Communication and persistence can make almost impossible assignments happen.

October 17, 2009

Some years ago, I got the project to set up a fish processing operation in Klemtu on the central coast of British Columbia. Some agreement had been made a couple of years earlier, as the whole project started with the set up of fish farms.

For the processing, we needed to not only equip the plant, but also train the staff of this small coastal community isolated on an island with no road connection to the mainland. Therefore, the logistics were quite adverse: an isolated island with about no choice of carriers except the one that had been appointed on a sea that is often dangerous to the point that barges do not even venture on it. The risk was that the fresh fish could be stuck and not be delivered on time. Of course, that would have been unacceptable for our customers, who were located thousands of km away.

When it came to the facilities, the local community was providing for the plant, meaning a very basic building with no specific equipment for salmon processing. In the plant’s yard we had to browse through a pile of old tables and pipes to figure out something. Since volumes were starting rather low, it would not have been sensible to buy automated processing equipment, because the cost per pound of fish would have been horrendous. Further, the isolation of the place would have made any call for a technician about useless, as it would have taken him a couple of days to be on the premises. All the work was to be manual.

The equipment was probably the easiest part, though. We needed to train the staff to modern food production and educate them about to all aspects of food safety and quality, as they had never been exposed to this. Everyone who has dealt with First Nations knows that they are dealing with a number of social issues and poor physical health and condition, unfortunately the result of past colonization and the destruction of their traditional society. As such, this exercise was a great way of merging two worlds and recreating a feeling of community between this village and the international food business including large retailers and food service companies in the US and Canada.

We developed the training program covering all theoretical aspects as well as the practical realities of fish processing. A few chosen crew members were sent to an experienced fish plant to get exposure to modern processing. We set up an exam to have an incentive for the potential employees to study our material. As it appeared the day of the exam, half of the students did not show up and someone explained to me that some felt uncomfortable with writing. Of course, this was an awkward situation and there was a chance of losing some of the workforce, which is not good when that workforce is already limited, and replacement not easy to find. I turned this around by giving only one collective grade. After all, I had repeated so many times that this would be teamwork, what better example could I find to illustrate that than giving the team the grade, instead of individual marks?

Considering how important it is to gut and cut the fish properly, I was more interested in the quality of the work than the productivity at first. Once they would master the technique, we could think of increasing the pace of the processing line. So, we started with the equivalent of half a truck the first day, and the second half for the following day. In a normal plant, a full truck was processed in five hours in those days. I was expecting that our first half load would be done in eight hours at most. The reality came out quite differently. After two hours, the staff got physically tired and I could notice that moment when all the shoulders started to drop. After eight hours, many of the workers went back home because they were tired. We finished the first production day in thirteen hours! The second day was even worse with some people not showing up at all, and it took 23 hours! The situation looked lost. However, my sense of persistence made me refuse to give up so quickly. I re-planned the next round of harvests to be only a third of a truck per processing day. This was the magical number, and from there, our staff was able to work within normal hours, and get more productive, while producing the proper quality. Within two weeks after this, they were able to process a full truck in 9 hours! What a turn-around! As production volumes were increasing, we were able to justify for the purchase of machines to help speeding up the operation and by then we were able to process fish as quickly as any other regular plant.

As time went by, some of the locals showed capacities to take charge of more and more things, and even the original agreement was clearly that management activities had to be carried out by non-locals, we created several positions that they could fill successfully.

Yet, beyond the business case, the most valuable experience for me had been to see activity coming back in a community plagued by 80% unemployment before this project started. Getting work did not only give them money, but it helped them become healthier, with many of the employees recovering from diabetes. The most important of all was a boosted self-esteem, as they found a new purpose in their lives.

They felt successful, happy and fulfilled again!

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

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Managing the emotional and the rational

September 28, 2009

NeuronsWe all know the feeling of having to deal with an emotionally loaded happening or decision, or when we need to communicate about something emotional for the other person(s).
The main problem is to be able to see the rational aspect of what we are dealing with in a moment when we have lost this ability to calmly analyze and put things in perspective. Our brain is reacting in the here and now and what leads us is to escape the situation as well as possible immediately. In this process, we rarely have the ability to think about the consequences of our behaviour.

Controlling one’s emotions
Although this is quite difficult for some people, the best way to start reacting is to not react, because your reaction can make others react back to you and there always is a risk of escalation. Before saying or doing anything, try to get as much information as you can by asking questions or even by keeping quiet. Generally, being silent is a great way of getting others to do the talking. Do not be afraid to ask for suggestions and listen before reacting on the answers.
Two emotions always can get you in more trouble than serve you: anger and fear. In both cases, the ideal way to deal with your emotions is to buy some time before reacting, in order to relieve the impulsivity and start to get a look at the larger picture. If possible, allow yourself a night of sleep before completing the process. It will calm you down; it will allow you to start thinking more rationally and put things back in perspective. It also allows you to develop your own plan on how to deal with the matter that happened to you.

Connecting with another person’s emotions
Although you are not dealing with your own emotions and you are in a position of thinking rationally, this situation is not any easier. The key here is to be able to literally get on the same wavelength as the other person. To do this properly, some empathy is obviously a great asset, but empathy alone is not enough. You need to assess the level of emotionality involved, and adjust your level of rationality accordingly. The best way to connect with the emotional person and to identify how intense the emotions are is to let the person vent and express what is causing the trouble. S/He will feel comfortable with this, because you create the conditions for it. Ask questions when necessary but do not make this an interrogation. Also, realize that, in an emotional interaction, verbal communication is a lot less effective than in a rational conversation. Therefore, your body language is quite important, which makes it even more important that you are sincerely willing to listen and connect. Since when it comes to non-verbal communication, the body follows the mind, any lack of sincerity on your part will probably be perceived.
Once you have connected, you will be a position to lead the conversation and, one step at a time, bring it back to increasingly more rational level. You will know that you have completed the process when the smiles come back and you reach an agreement on the next step.

If you are interested in this subject, feel free to contact me.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


The KISS that will improve your life

July 30, 2009

Most of us have heard about the KISS acronym. For some reason, it is usually described as “Keep It Simple, Stupid” which I have always found a bit derogative. I prefer to read it as “Keep It Short & Simple”.

Short and simple truly make life easy and, generally speaking, things that work the best in life are the simplest ones.

The advantage of simplicity is that the message is easier to understand by more people. When you explain something in simple terms, it will take you much less time to convince the other party of what you are telling them and they will be more prone to follow your instructions.

The advantage of keeping things short is that it saves you a lot of time that you would waste in long and probably complicated explanations that you would have to repeat before the other party gets the message properly. By being short, you also will increase the impact of your message. Remember that short is what slogans are made of, and that people tend to forget information quickly.

Hopefully, this was short and simple enough!

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


The Happy Boss

June 25, 2009

While there are many books written on employee satisfaction, not much seems to be told about what makes bosses happy in their jobs. Maybe people assume that bosses are happy because they are bosses, or maybe they assume that bosses do not need to be happy.
Nice job!Yet, a satisfied and happy boss is very important for an organization, because the boss’s personality and mood is quite contagious. You can be sure that a bitter boss means lots of bitterness and tension on the work floor. Therefore, a happy boss is an absolute necessity in order for a company to achieve superior performance.
To get a happy boss, just think in reverse of what I have just said, and think what could be so contagious coming from employees that will make him/her feel great.
What is it that the boss really wants? He/she wants to look like a great boss! This means that he/she can show superior results and that people who get in contact with the company will say good things about it and about him/her. This were it gets tricky, because lousy bosses will never create such a momentum among their employees. In fact, being happy is the sign of a talented boss. Therefore, it will all start with the person at the top.
This is a person who has the ability to be self-motivated and with a positive attitude towards life and work. He/she brings this to the workplace and communicates it to the employees. The boss’s competence shows already in the choice of the staff. He/she wants to be surrounded by quality people, and because of their abilities, the leader knows that they can be trusted and that all they need is clear and stimulating instructions. By delegating to good people, the happy boss is able to obtain better results faster and make the company grow faster and stronger. This dynamics of success feeds itself, as everyone can see the results. Customers are more prone to do business with this company, and talented people are interested to work there.
No wonder the boss is happy!

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


Presence: the prerequisite for leadership!

June 19, 2009

Many books have been written on leadership and you can find about anything you are looking for that explains what makes leaders be leaders.
For those who do not wish to spend time reading, a very simple quality can make a very strong impact on your group. It does not matter if this group is your employees, your family or any social group to which you belong. That quality is presence.

By being present, you send a very clear message: you are involved, you are part of your team, and you are ready to take action and responsibility. This gives a tremendous feeling of security to the members of the team who depend on you. They know that they are not left alone to deal with problems, while the “boss” stays out of the hot spot. This is quite important if you want your instructions to be followed. Rarely seeing the leader, or receiving instructions by emails or from a distance is not motivating, and makes many team members wonder what the respective roles actually are, all the more so when their level of reward is quite different from the leader’s. Such poor leadership very often goes together with a lack of positive feedback (usually such leaders are not shy on negative feedback, though), which is also perceived very poorly.

Napoleon at ArcoleA famous example of presence for a leader is the battle of the bridge of Arcola. Napoleon was still a young general and the battle against the Austrians was not going too well. The story is that Napoleon took the flag and led his troops marching on the bridge, dodging bullets. This reportedly boosted his army’s spirits; they followed him on the bridge for the direct confrontation with the enemy. The result was a strategic victory. Even though this story seems to have been embellished, as Napoleon might not have acted as heroically as the story states, it certainly has established his leadership position and it created a strong mystique about his persona.
Presence, and courage, made him bigger than life!

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


Empathy: the gentle way to get things done

June 4, 2009

Reaching outEmpathy is one of those qualities that is acknowledged as being important, but for which there is little training given. One reason probably is that empathy, like some other personality traits, one is born with it more than one can learn it. Yet, there are certain patterns that can be acquired and help people interact with their fellow men better.

What does make empathy so effective in interpersonal relationships?
Empathic people come over as more gentle and get their way more easily, because in the interaction, they take the other side’s point of view in the picture. This makes the other party more receptive to your arguments, as they have the feeling that the outcome is not a win-lose but a win-win situation. What empathy does is create a sense of mutual respect and mutual benefit. This is true as well in private life as at work.

How can someone learn to become more empathic?
This is not a simple process, as empathy is not a skill, but part of one’s personality. The starting point will always have to be the acknowledgement by the person that he/she needs to improve. To understand the impact they make by lacking empathy, they need to see how other people react to their behavior. A good way to do this is to have a video of how they interact with others. Another powerful way is to have them role-play with an instructor who will expose their behavior. Like many issues related to personality, nothing works as well as immediate feedback and correction. They also have to be able to ask themselves “what’s in it for the other party?”, as they soon will realize that they can achieve much more when their counterpart gets something out of the “deal”. Making a list of the needs and wants of both parties before going to a meeting or negotiation can be very useful, as at least the person has to put him/herself in their shoes.

How to deal with low-empathy people?
In my view, the best way is by using your empathy and figure out what their motives might be. It is also very important to be quite firm on what you want and to not give away anything without getting something in return. Assertiveness is also a powerful tool: tell them how they make you feel and what you think about that! However, the most powerful tool of them all is very likely to make them feel that they will lose more than gain by not changing. Low-empathy people do not like losing anything.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


Management & Leadership lessons from my dog – Part III: Leading the pack

June 2, 2009

After having reviewed how to communicate effectively and after having identified whom the boss should be, my dog Slider will now present her third topic, about getting the pack moving in the right direction.

Hello again dear readers,

A pack well led!

All team members executing their mission

In order to have a group that moves and acts harmoniously, the first thing is to set the rules, then make sure that the rules are understood and accepted, and finally give the  team members correct feedback swiftly and appropriately.

Settings the rules
In our dog world, no rule means my rule. Therefore, if you want to avoid total anarchy and a pack that disintegrate, you must make sure that all team members understand what you want and which behaviors they are allowed and which ones they are not. As the leader, this is your duty. You must make them clear and enforce it, meaning that you must correct improper behavior immediately. Failure to do so will send a very confusing message to our simple dog brains and we will improvise our own set of rules among ourselves.
The way to do this is rather simple, as it comes down to communication. It is all about clarity, consistency, patience, and verbal as well as non-verbal communication. For more details, I will redirect you to my first article about that particular topic.

Show integrity
Mean what you say and act accordingly. This set the example and set the standards that we want to live up to. Do not start negotiating every time we try you, because at this game, we are just smarter and better than you are. Moreover, do not start bribing us! We love it and be assured that we will ask for more, but you will never be able to get anything valuable out of us. Once you do this, you will not be the boss anymore.

Reward good behavior
This seems obvious to us dogs, but unfortunately, it rarely seems to be a spontaneous thing. Let us know when we do something right! It is not difficult to do and it makes us feel really good. When we are rewarded for doing well, we just want more reward, and you can be sure that we will do all we can to please you! Nothing works as well as celebrating a success together!

Reprimand and correct bad behavior
For as much as we understand reward, we do understand reprimand, too. Even though we might not be as smart as our human bosses, we really get the message expressed by frown, a stern look and the word “bad!”. You do not need to shout and gesticulate for minutes, and you certainly do not need to use violence. We get the message! The question is do you get our message then? You should, as our body language will show you that we feel bad about it. The only difference that I see between dogs and people when dealing with reprimand is that we, dogs, will forget about the tension rather quickly and resume our duties, while humans seem to have this tendency to grow resentment and anger. Trust me this is not worth it. A great boss will reprimand you, but will not make it a personal matter. He had expectations and they were not met. He will tell you exactly that, and he will tell you what he expects from you from now on. This is clear. You made a mistake and now you know what to do next. With a great boss, there are no hard feelings or frustration, just feedback and new objectives.

Well dear readers this conclude this short presentation. So remember, if you wish to be the boss, you must act like one!

(The opinions expressed in this article are those of the dog only, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd, but we tend to subscribe to the dog’s views more and more.)

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.