Apprenticeship Levy

Apprenticeship Levy

With effect from May 2017, all employers with a pay bill of more than £3 million a year will pay a 0.5% levy to the government to fund the growth of apprenticeships in the UK.

For example, a company employing 1,500 people will contribute approximately £215,000 directly to the Levy pot.

Clearly, you will want to be able to access your money so you can spend it on training that adds value to your business.

But what if you don’t employ many apprentices?

What if you do want to spend your money on developing your managers?

Well, the good news is that you can and we can help you do that.

The Reality Business are an established provider of management training and we are on the government’s register of apprenticeship training providers (RoATP).

This means we can work with you to develop management training programmes that meet your needs and the government’s criteria to access your funds.

Let me give you an example:

You have identified 8-10 of your Team Leaders/Supervisors that are ready for management development.

You want a programme that develops practical management skills via a mixture of workshops, tutorials and computer based training.

You also want a programme that leads to a recognised management qualification (e.g. CMI Level 3).

As long as there are sufficient funds in your Levy pot the full costs of such a programme could potentially be covered.

Would A Phone Call Help?

Even if you’re not sure yet what you need, a quick phone call might help to determine what’s most important to you and whether we are a fit for your managers or not. Call us on 01425 461471 or click here to drop us a quick note and we’ll give you a call when it suits you.

Performance Assessment and Reward

Successful-Business-Habits

I have run hundreds of Performance Management “best practice” workshops over the 14 years I have been a facilitator.  Before I work with any business I ensure I spend time understanding the business and as part of that I  always ask a fair number of questions about the Performance Management systems and processes that are in place, including the links from such to “reward”.  Something that comes up time and time again is that a significant percentage of businesses (both private and public sector) either: –

  • Exclude any form of “assessment”
  • Don’t link any assessment they do include to any form of reward
  • Include assessment and link it to reward but do so in a way that employees view as either somewhat arbitrary or simply “unfair”

I see too many Performance Management policies and processes that fail to achieve what surely should be the point, namely to improve the performance of employees and thus, ultimately, drive up the overall performance of the business.

 I also see a large percentage of processes that are entirely future facing. Typically the process being called Performance Development and the form sets known as “PDP” or “PDR” with the focus in appraisals being on “what we need you to do/improve next year” but with no “marker” as to how you actually did in the previous year.  I also often see the term “Performance Management” as one negatively tainted as to what happens when employees don’t perform to a satisfactory standard – the phrase “I’m going to have to performance manage” this individual, being one that is heard far too often.

So my view as to “best practice” is formed from a combination of my own business insights from being a manager in the past, those businesses I have worked with who have Performance Management processes that work effectively to drive performance up, and whose employees think the process is largely fair, and numerous articles written by people widely regarded as “business gurus” and goes like this: –

  • The process and form sets should be straightforward, understood, fair and applied consistently
  • Line managers and employees should have received training that allows them to be effective and efficient in working with the process
  • Assessment is a crucial part of the process – we don’t have a strong view on the “rating” system used but something simple like 1-5, 1-10, A-E, or even use of wording such as Fail/Fall Short/Met/Good/Exceed are all fine
  • Assessment outcomes should absolutely link to reward – whether that is a performance bonus %, a pay rise %, promotion escalation, talent pool, weekend events, boxes of wine etc. – is for each business to decide.
  • Reward linked to individual performance is independent of any “profit share scheme”, however the best processes link the two together i.e. overall business performance establishes a “bonus pot” and then that “pot “ is divided out according to individual (and sometimes “team”) performance
  • Failure to give “assessment” and link that to “reward” results in a low/average performance culture as there is no incentive for people to want to perform really well.
  • Assessment must be based not only on the “what” (the extent to which someone delivers on their “tasks”) but also on the “how” (the extent to which they have delivered on such tasks utilising behaviours that promote business values)

To be “fair”, organisations must help their managers by giving guidelines as to what level of performance a basic salary is paid for (we call this “calibration”) and managers must work together to ensure they are not being unfair in relative terms to another manager (we call this “equalisation”).

Getting all the above in place and working well is not easy, but my view is that it is a crucial aspect to attend to in order to even have a chance of harnessing a high performance culture and one which drives business performance up.

I hope you have found my thoughts over the last 3 weeks of interest and value. The feedback and comments I have received have certainly suggested this is an area of management that will continue to challenge and sometimes even divide opinion.

Observing Performance by Watching & Listening

watching and listening

Recently I have been reading Alex Ferguson’s book on “Leading”. Early on in his book he talks about the importance of observation. He calls it “watching” and “listening” saying he believes most people, let alone people in managerial positions, do not use their eyes and ears effectively. They don’t watch closely or listen intently and don’t do either nearly often enough.

I think he is spot on. Our work world in the 21st century is high paced and contains an incessant workload. Most people in managerial roles have their own “tasks” to do as well as leading and managing their team and it easy to be consumed by such tasks to the detriment of spending time with your teams.  People who have recently moved up into managerial roles find this very hard, as they are confident in completing tasks, and less confident in their new managerial responsibilities and so, not surprisingly like doing the former.

But if you are ultimately accountable for your team’s performance you need to find a way to spend time closely observing what is going on. So why not start to make it a habit? Plan “downtime” into your own schedule of tasks and spend that downtime just quietly observing what is going on around you. Tune in with your eyes and ears and keep some mental and written notes on what you see and hear.  Some initial things to help guide your observations might be to look out for: –

  • Are your own managers or team leads actually spending the right amount of time doing that, or are they constantly immersed in their own tasks?
  • What are people saying to each other face to face? Are they showing respect? Listening to each other? Talking over one another?
  • Who is influencing whom?
  • Who is allowing themselves to be wrongly influenced by others?
  • Are people spending their time wisely – working on the right things?
  • Are they doing those things efficiently?
  • What is the general mood like?
  • Who is showing an appetite for leading?
  • How well are people working together – have I got a team or disconnected individuals?
  • Are people showing skills and talent for the roles I have them in or are they disengaged doing the role because they have to?

How is their manner when talking with clients?

If you start tuning in using the observational senses of listening and watching it should enable you to be more effective in giving feedback as it will be first hand, and very specific. NB this isn’t about “spooking” people and it’s not about compiling dossiers of evidence to beat people up with. It’s about finding the time and a way of being closer to what’s going on, and placing yourself in a position to be more effective in leading and coaching your team members.

Next week I will share some thoughts and tips around assessing performance and whether this should be linked to reward. If you have any comments, questions or observations in relation to this topic please do share via the website, LinkedIn or by email to tim@realitybusiness.co.uk.

Setting Performance Standards

Business people career race

I have travelled many miles delivering workshops to different clients on the general heading of Performance Management. The exact content of each of those workshops has varied quite a bit, but there is one concept that underpins everything else. That is the concept of “setting standards”.

A “standard” is a definition of a level of performance that is “acceptable”, so if someone is performing at a level above the standard they should be receiving feedback that encourages them to keep doing what they are doing, or further coaching and help to allow them to do even better in the future. But if someone is performing at a level below that standard then their performance should be deemed as “unacceptable” and feedback needs to be given such that they are clear about that together with actions to bring their performance up.

Standards can be defined at whole company, departmental, team or individual levels. They need define both the “what” and the “how” – so in the terminology I use on my programmes they need to be about “tasks” AND “behaviours”.

It is absolutely a manager’s job to define them and communicate them to their teams and the individuals within them.

My view, based on periodic sampling of businesses performance plans (or whatever term is given in your business to the recording of people’s objectives), is that they are often poorly defined and in more than a few instances, missing altogether.

There are many consequences of them not being well defined and unfortunately most of the consequences are negative, potentially highly damaging. Here are just some:

  • If an individual or team don’t know the standard, they cannot make a judgement of their own performance?
  • If a manager hasn’t defined standards how can they even begin to assess the performance of their team?
  • If standards aren’t well defined it presents lots of what we would call “wriggle room”. Views as to someone’s performance become highly opinion based i.e. become far more subjective than objective.
  • Poor, or Under, Performance become hard to prove – which is great news if you are an employee at a performance tribunal, but rather less fun if you are the employer attempting to remove a non-performer from your organisation.

So…maybe it’s worth undertaking a review of “standards”: –

Are they in place for everyone in your team/organisation?

  • Have they been well defined and communicated?
  • Are they too easy/too tough?
  • Do you look to tweak them upwards annually, 6 monthly?
  • Do they cover both tasks and behaviours?

Next week’s blog will look at what managers need to do to see if standards are being met. If you have any comments, questions or observations in relation to this topic please do share via the website, LinkedIn or by email to tim@realitybusiness.co.uk.

 

Did I really say that?

The top tip in this story is to beware of the English language because it can trip you up so easily.

I was talking to a group of managers about Learning Styles. You don’t need to understand what Learning Styles are to understand the trouble I got myself into. Suffice to say that there are 4 and they are called Activist, Reflector, Theorist and Pragmatist. The way I facilitate this subject is to ask delegates to complete a simple questionnaire and identify which of A, R, T and P they score highest. I then group the delegates by their common letter and set them the task of trying to work out what the letter stands for. So far so good.

The A group went first and I asked them what they thought the A stood for. They did well and said the word Active which was close enough. Next went the R group and I asked them what word they thought represented R. They also did well and said Reflecting (again close enough). Next was the turn of the T group and I asked them what they though their word was. They said Thinkers and then with a bit of prompting Theorists. So far so good.

8244301_xl (1)

Now it came to the P group. Aware that the word Pragmatist is not in everybody’s vocabulary I must have been thinking of this when I asked the question ….. “so how would you define your Penis?”.

Well that is what people heard.

Obviously what I had said was “so how would you define your P-ness?” but by then the damage had been done and a shocked silence descended upon the room.

Thankfully the silence only lasted a second or two before giggles, chuckles and then guffaws replaced the silence. My embarrassment was complete however when some bright spark from the Activist group asked me if I would like them to redefine their A-ness!!!!

So, still blushing at the memory, I would like to wish each and every one of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. If you like a tuneful e-card please click on the link below and enjoy our chosen charity’s greeting.

Merry Christmas from all at The Reality Business

This year the Reality Business decided to send our Xmas Card budget to the charity Crash who do sterling work with the building industry to help the homeless. We have been fortunate to work with several clients in that sector this year so were delighted to do our bit.

Our Internal Parent/Child

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This tip is not directly about a difficult conversation, but I hope it will be relevant and useful anyway.

A colleague of mine was telling me how he needed to better understand the concepts of Transactional Analysis and particular the part which talks about our Ego states when relating to other people. You may have heard of these Egos namely Parent (Critical or Nurturing), Adult and Child (Adapted or Natural).

In a nutshell, we all lurch from one ego state to another often triggered by our own habits or the perceived behaviour of the other person. For example when giving somebody some feedback we may find ourselves talking down to that person and ‘telling them off’. This would be our Critical Parent kicking in and is likely to ‘hook’ a Child response (such as “that’s not fair”) from the other person.

Back to my colleague. He was telling me how tedious he was finding the reading and that he was unconvinced it wasn’t a load of @*^&!

He also said he was having to resist a huge temptation just to throw the book away and do something else much more interesting.

I asked him from which Ego state did he think these ‘voices’ were coming from? He understood immediately that this was his ‘Internal Child’ wanting to go out and play. At this point, he said, “so then I must resist these and definitely finish the book, however, tough that is”.

The answer, of course, is probably not because where might the ‘voice’ demanding completion be coming from? Probably his ‘Internal Parent’ in response to the ‘naughty’ Child.

The ideal Ego state to be in (usually) is the Adult. This deals with the here and now. It is interested in facts and relevance. So, perhaps the right thing to do would be to read some of the chapters, make some notes and then bounce some thoughts off somebody else.

Without realising it, I think my colleague experienced all three Ego states without relating to anybody else at all. Maybe he unconsciously chose the Adult path by picking up the phone to me and hopefully is now somewhat clearer.

The top tip therefore for almost all conversations but definitely difficult conversations is to avoid slipping into Parent/Child and try and stay Adult (even if the other person doesn’t). Eventually, they will have to join you Adult to Adult.

Read more on the Reality blog

Always Check your Facts

About this time last week I was relaxing on holiday in Turkey gently floating on a lilo in the stunning infinity pool. A sudden yell from my wife, a few feet away, interrupted my reverie as I heard her shout “that person has taken Agy’s (my daughter’s) towel from her sun lounger”. As I looked up I saw her pointing at the figure of a young man disappearing from the poolside carrying a blue towel and heading swiftly in the direction of some lodges. “Quick” she said, “go after him” and instinctively I swam to the edge of the pool hauled myself out and gingerly trotted up the path feeling the red hot paving under my feet.

“Hey you” I optimistically called out but the culprit was by now turning into a small garden seemingly unaware of my pursuit. As I reached the garden I called again and this time he turned around in surprise as he was unlocking the door. “You have taken my daughters towel” I said, hoping that my voice sounded assertive even though I knew I was slightly panting from the exertions. The man looked perplexed and said nothing as I reached out and took the offending item from him.

Upon returning poolside my wife somewhat sheepishly now advised me that in fact it was from a neighbouring sun bed that the towel had been retrieved and indeed Agy’s was where she had left it!

Had I double checked my source’s information I could have avoided one difficult conversation (let alone the comical sight of me running and the resulting burnt soles). As it was I now had to face up to a second potentially difficult conversation!

Fortunately the young man had not yet rounded up his larger relatives (he turned out to be one of a party of Russians) and I was able to mumble an apology and thrust the towel back into his arms before scarpering.

So let this be a lesson – always check your facts especially if they emanate from a third party however sincerely given.

blue towel

Beware Multiple Questions

set of hand drawn arrows and speech bubbles on cardboard  background, vector illustration

set of hand drawn arrows and speech bubbles on cardboard background, vector illustration

A common mistake made by managers when giving feedback is to ask questions which are unclear. This can easily make the conversation more difficult than it should have been.

Let me give you an example:

“Fred, I have noticed you have been late in submitting your figures for the last two weeks and this is having a knock-on impact delaying the new marketing campaign.”

(so far so good)

“What’s the problem? Is it to do with the new software or is it because you are waiting on Jim in sales? Is there anything I need to know and how can I help?”

(Fred now has a choice of which question to answer and will probably plump for the easiest)

“Thanks boss, no everything is now under control and I will let you know if I need any help.”

The result of the above exchange is minimal. The manager is none the wiser about what has happened and Fred is none the wiser as to what the manager wants him to do in future.

A much better question would have been:

“What’s the problem?”

(Fred talks about the situation and you listen, before asking a second question)

“What do you need to do to ensure your figures are always submitted on time in future?”

Multiple questions do not help the person receiving the feedback so keep your questions short, simple and only ask one at a time.

Reap What You Sow, by Steve Farmer

It has been a little while since my last tip and a couple of things have prompted me to get back in the swing of it. Firstly I have received several really nice bits of feedback saying how useful the old tips have been and that they have helped with some challenging conversations. Secondly I have run a ‘difficult conversations’ workshop this week and a new ‘top tip’ emerged from one of the ‘Real Play’ scenarios.

This scenario was different in that the difficult conversation was going to be with a person the manager had not met and did not know. In this case it was going to be a conversation with a key customer about outstanding invoices but it equally could have been any number of other situations where you need to influence or negotiate with a new customer/supplier/employer.

The manager in this instance was new in role and was picking up a problem that others had failed to resolve. He had been given snippets of information about the customer (a senior manager in a council department) and most of that feedback had been about how difficult this person was to deal with. Apparently he was unsmiling, short of time, unfriendly, only interested in own agenda and generally tough.

Now those things may well have been true and were shared honestly to try to help this manager. The problem in this case was that these impressions were used to shape the approach that this manager took. In the ‘Real Play’ (where an actor is the council manager) our manager had the conversation expecting bluntness and a battle and lo and behold that is exactly what he got back.

When we unpicked what had happened it started to emerge that our manager had almost tried to mirror his expectations. He had been unsmiling and serious. He had adopted a fixed posture and steely gaze which remained unaltered. He had used very direct language and failed to listen stating only his needs.

Management Tips Graphic - Businessman Reaps What He Sows

The beauty of ‘Real Play’ is that you can rewind and try different approaches. The second time our manager was more ‘himself’. He smiled a little more, was more relaxed and listened better. He put aside his script and responded to the other person and lo and behold a dialogue started with scope for better understanding and finding areas of mutual benefit.

The real meeting is due to take place next week and of course there is no guarantee it will go anything like our second iteration. However, I can guarantee it will certainly go like the first attempt if our manager assumes too much of how the other person is going to be.

Fundamentally whether the other person is an actor or a real person they will respond to your behaviours. In other words we reap what we sow.

Managing teams better for greater efficiency

‘What would you do?’
I was with a group of delegates chatting over dinner during a residential management workshop this week. During the day we had been discussing time management and delegation skills and had agreed that managers need to spend as much of their time as possible dealing with the most important tasks.

It was agreed that one of most effective activities to achieve this was the delegation to your team of those less important tasks.

One of the managers had been reflecting upon this and said he was struggling to see how he could apply the learning. Only that very day (whilst on the workshop) he had received 6 calls and emails from his team wanting his help in sourcing non-standard items for customers. He saw this as an important part of his role as experience had shown him that the extra effort in sourcing a solution often resulted in either a new or more loyal and therefore valuable customer.

I asked the manager about their team. The manager said that whilst they had a good team they did not feel any of them had the experience or as much passion as he did about providing this level of service. Their default solution therefore was to work extra hours to get everything done or if they were away from the office to explicitly instruct the team with step by step instructions of what to do.

What Would You Do? Management Graphic

The manager was well aware that his approach was not tenable in the long run and he wanted to trust his team more but did not know where to start. I asked him ‘what else could you do when you get a phone call from your deputy telling you about a challenging customer request?’ After a while the manager said ‘I suppose I could ask them what they would do… but what if they say they don’t know what to do or suggest something I don’t like?’

‘Good question’ I said. What would you do in that circumstance?’ There was a pause and then the manager smiled at me and said ‘I see what you’re doing. You are asking me for my solution before suggesting one yourself and that way I either feel empowered by my own ideas or supported if guidance is still needed. I suppose I could try this with my team!’

Using a phrase like ‘what would you do?’ is a coaching style of management and whilst not suitable for every situation it’s definitely one to have at your disposal. Especially if you are a bit of a control freak!