Don’t request the sacrifice, accept the offering

Don’t request the sacrifice, accept the offering

How do you get the best out of people? It has long been a question in business, with many varied opinions and points of view.

Is it through motivation, reward, incentive? Does it result from creating the right working environment? Is it all or none of these things? My feeling is we are asking the wrong question. We shouldn’t be seeking to draw the most out of people, but rather have them be willing to offer as much as possible.

Everyone has different expectations on what is normal acceptable effort. If we set our own measures on what we want out of our people, then neither party is content. There is either more to be offered, or there is a feeling that expectations are too high.

Alternatively, we can build relationships with people and make them feel committed and willing to contribute. We can show them how their efforts positively impact on others and the business overall. We can create a sense of belonging and have them recognise that what is good for the business is good for them.

This is what brings the best out of people. Achieve these things and the best outcome will be delivered. There will be no reluctant, unsustainable sacrifice, just a willing, ongoing offering.

Promoting the Value for Money Proposition

Promoting the Value for Money Proposition

Professionals, and more particularly consultants, are in a privileged position of providing services to clients that can have a significant influence on the client’s success, both commercially and reputationally.

However, in engineering as with other professions, the true value of a professional’s service is being misunderstood or more concerningly, ignored.

For reasons that are unclear to most in the profession, decisions involving the choice of consultants and the role they play in an outcome seem to be mutually exclusive in the eyes of many decision makers.

Choices seem to be made on the basis that irrespective of who is engaged, the same outcome will eventuate. For some informed and sophisticated clients this is clearly fantasy, but alarmingly many clients do not understand or recognise the true impact of their naivety.

So, the first step to promoting value for money is ensuring the client acknowledges that decisions produce different outcomes.

Secondly, making a decision with respect to professional appointments carries accountability, without any guarantees or surety of a particular result. Those deciding who to entrust as their consultants are often fulfilling this role on behalf of others. Here lies a further challenge in authentic decision making. The problem is not in the ability to decide, it is in the avoidance of making a decision that carries both accountability and uncertainty.

With more regularity we see decisions being made that are easy to justify, but fundamentally flawed.

When a decision is made by an individual for the pure benefit of the individual, there is comfort in accepting responsibility for that decision. You generally choose a Doctor, Accountant, Lawyer or Dentist for specific reasons; sometimes based on referral, but rarely based on price.

When choosing certain products such as a house, car, boat or even clothes, price range matters but value for money usually governs.

So, the final key step to promoting value for money is to engage directly with clients and individualise the decision-making process. Allow the client to carry the responsibility and only be accountable to themselves, with full self-acceptance that by making the decision, they are realising true value for money.

Where should the priority lie? Product or Service?

Where should the priority lie? Product or Service?

Most professionals know exactly how to execute their skills and deliver a high quality product. But what about providing a service to their clients? How much formal training do professionals receive in understanding and executing the highest level of service? Do they really understand its value and importance?

I’ve always been a strong believer in prioritising service for 3 simple reasons, and they all relate to the client.

Firstly, in many instances, clients don’t have an intimate understanding of our skills or how we go about our craft, therefore have limited ability to assess what we do. When it comes to service however, they have all the knowledge required to assess and evaluate our performance. Everyone knows what they want when it comes to service.

Secondly, in professional services, comparisons of product are very hard to determine. Rarely are two situations the same. Comparing service is much easier. An unreturned phone call or broken commitment can be easily related and assessed against others.

Lastly, poor service can’t be rectified. Returning a phone call too late or not delivering on an undertaking is irreversible. Rectifying an incomplete or sub-standard product can be fixed and made good later.

So as professionals, once we understand the importance of service, we can then afford it the attention and priority needed. Well, almost.

There is one key ingredient in implementing the highest level of service, and that centres around the client’s expectations. Without effective management on what is expected as good service, meeting those expectations is extremely difficult. As we all know, unrealistic expectations can never be met. The key to good service is not delivering quicker or working harder, it’s managing the client’s perception of what is realistic and achievable.

So next time you have a time commitment that can’t be met because the product isn’t ready, what will you do? Will you let the client down on service and deliver the finished product late, or will you deliver the unfinished product on time?

The real answer is; you should have agreed earlier with the client that the product would take longer to deliver.

Should “Blood, Sweat and Tears” be replaced with “Fun, Tech and Fears”?

Should “Blood, Sweat and Tears” be replaced with “Fun, Tech and Fears”?

As society changes and workplaces adjust, things that were considered acceptable not that long ago can quickly fall out of favour, or be considered inappropriate. Similarly, terminology and words that were part of our everyday vocabulary now have little meaning or relevance.

“Taping” a TV show is now an incorrect term. We “record” or simply catch-up via the internet. When was the last time you bought a postcard? Do young people of today even understand the concept of buying a picture while on holidays and posting it by snail mail? Is the term “postcard view” obsolete?

In previous generations, there was value attached to hard work, uncompromising commitment and the school of hard knocks. People accepted that to get somewhere in life, “blood, sweat and tears” were non-negotiable consequences. But this is no longer the case.

Let’s look at the term “blood”. The uncompromising commitment to work is no longer accepted in the workplace as appropriate. Due to a greater (and better) balance of responsibilities between life partners in the household and in the parenting of children, the value attached to a differing work life balance has dramatically changed.

The staid and structured work environment has also changed significantly, along with formality. Now we expect flexibility within a casual environment. We want to enjoy work, not bleed.
“Blood” has been replaced by “Fun”.

Hard work used to be directly related to success. It was respected, admired and rewarded in the workplace. In some ways, it is now frowned upon. There is often pity bestowed on the hardworking individual for not having a life outside of work.

Technology has taken over. It’s not about working harder. It’s about working smarter. “Sweat” has been replaced by “Tech”.

And the final change that has occurred lies within the expectation of tears at some point along the journey. Where previously motivation was sourced through the desire to avoid humiliation, or to avoid a berating from a work colleague, we now live in the uncertainty of factors outside the workplace.

The workplace has become a protected zone and in its place, external factors are at play. We now face constant concern that things are moving too fast. Disruption is at the forefront of our minds; information overload provides us with too much irrelevance and distracts us from what should be our focus.

We don’t shed “tears”in the workplace anymore, we live in the “fear” that our jobs may be extinct in the near future.

So, is society and the workplace better for these changes? Of course, it is. The challenge lies in how we adjust to these changes. In some instances, changes need no thought. It’s easy to stop buying postcards. Other changes need conscious consideration and adaption.

Reward vs Motivation

Reward vs Motivation

There is a saying that “Chocolates should be the reward, not the motivation. If they are the motivation, then you just get fat!”

In business, and in team environments, this simple philosophy has proven over and over again to be the foundation of success. The opposite may provide short term benefits, but ultimately leads to failure.

It is critical for leaders to understand the difference between reward and motivation and recognise that it is not the same for everyone.

Over many years I have witnessed a shift in what motivates people at similar ages and what they value as reward. For differing generations, the motivation also varies. As a business grows, the opportunities for people within that business also change. This leads to the organisation attracting different people, who are motivated by different things. Small firms tend to attract people that value responsibility, intimacy, autonomy and flexibility. Larger firms tend to attract team players that are comfortable with structure, defined roles and who value job security.

Previously, young professionals were motivated by setting a career path and committing totally to the ultimate outcome. In more recent times, young professionals have a broader outlook towards their career and a greater focus on balancing life inside and outside of work.

Reward for young people has also changed. While financial recompense and career progression will always be important, today it is critical that young people feel valued and acknowledged in ways other than just by money.

As a professional’s career develops, the motivation also changes. Early in a career there is a focus on gaining recognition, building reputation, learning and developing skills. Later in one’s career, the focus shifts to working with likeminded people, tenure and work environment.

Understanding these differences, and being able to respond as the motivation changes within people over time and from generation to generation is not easy. Rewarding them appropriately based on these differences also adds to the complexity. Doing all of this within a growing business can become quite a challenge to get right. For businesses that rely heavily on people, success is based on maintaining an environment that satisfies all.

While it is easy to generalise in an attempt to articulate thoughts and concepts, it is wrong to assume there is strong demarcation between groups, or that within groups characteristics are common to all.

The key ingredient in creating the right environment is to treat people individually, with a full understanding of what motivates them and the best way to reward them. Achieve this, and not only will everyone get some chocolate, but it will taste a whole lot sweeter!

While there is plenty of literature around the characteristics of varying generations, all of which is relatively sound in its general assessment, my experience is that by treating people individually without bias or assumption, you maximise the opportunity of rewarding them appropriately. Understanding how to motivate them is no different. Individualise the approach, and the reward will be there for all to share.

In a professional environment, career development is fundamental to motivation and reward. There are constants, irrespective of generation and stage. These include the desire to be successful and the sense of progression. What does change is the measures of success and the definition of progress.

Please or Thankyou… What’s the better approach?

Please or Thankyou… What’s the better approach?

There are many reasons why some businesses have more success than others. Culture, fiscal discipline, the best people, effective marketing, good systems and procedures, value for money; they are all important, and all must be addressed and managed effectively.

While these aspects of a business need constant monitoring and individually contribute to success, there needs to be an overarching philosophy and approach that sets the framework for making sound decisions around these contributors.

The concept needs to be holistic, broad enough to cover the critical aspects of your business, and yet clear enough to provide definition.

In professional services, as with most businesses, the client (customer) ultimately measures performance. They determine and are the adjudicators of your reputation, your value for money proposition, your quality and service and ultimately your financial success.

So, it seems logical then to focus decision making for your business around the best outcome for the client, as opposed to best outcome for your business. To many this may sound the same, but there are distinct differences. To others, or in some instances, they may appear conflicting.

The key is being able to recognise and make decisions that are best for the client, without being to the detriment of the business.

Maintaining discipline around this approach can lead to some significant changes in the way you run your business. It can be simple and obvious decisions, such as allocating the right people for the client, marketing to the clients you want to work with, building relationships with clients that understand your value proposition.

A deeper more sophisticated approach to this philosophy involves thinking like your client. Understand your clients’ business, and the risks your client needs to manage. How can you help them manage this risk? This realisation changes the way you service your clients.

What are your clients’ expectations? Does a particular system or procedure benefit the client? If not, why are you doing it?

Does the client want you to take problems away from them or create more problems? The answer will determine how you interact with your client and how you do your work.

Does a client want to be harassed for business, or do they want to be helped and thanked? The answer is obvious. Clients shy away from being harassed, but embrace engagement with problem solvers.

So, spend less time asking for something and more time helping.

Thankyou beats Please every time.

Workplace Diversity

What does it mean to commit to Workplace Diversity?

Diversity…should the type of underwear matter?

When talking about diversity, too many people just think about gender. While this is a good starting point, the topic is much broader and holistic than simply focusing on the benefits of gender mix.

There is no doubt, creating a work environment suitable for both males and females is critical to any successful business. However, when it comes to diversity, there are two important points that I believe must remain the focus of all organisations:

  1. Having balanced numbers of males and females is not indicative enough of a diverse workplace.
  2. Personal characteristics other than gender are far more critical in assessing the true diversity of the group.

In relation to my first point, I see many organisations purely driven quantitatively; proudly announcing their commitment to and success in gender diversity by boasting numbers.

What these firms should be asking is not “How many males or females do we have,” but rather “What type of males and females do we have?” Without selecting people with diverse characteristics, and without creating a work environment that accommodates all types of people, you run the risk of having equal numbers of males and females that share common qualities. They may be predominantly extroverts, they may all thrive in a highly competitive environment, and they may predominantly embrace confrontation. So, while the numbers may look good, the type of people in your organisation is narrow and limiting. You’d be missing out on the introverts, the team players and the people that develop others.

To assume people will approach these things differently because of their gender, goes against a fundamental principle of good diversity management.

To address my second point – what is the value of a strong gender mix if all the people, irrespective of gender, behave, think, communicate, learn and respond in the same way?

In fact, to assume they will do all these things differently because of their gender, is showing perceived bias, and goes against a fundamental principle of good diversity management.

So for me, there are two very clear commitments to diversity that leaders should make for their organisations:

  1. Ensure there are no assumptions or biases in the selection and development of people.
  2. Ensure the work environment accommodates all people.

Do these things well, and the group will be diverse; they will feel comfortable, and they will want to stay.

Very simple statements, but profoundly powerful actions.

In some industries and professions like Engineering, the number of women is alarmingly low. In other industries, the number of males is deficient. My belief is that this is due to false and inappropriate perceived assumptions and bias. The imbalance requires addressing not because the numbers should be equal, but because these behaviours contradict the principles of managing diversity. It clearly requires attention from two perspectives:

Employers need to eliminate assumptions and bias in the workplace, and industry needs to educate the pool of talent in the understanding that the profession or type of work is suitable for all people…irrespective of what type of underwear you have on.

Key Factors for Innovation

Key Factors for Innovation

Innovation. The buzz word of the decade.

It’s the spin from all organisations, whether private or public, primary, secondary or tertiary producers; all sectors, all industries.

It’s a state of mind and an approach to your work.

What’s so new about it?

In engineering, it’s the cornerstone of what we do. It’s been there forever. We’re trained as professionals to act and think in this way. It’s a state of mind and an approach that allows us to do our job well.

So, what can be learned from the way engineers go about their work? What aspects are critical to innovation? My experience, and the results of our approach, have led me to the following conclusions.

Primarily, as with most things, it starts with employing the right people. Not only those who are capable, but also have confidence in their ability, along with intellectual and emotional intelligence.

Secondly, it’s critical to create an environment that allows innovation to occur. This requires a diverse group of people who can collaborate in an open and non-judgemental way, without the confines of perceived power and privilege.

It’s critical to create an environment that allows innovation to occur.

And thirdly, the culture of encouraging and embracing innovation must be instilled in the group. This very much comes from within, and requires investment and leadership. It requires acceptance of risk that is managed by strong ability, sound decision making and good judgement.

Leading an organisation to be innovative relies on clear understanding of what defines innovation and how to measure it. In my mind, innovation is about creating ideas, not implementing change. It’s an approach to thinking, not adopting something new or adapting new technology. There must be a clear understanding within the group, that everyone is expected to think this way, accepting that it may take a bit longer and potentially lead to some inefficiencies, without any guarantee of immediate reward. These messages and understandings are critical to a sincere and committed approach to innovation.

It’s about asking “what if we try this” rather than saying “we can’t do that because.”

Measuring the effectiveness of innovation based on a return on investment is flawed. The benefits are far too influential at all levels of the operation to naively assume they can be measured in terms of dollars. I liken the investment in innovation in a similar way to marketing. Spend as much as you see necessary to have meaningful impact, without being wasteful.

It’s about asking “what if we try this?”

The final piece in the puzzle relies on the clients and stakeholders who benefit from the innovation. Those we engage with externally must value and embrace our approach, and accept change while acknowledging and sharing ownership of the risk – only then will the return on investment be realised.

What defines a good leader?

What defines a good leader?

There will always be expert analysis, opinions and dialogue regarding leadership. What characterises it, can we teach it, how do we assess one’s competency…the list goes on and on.  To all of these questions, one should ask, “Is it really that complicated and are we looking and thinking too deeply?”

As with most engineering and life problems, the best solutions are often the obvious ones. So, what defines a good leader? Is it skills or qualities? I believe leadership qualities and leadership skills are fundamentally different, and there are sound reasons for this.

What defines a good leader? Is it skills or qualities?

In my opinion, leadership qualities are less tangible but inherently more obvious and easier to identify in someone, whereas skills are easier to define but quite often harder to assess. Qualities are generally common between individual leaders whilst their skills can vary enormously. It is this variation in skillset that defines the type of leader, not whether one is or isn’t.

A great deal of the literature written regarding leadership centres around identifying, assessing and evaluating the skills required. However, this focus can often lead to over-complication and more importantly, distraction from the most important issue i.e. the person’s qualities as a leader. In relation to someone being a true leader, I believe the qualities are mandatory, the skills are optional.

Within any organisation, true leaders will always stand out. What is even more profound is that their qualities can usually be easily identified at a relatively young age, early in their career. These qualities strengthen with time and they mature and evolve at a rate commensurate with the opportunities provided.

A critical component of any successful business is the development of them. Too often, I believe, companies assess individuals with leadership aspirations based on skills rather than qualities. Even more concerning is those with a strong skillset may be granted the privilege of leadership over those who have the inherent qualities.

Too often, I believe, companies assess individuals with leadership aspirations based on skills rather than qualities.

For me the approach is simple. Identify those within the organisation who show strong leadership qualities and then build their skills to make them more effective. Many would argue this approach carries risk, based on it primarily being an intuitive decision rather than analytical. I would argue not, due to these leadership qualities being generally easy to identify. In other words, choose the standout individuals with natural talent. Make the obvious decision and don’t over-complicate it.

Once the “easy” decision is made, then the hard work begins. Allow individuals exposure to situations that will develop their skills, whilst providing them with mentoring and guidance. Most importantly, and because of their own unique skillset, allow them to be their own type of leader.

Stepping Out for a Good Cause

Having avoided standing on the edge of a high-rise building for my entire career, I recently undertook the 2017 Central Park Plunge challenge to raise funds for the Fiona Wood Foundation. On 9 September, I successfully descended 220m (52 storeys) from the top of the Central Park high rise in Perth, and was overwhelmed to receive such strong support from friends, family and colleagues, to meet my fund raising goal of $10,000.

I first became aware of the Fiona Wood Foundation through a colleague who resides on their Board. Learning of Fiona’s story and having heard her speak on numerous occasions, I was inspired by her enthusiasm, passion and emotion towards her work. Being in the leadership space myself, I see her as a truly world class leader and have always been impressed by her incredible journey through life and the significant impact she has had on so many other lives. Through her career she has been able to manage a demanding professional life while staying committed to family.

I am honoured to have taken on this challenge and stepped out of my comfort zone, to help support the life-saving work that Fiona Wood and her Foundation continue to advance for burns victims.

Here’s a video for a glimpse into the challenge.