Hi there! Just wanted to say welcome to our Blog. I truly hope you find some nuggets of interest here and I would be delighted to hear your comments!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Inspiration overload

This article (by Jackie Prendergast) was first published on www.bloggertone.com on March 1th, 2010

It was 4.a.m. when I adjusted my eyes to the darkness to check my watch.  Awake again! But what was it that woke me...ah yes I had a great idea for my business.  I spend some time thinking about the idea and how it might work before drifting back to sleep.
Today I sit at my desk and having completed much of my “must do” work for the day I cast my mind back to this morning.  Now what was that idea again?  I search my brain...and I know it is just there, almost in my grasp but I can’t quite remember.
It probably wouldn’t be so bad if this was the only time I had inspiring ideas and failed to capture or remember them but it isn’t.  My mind is constantly buzzing with ideas.  It might be some new idea I have had for a training course, a blog topic, a twist or new use for some management model, a business generation idea, a solution for a client that I haven’t thought of before, and so on.
It is great that I get all these ideas but the problem is that I hardly ever remember them and therefore I never know how good they were or if I could have used them for mine or someone else’s benefit.  What a waste!
So I have had another thought – I can’t be the only one with this problem, and maybe I can come up with some tips on how to manage those ideas.
1.    Find a method of instantly recording that suits you – people use all sorts of ways to record idea, Leonardo da Vinci was very fond of notebooks but if you prefer use your PDA, email a note to yourself, use a voice recorder, build a word document, excel spreadsheet or whatever. The more accessible it is though, the greater your chances of capturing those really great ideas
2.    Be every ready – once you have a good workable recording method get using it.  Don’t be afraid to jot something down even if you are in the middle of a meeting (it is often the comments of others that lead to our best ideas)
3.    Keep a repository of ideas – even discarded ones are valuable and may benefit you in the future
4.    Use a process like Mind Mapping or Idea Mapping to link and develop ideas (there are numerous free tools or you can learn to do it on paper)

5.    Review and evaluate your ideas regularly – use the “Who, what, where, when, why & how” questions as a starting point to test the validity of your idea
6.    Try it out – there have been a couple of ideas I have been procrastinating over for at least 6 months.  Why? Because I am afraid they won’t work.  But sometimes you just have to try it out and if it doesn’t work out, learn from it and move on
 And why would you do all that.  Well quite simply ideas and creativity lead to development and growth and are a cornerstone of any business, even more so in the current climate. The challenge is in harnessing those ideas and creating an environment in which you allow yourself to be inspired.  Undoubtedly this is a simplistic view of how those ideas might be managed and is only a stepping stone to increasing creativity in your business.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Forget recession proofing, it is time for recovery proofing! 8 strategies to help get you and your people ready

This article was first published by author on Bloggertone February 17th, 2010 View original article and comments

Lots of business owners and CEOs alike got caught on the hop by this recession.  Failure to anticipate the downturn led to businesses revenue and profits suffering.  This of course meant that staff, customers and shareholders suffered too.  Needless to say, there is every likelihood that those same business owners and CEOs will again be caught on the hop by the upturn when it comes.
We have all been in the same mode for what feels like forever…survival.  Everyone (almost) has been forced to tighten belts, cut costs, introduce pay cuts, reduce spend on ‘non-essentials’ like training and let staff go.  But if the first few weeks of 2010 are any indication there is an air of positivity about and some upward movement in sales and business generation.  If we aren’t ready for the upturn our problems may just be beginning.

8 strategies to help you prepare:

1. Business re-modelling – like most businesses you probably have quite a bit of spare capacity at the moment.  Instead of focusing on this as a negative why not use the time and the capacity to take a long hard look at your business.  And I don’t necessarily mean in terms of cutting costs because if you didn’t before the recession you should have a lean business by now.  But think in terms of the upturn that is sure to come (hopefully sooner rather than later).  How good are your systems and processes? Are there improvements and streamlining that can be implemented without over-stretching your budget.  I am not suggesting you make huge investments but that you look for low cost ways of improving effectiveness.  Take a look at your overall business model.  It may have worked well during the last boom but is it the right ‘fit’ going forward?  Make sure that the pain of the last 1 or 2 years doesn’t get wasted – take all the lessons you have learned and use them wisely.
2. Understand and manage your supply base – There are two issues here.  Firstly you need to understand your suppliers and their businesses and be fully aware of their ability to supply you into the future.  Will they still be in business?  Will they have the capacity? Secondly, this is the time for doing deals.  It is a perfect opportunity for locking in prices for a prolonged period – all it takes is a little negotiation nous.
3. Opportunity knocks – one of the biggest problems of a recession is that it is difficult to see opportunity and even if we do see it we rarely have the courage to go after it lest we de-stabilize our already shaky business.    The thing is though if you don’t start looking for those opportunities and gearing up to take advantage of them, someone else will.  And where will that leave your business? – bottom of the competition pile! Remember “fortune favours the brave”.
4. Use that brain power – The very practice of tightening belts and sticking to our core can stifle creativity and innovation.  After all there is no spare cash for trying out new ideas so why bother generating them?  This is a perfect time for brainstorming, building on combined brain power and stirring those creative juices.  Why?
  • You probably have the spare capacity already and this is a great way to extract value and if not, better people can be engaged at a lower cost
  • No-one knows your business better than your people – so listen to them
  • If you stop being innovative, you and your people will have forgotten how by the time the economy recovers
  • Downturns always lead to innovation and “the next big thing”
  • Recession always leads to a bigger and better upturn
5. Invest in your peoplethis is the best time to look at your teams, their skills and capabilities and mould them to what you need for tomorrow.  Are there opportunities for cross-training and job rotation?  Now is a great time to concentrate on succession plans and developing your future leaders.
6. Engage staff – there is no doubt that the upturn, when it comes, will create churn in your people resources.  As soon as the labour market starts to loosen up and good people begin to get offers your business will be in danger all over again.  Unless of course you have looked after them well.  A recent discussion paper by ACAS in the UK identifies four areas to promote and develop employee engagement:
  • Leadership - employees need to understand not only the purpose of the business but also how their individual role contributes to that vision
  • Engaging managers – engaging managers offer clarity for what is expected from the employees, treat their people as individuals with fairness and respect
  • Employee voice – employees’ views should be sought out, listened to and employees made to feel that their opinions count
  • Integrity - if an employee sees the values of the business ingrained in the management team, a sense of trust is more likely to be developed
There isn’t anything new in this but it is a timely reminder that it takes nothing other than a bit of effort to engage employees, build loyalty and protect against “fall-off” at the first sign of a sweet deal!
7. Build a sense of hope
While I am not suggesting that you mislead people about what the future might hold it is definitely time to build some sense of positivity.  This will be a challenging task, when there is so much bad news surrounding us and every day can seem grimmer than the last. But as a leader you can’t allow your people to dwell on the negatives – you need to find a way to instil confidence and hope.  Put a smile on their faces!!
8. Take a longer term view
To a large extent living through a downturn is about survival.  And as such, businesses tend to shorten their planning process, focus on shorter term goals and make themselves as adaptable to the ever changing landscape as they can be.  But in order to come out the other side of recession as a strong and successful business, there has to come a time when you once again start focusing on the longer term goals and objectives.  One of the things you may need to consider is “Is it time to hire again?” It is great people that make great things happen so having the right team with the right capabilities should be a priority.  Try to do determine where your business will be in another 12 to 18 months.  What capabilities will you need to be successful and can you get ahead of your competitors in securing that talent?  Look around you – what are your customers’ plans and what are your competitors doing?
Being ready for the upturn will make the difference between continuing to survive and being a successful, sustainable business.  So what’s it going to be?

Recruitment – 10 key steps to getting the right person, first time!

This article first published by author on Bloggertone, Jan 26th, 2010 View original and Comments

Given the current climate you would be forgiven for thinking I am a bit mad to be blogging about recruitment.  But a survey I conducted amongst SME owners suggested that there would be some shift upwards in the jobs market during 2010 and that movement has continued in 2011.  Whether this transfers across larger companies remains to be seen but business – and the economy generally – is definitely showing some signs of recovery.  Anyhow given that positive vibe I thought it might be worthwhile writing something on how to improve your chances of getting the right person for the job and for your business.
And that really is very important.  Given the huge choice of candidates on the market at the moment it is easy to slip into mode of “oh well, if (s)he doesn’t work out I’ll just hire someone else”.  It is true that you can of course, but you might want to think about the cost of such a mistake.
Opinions vary on the actual cost (in monetary terms) of a bad recruitment decision but it is generally accepted that the cost ranges from around 50% to 300% of the annual salary.  So if you hire someone for say €20,000 – they may only last three months but the least it is likely to cost you is €10,000 but it will probably cost you more.  And that doesn’t include the cost of hiring someone else to do the job.  Nor – more importantly – does it take account of things like lost opportunity, damage to customer relationships, loss of productivity overall in your team that often result.  Or the effect it has on managers – this is particularly important if you are an SME who is centrally involved in both the hiring process and perhaps training, and dealing with the poor performance and other issues that arise.  So can you really afford to get it wrong?  I think not!
Here are my 10 key steps to help ensure you get it right, first time:
Step 1 Understand your need – job analysis.  Ok so you have decided you need to take on more staff because you have got more business, need to spend more time on sales or whatever.  Great.  But do you really know what you need?  Critically evaluate your existing resources.  How does that measure up to what you need going forward.  This gap, which might be described in functional terms like tasks, responsibilities, skills is the basis of defining the role.  It is important to go one step further though and consider what would someone who is doing the job well look like.  Always aim for a high performance level not an average one.  Look at the existing team dynamics – how it works together, who fills what team role and is there anything missing. It might be worth using some psychometric profiling like Myers Brigg or DISC to help in this process – both can also be used as part of the selection process to get a “fit”.

Step 2 Understand what you want. It isn’t just about what you need for the business but about the type of person you want, or more precisely the type of organisation you want to create or maintain.  Broadly speaking what I am talking about is culture – “the way we do things around here”.  It is about the values and ethos you want your business and the people in your business to promote.  It is about how you communicate with each other, the level of engagement and involvement, the way customers and suppliers are dealt with, the degree of flexibility and “we’re all in this together” that you need, the image your business portrays and so on.  It is a fundamental part of your brand.  It is important therefore that each person you bring into the business reflects and buys into that culture.

Step 3 Write a job description.  By now you should know the following:
  • Broadly what the role entails (definition)
  • The tasks, responsibilities and accountabilities involved
  • What a good performer looks like and what competencies i.e. skills, knowledge and attitudes are necessary to achieve that
  • What challenges and opportunities will be involved
  • What type of person will fit your organisation – the personal characteristics

These elements basically make up your Job Description or Job profile and shouldn’t just be used for the recruitment process, but form the basis of your selection criteria, your training plans, goal / target setting and performance review.

Step 4 Decide on your selection process and criteria. Once you have decided what you need and want and have written your job description you should figure out how you are going to receive applications and assess and select candidates.  Applications are typically by CV and perhaps cover letter or by application form.  Some organisations opt for online processes.  It really depends on what you prefer.
Interviewing is the most common form of assessment, with competency-based interviewing being the most robust interview method (it is proven to be the best in terms of predicting or assessing future performance capability).  In addition you might want to consider shortlisting as a first step – this is a CV screening process and is usually based on some limited essential criteria.  Given the high volumes of CVs being received currently this is a sensible addition to the process.  You should also consider aptitude tests and / or psychometric tests.  These should never be used as the only selection method but rather as an additional aid.
The criteria should be clear (and based on your Job description) and you should devise a marking system – this will make the selection process much easier, not to mention more reliable and transparent.

Step 5 Identify sources and launch search. Now that you have all the ground work done think about where you can find suitably qualified candidates.  You can of course resort to newspaper adverts and recruitment agencies. More likely though you will go the route of Jobs Boards / websites.  But please don’t forget your networks and contacts.  LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook are all valid (and increasingly popular) sources.  The more targeted you can be, the better the outcome.  Networks are probably the most cost effective way of targeting new employees but may not always be the most efficient.

Step 6 Shortlist candidates. Using the criteria you have already set and taking pen and paper sift through all of the CVs and identify those that meet the requirements.  You may want to have a marking system for particular criteria – this will make life easier if you have a large number who meet this first stage but only want to progress a small number to the next stage of the process.
Step 7 Make your selection – Interview, assessment, reference check, medical – dig deep
Once you have your shortlist of candidates you will move to the next stage.  We have already mentioned the value of psychometric testing.  In terms of interview you may decide to do one, two or several.  You can conduct telephone interviews, one-to-one or panel.  In any case what is most important is that you know in advance what you are going to ask, that it is based on assessing the extent to which the person meets the criteria and that you dig beyond the surface.  Lots of people are polished at interview and will give good “textbook” answers – you need to know that they can do what they say.  The best way of assessing this is by asking for examples of where they have done a similar thing before probing their answers.
Following on from the interview stage(s) when you have a preferred candidate or even two or three preferred candidates, conduct reference checks and a medical assessment.  These are really important and can save you an enormous amount of grief down the line.
A word of warning – make sure you know what questions you should not ask at interview and what checks you are allowed to do.
Step 8 Offer. You should now have a top preferred candidate so time to make an offer.  The offer should include details of salary, job role and responsibilities etc.  You should never make an offer before completing Step 7 but if you do, please ensure it is conditional on a satisfactory outcome to checks and medical.  The offer should also be subject to the candidate having provided you with accurate and honest information.

Step 9 Onboarding and Training. So the offer has been made and accepted and the person is ready to go.  What next?  All too often a new employee arrives to a “damp” welcome.  The manager / boss is too busy to meet with him / her or isn’t even on-site.  No one is quite sure what the “newbie” is supposed to be doing so they all just get on with their own work.  I know this sounds exaggerated but you get the point I’m sure.
So what should happen?  Well there should be some form of induction – rules, regulations, health and safety and other policies should be explained, introductions made, arrangements made to ensure the “newbie” has a buddy for lunch.  Expectations should be clearly outlined in terms of behaviours and performance.  Set and agree performance objectives – make sure you and they know what they will be measured on.  Any training plans should be explained and initiated as quickly as possible.
This is the onboarding period – getting the “newbie” settled in, ensuring they become part of the team as quickly as possible and that they become productive as quickly as possible.  A little time spent at this stage can reap huge rewards later.

Step 10 Review. There are two elements of review needed.  Firstly look back over the recruitment and selection process.  Did it go as well as you had hoped?  What could have been improved upon.
More importantly is the review of the new employee’s performance.  You should always include a probationary period in your contract (and offer) – at least six months.  During that time you (or the line manager) should meet regularly with the employee to review performance and address any issues.  If there are problems you need to know and deal with them quickly.  If they don’t work out then it is much easier to terminate a contract during or at the end of the probationary period.  In my opinion the recruitment process does not end until the employee has satisfactorily completed this period.

And a final word.  It might sound like a long and complicated process but it just takes a bit of effort.  And yes you might need the assistance of a professional to set up the process for you or even to implement it, but ultimately you will have gone a long way to avoiding those costs of a bad hire and to protecting your business.
If you have any questions about job analysis, psychometric testing, or any aspect of this article please feel free to comment here or contact me directly at Jackie@consultingexcellence.ie – I will be happy to help.