Do people work for you or the business?

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“People join companies. They leave managers.”

Vern Harnish– Management author

This is a great quote from Verne Harnish author of Scaling Up: How Few Companies Make it…..and Most Don’t. I was talking to a former work colleague who was lamenting on the number of experienced long-term employees leaving his current employer. The managing director said it was because they did not like the new business owners. However, my former work colleague thought it was due to poor management.

As managers of people, we need to be conscious how our behaviour and performance affects our subordinates. In my working life, I have never left a job because of the company; it was always because of my manager. Testament to this statement is that I got so sick of working for bad managers, that I eventually went into business for myself so I could have more control over my working life.

As a young graduate I was thrown into being a Personnel Officer in a Steelworks Department. I’d been forced onto the Mill Superintendent because of his poor record of industrial conflict and poor relationships with his subordinates. His first words to me were;

“I don’t want you here, I could spend your salary in better ways”

So, you can imagine the atmosphere in the department. His managers, supervisors and staff hated him as he was rude, uncommunicative, moody and difficult. I witnessed him causing a labour strike by abusing staff.

Another manager I worked for spent his time checking that his subordinates’ petty cash and phone bills were correct. This was more important than visiting customers, developing his managers or building the business. The final straw came when the business was in the process of attempting to purchase a competitor. As always, he was too busy to discuss the negotiation strategy and as a sign of complete incompetence he did not even bring a pen to the final negotiations. Years later he was dismissed; however I had long left the business.

So, what causes good employees to quit?

The problem is generally with managers. It is seldom the employee or the quality of the workforce that causes employees to quit.

Do managers deliberately set out to be poor people managers?

The answer in most cases is ‘no’.

Many managers have never been taught the art of developing people and being a leader. Often, they know no better and surviving in some organisations means mimicking your old boss or their superiors.

What are the warning signs?

Is your company experiencing high turnover?

Some labour turnover is healthy as it provides opportunities for other people and new ideas and skills to come to the organisation.

Perhaps you should examine how you interact with your team, and also determine whether there are disruptive or unproductive employees  in the team.

Here are what I consider the 3 main reasons why people leave organisations.

  1. An employee’s contributions are not recognised. As a manager you should never under-estimate the power of praise and recognising a job well done. In particular, top performers are normally self-motivated. Don’t take their drive for granted.
  2. A manager does not care about their subordinates, and this normally manifests itself in poor bosses. Research has shown that more than half of people who leave their jobs do so because of their relationship with their boss.
  3. A manager does not honour their commitments. This highlights two traits required by managers, honesty and integrity. If you say you will do something – do it. Keeping your word and your commitments tells the employee everything they need to know about you and the type of person you are and if they can trust you.

There are other reasons for leaving an organisation such as failing to develop employees, not challenging them and not acting on poor performance. Good employees know who the poor performers are, and when they leave morale improves.

Surprisingly, salaries and conditions are not top of the list.

If all else fails, simply remember this:

“People work for people – they do not work for businesses” – Donn Carr

The question is, do you have high or unacceptable levels of employee turnover?

Is so, could it be your management of your staff or other managers are the cause?

As managers, we need to recognise and act on this.

What were the management lessons from the Battle of Britain?

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”

Winston Churchill

In the Battle of Britain, the history books champion the heroics of the fighter squadrons of the RAF in defeating the German Luftwaffe. Churchill seeks to reinforce this view through his famous quote about ‘the few’, being the fighter pilots of the RAF Fighter Command. In reality, the reasons for the British victory were far more complex.

The Battle of Britain is considered to have occurred between 10th July 1940 to 31st October 1940, commencing soon after the fall of France on 25th June, 1940. The German strategy was to obtain air superiority over Britain before Operation Sealion, Hitler’s invasion of Britain. The Luftwaffe had over 2,600 attacking aircraft, bombers and fighters whilst Fighter Command had only 640 fighter aircraft, although there were over 1300 other non-fighter aircraft such as bombers, transport and reconnaissance aircraft. When the Battle ended, the Luftwaffe had lost nearly 2,000 aircraft and over 2,600 airmen, compared to the RAF, who lost over 1,000 aircraft and just over 530 airmen.

So how did the RAF succeed against such odds?

There were a number of inter-related reasons, including German fighters flying at the end of their range, the use of radar by the British, poor German intelligence, the bravery and skill of the RAF pilots, higher attrition of German pilots compared to the British, the weather, and confused and changing German strategy. The German strategy for example, changed from attacking the ports and Channel convoys, to destroying the RAF, either on the ground or in the air, and then later bombing the cities and industrial sites in southern England. Furthermore, the German Luftwaffe headed by Goring, was both autocratic and bureaucratic.

However, the prime reason is considered to have been the tactics initiated by Air Marshall Hugh Dowding. Through the use of new technology, radar and a flexible command structure called the Dowding System, which moulded together technology, ground defences and fighter aircraft,  the RAF eventually repulsed the Luffwaffe. Interestingly, Blitzkreig’s initial success can be attributed to using technology and a flexible command structure. Britain was divided into four geographical areas called ‘Groups’ and then ‘Sectors’. Each ‘Sector’ had a fighter airfield with an Operations Room from where the fighters could be directed. As radar tracked the incoming Luftwaffe raids, information was sent to Group headquarters, then to the ‘Sectors’ where fighters would be scrambled and air defence stations notified, all in a short period of time. This strategy allowed the RAF to engage the enemy selectively and in a timely way. The RAF fighters did not engage German fighters unless they were escorting bombers, with Hurricane fighters attacking the German bombers and the Spitfire fighters waiting for the bombers to turn for France before attacking both fighters and bombers when they had little fuel or ammunition. It is a common misconception that the Spitfires and Hurricanes were offensive weapons. They weren’t. They were defensive interceptors, with the sole purpose to intercept bombers on the way in, and prevent them from carrying out their mission and hunting them down when they turned back to France. In reality, the bombers were the attack weapons, to attacking industrial centres, cities, shipping and ports.

What can we learn for business from the Battle of Britain?

There are potentially 3 management lessons from the Battle of Britain.

  1. Flexible management systems are better than authoritarian and bureaucratic systems

For example, I was able to contribute the success of our logistics business by empowering supervisors to communicate directly with their assigned customers. This not only improved customer service but developed the supervisory and management skills of the supervisor.

  1. Technology is only an enabler

As an example, our logistics business was created from an opportunity when a major Australian retailer changed their supply chain systems, forcing suppliers to prepare their products in a store-floor ready condition. The enabler was technology (EDI), as it allowed for a more efficient management of the supply chain.

  1. Engage on your own terms

Too often, business owners try to be all things to all people and do not focus on their strengths and niche and end up competing against larger and better resourced competitors. For example, in our logistics business, we targeted to great success, smaller owner operated companies who did not want to deal with large impersonal organisations.

In conclusion, as managers and business owners we can learn some valuable lessons from the Battle of Britain. Technology is only an enabler. For example, AirBnB’s software has ‘enabled’ a new source of cheaper accommodation for travelers through the letting of private rooms and apartments that were not previously considered available. Flexible management systems that are agile will beat bureaucratic organisations everytime. Kodak, who initially invented the digital camera, failed to commercialise it successfully. And finally, engaging on your own terms where you have a competitive advantage and not go head to head with your competitors is a sensible strategy. A good example of this strategy is the success of Yellowtail Wines where a small Australian family owned wine company created a new market for wine in USA and avoided head-to-head confrontation with the major industry players.

There are valuable lessons for managers in studying history……

 What are the management lessoons from the Battle of Britain?What are the management lessons from the Battle of Britain?What are the management lessons from the Battle of Britain?

The lessons from railway tracks

“Most managers were trained to be the thing they most despise – bureaucrats”

Alvin Toffler: author and futurist

The state of New South Wales (NSW) railways has a railway gauge (distance between the rails) called the standard gauge. It is 4 feet, 8.5 inches or 1.435 metres and is also the gauge used in Great Britain and USA. As an aside, there are 2 other railway gauges used in Australia. How they came about is a story for another blog.

The standard gauge is an exceedingly odd number.

Why was that gauge used?

Because that’s the railway gauge used in England, and NSW was formally a British colony.

Why did the British select this gauge?

Because the first railway lines were built by the same people who built the pre-rail tramways. This was the gauge they used.

Why was this gauge used?

Because the engineers who built the tramways used the same jigs that were used for building wagons using the same wheel spacing.

Why did the wagons have this wheel spacing?

Because the wagon wheels were the spacing of the old wheel ruts. Outside these spacing they would break through the old, long distance roads in England.

So who built the old rutted roads in England?

Imperial Rome over 2,000 years ago. Many of these old Roman roads have been used ever since.

And what formed the initial ruts in the roads?

Roman war chariots.

So the NSW standard railway gauge were derived from the original specifications of an Imperial Roman war chariot.

What a great example of the power and life of bureaucracy. Bureaucracies can live forever.

When you are handed a specification, procedure or process and fail to understand the ‘logic’ or ‘reason’ you can make the statement:

‘What horse’s arse came up with this?’

And you may be right. Imperial Roman army chariots were made wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses.

The moral of the story is to “aware of the power and intransigence of

bureaucracies”. This can be outside your organisation or within your organisation itself.

You need to keep asking the question ‘why’ to get the best outcome (https://5-dimensionz.com.au/2014/04/28/the-5-whys/)

Management by Walking Around

“The simple act of paying positive attention to people has a great deal to do with productivity”

Tom Peters

I was recently discussing how the first 6 months of a new job was going with an associate who I had known for many years. This was a senior role which required both senior management experience and technical expertise which was critical to the organisation and its members. The associate was quite happy with their new role, had autonomy and was able to work on projects unhindered. However, they were puzzled that in the head office of about 60 people where they worked they had never seen the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). That’s right, not even physically sighted the CEO, let alone met them.

This seems an extraordinary situation, but it’s true. It would hardly come as a surprise that in the previous 12 month period over 30 new people were employed to replace those who had left. It can be safely assumed that there was something seriously wrong with this organisation, and the statement ‘a fish goes rotten at the head first’ explaining organisational failure would appear true in this case.

Staff look for leadership, not aloofness.  Evidence clearly indicates that successful organisations have management teams that are engaged with their customers and staff.  One demonstration of this, is the concept ‘management by walking around’. This is not a ‘royal tour’ as experienced in one of my first jobs as a fresh faced junior.  At that time I worked for a large multi-national in the steel industry and whenever senior executives were about to ‘tour’ there was a frenzy of painting and clean up, much to the bemusement of staff. The tour was generally a 5 minute walk through accompanied by the plant manager before the entourage moved on to the next plant. Little wonder that the business had to merge later and divest its manufacturing to remain in business.   Early on in my career, I developed the practice of ‘walking the floor’ within an hour of arriving at work to talk to staff. It was amazing what an effect it had on morale, as problems were aired and often solved; giving staff a sense of satisfaction in their jobs.  It was also another way of providing feedback on performance and hearing about issues with customers and the suppliers. People like nothing better than being asked for their opinions in a considered and professional manner (see this great article http://fortune.com/2012/08/23/management-by-walking-around-6-tips-to-make-it-work/)

My suggestion is that if you are not managing by walking around then plan to start this as soon as you can.  It will work wonders, make your job easier and help with workforce engagement and increase profits! However, ensure that you are genuine in your approach. Your workforce will pick up  fake concern and self-serving behaviour immediately.  I can recall another CEO in a much smaller organisation who would stroll through the workplace, stopping and asking a plant operator the name of the person who they to next visit, then walking up to that person and saying ‘hello Mary’ as if they were some long lost friend, but not engaging in any meaningful dialogue before rushing off to the next person. You can imagine how he was viewed by staff and it later became a game to give him the wrong name and see what the reaction was!

Management by walking around makes great sense and makes for a better workplace providing it is done sincerely, in a considered and professional manner. So if you are not doing this, the best time to start is now…………………………