Friday, June 29, 2012

Virgin Australia Listens and Responds

When I ask people if they are proactive with providing feedback to organisations a common response is, "What's the point? They won't listen to me anyway so I don't bother doing it. If I can, I just take my business elsewhere."

You may have been following my recent experience with Virgin Australia. You can review the story here if you like. While it took some time from start to finish, Matt Dixon from the Office of the CEO at Virgin Australia did a wonderful job in recognising the seriousness of my issue, respecting his fellow Virgin Australia team members by investigating their side of my experience and even exploring my issue beyond the boundaries of Virgin Australia.

My original purpose for contacting Virgin Australia was to ensure that poor passenger behaviour be managed appropriately.

The outcome of my feedback is that the crew involved in the flight have been re-trained in following existing Virgin Australia procedures as they relate to managing unruly passengers. In addition, by the end of July all Virgin Australia crew will have received re-training on this issue.

A final outcome is that the passenger at the centre of my experience is now known to all domestic airlines and the relevant authorities. It is safe to say that this person will not be flying in Australia for some time.

The point of sharing this story with you is to highlight that it is worth providing feedback to organisations when the issue is one that really concerns you. No doubt Virgin Australia does need to improve on its systems and processes so that issues such as mine don't require the intervention of the Office of the CEO for them to be resolved. Ultimately that is one of the purposes of such an office and I give Virgin Australia credit for having a system where issues such as mine can be resolved at that level when the rest of the system fails.

Hopefully passengers will not be at risk of having a similar in flight experience to myself. That is the outcome that I had hoped would be achieved and Virgin Australia have proved, ultimately that they were prepared to listen and credit should be given where it is due.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Three Steps For Bringing Organisational Values To Life

I recently published an article titled "Company Values Need to Be Talked About" and I was asked to provide a follow up to that article. So here it is!

Organisational values are too often left to gather dust on office walls. If you are a leader and your organisation has values, how regularly do you bring those values alive in conversations with your team members? The usual response is, "Not very often." Yet when we ask leaders if they believe in their organisation's values they reply with a resounding, "Yes!".

So what is the problem? Why is it that so many leaders struggle to host conversations with their team members about their organisation's values?

The answer often lies in two issues. Firstly leaders simply forget to take responsibility for keeping their organisational values alive by talking about them with their team members. Such behaviour is simply not on their radar.

Secondly, many leaders aren't taught how to tell effective stories. It is assumed that leaders know how to tell stories. In part this is true. People DO know how to tell stories. However, telling effective stories is different. Telling effective stories requires some structure.

Thankfully most storytelling structures are quite simple. Here's one that most of you will remember from your childhood. The structure was effective then, and it is still effective now.

Step 1 - Start the story.
This usually involves setting the scene and context of the story. For stories regarding the organisations values you would explain a situation and set the scene that you are going to explain how the organisation’s values can be used in real situations.

Step 2 - Explain the middle section of the story
This usually involves the details about what happened and who did what. It is where the rationale behind how the values were used would be explained.

Step 3 - Finish the story
This section provide the "So what!" part of the story. What was the result? In this case, what was the impact of using the organisation's values to guide decision making and actions.

These three steps effectively catalyse Conversations That Matter®.

An example

Start
When I was on the executive team of a medium sized business some legislation was passed that affected $14million of our revenue. In 12 months time it would be gone. This revenue directly paid the salaries of over 200 people.

Middle
Having already performed some scenario planning on this outcome, the executive team met to confirm what would be done for the staff to ensure that the values of integrity, teamwork, service and community were upheld throughout a difficult period. A decision was made to use the organisation’s training and development budget to up skill the staff in resume writing, interview skills and outplacement programs to ensure that as many staff as possible could find new jobs.

End
All staff who wished to access the support were provided with the training and outplacement support that they required. While it was a difficult period for everyone involved staff consistently reported that while they wished that the situation had not occurred, they were delighted with the support that the organisation had provided them throughout their transition. The vast majority of staff found new jobs and opportunities that fitted with their career aspirations.

A significant benefit of storytelling is that it helps people to makes sense of situations. After you have told a story it is worth asking people if the story has triggered any similar examples that also might show the organisation’s values in use. When listening to their stories listen for the start, middle and end. Not everyone tells stories correctly so they might miss out some important parts of the story. If you are listening you can help them out. For example, if someone shares a story but leaves out the end, ask, "What happened? What difference did your actions make?". You'll be amazed at the difference asking such questions can make to the quality of your team members storytelling.

Using this technique can create highly engaged and flowing workplace conversations. Without even knowing it your team members will start to deepen their understanding of what your organisation's values really mean in action. So, set aside 15 minutes once a month in your team meetings and see if you can bring your organisation’s values alive through storytelling. Follow the simple start, middle and end structure and you'll be surprised just how effective it can be. Please leave a comment or let me know how you go using the three steps for organisational storytelling.

Monday, June 18, 2012

As A Manager, How Do You Show Respect For Your Team Members?

Recently a participant in a leadership development program for managers asked, "I've discovered that 'respect' is a core value of mine. What are some practical ways that I can ensure that this value is present in the way that I behave as a manager?".

The following is the list of suggestions that emerged from the conversation that was conducted with this participant and another four people at their table. It is important to note that the following behaviours can be conducted irrespective of the culture that exists within the organisation.

  • Take the time to get to know each member of your team individually. This means that you would know the names of their partner, their children (if they have any). You would remember their hobbies and passions and genuinely inquire about how they are going with those pursuits. If you had a poor memory you would create a structure to ensure that you could remember these things. An example of such a structure is creating notes for each of the members in your team.
  • You would have a clear understanding of the career path that each of your team members is travelling and raise their awareness of any opportunities that would enhance their development in that direction.
  • You would let people do their jobs and trust them with appropriate authority for their roles. As much as possible you would stay out of their way but you would be explicit with them about why you would do that.
  • When bad information about your company was required to be shared with your team, you would share it. You would not ‘sugar coat’ the news.
  • You would provide performance feedback to your team members and make it as easy as possible for them to provide you with feedback. You would not ‘sugar coat’ feedback.
  • You would be proactive about ensuring that the remuneration of your team members was ‘fair’ in the context of your organisation and industry. This means that if you discovered that someone’s package was not ‘fair’, you would do whatever your system would allow you to do to rectify that situation.
  • You would recognise and reward your team members for their contributions.
  • You would be proactive with letting your team members know about opportunities that might take them out of your team if your view was that the opportunity aligned with their career aspirations as you understood them.

This list of examples is just a start. Once again it is important to note that these behaviours can be adopted irrespective of the overall culture within the organisation.

What are your examples of how, as a formal leader you have practiced the value of ‘respect’ in your role?

How have you catalysed Conversations That Matter® within your team?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Five Steps For Connecting Strategy to Action

For many years I have been facilitating leadership development programs for graduate students who have a minimum of five years work experience. The focus of the program is to enhance the capacity of the participants (even if only in a small way) to successfully perform in a mid to senior leadership role. The participants in the programs come from a broad range of cultural and work experience back-grounds, which is one of the many reasons that I enjoy facilitating the program. As part of the program I ask the participants to generate questions, that if answered would help them to better perform their role as a mid to senior leader.

A recent question that I was asked was, "What is the most important thing that you have to do as a manager to keep your team focused on organisational objectives?".

There are many factors that relate to answering this question. In this blog I will provide one approach that a leader can use to enhance the capacity of the team that they lead to stay focused on (and achieve) organisational objectives and goals.


Step 1.
Does your team know the organisational objectives to which it is contributing? This may seem like a silly question but my experience has taught me that it isn't. Too many managers aren't able to clearly and quickly articulate the organisational objectives to which the performance of their team is contributing. If you are in this situation then it is your responsibility to find out. The answer can usually be found in the organisation's Strategic Plan or Annual Plan. These documents will exist but all too often their implementation seems remote from a mid-management perspective because a gap often exists between planning and operational activities.


Step 2.
Once you have identified the objectives outlined in your Strategic Plan, the next challenge for you is to communicate how that plan relates directly to your team members. A simple and effective tool, irrespective of the level of the people who report to you, is to use the One Page Strategy Map invented by Kaplan and Norton. An example of such a map can be found here.


Many organisations use the Balanced Scorecard methodology for their Strategic Planning and even if a different methodology is used, the high level strategies can often be focused and presented on a single page.


Step 3.
Literally sit down with each member of the team that you lead and, with a highlighter in hand, highlight each aspect of the Strategy Map to which their work directly relates. On many levels the act of highlighting different aspects of the content on the Strategy Map is far less important than the conversation that you will be having with each member of the team as you go through this process. These conversations will create a clear and specific level of understanding about what each person does and how that contributes to the achievement of organisational objectives.

Copyright Gary Ryan 2012

Step 4.
At the conclusion of your conversation ask your team member if they have identified any work that they are doing that doesn't seem to fit anywhere on the map. The answer to this question will not automatically mean that they are doing something that they shouldn't be doing, but it certainly should indicate that further inquiry into this work should be considered.


Step 5.
Ultimately any work performed by the members of the team that you lead should be able to be explained in the context of how it contributes to the strategies outlined in the Strategy Map. Any other activities may be a waste of time and may indicate a loss of focus from the real work that should be performed. If possible, conduct a whole team conversation to enable each team member to clearly and concisely articulate their contribution (and collectively your team’s contribution) to the achievement of organisational objectives.


If you follow the five steps above and regularly talk about the progress that your team is making toward the achievement of the objectives outlined on your organisation's One Page Strategy Map you will have an enhanced capacity to help your team members maintain focus on the work that they should be doing.


What is your experience with using Strategy Maps or similar tools to enhance the focus of your team? Or, if this post has encouraged you to try this approach for the first time, please let me know how you go.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Company values need to be talked about

Too often organisational values end up being meaningless from an operational perspective. In no way do they relate to the the day to day operation of the organisation.

This is because they are not explicitly used to help staff make decisions. If you are responsible for a team when was the last time you conducted a conversation with your team regarding how they have used the organisation's values to help them make a decision?

It isn't hard to do. Simply ask the question.

Go on, do it. I promise it won't hurt.

The outcome of these conversations is that the values start to have a clearer meaning. Staff begin to understand what they really look and feel like in practice, which is where they really matter.

Meaningful organisational values will help staff to make effective decisions for the organisation. Who wouldn't want that outcome.

How do you keep your organisation's values alive?