Saturday, February 4, 2012

The games we play at work

Office culture - is dirty politics acceptable or not?

According to one definition of playing politics is: "to deal with people in an opportunistic, manipulative or devious way, as for job advancement"

Some companies seem to naturally attract highly tense and combative cultures while others seem able to exist in relative harmonious teams. If you find yourself in one that is highly political do you join in?

In my ideal world it is best to steer clear of any and all office politics, but doing this can be viewed as its own political stance, as you can be accused of indifference and thinking you are better then everybody else. 

Whatever happened to everybody just getting on with their own job and treating all colleagues with respect, whether you like them or not. Business is not personal, unfortunately many people cannot remember this and it all becomes about them.

Generally, there are no long term winners in office politics, if you are happy to get involved you have to expect it to turn around on you at some point. It always amuses me when the office gossip finds themselves on the receiving end and then complains!

With the now widespread use of email as preferred communication tool, politics has become even more insidious as many people find enormous levels of otherwise unknown courage and can mount campaigns, copying in vast numbers of people which results in email bullying and as it is in writing is nigh impossible to counteract or retract.

I have heard of a couple of recent examples of email gone wrong. The first was someone trying to send a bullying email. The receiver decided not to participate in an email war, but rather to go and confront them fact to face. The response was a rather panicked "What are you doing here, just go back and reply to the email".  Two questions spring to mind, can the keyboard really add that much courage, and how does a business operate effectively if staff can't simply talk to each other?

The second email example was during a discussion of storage capacity problems on the mail server and everyone's strange aversion to deleting unnecessary emails.One response was "I don't delete anything, how else do you gather enough evidence to fire someone". If this is typical of the viewpoint within this company it screams of a very dysfunctional culture. This type of attitude can also become a self fulling prophecy, if you expect the worst of staff or your team mates, you will get it.

So in regards to office politics - neutrality is usually what I aim for, that and the simple stance - don't say or do anything that you wouldn't say and do to the person's face. This is something I try and teach in training sessions, especially around conflict resolution and negotiation skills.

As we all know, culture is determined from the top down and many senior managers and business owners would benefit from walking about and really getting to understand the environment they have created, hopefully it would give them enough pause to actively participate in stamping out practices such as gossip, bullying, harassment and fear. Happy, satisfied and engaged staff add more value to business then any amount of political games.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Lost art of customer service?

On a recent car trip I was confronted with possibly one of the worst examples of customer service for a long time. Having been on the road for some 6 hours we stopped for a much needed food break. The food outlet we chose was not a major chain but rather a smallish but well reputed venue. It was packed, and being on the main highway it had an obvious captive audience, with the line of people waiting stretching out the door.

My husband stepped up to place the order and I watched amazed as the service attendant took his order, packed it, accepted money and gave change, all without once making eye contact. It was quite a feat. Having worked in management positions in hospitality and other service industries I was appalled. I have spent many hours training and lecturing staff on the need for quality customer service.

As we took a seat to eat our food, which by the way was really very good, I watched many more examples of poor quality service from all the servers. Just as my indignation and frustration was growing, I was wanting to jump up and tell them how happy customers spend greater amounts and more often, not to mention the idea of complimentary selling, etc, etc, I noticed the behaviour of the customers.

Customer after customer approached the counter with mobile phones stuck to their ears, or talking to their companions, giving their order as an aside and continuing their conversations with little acknowledgement of the person behind the counter.

Since then I have been paying attention, at the supermarket, the service stations and the local store and noticed the dwindling respect that society seems to pay each other. Have customer service standards dropped? In general, I think yes. But can we blame service staff if, as customers, we cannot even give them the common courtesy of acknowledging they exist? I think in may cases, no, we cannot blame them but it is definitely a sad reflection of the way society behaves.

Alternatively there is a great point of competitive difference for savvy businesses to take advantage of. Train your staff to give exceptional customer service, in spite of customer distance and it will pay dividends, there are people who still notice. Even though the food was good, will I stop at the same venue next time I pass? Sadly for them no, they have lost a customer.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Difference between a tax agent and a financial controller/CFO

Most small/medium businesses will have a tax agent or external accountant but many do not see the need to hire or retain a Financial Controller/Chief Financial Officer. In fact many do not understand the different roles.

Generally speaking a tax agent is visited only a few times a year and their primary function is to prepare or review accounts in order to lodge appropriate tax returns. Any business advice they can give is limited by the lack of a close operating relationship and knowledge about your business. Additionally they are dealing with historical records so there is no room to improve on what has already occurred.

A Financial Controller/CFO, on the other hand usually looks at 4 different areas of your business:
  1. Accounting - ensures that accurate information is available for reporting analysis and statutory compliance. Often working with the tax agent in this area to set up and maintain your accounting system, conduct company secretarial matters, as well as managing and advising book keepers or accounting staff.
  2. Financial - ensures visibility of current financial position through financial statements and analysis, management reporting, job costing, budgeting, cash flow forecasting and an annual audit.
  3. Operational - aims to achieve best practice through lean and efficient operations that support growth or expansion. This is achieved by setting internal controls, establishing systems and processes, writing standard operating procedures, depicting job functions and responsibilities, conducting contractual audits.
  4. Strategic - aims to maximise your business value through business planning, identifying and setting financial strategies and policies, risk assessment and management, implementing performance measures and benchmarking.
All successful businesses look forward not backward, yes we have to learn from past mistakes but improvement is only available in the future and the best way to achieve continual learning and improvement is to surround yourself with the appropriate talent. Investing in the right Financial Controller/CFO will pay dividends as they will get the financial and operational fundamentals right for growth.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Is the world black and white, or many shades of grey?

This was another interesting question posed on LinkedIn. Is the world black or white, is there right or wrong, or many shades of grey?

We must remember that the colour we "see" is determined by our individual perspective (education, religion, gender, age etc) so can there ever be only black and white?

True acceptance and co-operation can only be achieved when we accept that there are no absolutes. Stephen Covey explores an interesting concept in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People where habit 5 is "seek first to understand, then be understood".

We don't necessarily have to agree with another persons viewpoint but if we seek first to understand who knows what opportunities may open up.

Going out of our way to view the world in as many colours as possible is the only way to achieve continual learning and advancement, the alternative is to stagnate.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Have you ever been thrown under a bus by a boss or colleague?

I recently answered a question posed on LinkedIn about whether you had ever been thrown under a bus by a boss or colleague, interesting question that I thought I would explore here.

In my career, I have been "thrown under a bus" by a number of bosses and colleagues, for various reasons. Some have been confident in my skills and experience and wanted to see how I would handle myself when challenged to leave my comfort zone, and sadly others have wanted to see me fail for no other reason than I was viewed as a threat.

In all instances (sometimes there was no choice) I have taken the challenge and viewed it as an opportunity to stretch myself and learn new skills. I have not always achieved to my own personal standards of success but have never "failed" as the experience has always given me something to take forward to the next opportunity.

For those colleagues who were inspired by what they saw as guaranteed failure I have had the satisfaction of being able to move forward in my career, developing a reputation as someone who is not afraid of adversity, someone who may not know everything but can work out how to find the answers, someone who achieves results.

I would actually recommend that occassionally we choose to throw ourselves under the bus for no other reason than to take away the safety net and force ourselves to think outside the box. Adversity builds character - when we have to stretch ourselves and search deep inside we can achieve amazing things, sending us forward with renewed confidence. Life, especially your career, should be about continual learning, and fear can be a brilliant motivator!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Reclaim hours as a business owner

Many business owners spend so much time working in the business that the long term viability of the business suffers, they remain hands on for far too long. The first way a business owner can reclaim time to allow them to focus on managing and growing the business is to hire someone with the right experience and delegate, this is often a hard thing to do as many owners struggle to "let go".

An alternative is to formulate standard operating procedures (SOP's). That is to:
  • work out how a job needs to be done
  • write down the process (flow charting is a useful tool)
  • train someone to use process
  • measure results
The key point here is to measure the results. With the right operational and measurement techniques and systems in place a business owner has no need to micro manage and can direct their attention to strategies to ensure growth, or to those areas that do not produce the expected results.

Having standard systems in place also means that no-one has to play the blame game. If something goes wrong the first question to ask is "Was the system followed?". There are several possible answers and scenario's:
  • If the answer is no, was it because there was no system for that situation, if so you have an improvement opportunity to create a standard. If the answer was just the employee did not want to follow the system they can be informed that employment is contingent on following the standards. If the employee was not aware of the standard then again there is an improvement opportunity through staff training.
  • If the answer is yes then the system needs to be reviewed for appropriateness, relevance and usability, another improvement opportunity.
Businesses who are not looking for ways to be continually improving their product, service or processes are limiting their success.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Top 7 Critical Success Factors for Business - Final Part

Last but not least in this 7 part series in the critical success factors for business is an area where many businesses make many mistakes.
  1. Plan
  2. Competitive velocity
  3. Customer satisfaction
  4. Network
  5. Technology
  6. Culture
  7. Global thinking
Technology has shrunk the business world. Businesses of all sizes can now have access to worldwide markets, allowing them to share information, technology and products.

Keeping abreast of global trends can lead to new channel opportunities or ways to compete.

The vast majority of businesses going overseas fail within the first year after spending a lot of money on travel, consultants, market research, trade shows, giving out samples and entertaining potential clients.

The key reason for failure is the inability to understand, accept and fit it into a foreign culture.

Want to expand globally without the mistakes, Ivy Business Consulting can offer expert advice, having had experience in operating global businesses. We can also assist with the preparation and lodgement of grant applications for export marketing funding.