CNN – TED Talk – Big bonuses do not mean big results

March 2, 2010

Really interesting presentation that makes you think on HR policies and performance.

http://www.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/03/02/pink.motivation.bonuses/index.html?hpt=C2


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.


The ten signs that people are happy at work

October 9, 2009

In no particular order, people who are happy at work show the following symptoms:

  • Happy at work!They are happy to go to work; they do not suffer from stress or fear about it.
  • They smile and laugh at work.
  • They greet and interact socially with their colleagues.
  • They are rarely on sick leave, only when it is serious.
  • They do not think of leaving their employer.
  • They talk positively about their work, their boss and their company.
  • They bring new ideas to their colleagues and boss.
  • They have little physical or mental need to take a vacation; they are not burnt out.
  • They do not gossip and they do not do office politics.
  • Last, but not least: they are happy in their personal lives, too.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


The importance of a cohesive team

August 10, 2009

Helping each other creates cohesion and successIn sports, everybody knows the importance of having a group of talented people who can play together harmoniously for the interest of the group. Not only must the team members be good at their specialty, but they also must have the understanding of the other players’ needs and skills, so that they can create for them opportunities to score. Moreover, everybody understands in sports the crucial role of the coach to create the proper interaction to achieve success. Terms as goals, help and support are common.

In business, having such cohesive teams, although always mentioned as very important, tends in many cases to be suboptimal. Many companies perform below what they should and could perform, simply because the interconnection and the fostering of the relationships are very often neglected. It almost looks like everyone sticks to their job description, on which by the way the nature of the interaction with colleagues is not even mentioned. Recruiting people and telling them what they have to do without telling them with whom and how to achieve the goals together will simply not deliver good results. When you take a look at reward systems, you will see that it generally never include collective goals, except the very general profit. Most of the time, bonuses are based on individual performance indicators that usually ignore the performance indicators of your direct colleagues.

Sport or business, the principles are the sameSo, how to achieve superior performance and build cohesive teams across departments? Actually, it is rather simple, at least in theory. Just copy what they do in sports. They draw charts about the strategy to reach the goal and beat the opponent. They review it together, and everybody gets to hear what their specific role is going to be. They will have to pay attention to what the adversary’s moves are and they will develop alternative strategies to deal with them. Everyone in the team knows their function, and most importantly, they know what their fellow team members will do for them and what they expect from them. Further, the coach is present on the sidelines and is very vocal giving instructions at once all the time as the game develops. Unfortunately, such a presence and such a hands-on support are often missing in business, because the coach is in a meeting.

Of course, running a business is not quite like playing the main event game, but they are simple ways to create that sense of support and quick reaction to changing situations and applying alternative plans. One of the most effective approaches to create cohesive teams in business is to develop the supplier-customer partnership at all levels of your organization (see our presentation about this subject). Everyone must know what the colleagues needs are and must communicate what their own needs are as well. This shortens discussions as there is clarity created beforehand and it enhances a sense of anticipation by all participants, as they will recognize what to supply their team members with in a timely manner. Last, but not least, creating and sustaining cohesive teams requires a strong hands-on leadership (read Presence: the prerequisite for leadership).

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


The confusion between perfection and excellence

July 2, 2009

Always betterWhen hiring people, I have heard many times their claiming to be perfectionists, either as one of their top three qualities or one of their top three “weaknesses”. Actually, it has always sounded to me like everyone wants things to be “perfect” all the time.
On the other hand, I very rarely have heard anyone mentioning the word “excellence”. This is strange, because many of the “perfectionists” are not really looking for perfection, but they simply want to do an excellent job.
So, what is the difference between the two terms? Actually, it is very simple. Since nobody can define what perfection exactly means, perfection cannot be attained, and therefore should not be set as a goal. On the contrary, excellence, because it is a dynamic and relative concept can be translated rather easily into performance objectives that can be quantified.
Perfection is the quest of an abstract absolute, while excellence is the desire to constantly improve. Therefore, the so-called perfectionists can be split into two groups: the bitter idealists and the driven achievers.
Members of the first group are easy to identify, as they are never satisfied and always have to criticize or blame something or someone for the according-to-them unsatisfying performance. What is also remarkable is that they never seem to make mistakes and they are in never the cause for any problem. They tend to have a negative attitude and they never are happy.
Members of the second group are quite different. They, too, are difficult to satisfy, not so much because performance is below expectations, but because they see ways of doing better or of having been able to do better. Their attitude is generally positive and they are always ready to go again to improve things. Their main motivation is to do beat the previous record and certainly to always beat the competitors. They also do not waste their time blaming, justifying or criticizing, and if they realize that they performance is not good, they will feel mortified and they will take action themselves to correct the situation and meet their goals. Their drive and their knowledge that tomorrow is the other day when they will do better keeps them optimistic, happy and stimulating.
So, if you want superior performance, choose your group! Be enthusiastic, shake things, never give and deliver the goods! Do not focus on why things went wrong, bring solutions and fix the problems!

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


I want to hear laughter!

June 17, 2009

Here is the best anti-stress medicine I know: laughter. I have applied it in my professional life as well as in my personal life and it works superbly, and there is no negative side effects known to man.

Hahaha!I have spent a long part of my career in industries dealing with perishable products. Per definition, such products cannot be stored for very long and this makes the business dynamics quite intense, and often stressful, as “everything must go” and for a profit, mind you. Therefore, my assignment to them, next to (or I should say as part of) doing the job was to make me hear some laughter. It did not matter what the reason would be, as long as there would be fun. In that line of work, we were lucky to be able to find many reasons to laugh because we were dealing with colorful characters and we could easily find the funny absurdities of the business. The head office would involuntarily also provide for much material to us as well. If my staff would not laugh frequently enough to my liking, I would pop in and bring some craziness of my own to help them out.
The results were amazing. With a small team (comparatively to other units of the company or to competitors), we were able to deliver a performance second to none, we were able to solve more problems than the others were, and we were having fun. Even as we worked long hours, nobody burned out. On the contrary, success was constantly bring new and more energy to our team. Once again, the boring, unimaginative and bureaucratic HR department was wrong.
Managing is getting things done by your team. Therefore, you had better take good care of your people, and the best way to do that is to have them laugh on the job. It means that they are having fun, and when you are having fun at work, it does not feel like work. Good managers know what is right for their business. Have them laugh!

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.