Category Archives: Productivity

Top 5 feedback failures and how to fix them

For most people, giving negative feedback is the last thing they want to do – but if you do it badly it causes pain on both sides.

The point of giving negative feedback is to create a change in behaviour to improve performance. If you fail to deliver the feedback effectively, you will fail to meet this objective.

There are five common ways managers and supervisors fail at giving negative feedback.

Know what they are and what to do to avoid them, and you can avoid the consequences of feedback failure.

1. Too fast

A lot of people just want to get the act of giving negative feedback over with as quickly as possible.

This means that you may go into the conversation unprepared, and there won’t be enough time for adequate conversation.

If you rush, the person on the receiving end may just wonder ‘what just happened?’.

If they can’t ask questions or explain the situation from their perspective, it’s far less likely they will be able to act on your feedback.

Instead:

  • Set aside adequate time to explain the feedback and your reasoning
  • Allow the other person time to give their point of view
  • Take the time to discuss and agree on what should happen instead

2. Too late

One of the guaranteed ways to diminish the impact of feedback is by waiting too long to express it.

If you hold onto criticism for too long it has a way of festering, and by the time you get around to giving it the party on the other end of it may end up bewildered or shocked by the magnitude of it.

Remember, they may be completely oblivious to the fact that they’ve done anything wrong.

READ: Timely feedback leads to better performance

Rather than providing your team member with guidance, you are more likely to create a defensive reaction.

What to do instead:

  • Give the feedback as close as possible to the time of the behaviour you’ve observed that you’d like to change

By doing this, you will have the comfort of getting it off your mind, and the other person gets feedback at a time when they can reasonably do something about the issue.

3. Too emotional

Feedback given in the heat of the moment is more than likely to fail in its objective.

You may also find you get an emotional reaction from the other person, resulting in an escalation.

Feedback given in these conditions won’t help anyone. Nor will it improve employee motivation, engagement or performance.

What to do instead:

  • Don’t be tempted to ‘fire from the hip’
  • Take time to consider all relevant factors that may have created the issue, including your part in what happened
  • Then choose a time to have the conversation when you have had time to settle your own emotions

4. Irrelevant feedback

Sometimes it’s tempting to give negative feedback to a person for a reason that’s not relevant to the situation at hand.

It might be because you’re not getting what you want from one person but rather than addressing the issue with them, you take it up with someone else.

Or it may be that you’ve chosen to focus your attention on what appears to be an easy problem rather than one that will be tougher to solve.

In both cases, the stress you’re under could cause you to stop thinking clearly, causing you to choose the wrong target for your feedback.

What to do instead:

  • Do your research
  • Reflect on your motivation
  • Is this the person who can solve the problem?

5. Useless feedback

Of all possible feedback you can give, the most useless will be feedback that doesn’t lead to the changes you’re seeking.

For feedback to be useful, it has to be within the power of the person receiving the feedback to act on it.

Can you imagine how it would make someone feel if you give them negative feedback and they can’t do anything to change the situation?

What to do instead:

  • Before giving your feedback, make sure you’re telling the right person and that they can act on it
  • Ask if they have the time, resources and training to make the changes you’re expecting?

For feedback to be successful, it must be timely, prepared and rational.

Take your time and do your research. Most of all, be prepared to be open to other interpretations of the problem.

Then you’ll have the best chance of your feedback achieving your objectives instead of failing to be heard.

This article was originally published on MYOB’s blog, The Pulse. For more business news and tips, visit www.myob.com/blog.

How I won more business by being less corporate

Once upon a time I believed to be successful in business, I needed to look, act and think in a corporate way. That was a mistake.

It didn’t come naturally but I tried to live up to it anyway.

On more than one occasion the disconnect between who I thought I was expected to be and who I was led to disastrous consequences for the business.

I didn’t deliver my best work, and I wasn’t invited back. A hard lesson learnt.

Over the years my beliefs and behaviour have changed. Here are some reasons why.

1. Doing business with real people is more fun

My company, Balance at Work, exists to help people find more joy in their work. That includes joy for me and my team too.

Business for us is always ‘human to human’.

It’s not B2B or B2C.

If we were more corporate, we’d be attracting people who value a corporate attitude and approach more than we value those things.

Working with them might benefit us financially, but how could it bring us more joy?

READ: Is the future of work…less work?

2. You can’t fake different

Organisations and individuals looking for the services we provide face a vast array of pre-packaged options, but we want to be more than just another standard option.

But we’re not different just for the sake of difference.

We’ll tell clients what we really think. We’ll also tell them if we don’t think we’re a good fit for them.

Recently, I was planning a leadership development project with the MD of a long-standing, successful organisation in financial services.

When he told me they pride themselves on being ‘non-corporate’, I knew I was in the right place.

We stand out because of who we are and what we do, not because of who we think you want us to be.

3. You can’t fake real

Being corporate goes against our purpose, our ‘why’.

There are business suits in my wardrobe, but I rarely wear them. I also don’t wear heels because I don’t like them. Or make-up. Or dye my hair.

Not one of these things gives me joy, and I’m fortunate to have choices.

Could you make choices that better reflect who you are? Here are some suggestions.

Be yourself

The biggest benefit will be that you’ll get to spend more of your time working with people whose company you actually enjoy.

Build bridges not walls

Trying to be something you’re not creates an artificial barrier that pushes people away.

Your discomfort feeds their discomfort, and you don’t get the chance to know them. Build generous connections instead.

READ: Are you killing the business you love?

Welcome rejection

You can learn to love rejection. Really!

Be grateful if you lose a client because you’re not corporate enough for them. If you’re anything like me, that relationship wasn’t going to work anyway.

Appreciate the learning and move on.What has being less corporate meant for our business?

  • Working with us is not for everyone. And everyone is not for us.
  • We’re easy to connect with and trust because we pass ‘the celery test’.
  • We know how to find our joy at work, so we can help our clients find theirs.
  • Life is less stressful. Even when we stuff up, it’s easier to admit our mistakes.
  • Clients are loyal. Instead of being one of the crowd, we are in the wings encouraging them to take centre stage.

Remember: You don’t have to be ‘corporate’ to be professional, and by being true to yourself you’ll find more joy in your work.

This article was originally published on MYOB’s blog, The Pulse. For more business news and tips, visit www.myob.com/blog.

Building an agile culture

You’ve probably seen all sorts of things about the benefits of building an agile culture – but wanting one and building one are two very different things.

When the agile manifesto and 12 agile principles emerged in 2001, they related to project management for software development, but their appeal has widened since then.

An organisation with an agile culture would be a place where:

  • Individuals and interactions are valued over processes
  • A functional, positive working culture is more important than documentation
  • Activity is centred on customer outcomes
  • Change is welcomed

If culture is ‘the way we do things around here’ then changing what we do – becoming more agile – will usually mean changing the culture.

Whether that happens by accident or design is up to leadership.

Culture is the key to success in becoming agile

Whenever there’s a mismatch between new initiatives and the existing culture, the culture usually wins.

What needs to change will depend on both your organisation’s interpretations of agile and on your existing culture.

The more clarity you have on these concepts, the better chance you have of succeeding.

It’s about clearly articulating what agile is and how it will benefit the organisation.

To ignore this communication will create friction and misunderstanding that takes the focus off the customer outcomes you hoped to achieve through introducing agile.

READ: Why Culture Day is my favourite day of the year

Just undertaking ‘agile’ activities such as stand-up meetings, sprints and retrospectives won’t magically turn your culture into an agile one.

Those are simply tools which are symptoms of an agile culture rather than the cause of an agile culture.

As such, there’s no set roadmap to agile culture. It’s about building a culture and a mindset which results in behaviours — the tools and processes will follow.

To start your organisation’s agile journey, ask the following questions:

  • Is our main focus on values that serve our customers, or shareholder value?
  • Do we operate from a fixed mindset or growth mindset?
  • Are we more ready to allocate blame when things go wrong or to learn without blaming?
  • Do we value both speed and stability equally or are we stuck because we value one over the other?
  • How can we communicate the reasons for the change?

3 steps to building an agile culture

While agile works within looser structures, there should still be structure in the way you approach culture implementation.

1. Start with the end in mind

The perfectly agile culture – like perfection – probably doesn’t exist.

Instead, aim for a culture where the right thing happens most of the time and for the right reasons.

Be prepared to experiment.

If something you try doesn’t work, admit it and move on.

It’s up to leadership to set the tone and direction. In doing so, be careful with the language you use. Your goal is to create a shared understanding, not to confuse.

2. Design your desired culture

When we work with clients to define and design culture, we use the culture map process.

This tool helps organisations identify the behaviours and levers (enablers and blockers) that influence the outcomes they get.

To design your new agile culture, look first at the outcomes you want, then the behaviours that will support them.

Once this context is defined, the challenge is to acknowledge and deal with the blockers that currently exist, be they values, attitudes or processes.

READ: Why culture just became Uber-necessary

3. Apply agile principles to culture change

If you were to use the 12 agile principles as the basis for building an agile culture, you would

  • Focus on customer requirements
  • Welcome changes to requirements
  • Adjust quickly to change
  • Value collaboration between business units
  • Support and trust employees to do their job
  • Facilitate effective communication
  • Promote sustainability of projects
  • Focus on excellence
  • Keep it simple
  • Establish self-organising teams
  • Reflect on successes and failures and fine-tune behaviours

Applying the agile principles to culture change results in an iterative process of continuous improvement and learning.

This approach requires transparency and accountability. It also relies on a willingness to admit when something isn’t working and move on.

Culture is a mysterious and constantly evolving creature.

You can analyse, poke and prod it but ultimately – as with everything else in business and life – your success comes down to the people involved.

Culture change is not easy.

If being more agile is your aim, then as a leader it’s up to you to make choices about what needs to be done, then to clearly communicate why.

This article was originally published on MYOB’s blog, The Pulse. For more business news and tips, visit www.myob.com/blog.

Are you killing the business you love?

Killing the business you love

Killing the business you love involves mistakes, misdemeanours and stunning failure brought about by business owners who didn’t know their limitations – so how do you avoid similar pitfalls?

Often it’s the step from entrepreneur to a public listing and becoming accountable to a board and shareholders that brings people undone.

Often SMEs fail to thrive or just fail completely because their founder fails to recognise that what got them to where they are is not what will get them to where they want to be.

As owners and CEOs they can be slowly, without realising it, kill a thing they love: their business

Each stage of the business life cycle requires a different type of leadership.

The five stages of business

1. Creation

Innovators who have a vision or have spotted an opportunity are the reason a business exists and the best leaders for the earliest stages of business.

They have passion and perseverance, and because the team is usually small, their contagious enthusiasm will power the business.

2. Survival

Sales are the most important driver once the business is launched successfully, so the leader at this stage has to be committed to growing market share and revenue.

READ: 3 steps to predicting sales

Sometimes the initial enthusiasm that created the product or service is enough to do this – but a business can get into complications because the business owner is more committed to the product than growing the business.

3. Growth

At this point, it’s essential to build an effective management team and generate scale based on the success of the previous stage.

Leaders at this stage need the skills not just to grow the business but build the structure, systems and processes required to deliver on the promise of even greater growth.

It’s at this stage that many entrepreneurs lose interest, confirming the importance of having a good management team in place.

4. Expansion

A business that has successfully grown its market share is now ready to strategically expand into new products, services, markets or niches.

The leaders now have the dual role of looking outward to explore new opportunities, while simultaneously ensuring internal governance stays on track.

This stage requires a high level of tolerance for complexity along with strategic acumen.

5. Maturity

Business at this stage is all about protecting an asset.

A leader will do best to focus on consolidation and cost containment. While some refining of the operations and offer will continue, this is not the time for drastic innovation and ongoing change.

READ: Are you an innovation gambler?

While it’s important not to slip into stagnation, leaders at this stage are required to provide stability and confidence.

3 challenges a leader will face

It’s tempting to think we can lead our business through each of these growth stages.

Crises often mark the transition between growth stages, and they’re a great way of alerting us to the need to change or make changes.

An effective leader knows how to deal with the challenges that arise.

1. People

In any business, not just startups, it’s often when a technically competent manager assumes responsibility for running a team that we notice them struggling.

The challenge of motivating a team to love your business as much as you do can be hard. A leader can learn to manage and motivate people.

READ: 5 budget-friendly ways to reward your staff

It’s often only the recognition that they need to learn that stands in the way.

2. Money

The bigger the business, the higher the responsibility for the people in charge to know what’s happening with the finances.

As a business grows, it’s no longer sufficient for one individual to keep track of the bank balance.

Knowing what your numbers mean, accessing adequate funding, having competent staff and a great accountant make all the difference.

3. Systems

For a business to thrive, it needs reliable, scalable, flexible systems and processes, including financial systems.

READ: The what, when and how of an ERP system

It’s the leadership’s responsibility to ensure systems are understood and used. The goal is to build an organisation where others complete the bulk of decisions and tasks without your input.

That way, the business will be able to meet demand as it grows, but taking your hands off the wheel can be a challenge.

My experiences as a business coach and mentor have shown me that for most entrepreneurs this is the most difficult step.

Are you willing to make the changes you need to make to lead your business not just to survive but thrive?

This article was originally published on MYOB’s blog, The Pulse. For more business news and tips, visit www.myob.com/blog.

Get SMART to measure your business goals

Business goals

Many businesses set goals, but don’t know how to measure their progress against them – and that’s a problem.

Goal setting is generally important, but in too many instances business goals are made vague – such as ‘I want to improve my revenue’.

If you improve your revenue by $1, does that mean your goal is hit?

Instead, I’ve advised clients to use SMART goals.

These are goals that are:

Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Resourced and Time-framed.

Take this SMART goal from US President John F Kennedy:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”

I should note that this speech was a plea to Congress to fund the project, so while it didn’t qualify as ‘resourced’ the goal was ultimately achieved with the moon landing in July 1969.

Such is the power of a SMART goal.

Our business goals may not be as ambitious as JFK’s goal above, but they have an equal chance of achievement if we know how to convert them to action.

1. Break it down

What needs to be done to move you closer to this goal? Here are some of the possible options:

  • Increase prices
  • Make more sales
  • Introduce new products or services

Then break each option you choose into tasks you and your team can start to work on right away.

For example, to “make more sales” you may:

  • Improve your marketing
  • Find different sales channels
  • Make more sales calls
  • Meet more prospects
  • Outsource any of the above

2. Look for the links

Following the process above, you will have a list of tasks under multiple headings that may seem overwhelming.

As you look at your list, natural links between tasks will become obvious.

For example, it seems reasonable that making more sales calls and having more meetings would be ongoing tasks and can be started right away.

Developing new products, changing your marketing strategy or outsourcing may take longer.

Anyone who has been in business for a while will know that these types of tasks are never-ending and always evolving as you grow your business.

Having a SMART goal to keep you on track is what ensures the tasks are all leading to something and not happening for their own sake.

3. Allocate responsibility

Once you’ve decided what needs to be done, then it’s time to answer the ‘by whom’ part of the equation.

Focus on your goal and what needs to happen to get you there; don’t cherry-pick tasks in isolation because they are easy.

If you miss the step of allocation for every single task on your list, I guarantee if you do achieve your goal it will be more through good luck than good management.

4. Keep track

A natural progression will, hopefully, have become obvious for most of the tasks, where you can see that for B to happen, A has to be complete and you can schedule them accordingly.

Other tasks will be daily, weekly or monthly.

Consider a desire to increase revenue by 25 percent in the next financial year.

This is a project which can made of up several sub-projects. Underneath that is a series of tasks, each with a due date.

We keep track of our tasks and projects with Asana, one of the many simple online tools available.

For client-based sales tasks, we keep track in OnePageCRM, again one of many options available now.

5. When all else fails, work backwards!

If you’re not sure where to start, try imagining that you’ve already reach the end.

Imagine what the last action you could have taken before you got there, and then write that down.

Don’t overthink or even believe that these steps are possible — you are simply working your way back to where you are today.

It’s worth trying a new way of thinking when you feel stuck because while you’re stuck, you’re not taking action.

This article was originally published on MYOB’s blog, The Pulse. For more business news and tips, visit www.myob.com/blog.

Employee engagement: 5 ways to kill it

Employee engagement is a favourite topic with employers and staff alike. The annual employee engagement survey always has some interesting results!

With this level of interest and investment in engagement, you’d think we’d be finding people are happier at work. Instead, research shows in survey after survey that overall job satisfaction is remarkably stable with ‘x%’ ready to leave their jobs and move on at any time.

How do good organisations kill employee engagement?

Here are just some of the less obvious ways we’ve seen managers get it wrong – even when they thought they were working on employee engagement.

1. Scrimping on essential resources

A computer system that works is an example of a basic requirement for anyone working in an office environment these days. Unfortunately, that can’t always be assumed to exist. When glitches aren’t fixed promptly, employees waste time and energy on expensive workarounds.

2. Having processes that don’t make sense

The carefully designed process may have made a lot of sense in the meeting that developed it. How much time was spent consulting the people who will have to use it?

3. Taking away employees’ autonomy

Employees want feedback on their work – especially if it’s given in a timely and constructive way. The rest of the time, they like to feel trusted to do a good job in the work you employed them to do. By micromanaging, you remove their sense of autonomy and, ultimately, their engagement and productivity.

4. Failing to invest in career development and training

You hired your staff for specific skills, qualifications, and experience. They probably spent a lot of time and money to get to the point where you could benefit from their investment. Now it’s your turn to make them even more valuable.

5. Expecting staff to compete not collaborate

While you can motivate some employees by having an in-house rivalry, others will feel completely disengaged if they are forced to compete against their colleagues. Can you identify who fits into which group on your team? Or do you just treat them all the same?

What if there was a way to find out how to improve your employee engagement?

The good news is that there are lots of ways. The simplest place to start is asking your staff. You might be surprised by what they tell you – and you’ll know more than you knew before!

Aside from the annual engagement surveys, you can access a range of tools to solve the employee engagement puzzle. Here are a few to consider:

1.  Engagement and Retention Analysis (ERA)

Available from the Harrison Assessments suite of reports, with the data collected in one online short questionnaire, ERA reports are available for individuals and any group size. Click on the images below to see samples.

ERA teamERA report

2.  Weekly targetted check-ins

If you’re super efficient at meetings, then you could do this face to face. A more productive and useful approach could be to use a tool like 15Five that allows you to ask the questions you want to ask. And get the answers you need to take action.

3.  360 degree feedback

Employee engagement is mostly in the hands of your managers and team leaders. Sadly they may not always be delivering the basics you expect. It can take you months or years to find this out if you’re not proactive about getting feedback from staff. We can help you set up a feedback survey tailored for your situation.

Not sure where to start with employee engagement?

We’d love to help you navigate the most efficient and economical way to improve your employee engagement. Find out more or get in touch!

Inbox tips to change your life

Do you come back to an overflowing inbox after holidays and weekends? How does that affect your productivity?

Worse still, do you spend holiday or weekend time handling emails to avoid the ‘inbox shock’ on your return?

If you let emails determine what you will do next, you are giving other people the power to determine your priorities.

If there are days when what’s in your inbox sets your agenda, and you reach the end of the day feeling like you haven’t achieved anything, this tip is for you:

Remember these three elements that you have the power to control:

1. YOU decide when you will read and deal with your emails

The jobs where something terribly serious will happen if you don’t read and respond to an email immediately are very few.

It is OK to keep your email program closed except for the times you have decided, in advance, to view and process emails. Don’t worry if you have an email to send. Just open your email program temporarily via your Contacts tab or your CRM and avoid the temptation to check your inbox.

Try it for a while, and you’ll realise that in most cases, the sender will have forgotten their email until they receive your reply anyway. If it is urgent, they will call you.

And if you still have notifications on your screen or smartphone every time you receive and email, turn off that function immediately.

2. YOU control what makes it into your inbox

All email systems have within them the potential to reduce your inbox overwhelm — if you know how to use all their features.

Set up folders for the main categories of emails your receive, and then as emails come in, set up rules for how you want similar emails handled when they hit your inbox in the future. You will cut down on what makes it to your inbox — and your attention — in the first place.

One example would be to set up a rule for all emails from family and friends to go into a ‘Personal’ folder that you might check once a day or so.

Another example is to divert all regular newsletters you receive into a ‘Reading’ folder for you to read when you have time to catch up. The aim is to reduce distraction when you do check your inbox — at the scheduled time, of course!

While you’re sorting out your email folders and rules, you can also send emails from specific senders straight to spam, trash or delete, and you never need to see them at all.

To find out more about how to set up these features in your email program, simply use your favourite search engine.

3. YOU can get help if you need it

Constantly checking email and feeling the need to respond immediately is a habit (dare I say, addiction?) that you can cure with a mixture of willpower and support.

I found the strength I needed to break my habit with two Gmail plug-ins, ActiveInbox and UnrollMe, and you may find other apps for similar tasks in other systems. In my case, I use ActiveInbox mainly to classify emails, connect them to projects, add notes and decide when and how I’ll process them.

UnrollMe has made a huge difference to my working life. Simply installing it made it easy for me to unsubscribe from 728 email lists that I’d subscribed to over the years but were no longer relevant. All those regular emails I do want were then combined in a once-daily ‘Rollup’ that I scan to click and read anything of interest, as well as unsubscribe from any new subscriptions if they’re unwanted.

[Update July 2017: The latest tool in my ‘inbox toolbox’ is Drag. Quick to install and easy to learn, it’s perfect for those emails you want to keep for now because they are really tasks. A big bonus is that with Drag you organise them in the Kanban 3-column format of ‘To Do’ ‘Doing’ ‘Done’. And when you don’t need the reminder anymore, simply click a green ‘Archive’ button to see it disappear from your inbox. Using this system is another way to ensure your inbox only contains those emails that absolutely have to be there. Love it!]

All the ideas above will take a little time to implement and get used to, but the energy and stress you will save once you’ve put them in place will far outweigh the initial effort.

You have the power to change your relationship with your inbox. When will you start?

This article was originally published on MYOB’s blog, The Pulse. For more business news and tips, visit www.myob.com/blog.

 

"The last couple of years at batyr has seen incredible growth and the Balance at Work team has supported us along the way. They have helped us improve leadership skills across the team by helping us source and manage mentors, and even engaging as mentors themselves. As a young and fresh CEO Susan has also supported me personally with genuine feedback and fearless advice to achieve great things. "
By Sam Refshauge, CEO, batyr
"We used the Harrison Assessment tools followed by a debrief with Susan, for career development with staff, which then allowed us to work with Susan to create a customised 360 degree review process. Susan has a wealth of knowledge and is able to offer suggestions and solutions for our company. She is always ready to get involved and takes the time to show her clients the capability of Harrison Assessments. "
By Jessica Hill, Head of People and Culture, Choice
"Balance at Work are the ideal external partners for us as they completely get what we are trying achieve in the People and Culture space. Their flexibility and responsiveness to our needs has seen the entire 360 approach being a complete success. The online tool and the follow up coaching sessions have been game changers for our business. The buzz in the organisation is outstanding. Love it! Thanks again for being such a great support crew on this key project."
By Chris Bulmer, National GM Learning and Development, ISS Australia
"We use Harrison Assessments with our clients to support their recruitment processes. We especially value the comprehensive customisable features that allow us to ensure the best possible fit within a company, team and position. Balance at Work is always one phone call away. We appreciate their valuable input and their coaching solutions have also given great support to our clients."
By Benoit Ribe, HR Solutions Manager, Polyglot Group
"The leadership team at Insurance Advisernet engaged Susan from Balance at Work to run our leadership development survey and learning sessions. Susan was very professional in delivering the team and individual strengths and opportunities for growth. Susan's approach was very "non corporate" in style which was refreshing to see. I can't recommend Balance at Work more highly to lead, employee and team development sessions."
By Shaun Stanfield, Managing Director, Insurance Advisernet

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