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Clarifying Expectations And Watching The Game – The Antidote For Dangerous Assumptions

By Peter Jordan, associate, Legitimate Leadership.

When a manager engages a new-start he or she will inevitably have expectations. Many of these are likely to be legitimate, based on the new recruit’s prior experience, qualifications and other aspects, as explored in the recruitment process.

No recruitment process is however a substitute for a systematic and thorough “watching of the game” during the probation period. This diagnostic will bring to the fore any gaps in ability which may have been undetected during the recruitment process. Perhaps of greater importance, watching the new start’s game will reveal levels of energy and engagement (summarised as “willingness issues”) which are much more difficult to assess via recruitment instruments.

Similarly, the new employee will also have expectations related to his or her new position. The sooner these are made explicit via one-on-one meetings the better.

Legitimate Leadership maintains that business goals and objectives are the departure point for deciding priorities or what results need to be focused on right now. This provides the context for specifying the contribution required by each person to positively impact on the results to be achieved. This applies to everybody and a new start needs to be onboarded without delay.

About six months ago a senior manager in a client’s organisation introduced a new position into his support function structure. Previously, in his support function structure, this senior manager with professional qualifications had eight junior practitioners reporting to him. The dysfunctions of this flat structure were that there was too large a gap between the senior manager and his reports, leading to him being drawn constantly into routine matters and not giving enough attention to the higher-level requirements of his position.

The specification for the new position was for a professionally-qualified person with at least five years’ relevant experience. A person meeting these requirements was duly recruited. The intention was that the new recruit would manage the eight junior practitioners and make direct contributions at an intermediate level.

At the outset two potentially disastrous assumption were made. Firstly, that due to his previous experience, the new start would have the ability to deliver on the direct contributions allocated to him. Secondly, and more dangerously, that he would have a full understanding of what managing people entails and the knowledge and the skill to do so.

Having attended a Clarifying Expectations Application Module, the senior manager held a one-on-one meeting with his direct report to ensure that expectations were aligned. At the end of the meeting he felt distinctly uncomfortable as he was not convinced that his report had enough background on some of the direct contributions assigned to him or that standards were being maintained by the eight lower-level practitioners.

The senior manager then embarked on a watching the game exercise with both his direct and indirect reports. At the end of this his discomfort had escalated to grave concern. His department is subject to stringent legal and internal compliance requirements. In the four months that he had been focusing on the higher-level issues, standards had slipped to way below acceptable levels as they were no longer being reinforced by the intermediate manager. This left the senior manager exposed to disciplinary and even legal sanction. The ability gaps exposed regarding his direct report were obviously also of concern.

At a review session with Legitimate Leadership which followed shortly after his watching the game exercise the senior manager stated that he was immensely grateful that the Clarification of Expectations Module had happened when it did, so that he could detect the gaps and take corrective action before it was too late.

In terms of corrective actions, the senior manager immediately reinforced accountabilities and standards with the whole team. At a one-on-one meeting with the intermediate manager he clearly established that it was the accountability of his report to hold the lower-level practitioners accountable for delivering on standard or above. His failure to do so would lead to him being held accountable. The ability gaps were discussed, and mutual actions agreed to.

Going forward, the senior manager had learnt the value of watching the game, not least, when starting a new employee.

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Trust, Loyalty And Willingness When Overtime Without Pay Is Needed

By Josh Hayman, associate, Legitimate Leadership

“I am going to be asking you all to work really hard over the next few weeks. This is going to involve long hours, late nights, as well as weekend time – and I cannot pay you for any of the extra time you are going to spend at work. Furthermore, not many people will notice how hard we have worked.”

The view of the average manager is that employees are seldom happy to be told the above, and so the only way to get them to comply is to incentivise them, costing money, or compel them with threats of discipline if they don’t turn up for work.

The above comments were part of a briefing that an IT manager for one of our clients gave his staff as the organisation prepared for a large office move. His team was to be responsible for the IT infrastructure-related work that was to make the move successful.

All of what he told them was absolutely true, and related to me during one of our review discussions on applying the Legitimate Leadership Model in their business.

He also went on to tell his people the following: “The reason we are going to do this is so that every other employee who works here is able to get up, move buildings and sit down at their new desk and continue working. That people haven’t noticed our contribution is going to be a sign that we have done our job well.”

He then went on to hold a discussion about what his team thought might be difficult or challenging about this, and agreed with them how they would support each other in dealing with – among other things – creating space for team members to deal with important family commitments and/or emergencies as they arose.

So I asked the IT manager how it actually went. He replied: “Everybody worked hard, stayed late, worked weekends, and in general made an above-and-beyond contribution that I am very proud of.”

When I first met IT manager, I was giving him feedback on a leadership profile exercise we had just done with his people. He was fairly new in the organisation, and his view was that there was lots of opportunity for improvement in the contribution that his section was making to the business.

It was clear to him from the outset that spending time building personal relationships with his people was going to be one of the main priorities.

The Legitimate Leadership Model is a framework for understanding how trust, loyalty and willingness function in the workplace – and he understood that successfully asking your people for an above-and-beyond contribution is built on earning trust, and that this is done by getting to know your people as people, spending quality time with them, and suspending your interests for theirs.

Over the next few months, this is what he set about doing, and the result was a tangible increase in the willingness of his people to go above and beyond expectation. He said that had this office move happened a year previously, he would not have succeeded with them, and would probably have had to threaten them with a stick to achieve any sort of compliance.

He is certainly correct. The reason is that he had not by then earned the consent of his people to being led by them. It takes time to build, and when you have it, you have to keep it by continuing to be straight and honest with people.

“When I briefed them on the project I was frankly worried about their willingness to work overtime without pay, but I decided that being absolutely straight with them about what was required, how it would affect them, what I could and couldn’t do for them in terms of pay, and also why it was so important for them to make the contribution, was the most appropriate thing to do.”

In this project, the IT manager demonstrated the direct relationship between earning trust and the product of this, which is an improvement in the willingness of people to make an above-and-beyond contribution to the organisation.

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Achieving Targets Through Enabling An Adherence To Standard

By Wendy Lambourne, director, Legitimate Leadership

In an autoglass repair and replacement business, in December 2017, a target was set for the sale of value-added products (wipers and windscreen protection). The actual target, communicated to all service center managers (brand managers) across the particular country in January 2018, was a margin per prime job of X euros. In February 2018 all branches were given stock and trained on the products.

Although performance was good in the peak season it dropped significantly thereafter.

The initial response by the two district managers (North West and South East) was to reemphasize the importance of the target to their regional managers who then passed the message down the line. In some regions the margin per prime job improved – but not across the board. In fact, some branches achieved margins which were not only below target but were unacceptably low.

It was at this point that the district managers decided to shift focus from desired outcome to the contribution required to achieve the result. They put their attention on the process for engaging with a customer from the moment he/she arrived at the service center to when he/she departed. Specifically they focused on the clear requirement to offer the customer a value added product at a certain stage in what is known as the ‘Customer Journey’.

In a meeting with their regional managers the district managers used the Legitimate Leadership Empowerment Framework to confirm that all the Means, Ability and Accountability requisites for meeting the standard to offer value-added products to all customers were in place.

For Means: Was there stock? Were communication leaflets available? Was the standard clear and understood? Was the branch manager’s role clear?

For Ability: Was additional training required? Did the regional managers need coaching on how to analyse deviation-from-standard or how to ensure that the standard was enforced in their branches?

Were the right people being held Accountable? In particular, were the regional managers holding branch managers accountable for enforcing the ‘Customer Journey’ standard in their service centers?

What emerged – surprisingly – was not even that the standard was unclear but that branch managers did not understand their role with respect to the standard. They thought that their job was to personally offer value-added products to the customer, not to enable their technicians to do so. This explained why the margin per prime job dropped dramatically when the branch manager was not in the branch.

Once this was understood and appropriate leadership action was taken, the results were dramatic. In both districts the target was achieved and sustained – in week 37 onwards in the South East, and in week 39 onwards in the North West.

Interestingly at the same time that there was improved performance in the sale of value-added products there was also an improvement in the Opt-in Score (% of customers who agreed to give feedback on their experience as a customer of the service they had received).

Insights from the above are:

The way to achieve a target is not to focus on it. Rather it is to understand and enable the contribution(s) required by who which will produce an on-target or better result.

A key enabler of contribution is clarity of contribution. In this case the clarity was that selling value-added products was the job of everyone in a branch, not just the branch manager.

When a standard is not being met, it is imperative to determine why that is the case rather than to assume a lack of willingness. In this instance, the failure to meet the standard was primarily a Means issue rather than a lack of Ability or Willingness to do so.

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Raising Standards In Practice

By Josh Hayman, associate, Legitimate Leadership

During a workshop around values and behaviour standards a Legitimate Leadership client company’s management team reached the conclusion that, despite the business having a very clear benevolent ethos – for instance, the company strives to provide free medical services to the needy as a byproduct of their paid-for medical services – they had until this point not had an explicit discussion about what their values actually were.

This was making it difficult to consistently encourage supportive behaviours – and to confront behaviours in the business that were not supportive of the work they were trying to do.

The workshop was part of Legitimate Leadership’s application module, Enabling Human Excellence by Raising the Bar, which helps managers to understand the role of standards in a business, and why it is so important to continue to strive for ever-increasing levels of excellence in standards.

Legitimate Leadership draws a distinction between behaviour standards – which are linked to company values and can be expected of everyone – and performance standards that can be adjusted to the potential and capability of the individual.

We argue that a solid foundation of behaviour standards that are linked to values provides the platform for raising the bar on performance standards – the path to excellence.

During the client company’s workshop, the management team decided to focus on establishing a clear set of critical behaviour standards aligned to a core value.

We started with definition – the team decided on the value of Respect as a starting point. It agreed that the following critical behaviours would be happening if this value was evidenced in the workplace:

Deliver what you promise.

Accept accountability for the situation you are in – don’t blame others for it.

Always give your best effort.

Listen, and serve the needs of others above your own.

Once these were agreed, management decided to communicate these standards to the staff. That week’s Friday meeting was dedicated entirely to the issue of behaviours in the workplace.

The staff was informed that the management team had discussed values in the business, and had taken some time to position values in the context of enabling behaviour and performance standards.

They gave the staff their view, namely that respect was the most critical value in the business – respect for each other, respect for oneself and, above all, respect for patients. They asked staff for their views on this. Some debate followed, but there was general agreement with this idea.

The managers then asked the staff what kinds of things would be happening in the workplace if all were living up to this value of respect. The ideas tabled by the staff almost exactly mirrored the behaviour standards management had agreed among themselves.

The managers then asked staff for commitment to strive to uphold these standards, and invited staff to give feedback to them if they felt management were not upholding these standards themselves.

In the following weeks, the three operations managers met each Thursday before the weekly meeting to discuss who they felt had upheld these standards. They singled these people out in the weekly meeting as role models, giving specific examples of what was done that aligned with the standards. They also re-communicated these standards to staff each week, and posted graphics around the office depicting the standards.

In parallel, they privately confronted people who acted in ways contrary to these standards, explained why their actions were not appropriate, and gave examples of what they should have done in the situation to align with the standards.

Managers did this for six weeks. The product was a dramatic improvement in workplace behaviours and increased enthusiasm for continuing to sustain the behaviours.

Comment by Josh Hayman: Behaviour standards are very rarely an ability issue.  They are mostly a question of values, and therefore a matter of the will. 

When you ask people what their values are, and what they hold important, you often find common ground with your own values. In my view, the managers in this business were successful in raising the bar on behaviour because they did the following well:

They developed a clear view of the standards themselves.

They appealed to the values in their staff, and found alignment with their own.

They consistently communicated the importance of these values – and the associated behaviours – in the workplace.

The enabled accountability in their staff for upholding these by singling out role models – and giving positive accountability. They also privately confronted inappropriate behavior, making it clear it wouldn’t be tolerated – and at the same time gave people examples of behaviour that, in the same situation, would have aligned well with the values.


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New Store Opening – Small Changes Produce Dramatic Results

Some seemingly small changes made in the way a top-performing regional manager in a South African apparel retail group works with and communicates to her store managers have produced some dramatic results. The regional manager says she has been in retail for 20 years and seen a number of store turnarounds – but nothing as dramatic as this.

The changes she made followed Legitimate Leadership training in the group in 2018.

In mid-2017, a new store was opened in her area. The store proved problematic because it was only managing to open about six new customer accounts every month.

The regional manager appointed a new store manager in 2018, but in the first month of her service, the new manager struggled in the same way that the previous manager had.

The retail group’s standard procedure in inducting a new store manager normally includes the regional manager drawing up an action plan with the store manager. In effect, this is normally the regional manager’s action plan for the store.

But following the Legitimate Leadership training, this regional manager decided to do things differently. With the store manager, she first went to watch the game – what employees in the store were doing, identifying where the gaps were, and giving feedback.

After watching the game, she asked the store manager to draw up the action plan.

This meant that the focus had moved from the action plan, and from the regional manager and the store manager, to the team in the store and what it was doing – and how that could be improved.

Says the regional manager: “We found that customers were walking into the store and not being served, or if they were they were not being offered new accounts consistently. Previously, yes, we would watch the game to some extent – but not me with the manager, with me showing the manager what to look for.”

Also, because the store manager eventually drew up the action plan, it was her plan, not the plan of the regional manager. This also meant that the regional manager was able to hold the store manager to account more effectively – because it was her plan rather than the regional manager’s plan. And the store manager was likewise able to hold her staff members to account more effectively.

The regional manager was stunned when, in the month after this change in approach, the store’s new account openings soared to 60. And its good performance has continued since then.

The regional manager looks after 15 stores. She is now applying the changes described above to all of her other stores.

Most of the top 20 stores in the national group are from her area so she is the group’s top-performing regional manager. She says it is normally very hard to stay at the top for more than one year because every new year a higher base is established. However, she is now going into her third year as the top-performing regional manager.