Having a difficult conversation is, um…difficult. But if we have a process and know push words, difficult conversations can become less fraught. Knowing the right words to use at the right time and with the right manner can make our lives easier.
Before I get into the detail of having a crucial conversation, here is a question. If conflict were a dog, what type of dog would it be? When asked that question, most people choose a dog that either creates fear, like a pit bull or blue heeler, or a small yapping dog that creates annoyance or anger.
The flight (fear/worry) and fight (annoyance/anger) responses are hard wired into our brains. So, when faced with interpersonal conflict – the need to have a crucial conversation – it’s easy to feel the emotions that stem from the flight or fight response.
Good, healthy relationships can only endure when conflict is dealt with openly and honestly. This prevents stagnation and stimulates curiosity and creativity. Groups suffer more from the lack of conflict that they do from conflict itself. Lack of conflict in groups is a symptom of apathy.
The VIP process: Validate, Investigate, Problem Solve
Conflict can cause anger, distrust, frustration, fear and a host of other emotions – and if these feelings are not validated first, rational problem solving is inhibited.
When we’re angry or fearful our adrenalin flows faster, and our strength increases by about 20 percent. The liver, pumping sugar into the bloodstream, demands more oxygen from the heart and lungs.
The veins become enlarged and the critical centres of our brain, where thinking takes place, do not perform as well. In short, the blood supply to the problem-solving part of our brain is decreased because under stress a greater portion of blood is diverted to the body’s extremities – to help us with fight or flight.
By acknowledging or validating the emotions, the blood flow increases to the problem-solving part of the brain and we start to calm down.
Listen to understand, not to agree or disagree. We need to listen to understand in order to accurately validate what others are feeling and what we’ve heard them say.
We can’t expect others to listen and not interrupt us if we don’t listen to them without interrupting. Even wait a couple of seconds once they’ve finished in case they’ve got more to say.
When responding, do so in a calm and gentle tone or manner.
Parent manner (angry tone): “Don’t raise your voice at me. You’re being unreasonable”
Child manner (scared tone): “I didn’t mean to make the mistake and I’m trying my best”
Adult manner (calm tone): “You’re disappointed that we didn’t get the information right the first time?”
Be aware of your thoughts. Our thoughts trigger emotions, both rational and irrational. For example, “This &^% is having a go at me and is being rude and aggressive” is irrational. “he’s not having a go at me, he’s just expressing his frustration in a really inappropriate way, he’s not attacking me personally” is rational.
How the VIP process works
Them: “What on earth were they thinking when they made that decision! How stupid! No wonder this place is stuffed”
Us: (validate) “So you’re dumbfounded and frustrated by the mistake we made in the products you ordered last week?”
Them: “Yes” (said we less intensity) How hard can it be?”
Us (validate) “It is such a simple task that we didn’t get right”
Them: “Yes” (said in a calm tone)
Investigate: Ask permission to ask questions. This is a subtle way of asking someone to shut up, especially when they’re over talking or being dominant.
Us: (use their name) “So Bob, what would you like us to do to fix the problem?”
Them: “Well, I suppose everyone can make mistakes. Can you put the product on the next available truck you’ve got heading my way and everything will be all right”?
By staying calm in our adult ego state we’re better equipped to solve the problem, even if the solution is to agree to disagree.
A person attending a training course once said “If someone repeated back to me what I just said, I’d thump him. This is stupid” The reply “So you’d get angry and violent if I repeated back to you what you just said to me, is that right?” He said, “Yeah, that’s right” and he didn’t get angry or thump me!
Give others the VIP treatment…especially at home.
Inventory Management is often left as ‘the next thing on my list, when I get time’, but diligent and regular control of your inventory is crucial to ensure your capital investment in stock is financially productive.
It is a common strategy within the rural industry to ‘load up’ on high valued cropping inputs prior to the planting season because ‘we just can’t afford to run out of stock’. We all agree stock-outs must be avoided, but we sometimes fail to recognise or understand the financial pressures of running an overstocked business.
Carrying the right level of stock at the right time to meet your customer’s needs is crucial, and that is why you need an inventory management plan tailored for your business needs.
The most common reaction to an overstocking problem is to ‘close the order book and get the stock value down’. The by-product of this approach inevitably results in running out of the key 'bread and butter' stock lines that turn the till over on a daily basis. Why? Because you are focusing on the symptom and not addressing the root cause of the problem.
Effective inventory management is about buying more, more often, it’s not about buying less. The aim of the game in any merchandise business is to increase revenue, which in turn increases the cost of goods, which increases your inventory purchases.
Therefore, an inventory management plan must control what you buy, when you buy, how often you buy and how much you buy. Working with your supplier partners to forecast requirements and agree on an inventory protection plan for your business provides the added security and confidence for you to support their brands and buy accordingly.
A best practice approach towards maintaining an effective inventory management plan must focus on a number of key business processes that complement each other.
How do you know if your current inventory management processes are working?
Stock Productivity Index (SPI) is a simple measure that can be used to report on the financial productivity of the working capital you have tied up in inventory. The formula to calculate SPI is Gross Profit Margin multiplied by Stockturns.
The minimum SPI benchmark that is currently being used in a number rural merchandise businesses throughout Australia is 125. Anything below this measure is considered as unproductive use of the working capital investment you have in inventory.
Gross profit margin (20) x stockturns (6.25) = 125
Gross profit margin (22) x stockturns (5.68) = 125
Gross profit margin (18) x stockturns (6.94) = 125
In the first example a stockturn of 6.25 would equate to a maximum inventory holding of approximately eight weeks’ stock on hand. (52 weeks ÷ 6.25 = 8.32 weeks)
A rural merchandise business with an annual sales turnover of $9m is generating a 22% gross profit margin and carrying an average inventory of $1.8m.
Sales: $9,000,000 less COGS: $7,020,000 = Gross Profit: $1,980,000
Gross profit margin = gross profit ÷ sales = 22%
Stockturn = COGS ÷ average inventory = 3.9
Stock productivity index = 22 x 3.9 = 85.80
Stock on hand = 52 ÷ 3.9 = 13 weeks
In order for this business to generate a SPI of 125, the average inventory would need to reduce by $564,085 if the same levels of sales and gross profit margin was retained. Alternatively, gross profit margins would need to increase by 10% if the same level of sales and average inventory was retained.
It is far more realistic to drive an SPI increase by delivering a reduction in inventory values than by increasing margins. The best way to achieve this is to implement an inventory management plan which adopts a stringent purchasing practice that replenishes at the rate of no more than eight weeks stock-on-hand. Over 12 months this could free up as much as $564k of working capital.
We’ve all heard the saying ‘work on the business, not in it’.
Reflecting on what we do and making adjustments is a natural, innate part of being human. From the moment we stood upright and left the cave we have looked for ways to make the difficult easier. That’s why a woman invented the wheel.
But what about you and your team? Have you any formal continual improvement processes in place? Formalising and properly structuring your team’s Continual Improvement processes means you’re putting in place the mechanisms to work on your business.
Step 1: Agreed team structures
I once asked a manager when discussing the business outcomes he wanted to achieve; ‘I understand that you have goals for your team, but are they the team’s goals?’
Teams must have an agreed understanding and acceptance of:
The team goals you and your team could set could include:
Work Health and Safety goals e.g. Nil lost time through injuries.
Rework goals e.g. Less than 30 minutes of rework per staff member per week.
Sales and Margin goals e.g. Achieving a 2 per cent uplift in gross profit.
Client Surveys e.g. Meeting with all high value clients and getting them to critique your business.
Successes e.g. Discussing and celebrating both team and individual success.
Step 2: Team Accountability
The team goals then forms your monthly team meeting agenda. Reporting on team progress in achieving team goals creates team accountability.
Conducting regular team meetings where team members support each other does not just contribute to a healthy bottom line, it also contributes to team members health too. Social connectedness and social support, being part of a supportive caring team, has positive personal health outcomes too.
Step 3: Individual team member accountability
Team goals are then broken or cascading down into individual team member Position Descriptions and critically Team Member Report Templates (accountability). At each monthly meeting each team member provides their report on their progress in achieving their individual goals which contribute to their team’s success.
A client once complained about a staff members performance, particularly in regard to punctuality and not completing weekly stock takes and orders. So, we included these in the staff members team report template. They reported on their punctuality and how they were going with the weekly stock takes and orders. This was not punitive; we did this in a supportive manner. When they reported on improvement the team celebrated the improvement.
Individual report items could include:
Work Health and Safety: On a rotating basis conduct a monthly site walk around and present their safety observations to the team.
Rework: How much time was wasted completing rework. They also report on who they would like to thank for making their job easier.
Sales and Margin: How many discounts and value of discounts did each staff member pass on and why.
Client Survey: The results of meeting with our high value clients.
Successes: My wins for the month were…and my objectives for next month are…
Everyone works on the business.
Collaborative problem-solving works on your business and has a positive impact on staff morale and wellbeing.
When we follow this process, it creates the circumstances and mechanisms for a group to transit into a team by developing team members small group social skills, problem solving, conflict resolution, listening, challenging, clarifying etc.
Research reveals that teams:
Email us if you would like a best practice Team Meeting Agenda, Team Member Report or Client Review template.
And remember there is no ‘i’ in team, and to quote Bart Simpson, “there’s no ‘u’ either”
Ask a manager to nominate the greatest asset in their business and they’re most likely to say, their staff.
If this is the case then, shouldn’t we invest more time in maintaining our key relationships with the most important people in our lives?
When we put people together and give them a task which requires them to cooperate and collaborate, something predictable happens. The communication (interactions) between each other becomes patterned and a leadership structure develops.
One person tends to assume a leadership role with a focus on achieving a task, such as goal and role setting, directing, assigning, summarising and offering ideas, suggestions and orders. (Task Actions)
Another person will assume the social/emotional role that focuses on ensuring healthy, collaborative and supportive relationships while the group completes the tasks; such as alleviating frustration, relieving tensions (laughing/having fun), solving interpersonal problems and mediation. (Maintenance Actions)
An effective leader will always pay attention to both actions because getting the balance right will result in an enjoyable, effective and efficient team.
Aligning the Agendas
As managers or leaders, we have an agenda which is often reflected by the outcomes we want and need our teams to achieve; net profit, market share, GP targets and the list goes on.
To successfully achieve our business goals, our agenda is made easier if the objectives are aligned to our staffs’ agenda. If management and staff are all on the same page, then managers spend less time in the task action space; telling, directing, overseeing, correcting, advising etc.
So, what is the agenda of your staff? What are their ‘pain points?’ What do they want their managers to stop and start doing that would make their jobs more enjoyable and productive?
Listening to understand - not to agree or disagree - and then not suggesting, or advising or directing, or solving is a key maintenance action.
Have a Bakery Maintenance Chat
Back to your business’s greatest asset, competent and committed staff. How often do we check-in on them and maintain our most important assets? I’m not talking about conducting a formal performance review, I’m suggesting an informal relationship maintenance check-in over a coffee.
Recently we asked 6 department managers to meet with each of their department staff over a coffee. Yes, you’re right, this was us being task orientated. Well spotted.
We also gave the department managers a Maintenance Chat template to follow and complete. Their enthusiasm for the task was at best, tepid.
At the end of the month the department managers met to debrief from the maintenance chats and talked about their newly acquired caffeine addiction.
The results? Here are some of their verbatim comments.
“We dealt with a few issues that we’d been dodging for a fair while. It (the chat) was a relief for both of us.”
“Found out more about my crew than I thought I would.”
“Discovered that one of the blokes wasn’t pulling his weight and that this was pissing off all the others.”
“It surprised me that they wanted me to put more formal structures in place, like meetings and they even suggested some agenda items. One agenda item was a rippa ‘what I’m struggling with is…’ We put this in the meeting agenda and we’re now supporting each other a lot more.”
“They wanted more feedback on how the business was performing and if we needed to improve in any areas”
“I didn’t like some of their feedback. All four of them told me some things that I was doing that really annoyed them.”
They aligned agendas
Often when we talk to staff, work colleagues, partners, bosses we can be very task orientated, especially in busy work environments.
The department managers found out that their staffs’ agendas were similar to theirs; that they wanted to feel valued, their opinion counted and that their efforts were appreciated.
Praising, showing appreciation, saying thank you, noticing when someone is struggling and offering support and listening and not jumping straight to problem solving are all maintenance actions.
Who are the key people in your life and when was the last time you gave them a really good listening to? You could also ask them for their agenda for you.
If you would like a copy of the Bakery Maintenance Chat template give me a call or send me an email.
Don’t eat to many croissants when you’re at the bakery!
And remember that a little maintenance goes a long way.
Rework: is redoing, correcting or completing extra additional tasks generated due to work that was not done correctly the first time.
Working in a crowded market, with constant and increasing downward pressure on margins we can’t afford to be inefficient.
So how efficient is your team? How many hours do you and your team waste each week doing rework? Ever delivered the wrong product or quantity of product to the right address?
In the typical business, managers and staff each complete around an hour of rework each day. Let’s do the math.
10 staff X 5 hours of rework per day = 50 hours per week.
50 hours of rework X $100.00 per hour = $5,000.00 per week or $250,000.00 per annum.
Why do we value rework @ $100.00 per hour? If we pay staff $25.00 per hour, then with on-costs superannuation, sick leave, holidays etc. the actual hourly figure is closer to $40.00 per hour. Then we double this figure due to the opportunity cost; while they are completing rework, they are not doing other tasks. The $100.00 is just the cost of labour, it doesn’t include equipment, material costs or the cost of stock loss/damage.
But there is not just a financial imperative to reduce rework, there is also a health and safety imperative too. There is a positive correlation with levels of rework and safety. (Production Planning & Control. Volume 29, 2018)
Now, if you lost 250k of stock you would investigate and find out why. Generally, we do not investigate and find out the root cause for the rework which will be due to one of, or a combination of poor:
Operational Excellence (getting rid of the enemy within)
When working with clients we have three horizons for their improvement objectives:
Horizon 1: Operational Excellence. Being efficient and measuring rework reduction as an efficiency KPI.
Horizon 2: Business growth. Improve sales and margins.
Horizon 3: Succession Planning
Two steps toward Operational Excellence.
Here are two steps you could take to reduce rework, improve efficiency and safety.
Step One. Name it and explain it. Meet with staff to explain what rework is and how much it impacts on the business, the stress levels of team members and safety.
Step Two: Measure and provide feedback. Make rework an agenda item at your team meetings. Get your staff to each report on how many hours of rework they undertook for the week/month.
At one client’s business we gave managers and staff a rework diary and asked them to record the number of rework hours they completed, the department/person where the rework originated and the root cause – poor structures, resources, competencies and or commitment.
The result? Rework for the week dropped by 50 per cent! Why? Everyone was being measured!
So, back to the original question, how much rework do you do in a typical week? How efficient is your team?
Put in place the two-step reduction process, because we don’t achieve higher enough margins to do the same job twice.
Note: If you would like a copy of the rework diary template, just send us an email.
The place was a small country town in far north western NSW. A population of around 1500 people. The pub represented the towns past glory; 50 rooms and taking up the best part of the town’s main street.
We were in town to conduct a men’s health night. All of NSW and most of Australia for that matter was in the savage and relentless grip of the hope sapping millennium drought.
Sixty men turned-up. Akubra hats and R M Williams boots all round. Crushing handshakes and really unique nick names. One bloke introduced himself and his son, “G’day Nev, they call me Ballbag and this here is my son, Sack” he said with a droll voice which was as dry as the drought. I was busting to ask him how he got his nickname, but didn’t, just in case he showed me.
Time to start. They’d been promised a fun night out even though men’s health is a serious topic. I told a story about a bloke back home who was mowing his lawns - a member of the audience yelled out “What are lawns?” When the laughter died down, I continued. “The bloke mowing his lawns had to stop every few metres to catch his breath and wait for the pain in his chest to abate before he could continue with the mowing.”
I then posed the rhetorical question “Fellas, guess what this bloke needed to do?” I paused for effect. I shouldn’t have paused. A hand went up. Someone at the back of the room had the answer, yep it was Ballbag. He said in his dry drawl, “Ole mate needs to go to the doctors to get a prescription for a %$# ride on mower!” His answer rocked the pub’s foundations.
Here in the depth of a drought men of outback NSW were laughing. What a tonic.
In the ag business we are the business; it’s a personal relationship business. We can change shirts from blue to green and most of our clients will follow us. This also means that if we fall over, our businesses are at risk of falling over too.
Why a focus on men’s’ health in country areas? Here are the death discrepancies between males and females in different age groups.
0 - 14 age group
· Suicide 400% higher than females
· Car Accidents 214% higher than females
· Drugs 83% higher than females
· Accidents 266% higher. than females
Of a study involving 10,000 people only 38% of those with a mental disorder sought help. Of that 38 % only 28% of men sought help and men in rural Australia only 11% of men sought help!
Stubbornness and pride can kill us.
The men in the room laugh at seeing the sign. When their laughter stops, I let the silence underscore the seriousness consequences of men not asking for help.
I then ask the audience to stand and take the ‘I’ll ask for help’ oath. I get them to grab their private parts with their right hands and raise their left hands like they’re in a court witness box. I then get them to repeat
Being in the ag business in a prolonged dry spell is difficult. We care about our clients and often we can catch their moods. There is no need to struggle alone. Help is all around us, we just need to ask.
If this article has raised any concerns, please contact your local GP or phone Lifeline 13 11 14, or if you’re concerned about someone in your business you can give me a call.
Dealing with people is difficult.
Everyone can’t be wrong.
When I was a kid I said to mum, “Everyone is giving me the sh_ts!” With a gentle tone she responded, “Oh sweat heart…everyone can’t be wrong.” Ouch!
Living and working with people is not easy.
We can’t avoid being part of a group. Every day we interact in one group and then another. Our social lives, our leisure time and our working lives are filled with groups.
The quality of our groups – being socially connected and supported – has a greater impact on our health than anything else, even giving up smoking, exercising or eating a healthy diet!
Small group social skills is the key to unlocking improved performance
What determines the quality of our group? How well a group functions and the quality of relationships within the group is largely determined by group members’, especially the group leader’s (managers/parents), and small group social skills.
Advanced socials skills leads to less conflict, more positive relationships among group members and higher achievement of group goals.
Researchers Thomas and Schmidt (1996) found that up to 25% of a managers’ time was spent dealing with interpersonal conflict between staff and the cost in lost time and resources in dealing with conflict was around $15,000 per annum per staff member.
Small group social skills include, problem solving, leadership, listening, conflict resolution, turn taking, putting in equal effort, assertiveness (not aggression), communication etc.
So how do you structure your work group to ensure you keep costly conflict to a minimum and maximise collaboration and peer support?
Setting Work Colleague Support Standards
Early this year we were invited into a farm machinery business employing 28 staff. The reason for the invitation was cantered on two key staff not getting along and that their strained relationship had spread through the entire branch. The real issue was poor performance measurement and feedback structures and a manager who did not have the necessary conflict resolution and assertive skills to fix the problem.
We supported the two staff working through their issues and then we worked with staff to develop their Work Colleague Support standards. At a meeting with staff we asked them to list the qualities/behaviours of an ideal work colleague. We collated their responses into themes, which we placed into an assessment document where each staff member rated themselves and each other.
The Colleague Support Standards measured their individual competencies in small group social skills, which included:
Punctuality – Arriving to work/meeting on time and making the most of their time at work. Not wasting time on mobile phones and/or social media.
Work Quality – Completing tasks fully and accurately so as to make it easy for the next person.
Work Ethic – looking for work instead of waiting for work to be assigned. Demonstrating an attitude of nothing is too much trouble.
Emotional Maturity – not getting moody/grumpy when busy or stressed. Attacks problems, not people. Comes to work in a good mood and stays that way throughout the day.
Constructive/Supportive – Noticing when a colleague is struggling and offering to lend a hand. Not bitching or moaning behind others’ backs. Putting forward their ideas on how to improve work practices
Client Engagement – Quick to serve customers. Looks for sales opportunities and offers clients extra products services without the client having to ask.
Staff set a 75 per cent rating that all managers and staff were expected to achieve. Each staff member received their score compared to the group average, the best score of the group and the 75 percent target.
As a result, the group dynamics changed, and the change was was largely driven by staff.
We then cascaded their Work Colleagues Support Standards into the business’ Employee Handbook, staffs’ position descriptions and performance reviews so that managers were better equipped to resolve any future conflicts.
I was once asked if I could run a course on dealing with difficult people. My response: “No I don’t, but I can run a course on dealing with people is difficult.”
Dealing with people is less difficult when managers:
Email me if you’d like more information about developing and setting Work Colleague Standards.
It’s hard to improve what you don’t measure.
As a general rule improving business outcomes is dependent on improving business inputs.
Bench marking business outcomes against the best practices of your industry is like a report card.
Just like when we were at school our reports often contained remarks like, “If he just settled down and showed more discipline his marks would improve.”
Our marks (outcomes) often reflected our effort (input). I remember asking one of my kids when they expressed disappointment at getting 60% for a math test “Well, out of 100 what was the effort you put in? And you have a lot of improvement potential” It was one of the few that arguments that I won!
We all benchmark. Even if we’re not in a formal benchmarking group, we’re doing it informally. When at an industry conference benchmarking is at the core of many of the conversations we have with our peers. What are you paying for…? How are you going with…? How do you handle …? Often, these conversations are the most important and valuable part of the conference. We’re comparing and finding out what’s possible.
But what if you’re not part of a benchmarking group?
One of the steps in our Actual to Best Practice program is measuring and benchmarking management and staffs’ individual best practices. Who is making the most sales and why? Who has the highest gross profit on sales and why? Who is generating the least amount of rework and why?
Just imagine if you could capture the best practices of each of your colleagues/staff and spread that across your team.
The first step though is benchmarking.
Over recent years we have surveyed over 500 staff in regard to their business inputs. We asked staff to rate their level of agreement with certain statements and the level of importance they place on the statement.
Here’s a snap shot of a few of the inputs staff want to improve.
We all understand the business outcomes/KPI’s we’re working to achieve.
Average Agreement 60% - 90% Average Importance.
Do all your staff know the outcomes you want to achieve?
We meet each month to review our progress in achieving business outcomes/KPI’s
Average Agreement 40% - 85% Average Importance
Performance measurement and feedback is a driver of performance improvement.
Everyone understands their roles and authority levels in achieving business outcomes
Average Agreement 60% - 80% Average Importance
This provides the foundation for accountability.
There are no loafers in our group. Everyone puts in the required level of effort.
Average Agreement 65% - 90% Average Importance
In every group there will be those who put in more than others. Bad pushes out good. You don’t want your really good performers to think, “Why should I bother busting a gut when others don’t seem to care.”
We’re very efficient. We do things right the first time.
Average Agreement 65% - 90% Average Importance
High levels of rework reduce both morale and profits.
My manager is good at giving feedback on my strengths and areas he/she would like me to improve.
Average Agreement 50% - 80% Average Importance
Performance measurement and feedback is a driver of performance improvement.
We have stock take and stock order cycle policies and procedures which we adhere to.
Average Agreement 60% - 85% Average Importance
Capital is tied up in our stock and debtors.
My manager practices what he/she preaches
Average Agreement 70% - 90% Average Importance
Respect is a key influencer.
Benchmarking provides the pressure for change.
Bench marking is the key first step in the change process because the results create the pressure for change.
The change process:
Step One: Pressure for change
Step Two: Clear shared goals (outcomes)
Step Three: Easy to understand and implement/actionable steps.
Step 4: Capacity for change (competencies and commitment)
Step 5: Managers model the way.
Step 6: Measure. Reinforce. Feedback. Challenge.
So, how does your business measure-up against the best practices of your industry, or just the expectations of your team?
Please don’t be scared to benchmark. No one is going to smack or yell at you if you get a bad benchmark report.
A bad report just means your business has a lot of improvement potential.
And remember, if you want to achieve best practice outcomes, you need to implement and maintain best practice inputs.
Actual to Best Practice™ Systemic Change Program: It’s a new way for an old game. A bottom-up, then top down improvement program.
What are the things in your business that are not the way you want? The ones keeping you up at night?
Stock discrepancies, staff issues, high levels of rework*, low margins, poor cash flow, lack of sales, client complaints. All these problems, or challenges, will have a root cause.
The gaps between what is actually happening in your business and best practice will be due to one of, or a combination of, these root causes:
1. Structures – agreed policies, procedures, standards, goals, roles, values, expectations etc.Your game plan.
2. Resources – tools, equipment, technology, information, capital, staff, vehicles.All the tools that you need to play your game.
3. Competencies – Skills and knowledge.Knowing how to play the game and the game structures.
4. Commitment – Attitude and accountability.Playing the game according to the agreed game plan.
All your pain points can be linked back to one of, or a combination of, these four root causes. Yes, even the impact of a drought. After all, rain is a resource.
The process works best when you involve those closest to the problem to put forward their suggestions on how to fix the problem (bottom-up). So, where do you start? Always start with root cause Number 1: Structures. This means either formalizing (documenting) your current game plan or developing a new one.
A sporting example.
We can apply this root cause approach to an elite football or netball team.
Team members in a high performing teams all understand:
Let’s use low margins to test this theory.
When investigating the root cause of low margins, first ask yourself, “Have we agreed and documented margin protection policies and procedures?”
If not, you could meet with your team to discuss and agree upon the margin protection process (this is bottom-up). Then, if necessary, provide training in their new margin protection policies and procedures (competencies).
The next step is to ensure you model the new margin protection process. NB: Cynicism and resentment results from Managers not modeling the behaviors expected of staff!
The final step is reporting. Staff report how many discounts they have given and for you to report on GP percentage and the number of items sold below agreed GP targets (commitment and accountability). Where we have implemented this process, margins have increased by as much as 2 percent.
It is a simple process, but not easy.
Simple does not mean easy, because the process means resolving conflict.
When engaged to help management and staff solve a problem, quite often the problem has not just popped its head up in the last few weeks. It has been ongoing for months, sometimes even years.
For example, one client asked me, “How do you stop someone coming to work late?” I inquired how long has it been happening, and he said, “Six years.” Oops, too late. The informal structure (starting time) is established. We agreed to formalize a later starting and knock-off time.
Try it at your team meetings.
When you conduct a team meeting and a member raises a rework issue, mistake, client complaint etc. ask, “Is the issue due to poor structures, resources, competency or commitment?”
Get staff / work colleagues involved.
Achieving best practice means engaging your entire team to either confirm or formalize your current game plan or to design a new one.
The first step in achieving best practice is identifying (measuring) the gaps between your business actuals and accepted industry best practices. How would your staff/colleagues rate their business structures against the best practices of their industry?
Get them involved. Ownership results from input.
What are your gaps?
So, would you like to know how you compare to the best practices of your industry in regard to:
Benchmarking and confronting the truth is the first step towards best practice, and by taking this step, who knows...you may start getting a better night’s sleep.
*Rework is an efficiency measure. It is doing any task again due to the task not being fully and accurately completed in the first instance. For example, checking for missing stock is rework.
True or false? When it comes to dealing with others you should simply treat then how you want to be treated. If you answer true, continue reading because I hope to change your mind.
Imagine that you engage a marketing consultant to ascertain how customers want to be treated when visiting your store. You agree on a fee of $5,000.00. The marketing consultant leaves your office and stops the first vehicle that drives past and asks the driver “If you entered that store how would you like to be treated?” The marketer records the passerby’s response walks back into your store and says, “There’s your market research. Can I have my fee of $5,000.00?”
You wouldn’t pay them, would you? No, because they have only asked the one person. Which is what we do when we say that we should treat people how we want to be treated, we have only asked the one person. In marketing terms this is called a random sample of one.
A case in point
An Ag Business picked up a new client, a corporate farm. Brian (not his real name), the manager, upon meeting his new agro asked, “Do you provide good service?” The Agro assured Brian that he did. The agro then set about providing the client with what he regarded as great service. If he had of asked, “Brian, what are the things that you regard as great service?” he would have discovered that this didn’t match up to what he, the agro, regarded as great service.
When there is a gap between what the client expects and what we deliver we have the beginnings of conflict.
This is why we should not turn up and throw-up.
If we do all the talking; dominate the conversation, then we do not get to learn about how the client wants to be treated. What do they regard as great service? How do they want us to maintain our relationship with them? What are their values and what are their expectations of us? All great questions to ask a potential client.
Very often though, we turn up to a client’s farm and we dominate the conversation. We turn up and we throw-up, telling the client what we do, how we can help and what we know.
Can I start by asking a few questions?
After small talk the first question to ask is “[Client’s name] would it be okay if I ask a few questions?” This is like knocking on a door and being invited in, instead of just barging in and risk coming across as being pushy.
Asking permission to ask questions conveys to the client that we are respectful and polite, it also reminds us to find out about them before we tell them about us.
The golden rule.
Instead of treating others how we want to be treated, treat them how they want to be treated. If this is our rule, then we will more likely give the other person a good listening to before we start talking.
There is an inequity with treating everyone the same. If you are a manager, you know that what can motivate one staff member won’t even register with another; different strokes for different folks.
Listening shows that we are interested and that we care.
Finding out their likes, dislikes, attitudes, what they stand for and very importantly what they won’t stand for treats them as an individual and conveys to them that we care. Compare this to a sales rep who turns-up, throws-up and treats the client how he/she wants to be treated.
Oh…and for the blokes reading this; listening is the cure for nagging!