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

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!

Beware Excuses

In my most recent top tip I talked about using AID as a framework to deliver feedback or difficult message. One thing you will need to watch out for are excuses masquerading as justifiable reasons.

Let’s say we have made that bold step to intervene. We have sat down with the under or poor performing individual and outlined the performance issue.  The next step from this point is absolutely crucial.  It would be very common for the subject of the conversation to justify how they are performing by placing the blame on a number of external factors that are “out of their control”.  Here’s a typical exchange to illustrate this:-

“John, I have noticed that you are arriving for work anytime between 0915 and 0930 on a regular basis. Our business start time is 0845 and you arriving late sets a bad example to other staff members. What is happening because I need you to be arriving in good time.”

“Well it’s not my intention to be late but they’ve recently commenced major road works between my house and work and every day these cause huge traffic jams which make me late”

It’s a very normal response to criticism to take a defensive stance or “victim” type role. You only have to think about home life conversations that take place between partners or between parents and children. I’d suggest for many (and of course it couldn’t possibly be ourselves could it!) these are all too common.

We need to find a way to switch this around. Individuals need to take ownership for their own actions (or inactions!). Whilst uncontrollable external factors can of course have an impact on performance. However there are still controllable choices that can be made to remove or mitigate such impact.

A top tip is to use the “choose” word within the AID framework. In the above example the Manager could reinforce the I and D of AID by responding:-

“John, its unacceptable (to the organisation/to me) for you to be late to work. I appreciate that you cannot control the traffic but you can choose to change some things that are in your control such that you arrive on time. I would like you to think about what you can do to ensure you arrive on time from now on”.

Notice that the responsibility for identifying the options and then making a better choice remains with John. As the manager you can offer support and guidance but don’t lose sight of who it is who has ‘chosen’ not to perform to the required standard.