We are pleased to introduce our guest blogger Kate Mercer, co-founder of Leaders Lab and author of ‘A Buzz in the Building – how to build and lead a brilliant organisation’. Kate has a wealth of experience in leadership and offers some top tips to help align and motivate your team.
As a business leader do you find there’s no call for you to do your specialist work any more? What’s going on? And if your specialism is no longer your day job – what is?
The world is full of talented engineers who no longer see the inside of a machine, good teachers who don’t take classes, and great bench scientists who spend their days on regulatory controls and budget sheets. The better you are at your specialism – and the more successful your organisation – the more likely it is that you’ll end up at a level where you no longer do your specialist work.
As you rise up your organisation (or it grows beneath you), the balance shifts. When you started, you probably spent 90% of your time on your work on the shop floor, your teaching, or your research (fill in the gap). Now you are a business leader you should spend well over 50% of your time managing the organisation itself: working on your business, not in it.
It’s an easy concept to grasp, but after years of working in your business, fixing, troubleshooting and juggling along with everyone else, not easy to apply in practice.
To work on your organisation, you need to develop a new set of skills and train yourself to spot things which will not seem as concrete and tangible as those you are used to.
What business leaders should look out for
As a leader, your job is to focus on your vision, values and standards for the business and learn to talk to people in a way that motivates them to buy in. Ask yourself:
- How motivated are your people?
- Do they gossip and finger-point?
- Are there practices and behaviour that make you uncomfortable?
- Do you despair of getting others to buy into your values and standards?
- Are you spending most of your time micro-managing others?
- Does it feel like you’ve lost sight of where you are going?
- Are you always running to keep up with the workload, never on the front foot?
- Do you wonder about who will be capable of leading the business when you leave it?
You may assume that people will naturally copy how you do things, but adult human beings don’t work like that. They need to understand and buy in to the reasons for doing things in a certain way – and it’s your job to help them do it.
Tell them what you are trying to achieve, not how you do it
Take the example of standards of business behaviour, service, and quality. You need to spell these out in a way that allows others to apply them in their work. Designing a checklist and training everyone to follow it slavishly is a lot of work for you and incredibly demotivating and boring for others. If you are not to have to watch them like a hawk, you need people to understand the essence of what you are trying to achieve so they can find their own way of getting there.
Some organisations teach customer service staff to call total strangers, address them by their first name, and ask, “And how are you today?” You personally might find this works, because it’s your way of doing things; why shouldn’t you just write a script for others to follow? But if it doesn’t come naturally, it will sound insincere and stilted – that’s why hundreds of call centre staff sound like robots!
Instead, ask your team. The point of starting calls in this way is to engage someone’s interest and connect with them – tell your team this is what you are trying to achieve, and talk to them about this outcome, how they see it, and how they personally would take steps to achieve it.
You’ll hear if any of them have ideas that don’t fit your values or standards and be able to explain and clarify these again. You will together come up with ways of achieving the original outcome that are even better than the method you came up with by yourself.
Most importantly, you’ll have transferred your original vision to your team, and they will now be bought in to achieving the same standard of service. They’ll feel empowered to express your organisation’s values in their own way – and you won’t need to watch them like a hawk.
For more information about the leadership services Kate and her team offer, do take a look at the Leaders Lab website.