Three more plan tips

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There are indeed a lot of cunning planners out there.  So for you, and having written or reviewed a lot of these docs (the good, bad and the ugly), here are three more guide points to help make them work to the max.  This is important.  Well-written ones get read and have a far better chance of being acted upon.  Bad and ugly ones get condemned to the (digital) closet.

SWOTs that (again)?  Last time, I looked at how distilling key issues from SWOT content is crucial (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats).  But what if the content itself is less than perfect, ambiguous, or even confusing?  Ever read one in which the same issue or factor appears more than once e.g. it is both a Strength and i) a Weakness or even ii) an Opportunity?

For i), you must make a judgement call – decide which it is on the weight of evidence and impact and stick with it.  In ii), the most frequent reason for such a mix-up is unclear understanding of the differences between SW and OT.  SWs are intrinsic issues that fall largely under your or the firm’s control or ability to influence; OTs are extrinsic issues largely beyond your control/influence.

SFA your options   Once the plan has generated a number of real strategic options, choosing which is best to pursue becomes critical. The one that seems to deliver most financial ‘bang’? Or that you are personally most vested in? Here, the three classic strategic SFA option criteria* and appropriate analysis tools for them need to be used:

  • Suitability (would it work?): whether a strategy addresses the key issues identified in the plan
  • Feasibility (can it be made to work?): whether the resources required to implement the strategy successfully can be made available, developed or obtained.  These include funding, people, time and information.
  • Acceptability (will they work it?): whether the expectations of the various stakeholders will be met so that they buy in and better ensure success.

Monitor, review and update  I have jested about plans never seeing the light of day because they are too long.  But even if they are OK as a ‘product’, they can still not be used once formal acceptance has occurred: so into the dark recesses of the cupboard they also go.  This tends to occur in organisations where there is no real buy-in to the need for planning and thus no real importance attaches to its achievement.  It is just a “paper exercise”.

Good firms ensure such importance by adopting the maxim: “what gets measured and rewarded gets done”.  Performance against plan is tracked and monitored rigorously by senior management; partners and teams are held directly accountable for what happens (or does not happen) and what is (not) achieved.  As a result, funnily enough, plans tend to get reviewed and updated regularly by their originators and users.

* ‘Exploring Strategy: Text & Cases’ (2013) Johnson, Whittington & Scholes

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, interim, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

 

 

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Three tips to help your plans work

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It seems that everybody is doing it now: from big ol’ firm, departmental or sector business plans all the way to personal business development ones.  More or less formal planning has become popular with professionals.

But, as the saying goes, popularity does not equal success.

Getting your plan right – by avoiding the major pitfalls – can make all the difference between achievement and under-performance.  From experience, here are three things that can help.

Beware the missing – or illusion of – choice.   Having analysed thoroughly, a good plan needs to properly assess more than one way to achieve its aims.  Many do not.

Either such options are absent altogether – having started from a desired end-point (“that is what I/we must do”) and worked backwards – or they are perfunctory inclusions to create the illusion of choice.  Almost inevitably, the result compromises the quality of what will happen because these end-point assumptions remain un-examined.

SWOTs that?  SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) are a staple of nearly every planning process.  They are meant to be the encapsulated result of all your hard-grafted digging and examining.

But there are a number of things that can lessen the value of doing them.  One being that the analysis presented is simply a long, not very useful listing of factors – and nothing else.  Effective SWOTs must also identify the (maximum six) key issues that your plan has to address. This sets up what follows clearly and purposefully.

Big is not beautiful – aka plans that are measured by the pound or kilo.  Much as though you may have enjoyed detailing and crafting your beautiful vision of what should happen, sadly, not everyone who has to read the multi-page tome that results will necessarily share your delight.

Of course, there has to be evidence for the chosen direction, but the essence of a good plan is something readable in no more than two pages…..presented at the beginning.  The rest is what appendices are for.

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, interim, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

 

Three things to help you delegate and be more productive

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Delegation increases average professionals’ earnings by 20% 

Almost anyone with a job and colleagues can delegate…..in theory.  In practice, the picture is not so rosy.  Those who can’t or won’t because they believe “it’s quicker to do it myself”, are overly insecure, or who enjoy ‘doing’ too much and the task of efficiently running their departments or work portfolios too little.

Which is a shame because delegating well can make a big difference – up to 50% in improved earnings for the most highly-skilled senior individuals willing to take the plunge*.  Not to mention a beneficial reduction in the number of stressed-out task junkies, frustrated juniors who are not allowed to develop (and so leave), and in the worst cases, clients who are also dissatisfied and go elsewhere.  The strong desire of professionally-trained people always to want to do the best possible job is perfectly understandable.  But there should be no dilemma if this is at the expense of personal, business or staff health.

Here are three tips that can help your delegation work properly – and more profitably.

It’s not an egg…..one of the biggest sins is to sit on a piece of work, perhaps for days or weeks, only delegating at the last moment.  This presents the recipient with a double challenge: coping with the work delegated and juggling their often heavy existing workload and commitments.  Reluctant delegators sometimes perceive that such a tactic will somehow stimulate the poor recipient into glorious action as “it’s an emergency!”.  It won’t.  More likely, it will only inspire future dread of the same thing happening again and a ‘run for the hills’ response.

Be SMART  Assuming that a task has been appropriately delegated, nine times out of 10 it will only go wrong if instructions are not made clearly or comprehensively enough.  Here, the old management saw of SMART needs to be applied.

Make sure first that you are Specific – it is very easy to give vague instructions that can be misinterpreted. The task must also be Measurable, so define clearly what successful performance will look like and result in; then Agreed (the recipient contributing to what is agreed rather than being just told); Realistic (giving unreasonable targets does not set people up for success: it is what is realistic for THEM not YOU); and finally Time-bound, with clear, specific deadlines and milestones.

Take the buck  You can delegate authority but not responsibility.  Overcoming the psychological barriers to delegation is the biggest challenge.  Doing it is the second.  Then recognising that we must still take responsibility for what is delegated is the final achievement – whether the job is successful or not.  If it’s a success, take and hand out the plaudits; if not, be brave enough to take the rap (rather than pass it).

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other technical specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

* Harvard Business Review, “Research: Delegating More Can Increase Your Earnings”, Thomas N. Hubbard, August 2016

 

Ditch those delegation dilemmas

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Almost anyone with a job and colleagues can delegate…..in theory.  In practice, the picture is not so rosy for many of us. Those who can’t or won’t delegate because “it’s quicker to do it myself”; or who enjoy doing the work so much, and the task of efficiently running their departments or work portfolios too little.

If allowed to flourish, the results of these behaviours tend not to be impressive. Overburdened, stressed-out task ‘junkies’. Wrongly leveraged and unprofitable work flows. Frustrated juniors who are not allowed to develop and who leave. And in the worst cases, clients or customers who are also dissatisfied and go elsewhere.

The strong desire of professionally-trained people always to want to do the best possible job is perfectly understandable. But there should be no dilemma if this is at the expense of personal, staff, or business ‘health’. Here are three principles that can help delegation work properly.

You can delegate authority but not responsibility*  Overcoming the psychological barriers to delegation is the biggest challenge. Doing it is the second. Then recognising that we must still take responsibility for what is delegated is the final achievement – whether it was a success or not. If it’s a success, we hand out the plaudits; if not, we take the rap.  But whisper this quietly – there are many who have made careers out of passing or avoiding the buck.   They are usually the ones that none of the rest of us like to work with or for.

Don’t sit on it!   One of the biggest sins in the people management canon is to incubate a piece of work, chicken-style (perhaps for days or weeks), only delegating at the last moment. This presents the poor recipient with a double challenge – coping with the work being delegated and juggling their often heavy existing workload and commitments.

Reluctant delegators sometimes perceive that such a tactic will somehow stimulate the poor recipient into glorious action if “it’s an emergency!”. It won’t.  More likely, it will only inspire future dread of the same thing happening again and a ‘run for the hills’ response.

Be specific..and the rest   Assuming that a task has been appropriately delegated, nine times out of 10 it will only go wrong if instructions are not made clearly or comprehensively enough. Here, the old management saw of SMART needs to be applied.

Make sure that you are Specific (it is very easy to give vague instructions that can be misinterpreted); that the task is Measurable (defining clearly what successful performance will look like and result in); Agreed (the recipient contributing to what is ‘agreed’ rather than being just ‘told’); Realistic (giving unreasonable targets does not set people up for success – and it is what is realistic for THEM not YOU); and finally, Time-bound (with clear, specific deadlines and milestones).

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other technical specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

* From ‘A Good Lawyer: Secrets Good Lawyers (And Their Best Clients) Already Know’ (2010) by Stephen W. Comiskey

 

 

Business tales from the festive fireside

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Instead of sending Christmas cards (or offering  a sanctimonious declaration of charity to which card money has been despatched), here are some  business anecdotes culled from the canon of ‘happenings’  experienced or heard about that may bring a Yuletide smile.  No names, no pack drill so the guilty or unfortunate remain warmly protected under the trench coat of anonymity.

I am a TIGER (grrr)!  Fans of comedian Steve Coogan – and, in particular, his 90s “Dearth of a Salesman” persona Gareth Cheeseman – will especially appreciate this one.  As preparation for a beauty parade, a group of ‘pitchers’ were asked to think of a personal mantra to say to themselves before they went in, to help them focus and calm their nerves.  Allegedly, for the next few days, staff at the firm could hear “I am the dog’s bollocks!” booming from the bowels of one participant’s office.  Another decided to try out different mantras on the cows at a farm and let them decide the best one (a moo-ving experience for the livestock, no doubt, ho ho ).

Professional sensitivity rules (not)!  In a negotiation training scenario, participants were presented with a disgruntled client who had been badly treated by the firm.  Time for a bit of judicious bowing and scraping and then sorting out the problem to save our bacon, you might think?  Not a bit of it.  One sensitive soul decided to give the client the full-on arrogant treatment – time to “play hardball”, as he put it.  “It’s not our fault…of course these things do happen from time to time…it would appear that you are largely to blame Mr Client” etc. etc. then followed, and not even the whiff of an apology.   Just the sound of a fictional client walking out the door.  Let’s hope as a result that he won’t try this on his real clients.

Conflict …what conflict?  Back in the really good old days of prosperity and deal mania, client conflicts of interest were quite a big thing.  And now they might almost be back in fashion.

Faced with one, good professionals communicate clearly and honestly with the client.  Bad ones don’t.  Like the firm promising absolutely that there was “no question” of a conflict if they acted for the potential client.   Sad for them then that the client got to know about a direct and clearly conflictual relationship the firm already had – by reading about it in the professional trade press!  Telling porkies just doesn’t work.

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other technical specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones.  http://www.peoplescope.com.

Don’t be a Christmas party pooper

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Yes, it’s that time of year again, folks.  Mistletoe, silly outfits, enthusiastic eating and imbibing in carefully selected venues amongst colleagues, friends….or clients.  Having seen a few unfortunate slip-ups for professional people attending their own or someone else’s party, it’s perhaps opportune to offer a few rules of etiquette to ease everyone into the festive season with the minimum of fuss.  In fact, if followed, a few positives could even flow….

It’s all just you, you, you…People love to talk about themselves (and what they do)…but if you’re on the look-out to impress, it’s an activity to be kept in check.  In front of the mirror at home is good.  Having secured the usual permissions, with your nearest and dearest is often acceptable.  During an appraisal it is, self-evidently, necessary.

But at a Christmas event….we have observed some people (young and old) take the activity to negatively unprecedented levels: especially after a few drinks (see below).  Pinning colleagues or clients to a wall with little prospect of escape is not a vote-winner.  Instead, go out of your way to make your schmoozing focused on them.  They’ll enjoy it and, if you do it well, you might even learn a few useful things that you didn’t know about them.

Always ‘on’  This is one especially for when you are away from home at someone else’s ‘do’.  The saying, and quite possibly a legal precedent, goes that a police officer is always on duty: even when she or he is not (officially).  If you are at someone else’s Christmas event  be like a police officer.. in this respect.

Festive social situations have a habit of lowering the usual discretions, but it will pay to heed what our good angel always tells us – but which we can become deaf to via the “magic” of Yuletide.  Always ‘on’ means moderate drinking/other self-indulgence and knowing when to stop.  That way you will impress clients and colleagues…and you won’t be the one that we (and many others) spotted at a client party several years ago collapsed in a dishevelled heap – with a plastic flower protruding in an anatomically “interesting” manner.

Personality not push   This is hardly going out on a limb, but in the context of the season, there is a particular need to break one of the usual rules.  Normally, I encourage professionals engaging in social contexts with colleagues, clients or prospects to find common ground, talk about them/their business or issues and not be afraid to prompt the next step to a dialogue – if it proves appropriate.  Reticence to undertake the latter can be a big barrier.

However, the Christmas party is a bit different.  It should be almost entirely free from ‘shop’ talk and be about engaging with as many people as possible to allow the force and beauty of your personality to stand out, because that is a key part of what people say they buy (however cf. the caveats to this above!).  So no, it is not the venue at which you launch out on the world’s most inappropriately timed ‘pitch’.

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other technical specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones.  http://www.peoplescope.com.

 

 

 

To appraise or apprize?

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appraise [15th century. Alteration of apprize, after praise]

“But 37% of staff thought their annual appraisal was a waste of time”  from CIPD report on PwC Performance Management Research, 30 July 2015

These days doing the annual appraisal is pretty widely criticised and more and more condemned outright.  But, whether you like it or not, it is still with us in many organisations and will remain for some time to come.

Much of the criticism is levied at poor practice. For there are those appraisers who forget the origin of the word, embarking solely upon a ruthless dissection of just what is wrong with the individuals they assess. If they ever get around to conducting them, there are others who just treat the process as an annoying, time-consuming distraction from “real work”. Either way, the result can be dysfunctional to job, personal improvement, and motivation.

From the archive of “appraisal systems we have known (but not loved)”, here are three observations to help them go better…assuming they are still with you.

Not scoring the ‘own goal’   Let’s start with a modest assertion of opinion. Any appraisal system that has a detailed method of scoring people performance (one to 5, one to 10, one to 100 etc.) is probably doomed to failure. No doubt someone somewhere thought it was a good idea to put numbers on it, to make this touchy-feely stuff more concrete, to have a ‘real’ basis for salary or bonus awards etc. In practice, all it does is highlight the essential subjectivity of people assessing other people – in a way that can be fundamentally divisive (“Why did she get 3.5 and I only got 3? I’m much better than her at it!”).

No specifics   Nowadays, firms have their competency frameworks that appear to highlight the issues to be covered; except that participants can then fall prey to the phenomenon known as Woolly Aims.   To succeed, any development aim must at least be specific and measurable enough. It’s the difference between these two: 

“Attend more seminars and networking events” 

“Attend at least six networking events over the next six months to generate at least nine new meaningful contacts”   

Remember…it’s apprize   It is what happens after praise that is as important as the appraisal itself – maybe more so. Too many appraisers can treat appraisals like the drawing up of business or marketing plans – once a year phenomena that are left to gather dust until the ‘season’ comes round again. Even if your system contains review stages built in, they are ignored. The best appraisers can see (or are shown!) the consequences of their inaction in this respect, and build in an interest in their staff and what specific aims they have been set on a frequent, regular basis.

James Newberry is a coach and trainer who helps professionals lead and manage better and do more business.  Have a look at http://www.peoplescope.com to know more.