Intern Advice

A colleague of mine has recently passed her 40th work anniversary. That’s an amazing 40 years working for the same company. As part of our women’s network, she was asked to give her advice to new young women joining the company. Very inspiring stuff. In fact, it inspired me to pass on some life learning to my interns. Here goes…

  1. If plan A doesn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters! Stay cool – Claire Cook
  2. Life is either a #DaringAdventure or nothing – Helen Keller
  3. Don’t be afraid of being #Different. Be afraid of being the same as everyone else – Unknown
  4. #Don’tCompare your chapter 1 to someone else’s chapter 20.  Everyone was a beginner at some point – Unknown
  5. If you are working on something #exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed.  The vision pulls you – Steve Jobs

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Hope these inspire you!

+Alesandra Blakeston

Introduction to Lean Six Sigma & DMAIC

I’ve been asked to put together a basic (and therefore relatively quick) introduction to Lean Six Sigma & DMAIC.  While it’s not yet finished, I thought I would put it out there for people to comment on.  Since the presentation is supposed to be training material there’s more text on the slides than I would prefer, but there are a few exercises and games to get the trainees involved.

I’ve put the PowerPoint version: Lean, 6sigma and DMAIC here if you want to download it, but as I said, it’s not yet finished!  You should be able to see the slides as images in the gallery below.  You can stop and start the slideshow as you wish using the buttons.  Once complete I will also put the presentation on Slideshare.  But for now, here you go!

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Let me know what you think!
by +Alesandra Blakeston

Dealing with Mr. Negative

We’ve all been to creativity sessions.  Depending on your personality and your history, you either love them or hate them. I personally love creativity sessions.  I love the interactivity, the participation.  However I was recently at one session where there was one participant, let’s call him “Mr Negative”, constantly shot down every idea, every suggestion.  It was really frustrating.  I used every trick in my arsenal to try and get him to be more positive and in the end had to resort to “OK, I want everyone to come up with three possible benefits if we decide to use this approach.”  Subtle, no, but it got the point across, and from that point onward, the session improved.

Negativity has it’s place.  We need to be realistic and to look at the possible downsides to potential ideas, but it has to come at the right moment.  It definitely has no place when you are just starting a creativity session and are looking for a fresh approach and new ideas.  In the wrong place, negativity just kills creativity.

killing creativity

Personally, when dealing with negativity in the workplace, I prefer to use questions and listen.  Show the negative person respect, and then try to get them to re-frame their negative response in a more positive light.  I find positive aspects amongst the negativity.  I find positive solutions for the issues raised.  In creativity sessions, I have a rule that says no idea is a bad idea and no negativity until the appropriate time.  However it is a difficult topic, so I thought I would share with you 5 quick tips that help me:

  1. Avoid personalising.  Don’t take it personally, don’t give into an emotional response, regardless of the provocation.  Do not be defensive.
  2. Use “I” messages.  Instead of saying “I can’t believe you said that!”, say “I find it difficult when I hear negative feedback.”
  3. Remain professional.  Speak calmly.  Use the UAR process: Understand, listen and provide feedback in a constructive manner.  Apologise blamelessly.  Resolve the issue by specifying actions
  4. Confront the negativity.  You cannot just leave it be.  You need to address it and address it quickly
  5. Turn things around.  Negative people are also skilled at using sarcasm to destroy ideas.  When faced with sarcasm, turn it around.  If you are faced with “That is just what we need, more paperwork.” reply, “Yes, that is exactly what we need.  paperwork that is actually useful, instead of what we currently have.  Perhaps the current paperwork is the problem.  When someone lists lots of reasons why something cannot be done, ask them for positive suggestions on what could be done instead.  Be bold and be assertive!


I’d be interested in hearing how you deal with nay-sayers.  What do you hear that just kills creativity and how do you deal with it?

Alesandra Blakeston

5 tips to make the most out of collaboration

0010063532R-849x565How many times have you heard that collaboration is King?  Why?  It’s creative – each individual has a different way of looking at things, which sparks new ideas in others.

Collaboration is also useful when you have limited resources as it helps to bring together resources, people and ideas.  However, is every collaborative effort successful?  Unfortunately not.

When most people talk about tips to help collaboration, they’ll tell you about this tool, this methodology.  For me, though collaboration is about people.

So, here are 5 people oriented tips to help you make the most out of your collaborative efforts

1. There is a queen bee in every hive!

People often think that when a manager / leader is involved with true collaboration, his only role is to facilitate (Make an action or process easy or easier).  Don’t misunderstand me, facilitation has its place in every collaboration, in fact it is essential.  However, so is leadership.

nCzacjUI’ve been reading a lot about innovation recently and one of the ideas that I’ve picked up is Edward de Bono’s “Six thinking hats”.  Well worth a read if you have the chance.  The six thinking hats discuss the different roles needed for creativity.  One of those roles is the “leadership” role or “administrator” role (the blue hat).  Each collaboration needs a mediator, a time keeper, a referee.  Without this role, you could end up in anarchy.  Someone needs to solve dispute; someone needs to keep track of time scales and deadlines.

Imagine a beehive.  Each bee inside the hive has a role to play and a function.  However, without the queen nothing much would get done.  How will you know when you have achieved a task or a milestone if you don’t have a queen bee?  So if one person doesn’t immediately step forward, elect a team leader for each collaborative effort.  The team leader / blue hat role helps to focus and support the group!


2. It doesn’t take much to curdle milk

Collaboration is dependant on the people in the team and as such it doesn’t take much for it all to go sour.  Being flexible and accepting failure is vital, however if you see a problem, fix it and fast.  Unnecessary red tape, a problem team member, negativity can all cause the collaborative effort to fail.  Identify the weeds and throw them out!

Curdled milk is never salvageable   It will take you less time to identify and remove your problem areas than it will to do the project twice and it’s less damaging to your reputation!

3. Recognise your power users

955071_80397867For those of you who speak IT, you’ll know that a power user is not quite an administrator, but they have more access and more “rights” than a normal user would.  In terms of collaboration, this means that not everyone will put in the same effort and time, not everyone will contribute at the same level.  As well as identifying the problems, identify your shining stars.

Collaboration is about balance and working in concert, pairing needs and working towards (a sometimes but not always) shared goal while accomplishing smaller tasks as you go.  Thinking back to the beehive, if you had the same number of queens and warriors as you had worker bees, the end result would be a mess.  Don’t force everyone to be equal just to be perceived as fair. Give everyone their due and let people contribute what they can.

4. When 10 is not greater than 2

1259849_90935436 (Medium)If you asked someone for a definition of collaboration, they will probably start talking about team work.  We often think of collaboration as a group effort sharing the weight from beginning to end.  However, who says it cannot start small and get bigger?  Projects evolve.  People can leave, people can join as the needs arise.  Leverage the talents you require to get the job (task) done.  If someone is not needed, let them get on with something else.  For the record, teamwork and collaboration are different:

Teamwork = individuals working together for a common goal harmoniously

Collaboration = people with various goals banded together, only a few of which are usually shared

It makes sense then that your collaborative team could and should change as the goals and milestone adjust.  This will make any sudden game changers (new objectives, focus) less of a problem

5. A poor workman blames his tools

0008333352T-849x565There are some fantastic tools out there, both online and off, which can help collaboration.  There are so many tools available that make it easy to stay on top of tasks and easily collaborate with your team even if they are not all in the same room.  However they are just that.  Tools.  Without clear direction, deadlines, updates, people skills and leadership, the best tool in the world will not make your project successful.  You will get out what you put in as we say.  Or if you prefer you will reap what you sow.

In R. Keith Sawyer’s study of jazz performances, Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration, Sawyer made this observation:

“The group has the ideas, not the individual musicians.”

According to Sawyer, more often than not, true innovation emerges from an improvised process and draws from trial-by-error and many inputs, “with sparks gathering together over time, multiple dead ends, and the reinterpretation of previous ideas.”  This happens when people are involved.  Tools will only help you to get there.

Hope this helps!

Alesandra Blakeston

Delegation and me…

0010354635U-565x849I’ve been thinking about delegation a lot recently.  My work life has become very busy with the influx of the new interns, and since I’m currently recruiting to fill a vacant position in my team as well, you can imagine how hectic life is.   I’m needing to delegate more and more and I worry that I am delegating boring and repetitive tasks, rather than delegating interesting and fulfilling work that will develop the interns.

I saw this blog post yesterday by Danielle Rainbolt, which lead to an interesting post about leadership: Top 10 things I wish I knew the day I became a leader by David Peck. David lists 10 things that I also wish I had known 10, 15 years ago.  It would have made my life so much easier!  Number 7 on his list however was about delegation:

Delegation is about trusting someone with responsibility and verifying they are handling it responsibly.

Obviously I agree with this statement.  For me it is quite obvious.  However, I then went on to read another blog post, this time specifically about delegation by author wotuw8ing4.  He quotes My Coach Bob:

Delegation is about giving away a project, not giving away a task

It made me think, so I started to analyse exactly what I delegate, why I do it and how I can do it better.

0010051796Q-849x565Why should I delegate?

Primarily most people delegate because:

No one can do everything; delegating frees you up to do other tasks.  When you quit worrying about minor tasks, it allows you to do more strategic work.  Highly paid people should not be doing low-skill work

Does that sound about right?  However, I’d like to point out that just because you are highly paid, it doesn’t mean that

Someone else cannot do your work better

So as Coach Bob said, perhaps we should be delegating projects rather than tasks.  This will aid in career development for your team; they will hone their skills by doing the work, and they will feel more fulfilled.  In addition, by delegating a project, you will have even more free time than if you delegated individual tasks.  They feel empowered and a culture of trust is developed.

0010357464U-849x565So then, when don’t I delegate?

Here’s my list – obviously yours might be different:

  • When I would be annoyed by being given that task to do.  I try to live by the adage “Never ask someone to do something that you would not be prepared to do yourself.”
  • When it takes longer to explain something than it would to do something.
  • When the work is beyond someone’s capability.
  • When there is a confidentiality issue.
  • When there is a lot at stake and I want to keep the control.

Obviously, I will continue to keep in place the first point on the list, but I am going to start to challenge the other points more.  Even if it might take longer to explain, or even if it is currently beyond someone’s capability, long-term it can still be better to delegate the work.  The more trained my team is, the better they will perform.

As for the confidentiality aspect, if you don’t trust your team, well they shouldn’t be your team!

The final point is difficult for me, and I suspect for others as well.  The higher the stakes, the harder it is to trust and to delegate, especially with a team of interns who do not have the same experience in the work environment.  Still, I am going to challenge myself on this issue as well.  The more you control, the less likely your team is going to be innovative and creative.  If you allow your team to choose their projects, manage their own time, and give them latitude to make decisions and take action without consulting you first then new leaders will naturally emerge.

My delegating plan

0010791924M-1920x1280 (Medium)

I am going to try to find balance between delegating repetitive tasks and missions / projects

I am going to trust my team more

I am going to continue to expand the capabilities of my team more and delegate even when it will initially cost me more time

I am going to meddle less and allow more innovation in my team and watch as new leaders emerge

What about you?

Alesandra Blakeston

Leadership lessons from Einstein

This Thursday marks the anniversary of the birth of Albert Einstein, the legendary German theoretical physicist. Born 14th March 1879, Einstein formulated the general theory of relativity and E= mc2 among many other things. He’s also famous for a few quotes that I particularly like and which can be applied to leadership and to training:einstein

A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new

0008862371U-1920x1280 (Medium)As children we learn to walk by falling. As adults we’re expected to make less mistakes and as a result, often we’re afraid that even a minor error will make us look stupid in front of our colleagues. Instead, we try our best to be perfect, to be a good role model for our teams. However, we have to remember that we are human. Imagine a pencil without an eraser on the end. There’s a reason it’s there. We all make mistakes. Trying to look infallible in front of your team is in itself a mistake IMHO. Instead own your mistakes and learn from them. You’ll only lose the respect of your team if you either get caught lying to them (when you don’t admit your mistake) and / or you continue to make the same mistake over and over again. Be yourself. It’s how you deal with the mistakes that will mark you as a great leader, not the lack of mistakes!

In fact, a manager that doesn’t admit his mistakes is quite possibly one of the most dangerous employees to have. I read a great blog on this topic on leadership freak: Pretending it’s ok. Some of the more interesting points he raises:

Everyone struggles. Perhaps ignorance is bliss in some contexts but never in leadership.

Problems take root and grow when you close your eyes and pretend. You can’t address what you pretend isn’t there.

I also recently re-read this blog by Scott Belsky: Nobody’s perfect and why we all need a margin for error. In it, he talks about a mad day he had when he tried to plan every minute and ended up being late for everything. He sums up by saying

Ambition becomes counter-productive when you pursue your goals without the humbling realization that things seldom go as planned.


In effect, plan to make mistakes! Be flexible and be ready for change. Some of the best scientific discoveries came about by accident and so will some of your best ideas. Don’t worry so much about the errors, worry about what you can learn from them. And of course, try something new!

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results

As a student, I spent many happy hours in many laboratories. I learned how to make a hypothesis and how to test it. In fact the repeatability of the testing was actually an important step. In order to be sure of the results of the test, we had to have a good method that could be repeated accurately. As a leader, though, I have found that the opposite is often true. What will work with one person, will often have directly the opposite effect on another. I have a colleague who is great at his own work, but repeatedly fails to get management backing simply because he fails to adapt his influencing style to match that of his direct supervisor. Each time he goes to see his boss he uses the same technique; a very beautiful PowerPoint presentation coupled with an animated explanation. Whilst his delivery is always very passionate and creative, it usually lacks the numbers and data his boss requires to feel comfortable. If he changed his approach he would be more effective. Of course with a different boss, one who appreciated the creativity, he would probably also be more successful.

My advice? Watch your teammates and colleagues as they go about their daily lives. Learn what works and what doesn’t. Identify those who are successful and those that aren’t and learn from them. Watch how your managers react to different influencing styles. Change your approach to match their preferences. Of course, Einstein’s quote doesn’t just apply to influencing styles, but to other management skills as well. If one technique doesn’t work, don’t keep repeating yourself, try something new. The key is being flexible, changing and adapting.

0001948763PP-1920x1280 (Medium)Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning

I firmly believe that we are all on a journey. The person that stops learning, stops adapting and changing quickly loses their place in the stream of life. Don’t assume that because you are at the top of your field now, that you will always be at the top of your field. Keep learning, keep growing! Know yourself; know your strengths; know your weaknesses. Learn from your mistakes. Ask questions and learn how to be better tomorrow. You could be at the bottom of the pile now, but you can learn and adapt and climb to the top. One very useful Lean Six Sigma tool is the 5Ys tool. Simply put, you keep asking why until you get to the route of the problem. You can apply this technique, not just to problems, but to your daily work. Why do we do this? Why is it important? Question the status quo to improve the process. Question the customer to find out what they really want. Question your team to find out what they really need. Think continuous improvement of yourself as well as of your work! I was reminded of another quote by Einstein from SimpleTom’s blog: Once you stop learning, you start dying

The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination

0008870684V-1920x1280 (Medium)

You can memorise facts and figures. You can learn exactly how to influence people and get the most out of your team. You can know your customers’ needs backwards. However without vision, without imagination, you will go nowhere. What does success look like for you? What direction should your team go in? What is your end goal? Giving your team a vision to work towards, is not only good practice it is essential. Life is uncertain. As managers, we often make decisions based on rational concrete data. Decisions where you have all of the data are easier to make, so it’s easy to fall into the bad habit of making short term decisions that are actually bad for the long term vision. I have to admit, I am an iPad aficionado. I cannot even imagine my life without one now. Yet, just a few short years ago they didn’t exist. Without vision, they never would have. Using questions as mentioned earlier can highlight inefficiencies and problems that you didn’t even realise were there. Using imagination, you can imagine a future where the problem doesn’t exist and then help your team get there. Using imagination, you can find solutions that people didn’t even realise they needed until you gave it to them!

Alesandra Blakeston

It isn’t that they cannot see the solution!

problem warning

We’ve all been in meetings that just went round and round in circles.  You have a problem.  You are surrounded by your team, your experts and yet no-one really knows how to fix the issue.  Or what about when you are mid way through the meeting and you realise that not all of the team are working on exactly the same problem, or some are already assuming certain solutions?  It is in these moments where frustration builds, rework begins, and meetings get a bad reputation.  So, what can you do?  How can you encourage your team to creatively problem solve together without damaging egos and ensuring that the best possible solution is found?

Step 1 Define the Problem

Before the meeting, prepare an introduction to the problem.  This could be quite brief if you want the team to define the problem during the meeting, or quite in depth if you want to save time.  Of course if you want the team to define the problem, you’ll do most of this step after you start the meeting (Step 2).  Incidentally, I prefer defining the problem with the team, it’s more inclusive and helps the team to take ownership of the problem.

concept-of-palnting-an-idea-buld-on-a-beach-f5 (Medium)

Either way, before your team can start to problem solve, they need to know the exact problem.  Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.  Defining “What is the problem?” is possibly the most important and difficult step.  If not done correctly though, during the meeting each person will:

  • Think that the problem is clear
  • Assume everyone else knows that their idea of the problem exists
  • Assume everyone agrees that it is, in fact, not just a problem, but THE problem that you are discussing

This can lead to going round in circles, poor communication and to bad feeling within the team during and after the meeting.  With a background in lean six-sigma, I prefer to have a real problem statement, even though they can be so difficult to write.  As well as being concise and clear, a problem statement should help create that sense of ownership for the team, and describe the problem in measurable terms (money, time, customers / personnel affected, processes / regulations broken, or other important metrics).  It should not: assign blame, assign cause, offer a solution, or be too broad!  The problem statement should cover:

What the problem is

Who the problem affects

When the problem occurs

Where it is a problem

(You will look at the How and Why in the next steps.)

Step 2 Prepare the meeting

file000468553399 (Medium)

Only invite the persons absolutely necessary to solving your problem. Without exception, there should be a specific role for every attendee.  In turn, they should have a purpose related to the problem and / or you expect that they will contribute directly to its solution.  Tempting as it may be to include everyone, the meeting will be far more productive if everyone present plays a strategic role.  A time will come to present to the company at large; around the same time as when you implement the solution.  At the moment though, peripheral personnel do not belong in the meeting.  Send out your meeting invitations, using doodle or similar to agree on a time and date.  Make sure you allocate enough time for the brain storming and that your team will not be distracted with other deadlines or pressures during the meeting.  As part of the invitation, include the brief problem description or problem statement and ask that they bring any documentation or evidence which might help to analyse and solve the issue.

Step 3 Start your meeting

Begin the meeting by explaining the reason for the meeting (the brief explanation or the problem statement) and how long you expect the meeting to last.  This one act will go a long way toward communicating that you yourself are disciplined, you expect discipline from them in turn and that you respect your team’s time and commitment.

Then define the rules of the meeting.  This helps to prevent bad feeling and communication issues and will prevent at least some loss of time.  Incidentally, research from Epson and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) has found workers waste two hours and 39 minutes in meetings every week, and it’s costing businesses an estimated £26 billion a year!file0001011985902 (Medium)

  • Identify who is going to be responsible for what during the meeting (taking meeting minutes, being the “speaker” / “facilitator”)
  • Decide how you are going to make decisions and how you are going to communicate in general: parliamentary style (majority rules, but everyone gets a say) or an open floor debate etc.
  • Ban complaints, assigning blame and defensive comments during the meeting.  I find this helps people to be more productive if they are not trying to explain why something happened in their area or feeling as though they have to shift responsibility.  Instead try to keep optimism in high supply.

Then define the problem, either from the problem statement you created earlier, or get your team to define it.  Once this is done, check that everyone agrees with the problem statement.

Step 4 Analyse the problem

Once you’ve got an agreed definition, the rest becomes easier.  First define a timescale for this stage of the meeting. Hopefully, everyone has brought with them the documentation and supporting evidence you requested in the invitation. The facilitator / speaker (as well as you) should encourage everyone to participate, at least until everyone has gotten past their initial reservations.  Once this is done, the facilitator may need to keep order!  Use the Five Y approach to ask the “Why” question as many times as is necessary to get to the bottom of the problem.  Support the “Why”s with “How”s and encourage the team to explain their thought processes.  Use control and run charts and statistical software where necessary, but be aware that this kind of analysis along with pre-prepared PowerPoint presentations etc, can stifle creativity.

file8851246481245 (Medium)

Instead, with the group, assess, evaluate and analyse the validity of the possible route causes.   Use flip charts, white boards, post-it notes, different coloured pens, to categorise, group and connect the possible causes.  Use Blu-Tack or sticky tape to hang the sheets around the walls. Slowly remove post-its or ideas off the board or even the sheets themselves as the team agrees that it is not a root cause.  Expand and then make new headings or lists to condense / refine the ideas.  Allow no possibility to be ignored / dismissed and prevent others from pouring scorn on / laughing at the crazier suggestions (some of the best ideas come initially from crazy ideas – and additionally people will not participate if their suggestions are openly criticised). Diplomatically combine or include the weaker ideas within other themes to avoid dismissing or rejecting contributions.

Step 4 Establish criteria

Once you have got an agreed route cause, define exactly what criteria will define what a solution will look like.  This should go much quicker than the previous stage.  What exactly are you trying to achieve?  What exactly will it look like when the problem is solved?  Be as specific as possible, using techniques like SMART objectives etc.  Some of this can be expanded on from the problem definition stage, the rest of it will come from your team.

Step 5 Generate possible solutions

Once again, as per the analysis stage, define a timescale for the solution generation stage.  Continue to encourage everyone to participate; during the random collection of ideas the facilitator must record every suggestion on the flip-chart and post the sheets around the room again.  At the end of the time limit or when ideas have been exhausted, connect and link the random solutions.

file591263254235 (Medium)Step 6 Evaluate possible solutions

Using the post-its and flip charts again, SWOT analysis or similar,  develop and prioritise the possible solutions into a more finished list:

  • Estimate the costs involved and the time taken.
  • Identify the solutions that are most likely to succeed.
  • Identify the maximum improvement possible with each solution.
  • Identify what might go wrong.
  • Give each possible solution a score.
  • Agree on a final solution.

Step 7 Assign actions

Now that you have a solution, you can identify the actions that must be taken to solve the problem, the person responsible for implementing each tactic and the deadlines.  This is general meeting fare, but it is why having selected the right personnel to attend the meeting in the first place is key.  It will be these persons that are responsible for putting in place the solution.  Develop a contingency plan (just in case) and arrange to meet again to review the results.  You could even open a shared database or similar to allow each team member to keep current with progress.

Final points

Getting your team away from the usual PowerPoint / Excel based meeting is at first difficult.  Your teams will not necessarily be comfortable breaking out of their usual routine and may be hesitant at first to suggest ideas and be creative.  You’ll need a lot of energy and a lot of time initially, but once the routine is broken, the possibilities for creativity are endless!  Less time will be wasted talking and re-talking and instead more concrete solutions will be found.  Once your team has got the idea, you’ll be able to step back and leave them to it, simply monitoring the progress and watching as your team looks at the problem instead of the solution.
Solution warning

Alesandra Blakeston

10 common mistakes made by managers and leaders

Firstly, let me point out that not all managers are leaders, and not all leaders are managers.  While the two should in my opinion go hand in hand, often they don’t.  To make the distinction clear before I start talking about mistakes:1065245_79106935 (Medium)

  • a leader is innovative, bringing in new ideas and heralds change, 
    a manager administers and keeps things constant
  • leaders generally inspire trust,
    managers control
  • a leader asks “why” and “what”,
    a manager asks “how” and “when”

For me, the best manager is also a leader.  He knows when to give his people direction, giving them a vision to be inspired by and also when to tighten the reins and control what is going on.  Basically, using the toolkit of both to ensure the team’s objectives and company strategies are met.

However, we all know a manager, a leader that doesn’t quite cut it.  What is it that makes them so bad?

  1. Efficiency before effectiveness1198416_98477822 (Medium)
    Some managers are so focused on the short term objectives, they forget the longer game.  Occasionally this leads to the team heading in the wrong direction.  This often occurs when the manager is a “pleaser” (doesn’t know how to say no to others, wants to be liked).  The manager gets the team involved in something that will please someone else, but long term isn’t good for the team or the company. This need to be efficient, instead of being effective is shortsighted and contrary to what the company needs.  Don’t be afraid to take risks and to say no even to superiors.  They’ll appreciate it in the long term.
  2. Failing to define goals
    This can happen for many reasons.  Sometimes the manager is new and is too afraid of rocking the boat or of looking stupid to give his team clear objectives.  Other times, the manager forgets that what’s in his head is not necessarily crystal clear to his team.  It is essential whether new or not, to have a clear vision of where your team is heading and to ensure that that vision is not only communicated, but that it is broken down into manageable tasks that can be measured.
  3. Hoardingmanager2
    A manager that wants to keep all of the glory for himself, is in my humble opinion one of the worst types of manager out there. This manager doesn’t delegate often and when he does, he micromanages to the point where the team is strangled, unable to make a move without him. Some manager’s actually believe that this is the only way to run their teams. They neither trust, not respect their people. This is where the leadership side of the role should kick in though. Get to know your team’s strengths and weaknesses, define their goals and trust them to do their part of the task. If you keep all of the work for yourself, not only are you a stroke waiting to happen, but your team will under-perform to the level you expect and begin to resent the controls placed upon them.
  4. Not walking the talk
    Also known as not walking the walk or not practicing what you preach. If you constantly arrive late, if you use work time to resolve personal issues, your team will too. You have to be the example that your team should strive to become.  Encourage them to aim high, by aiming high yourself.  Don’t expect more of your team than of yourself, and don’t ask someone to do something that you are not also willing to do.
  5. Being over friendlystamp-out-competition-winner-victor-winning-strategy-concept-f4
    As a manager you cannot be everyone’s friend. In fact you should expect to be disliked some of the time. Please note I didn’t say all of the time. In addition to learning when to say no, you also need to put the company’s needs first. This is regardless of your personal feelings for your team.  Just because you think one team member is really nice or that you feel sorry for them and their family, doesn’t mean you should overlook the fact that they are behind schedule or that they are simply not performing. Be fair to them, to yourself and to the company.
  6. Misunderstanding the team’s motivation
    If you want someone to do something, you need to know how to motivate them. Perhaps they are interested only in their paycheck. Perhaps they are looking for greater recognition or advancement at work. Whatever they are looking for, you need to help them find it. If you ask someone to do something without using WIIFM (what’s in it for me), it will surely fail. Get to know your team, what drives them, where they are heading
  7. Lack of feedback
    Whilst micromanaging should be avoided, so also should a lack of managing. Managers who don’t take the time to give their teams meaningful feedback can end up with projects spinning out of control, heading in directions that the customer doesn’t want. Feedback should also be both positive and negative. If your team has done well celebrate, as the manager who only gives negative feedback is also bound to fail. Above all, whether positive or negative, give the feedback in a timely manner and remember to be respectful.
  8. Hurrying recruitmentPile of Hands
    This is my personal favourite. Taking the time to get the right candidate for the position is essential. This can mean that some work has to be put on hold until the new incumbent is in position and it can mean some objectives need to be stretched and / or reassigned.  However in the long term, having the right candidate means they are more likely to stay, and you will see clear benefits from their work and motivation.
  9. Forcing competition among team members
    Some managers use bullying techniques and / or set their team members in a race against each other to see who will succeed. This results in zero-team working and engenders a tense atmosphere in the workplace.  Instead, conflict should be addressed early and cooperation between team members should be encouraged. Don’t be afraid to tackle the conflict, instead provide a secure base for your team and encourage them to branch out and embrace change.
  10. Being inaccessible and unavailable1168056_89855414
    We all know that manager whose door is always closed, who runs from one senior management meeting to the next, rarely having time to chat with his team or even to encourage them. Leaders who assign tasks and walk away have in a sense abandoned their people to chance. This doesn’t mean you need to react immediately to every small point, instead create channels of communication and set time aside to meet your team’s needs.  Delegation is key.


Alesandra Blakeston

How to energise your team

Now that the New Year celebrations are over and work is getting back to it’s usual routine, what kind of picture does your team paint?  Are they energised and ready to succeed, or do they look a little lackluster?


I’m sure that like most people, you know someone who lost their job last year or perhaps the company you work for became very lean with everyone doing multiple jobs, feeling under qualified and over stressed.  In an environment such as this it’s difficult to be motivated.  And yet you need to find a way to keep your team happy and provide incentives for them to achieve their goals.  So what can you do?  How can you inspire your team to ever greater heights?


The real Gene Kranz
The real Gene Kranz

I recently attended a training course on leadership.  As part of the course we watched a small segment from the film Apollo 13.  We were asked to analyse the actions, words, body language and demeanor of the flight director Gene Kranz.  For those that do not know the story, the film is based on historical fact.  The service module of the NASA Apollo 13 shuttle exploded while in Space.  Gene Kranz and his team worked with the astronauts to bring them all back home safe.  It’s a very inspiring story and as a visionary leader, Gene Kranz is amazing.  Below you will find some of the more memorable quotes from the film:

Gene Kranz:  We’ve never lost an American in space, we’re sure as hell not gonna lose one on my watch! Failure is not an option.

Gene Kranz:  Let’s work the problem people. Let’s not make things worse by guessing.

NASA Director:  This could be the worst disaster NASA’s ever faced.
Gene Kranz: With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.

Gene Kranz:  I don’t care about what anything was DESIGNED to do, I care about what it CAN do.

Can you see the Vision he was building for his team?  Would you be energised by these words or deflated?  Personally I was inspired.  Of course not all of these phrases were said by the real Gene Kranz, but they were inspired by the very real work that he did and by his character.

1305802_56051491Model good behaviour

If you want your team to behave in a certain way, you have to model it for them.  No-one is going to be inspired or motivated if you aren’t.  Talk is cheap as they say.  If your actions don’t match your words, your vision; no one is going to believe them.  Model the behaviour you told people you want to see from them.  If you want them energised, be energised yourself.  If you want them interested in new ideas, be interested yourself!  Be optimistic.  Stop complaining.  If you can’t do it yourself, your team never will.

Assume intelligence

Show respect for your team members.  Assume they know what they are doing.  If you assume your team are idiots and act accordingly, that is the behaviour you will receive.  People generally live down to your expectations.  Expect more and you will receive more.  In addition, don’t assume that your way of doing something is the only way.  One of my favourite quotes by General Patton sums it up nicely: Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.  You are not omnipotent.  Just because your way is fast, doesn’t mean that someone else cannot do the same task in a different way just as fast or even faster.

Active listening

Another way to show respect is to listen to your team members.  Active listening involves being attentive to what you are being told, rephrasing what you hear and feeding it back to the speaker to ensure that you have understood.  In this way you can find common ground and have effective communication.  The speaker feels that you are  interested in them and what they are doing.  Once you’ve established and fully understood their message, ask them questions based on what they have told you.  Expand your knowledge until you have a clear understanding of the whole.  Use open questions.  Open questions begin with such as: what, why, how, describe.  For example “Why is that so important to you?” or “Describe for me what is happening.” can be used effectively to help you draw the correct conclusions and then troubleshoot.

Focus on the people, not on the numbers


We can all get lost in statistics.  Sales are down 5%.  We need 2% more revenue.  Compared with 2012, we have 6% more market share, but 12% less sales volumes.  Number are easy to deal with.  People have feelings, emotions and are much more difficult to control.  However, sales may be down by 5%, but that doesn’t mean that your sales team is being less productive.  Instead, acknowledge what your team is doing, express your thanks for their hardwork, build up the team relationship.  For all you know, your team could be working long hours, be missing important personal events to try and bring that percentage back to the target.  Be aware of the sacrifices your team is making and make sure that they are recognised for it.

Focus on the small wins

You want to create a positive atmosphere, but in the current financial climate it is difficult to see the positive.  Instead focus on the small wins.  By all means, acknowledge the failures, but don’t dwell on them.  Celebrate the successes of your team, giving them the confidence they need to move to more larger objectives and hopefully more larger successes.

file0001581122585You might also want to consider giving your team praise before they deserve it.  You may have heard the old grass adage: You tell the grass, When you grow, and only after you grow, will I then give you water.  The same is true of people.  Encourage your team.  Give them praise and they will flourish.

Remind them what is important and why

Occasionally we all get lost in the detail.  We struggle to remember why we are doing what we are doing.  It’s simply what we have always done.  Instead of letting your people get lost in the repetition, remind them why all the hard work is necessary.  Keep the vision first and foremost in their minds.  The how is not so important.  No-one wants to spend hours on a project that has no meaning or value.If they can understand why it needs to be done, they will be more willing to do it and to do it well.

1100296_37964744So long as the vision remains constant, encourage your team to mix it up. For example, you could ask team members to switch responsibilities. New to the role, with a fresh set of eyes, not only will they not be bored, but they could find new and improved methods of working.  What is meat and potatoes to one man, could be another’s caviar.  Of course, recognising what skills your team members have and how they can be utilised is key in this endeavour.  There’s no point asking a quiet and shy team member to play the role of an aggressive sales person.  You’ll only demoralise them.

Fill the void

Finally, if your company is in financial difficulties, then it’s even more difficult to keep your team motivated.  If you’ve downsized or you’re on the threat of bankruptcy, there’s a real danger of your workers simply keeping their heads down. Rather than working hard, trying to be noticed, a culture of getting by emerges.


In this case, all of the techniques above can help you, but it’s also important to address the main issues.  When workers don’t have clear communication regarding what is happening to them and the company, uncertainty creeps in.  They are afraid of being noticed, because being noticed could have negative consequences.  The lack of clear communication creates a void.  rather than letting this void be filled with gossip, rumour and negative complaints, fill it with clear concise communication, so that everyone knows what is happening and why.