers and that there were simply too many labels required and too much text on each label for it to be practical to produce them by hand.

After a discussion with the team, it was agreed that the manager would quickly produce a template in Microsoft Word that matched the pre-prepared template as closely as possible. The production department would email the composition list for pasting into the new template, and the substitute labels would be printed onto A4 paper, folded and fixed to each sack in a stick-on document wallet. A call was made to the customer to confirm that this work around was acceptable and the whole team worked together so that substitute labels were printed and attached to sacks almost as quickly as the usual labels and the shipment left the warehouse inside the agreed loading duration with no waiting costs owed.

Autopsy

The next day, the manager called the team together and thanked them for their efforts in successfully resolving yesterday’s printer crisis. She also asked for the team to explain how it happened that there was no replacement inkjet cartridge in stock and to give their suggestions for making sure that the situation didn’t occur again.

They explained that the printer operator wasn’t authorised to create purchase orders, but was required by the finance team to always issue a purchase order to suppliers when placing an order. The director who would usually sign off the team’s purchase orders was on leave and a particularly busy period had caused the inkjet to run out sooner than expected and before the director returned from leave.

Their suggested improvements included keeping more inkjet cartridges in stock, changing the authorisation process for purchase orders, and buying an additional printer, which would have the added advantage of giving backup for more serious breakdowns in the current printer.

With a clear understanding of what she could change and what she couldn’t easily change, the manager agreed that more cartridges should be kept in stock with the supplier authorised to create a repeating order that would be monitored by the printer operator, and she agreed to start the procurement process for a second printer.

Good crisis management by an experienced manager overcame a potentially serious failure and the team’s confidence was maintained by involving them in finding the solution to the immediate problem and in creating the longer-term solution that improved the process.

Developing crisis management skills

How would you and your team have managed this situation? Very often, our first experience of firefighting in business is the first time someone lights a fire and it’s our job to put it out. Imagine the risks if real firefighters were treated in the same ‘sink or swim’ way the first time they dealt with a real fire. Of course, they never are, because the fire service recognises the essential nature of well-developed training, coaching and mentoring in developing real-world firefighters.

In business, we can take the same approach. The process for crisis management detailed above is drawn from LMI’s Effective Personal Productivity programme and the real-life example was managed by a manager who was working through that programme with LMI at the time.

Good management skills and effective leadership traits can be developed in almost all people. LMI would be very happy to help you develop them in your team.

Find out more about LMI's 'Effective Personal Productivity' course.

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What if we made LinkedIn even more positive?

First published - November 2017

I saw a LinkedIn post this morning (here) that criticised the language used in a cold email. I agree with the poster (and most of the comments), nobody talks... more

I saw a LinkedIn post this morning (here) that criticised the language used in a cold email. I agree with the poster (and most of the comments), nobody talks that way face to face, so why use that language in an email, but it got me thinking.

The original email sender probably has a service or product they need to sell – that should be familiar to most LinkedIn members.

They also seem to want to work with new clients – again, most LinkedIn members would see the sense in that.

They undoubtedly have skills and capabilities individually and as a business that some of their email recipients would benefit from – every LinkedIn member I know believes that of themselves and their business.

Writing content is clearly not one of their strengths, but then for most LinkedIn members (copy writers aside) writing copy is not what we leap out of bed looking forward to each morning and, statistically, most of us will be averagely good at it at best, but the ability to write good copy is not what determines whether we’re good at our job or whether our company supplies desirable and useful services and products.

The comments to the opening post were, almost without exception, hostile to the kind of language used in the cited email, but had no constructive suggestion as to what the emailer might have done different. In fact, some of the comments were so hostile and recommended such hostile responses to cold emailers, that it makes me wonder what the commenters are like to work with as people and businesses.

How different might our worlds be if, instead of simply pointing out where the emailer went wrong, the poster and the commenters had used their expertise (and there did seem to be lots of copy writers, digital communicators and the like) to demonstrate how prospecting communication could work better? What if, instead of deriding a clearly limited copy writing ability, they had taken a little time and thought to show the value in their community of practice and the services they can offer?

I am not suggesting that any of us should devote our valuable time to handing out free advice via LinkedIn, but all of the commenters found some time to read the post, understand its content and compose a response. Imagine the good they could have done for themselves and their businesses if they had used that time to compose a response that was positive and constructive and that highlighted their own talents rather than deriding some other person’s lack of copy writing talent. Collapse this blog post


The importance of a personal mission statement

First published - October 2017

Imagine the scene… you’re 1,000 feet up flying solo in a light aircraft across miles and miles of featureless desert. Ahead, about 20 miles away, is the city... more

Imagine the scene… you’re 1,000 feet up flying solo in a light aircraft across miles and miles of featureless desert. Ahead, about 20 miles away, is the city you’re heading for. Suddenly, the engine stops and you begin to descend rapidly toward the desert below. Within a moment or two, it becomes obvious that you’re going to crash and you start to prepare for the inevitable impact. You work hard using all your skill and experience to keep the aircraft straight and level, shedding as much speed as you can. You choose not to lower the landing gear knowing it’s likely to dig in and flip the plane. Miraculously, the plane lands flat, straight and intact and you scramble out of the cockpit entirely unscathed.

Taking stock of the situation, you realise that while you’re still in good shape, you have no food and no water. Survival depends on reaching the city you were heading for. Because the city was dead ahead and you landed still flying straight, you know exactly which direction you must travel and have a reasonable idea of how far you have to walk. Because your survival now depends on you reaching your destination, you are highly motivated, very focused and prepared to give it everything you’ve got to make it out of the desert alive.

What are your chances of making it?

Remarkably, whatever you think your personal chances might be in that situation, they are severely jeopardised by your inability to walk in a straight line. What appears to be one of the simpler tasks we can undertake, is actually rather more complex than you might expect. The urban myth is that body asymmetry, such as one leg longer than the other, makes it impossible to keep walking continuously in a straight line without external references, but research by the Max Planck institute found that it’s more complex than that – the absence of external reference points actually alters our perception of what ‘straight ahead’ means, making it impossible to keep a straight course. Unfortunately, regardless of how focused and motivated you are, without external reference points, you will inevitably veer off course and become hopelessly lost in the desert.

But all is not lost – as you flew toward the city you noticed that there are several tall buildings at its centre and, when you scan the horizon, you can still make out the tops of the tallest of those skyscrapers. These are the external reference points that will keep you walking straight and, as long as you keep focused on them, you have significantly increased your chance of making it out of the desert. You’ll still need all of that motivation, focus and gruelling hard work, but your goal will always be in sight.

Personal mission statements serve the same purpose. Why do I exist? What’s my objective? Why do I do the things I do? What is that enables me to set goals and prioritise them? Without a personal mission statement, without a purpose, those questions are difficult, if not impossible, to answer. The external references captured in a personal mission statement keep us travelling in our chosen direction and give us the confidence to keep on expending every effort to make progress toward our goals.

My own personal mission statement is very simple, it contains three clauses, one that captures what my wife and I want to achieve for our family, a second clause that states the good impact my business will have on any life it touches, and a third clause that describes how I will play my part in my community.

Identifying goals and prioritising them is straight-forward. When I’m asked to take on more tasks, deciding whether to accept them is a great deal simpler, as is saying ‘no’ sometimes. The time I took and the effort I spent creating my personal mission statement has been more than repaid with greater clarity, greater motivation and greater achievement.

If you struggle to crystallise your personal mission statement, I highly recommend LMI’s Personal Leadership professional development programme. Find out more here. Collapse this blog post


Whatever happened to sharp edges?

First published - April 2017

Stop for a second, think carefully… when was the last time you focused exclusively on a single task for longer than a few minutes? When was the last time... more

Stop for a second, think carefully… when was the last time you focused exclusively on a single task for longer than a few minutes? When was the last time you worked uninterrupted and free from distractions?

For many of us, the answer is… sorry, what was that…?, yes, OK, give me two minutes… where was I… oh, yes, for many of us, working uninterrupted is just a distant memory. We live in an age where multitasking is considered a virtue and distractions are everywhere.

Turn the question on its head… when did you last do your best work in a hectic environment with multiple distractions and never more than a couple of minutes of real concentration? For most of us, the honest answer is never – our best work is done when we have time to focus, concentrate and give ourselves time to reach a productive state of mind. Each time we’re interrupted we either never reach that focused, productive state or we drop out of it and then have to spend many more minutes re-focusing. If you doubt the impact on productivity caused by multitasking (and you can bear the added distraction), search on the word ‘monotasking’.

Some of the distraction is self-inflicted – how many apps do you have on your smartphone and your laptop that demand your attention on their schedule rather than yours? Email, text messages, to-do lists, news alerts, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter – the list of potential alerts is huge.

We can blame evolution for much of the problem – those of our ancestors who most quickly noticed and responded to changes in their environment were most likely to survive and pass on their genes. The brain chemistry we inherited from those life-savingly alert ancestors still rewards us for noticing and responding to changes. Every time we receive an alert and respond to it we get a pleasure generating burst of chemical reward. It’s addictive and like any junkie, after a while we imagine we can’t live without it.

Worse than that, we invent reasons why our addiction is actually good for us – we refer to ‘client expectation’ around response times, or our desire to ‘always be available’ to the team. We pride ourselves on the time it takes us to respond to email and feel the need to apologise if we’re more than an hour or two in sending a response. But the reality is that very few of us have ever lost out letting an email wait an hour or two for a response.

I have a challenge for you… turn off all your notifications (smartphone, laptop, watch, everything) and only turn on again those alerts you really can’t do your job or live without. Keep in mind that this is not the same as never doing those things again – the occasional escape into social media or some other distraction is good for us – but the best time to deal with whatever might otherwise be just a distraction is when you decide, not when some app decides the time is right.

Accept the challenge and you will be amazed at the clearer focus, fewer distractions and increased productivity.

If you could benefit from working smarter with clearer goals, fewer distractions, a good plan, and increased productivity join one of our Foundations of Success workshops and get a taster of LMI’s professional development programmes.

Visit our events page and get a free workshop place using code VIP_Invite. Collapse this blog post


Is my hair really on fire?

First published - March 2017

How's your workload? No one I know has had their workload decrease in the last twenty years and I’m guessing yours is the same. Pretty much without exception... more

How's your workload? No one I know has had their workload decrease in the last twenty years and I’m guessing yours is the same. Pretty much without exception, we are all trying to do more things in less time.

For many of us, this sustained increase in workload has pushed us permanently into ‘crisis mode’, that feeling that we’re running around with our hair on fire trying to do too many things in too little time. I suspect that some of us, perhaps even most of us, have become used to, and possibly even addicted to, that high-energy, adrenaline driven, deadline busting lifestyle. Maybe it’s time to ask ourselves whether that furious pace of life is really the best way for us to achieve maximum productivity or even the best way to be successful.

If I can get your attention for just a few precious minutes… there are two questions worth considering. Firstly, how can we identify when we’re working in crisis mode and, secondly, how can we work out where our effort is best placed to avoid crisis mode?

Identifying crisis mode

If you recognise one or more of these indicators, there’s a very good chance you’re working in crisis mode:

  • Every task you work on is urgent.
  • You move from one urgent task to the next with no time to stop.
  • It’s always quicker to carry out the task yourself than train someone else to do it.
  • You have so many urgent things to do you don't know where to start.
  • Major strategic projects never get started or they never progress.
  • Communication is scant or completely missing.
  • You have no time for reflection and planning.

Spend a little time reflecting on your pattern of work and it’s likely you’ll identify other crisis mode indicators. If you recognise the symptoms, right now is the best time to do something about it. A great deal of the advice about dealing with crisis mode suggests you develop coping strategies – awareness, acceptance, mindfulness, and the like – all of which will help, but I have a slightly more radical suggestion: do fewer things!

Working smarter

The time-proven truth is that 80% of our results come from 20% of our activities (search the phrase ‘Pareto Principle’ if you doubt that), in which case avoiding crisis mode requires us to focus on the 20% and eliminate as much as possible of the unproductive 80% of all the things we do, which is easy to say, but often difficult to carry through in practice.

The key to working out what not to do is having a very clear view of the critical goals in our life. What are the really important things we're working toward? Not just in our business life, but in all areas of life. The clearer our goals and the more detailed and structured our plan to achieve those goals, the easier it will be to identify our high payoff activities – the things that most effectively move us closer to our goals – and focus on them.

With well thought through goals and a detailed plan not just in mind, but carefully documented, it becomes much easier to avoid working in crisis mode. Giving your day some structure and deciding what to work on first when you get to the office becomes much easier. Saying ‘no’ when you’re asked to commit to things that don’t help move you toward your goals is a great deal simpler. Choosing to commit to tasks that will be effective in achieving your goals is straightforward. Reflecting on progress and comparing with our documented targets becomes a self-reinforcing motivation to continue working effectively.

‘Working smarter, not harder’ is a well-known phrase, but its real meaning is in identifying goals and working out the high pay off activities that move us most effectively toward them.

If you could benefit from working smarter with clearer goals, a good plan, and increased productivity join one of our Foundations of Success workshops and get a taster of LMI’s professional development programmes.

Visit our events page and get a free workshop place using code VIP_Invite. Collapse this blog post


Make all that effort count for something.

First published - March 2017

Success is not an accident. Neither are hard work and effort any guarantee of success by themselves. Imagine if you set out in the car this morning to attend... more

Success is not an accident. Neither are hard work and effort any guarantee of success by themselves.

Imagine if you set out in the car this morning to attend a client meeting without knowing the destination. You drove as fast as you could, changing direction whenever some other road seemed less congested, or quicker, all the while making certain that you were driving quickly and smoothly and covering lots of miles. There's every chance that you would look focused, purposeful, flexible, and full of energy, but what are the chances that you would arrive at the client's office in good time for the meeting?

Realistically, none at all! You might, by chance, find yourself at the right place with a couple of minutes to spare and raring to go, but inevitably all that effort, despite how efficient it may have looked at the time, is going to be wasted and you are going to be miles off target and missing the meeting.

But most of us are smarter than that! When we set out for an appointment, we make sure we know where we’re going and why we need to be there. We think about obstacles that might delay us on the way and we make sure that we have a few options to ensure we arrive in good time for our appointment. We make a plan and we stick to it, modifying it as necessary to deal with the unexpected.

Setting the destination and making a plan to get there is what makes our journey effective as well as efficient – getting where we want to be as quickly and smoothly as possible.

Making certain that we are not just efficient, but also properly effective in all areas of our life relies on the same approach. If we want to be successful – and why are we putting all the effort in if we don’t – we must have crystal clear goals, understand why they are important to us and identify the benefits we’ll get from achieving them. We also need a plan that breaks each goal into achievable steps, each of which moves us closer toward our goal. We must also have thought through the possible obstacles and made sure we have some options that will keep us on track.

Learning a well-structured goal setting technique and developing the behaviour necessary to apply it habitually in all areas of our lives is a skill well worth taking a little time to develop. The process detailed in the Effective Personal Productivity programme from LMI is one of the best goal setting systems around.

If you could benefit from working smarter with clearer goals, a good plan, and increased productivity join one of our Foundations of Success workshops and get a taster of LMI’s professional development programmes.

Visit our events page and get a free workshop place using code VIP_Invite. Collapse this blog post