What have you ‘signed off’ lately?

Son: Dad, I’d like to re-decorate my room. I don’t need your help to do it, but I might need to ask your advice about what I need to do.

Dad: Ok, son. How are you going to go about re-decorating?

Son: Well, I’m going to make a plan, give myself a budget of how much to spend, and that should work.

Dad: Sounds good to me. Don’t forget we are going on a family holiday in 4 weeks, and it doesn’t sound like you’ve factored in your commitments at the karate club. I know you said you don’t need my help, but I’m here to support you when you’re ready.

Something of an idyllic conversation, and not one I’m likely to have with any of my children for at least the next 15 years. In his manifesto, Henry Stewart talks about trusting your people. One of the key things in that is ‘pre-approving’ work. One of the other things he talks about is ‘give freedom with clear guidelines’.

When I think about that, I think about moving out of people’s way. I trust people inherently. It’s probably my biggest flaw – it’s also probably my proudest flaw. I let people know what I’m asking of them, set out some expectations and then move out of the way. I don’t interfere, I don’t meddle, and I don’t criticise. I will check in, I will ask for updates and I will be mindful about the persons ability to do the job. I will coach, guide, advise and mentor as appropriate.

But there are a lot of people in the work place who doggedly believe this is a fools errand way to operate. If you don’t control what your team are doing, then how can you expect them to achieve? A belief exists that without asserting your authority, the level of control you have over your team will be diminished. When work is complete, and passed to them for approval, it cannot pass on to the next phase of the project until it is signed off.

I’m not talking about business critical work, that stuff has to follow some element of checking and formal review, else you’re putting the business at risk. I’m talking about things like the following:
– coming into work 15 mins late because you worked an hour later the day before
– sending an email to someone outside of your team/department
– not following a process/protocol because you’ve found a more efficient way to get it done
– changing the design/format of a piece of work to better reflect the content
– having an informal chat with an external supplier about potential work

These things are things which people are very capable of making decisions about on their own. When leaders/managers delude themselves into thinking they are enacting control to have a better team, is when they also don’t realise that the team are not working at their best, and not willing to increase their discretionary effort at work.

Signing off has its place, just don’t wield it like it’s a God-given right.


>I’d like coaching please

>I want to provide a look at how you should be planning your management training for your organisation. There’s a lot of iffing and aahing about what constitutes good management in today’s world. There is structure you can and should have in place and all it takes is a bit of planning.

The first thing I have to talk about is whether or not you go external or internal. That’s to say should you bring in an external trainer or have someone internal deliver the training? The answer to this lies in where your budget lies and how you choose to spend it. There are some very good external trainers who will do a stellar job of training in this field. Just please, whatever you do, get some ‘free’ or ‘taster’ training first as you don’t want to pay £oooo’s for someone only to realise the training has been dead pan. To further this, if you have used a particular external trainer you’re happy to recommend to others please let us know in the comment section below.

Also, I’m not getting into defining leadership over management. In truth, the two terms are so interchangeable that it only really makes a difference to those concerned with titles.

Ok so there are 5 categories of management training you need to give thought to.

1) Management Essentials. This is about giving the managers who are in their role anew or within a 18-24 month old a core look at the things they need to know. Policies, procedures, core management skills such as objective setting, feedback skills, performance management, basic coaching skills, some models on motivation, delegation and flexible management styles. These are the core things that any new manager just has to know. Without this they’ll forever be lost in the sea of management and never know if they’re on the right path.

2) Effective Management. This should be for managers who are experienced in their role, have had teams to look after and need to know what more is expected of them. At this level they should be exposed to a psychometric tool of some sort to raise their own self awareness and give them insight into how other personalities are likely to either support or clash with one another, including their own. There should be some further development of actual management models such as Situational Leadership or a Coaching model such as GROW, better description of techniques surrounding motivation either delving into studies from Gallup or Roffey Park, and some form of business insight or business acumen development from leaders in the business.

3) Emotional Intelligence. This should be for managers who are growing in their role to a senior role and need to be able to understand how to work with a wider group of people and increase their influence across the business. Emotional Intelligence is a much disputed area of management devleopment in recent years. To be honest since competency frameworks were introduced, EI is the last big model introduced in the last 20 years. The dispute arises from the fact it’s mainly credited to Daniel Goleman. If you can get over that, there are many good EI models developed by practitioners who are credible and very reputable. Namely Dr Reuven Baron or work doen by Consulting Tools. This should also include a proper 360 survey tool to truly unravel an indicidual and allow for genuine personal development.

4) Global Management Effectiveness. In an increasingly global world, this level of manager needs to be aware of cultural differences, how to get the best out of teams in other countries, how to deliver on projects that involve global clients, effective multi-national communication. This is a truly difficult topic to handle and needs someone with experience in this field to deliver this.

5) Leadership Excellence. This is for those at senior levels within a business who are looking to find out what it is they’re missing. Training at this level is often about how to inspire teams, deliver a strategic vision, deliver powerful messages, operating at a level where you’re thinking about the future and long term development of the business.

So where does Coaching fit into all of this? Honestly? At every single point. But that’s a whole other blog post. In essence coaching should only be utilised if you are certain of the goals and purpose. If you think you need it because you’ve been hearing lots of great things about the great work Bob has been doing with other people similar in a role to you then you’ve got the wrong idea about where your personal development needs to be.

And you can take the categories I’ve named above and give them any other title you want to change them for. This is intended to provide a framework for overall management development. There are other considerations I’ve not given them time of day to such as succession planning or talent management. To be honest though you can take those concepts and adapt the above to fit those.

>Do you have a policy for that?

>The World Cup is round the corner. From 11 June – 11 July, the world will literally be focused on one thing and one thing only. The football. Even I, who has zero interest in the sport, will be following it. And why not! Your country’s reputation is on the world stage and it makes life incredibly interesting. Your workforce will be bantering the entire period, more so than normal. National flags will be flying high. Energy levels will be amazingly high and moods will be swinging all over the show. There will be as much frustration as there will excitement.

And here’s what worries me. HR will announce – we have a policy for situations like this. I hate policies. I hate them with all my heart. They are a disease brought about by a litigious culture to cover your back. If something isn’t going right, a policy will be there to say – I Told You So. How truly uninspiring. Policies serve to only stifle and restrict the workforce. And here’s the nub of it all. We need policies like we need to be told the consequences of killing another human being.
The CIPD today have released this article thinking they’re helping the workforce: http://www.cipd.co.uk/subjects/hrpract/absence/_world_cup_absence_management. It doesn’t help at all. If anything it makes staff reticent to bother with following the World Cup at work at all. I’m not advocating staff should only be allowed to watch their matches of choice, but don’t throw down policies to take away any thought of doing it. Let me unpick some of their suggestions. ‘Swap shift’ – nonsense because most shift workers do those hours because it suits them and their lifestyle. If I work from 6-11 it’s because I have other commitments which suit that arrangement. ‘Unpaid leave’ – really? You want your staff to not turn up for work, and dock their pay because you’re not willing to accommodate them within the workplace? ‘Games and alcohol’ – Oh Lord. If staff haven’t realised they shouldn’t be doing these in excess then you’ve clearly got other issues you need to deal with. ‘Flexible hours’ – start work at 6am so you can watch your 1 1/2 hour match and leave at your normal time of 6pm. And still be productive while you’re at it. The only decent suggestion they have is ‘special screenings’. This makes far too much sense and I love they add this disclosure piece: “however, it should be remembered that not everyone will be interested in watching the football so people should not be made to feel excluded if they don’t want to get involved”.
It’s my one bugbear about HR. At a recent workshop by the Training Journal, one of the speakers – Jack Wills (Chair of the British Institute for Learning and Development), explained how when he has bought companies, one of the first departments he gets rid of is the HR department. Controversial? Yes. But it makes sense. If line managers were doing their job right, HR wouldn’t need to exist. It’s a thought I’ve often had about HR privately (although, obviously, publicly now).
It’s not that I don’t believe HR provide value. It does. But only because line managers have so much to do, that doing people things right is often a nice to have rather than a must do. My issue is typically when something doesn’t go right, HR will default and say “we have a policy for that”. That’s not good enough. HR needs a slap across the face and a firm kicking.
My take on what should happen is to defer to people’s best judgement. Have a framework which makes sense for the business. Promote it. Help people understand it. Encourage and incentivise to make it happen. Give the pull factor. People should never need to be pushed. Provide clear and unmistakable guidance about when things are expected to happen. Have review periods and agree timelines. That’s all basic stuff which needs to happen.
If people don’t adhere to the framework then there’s a simple recompense. Discipline them. Allow people to make sensible, grown up decisions. If they fall foul of failing to meet a deadline, be it on their head with no doubt about the consequence of this.
To keep overheads in check, I do think you need to have an L&D function of sorts, recruitment, compensation and benefits and a legal department. But you don’t need someone saying – due to adverse weather here’s our company policy. Due to global recession, here’s our policy. Due to not completing your timesheet, here’s our policy. Due to being absent from work without permission, here’s our policy. Due to not answering your email on time, here’s our policy. Managers should have the training to help them understand how to deal with each and every one of those situations.
Ultimately HR are an information provider. This is how you complete an appraisal form. This is how you report sickness and absence. This is when you are eligible for further benefits. This is what you need to do to work here. This is how you report on your workforce. This is the number of staff we have in the building today.
But those damned policies are the bane of my life. We’re in an age now where the workforce is more savvy about working life. Policies help to give people an understanding of expectations from the business. But that’s where they should stay. The workforce is intelligent enough – and has information feely available enough – to make a sensible decision. If they choose to go against the norm or transgress the rules, there’s penalties to pay (no pun intended). You cannot empower a workforce by restricting them to act according to rules and processes and policies.

>Sack the self deluded manager

>I have been reminded today of the importance of being clear and direct in how you communicate with your staff. But more importantly I have been reminded of how a self deluded manager can be such a bad thing for any business. You know who I mean. The manager that thinks they’re shit hot when they’re just shit. Oh Lord, give me strength.

So the situation goes something like this:
Manager “I don’t think Bob is working out.”
Me “What feedback has he had?”
Manager “Oh I’ve spoken with him and he understands he needs to improve his performance”
Me “Are you confident he is clear about exactly what he has to do to improve?”
Manager “Absolutely”

4 weeks later.

Manager “Bob definitely isn’t working out.”
Me “Ok let me talk to Bob.”

Me “Bob did you know that you’re not performing according to your manager’s expectations?”
Bob “Kind of.”
Me “Are you clear about what you need to do to improve?”
Bob “No.”

Who would I fire of the two? No surprises for guessing it would be the manager. Why though? Because the manager was self deluded. He thought that he was being clear by giving Bob messages like “we’ve had feedback that you aren’t being enough of a leader” but not giving Bob any further information about how to be a leader. Or messages like “we need to put you on a development plan” with little explanation of why and even less explanation of how to improve. Or messages like “You have great technical skills but you need to work on your people skills” with zero guidance on how to develop those all important people skills.

As a manager one of the key responsibilities you have is to be clear in no uncertain terms about your expectations of your team. If they’re not performing and you have clear evidence to support your judgement the conversation needs to be as pointed as saying “Bob I’ve had feedback you aren’t being enough of a leader. And here’s how I’m going to help. Here’s a plan we will work on together to help you improve. It is important you are able to do this otherwise I will have to consider putting you on a development plan or worse disciplining you.”

You have to have those conversations. You’re not a manager to make friends. You’re a manager to (drum roll) manage. You have to manage workloads, staff, departments, budgets, plans, deliverables, blah, blah, blah. And if you’re not having those conversations because you’re self deluded you deserve to be let go sooner than Bob or any other member of your team you think aren’t performing.