Employability Skills Highly Required in the Manufacturing Sector – USA Report

A report issued jointly by Deloitte, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and The Manufacturing Institute in the United States of America and released on October 5th has once again highlighted the importance of employability skill development. Despite the economic downturn manufacturing employers have indicated that a highly skilled workforce, both in the context of relevant technical skills and employability skills is critical for business success. An interesting aspect of the study was that the surveyed employers identified that their employee development practices do not currently meet their needs.

This highlights the importance of taking personal responsibility for the development of your employability skills. With talent shortages still existing despite the economic downturn, understanding your employability skills and being able to explain how you have developed them can provide a distinct and personal competitive advantage in the job market (see the blog Leveraging Employability Skills for Employment Success).

To see the full article visit http://www.reliableplant.com/article.aspx?articleid=20422&pagetitle=Top+manufacturers+place+high+importance+on+talent%2C+skills+management

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at http://garyryans.com

A not-so-service-excellent experience

The purpose of sharing this story is to highlight just how easy it is for organisations to easily and quickly perform below expectations. Usually the core reasons for performing below customer expectations lie between a lack of balance between passionate staff and appropriate systems & processes to support those staff. Below is a story based on my perceived service experience. It is therefore biased because it only contains my side of the story. This is okay because that is how service works. All of us are trying to meet or exceed the expectations of our customers (or use a different word if the word ‘customer’ does not work for you) based on their perception of their experience with our organisations.

I am not going to reveal in this blog what I think the Village Cinema organisation and the specific staff members involved could have done to improve our service experience. Rather I am going to leave that open to your suggestions. Consider yourselves consultants and you have been brought in by Village Cinemas to review this case and to help them to understand whether or not there is anything that they could do to improve their service levels. The research on Employability Skill development recommends that leadership (which includes ‘systems thinking’ skills), problem solving, communication and enterprise skills incorporate the skills necessary to provide service excellence. In this context I’m going to tell you the story of our experience and then leave it open to you to practice the above-mentioned skills to make suggestions in the comments sections about what both Village Cinemas and the specific staff involved could have done to enhance our experience.

The story
My wife, Michelle and I finally had an opportunity to use some gifts that we had been given for our birthdays last year. As parents with four children we have not had a night away on our own since we began our family some nine years ago. Our youngest child has just turned two years old so we thought that he’d be old enough to have relatives look after him and our other three children while we went away overnight. The hotel is located in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs and is situated amongst a substantial shopping and cafe precinct. We had chosen this time to go away because it corresponded with our 13th wedding anniversary. Our gifts included an overnight hotel stay including breakfast and a late check out and Village Cinema Gold Class tickets. The hotel in which we were booked is literally 100 meters from the Village Cinema complex so we decided to take the opportunity to use both gifts at the same time.

After having had a very smooth check in process at the hotel in the early afternoon, Michelle and I decided to wander down to the cinema to see if we could book some seats at the cinema. We were aware that because the Gold Class seats were limited it was possible that there might not be any seats available that evening, so we were also prepared to book seats for the following day. Prior to leaving our hotel room we noticed that the expiry date stamped on the Gold Class tickets was 1 month and three days prior. We had not noticed this date before. We decided that we would immediately draw the attention of the staff to the date and offer to ‘pay the difference’ between the value of the tickets and any price increase that may have occurred since the tickets had been originally purchased. Our confidence was high that a simple solution could be found to this problem.

On arrival to the cinema there was no queue and we were able to immediately approach one of the two sales staff working at the booking counter. We quickly explained our situation including the fact that we were using gifts provided to us from the previous year and that we were celebrating our wedding anniversary, this being our first overnight stay on our own since we had started a family. We highlighted the date issue and asked if anything could be done to help us. The first sales clerk told us that she, “…didn’t think it would be a problem” but felt that she needed to refer us to her manager who was sitting beside her. We were ‘swapped’ with the customers that the manger was serving and we once again explained our story. As accurately as I can recall the following conversation took place. “G” represents when I was speaking, “M” when Michelle was speaking and “VC” when the manager representing Village Cinemas was speaking.

VC: “Yes, we automatically provide one months grace from the actual expiry date on the gift vouchers. Unfortunately you are three days over that grace period and they won’t let me authorise it. The only way for you to use the vouchers now is to call them (hands us a card with a 1300 number on it).”

M: “But we are here now and we’d like to solve the problem now. We are happy to pay the price difference if there has been a price rise since the vouchers were purchased”

VC: “Oh, the price isn’t the issue.”

M: “What is?”

VC: “They won’t let me approve it. As I said you’ll have to call them using the number on the card that I have provided you.”

G: “Who are “they”?”

VC: “Oh, our corporate office.”

G: “I don’t understand how it is that you refer to them as if you and them are separate. To me ‘you’ are both Village Cinemas and we’d prefer to be able to sort this out now. We don’t want to have to wait for the corporate office to sort this out because we might not be here by the time they sort it out. Surely this isn’t that hard. The vouchers have been paid for and we are happy to pay more if there has been a price increase. We don’t think that we are being unreasonable.”

VC: “I’m sorry. It’s the policy. There is nothing that I can do.”

M: “There is no-one else here that you could call for assistance?”

VC: “Yes, but they won’t say anything different to me.”

M: “Would you mind calling that person please.”

VC: (picking up the phone) “Ok.” Dials number and the call is answered as the manager says, “Hi! We don’t accept overdue vouchers do we.” (from our perspective this was said more as a statement than a question.) The manager proceeds with a couple of “Uh huh”s and hangs up the phone.

VC: “I’m sorry, as I said you have to call the 1300 number on the card.”

G: “Why do we have to call them? They are part of Village Cinemas like you are so I don’t understand why we have to call them. Do you mind calling for us?”

VC: “You have more of a chance to be successful with them than me.”

M: “So that’s it then?”

VC: “Yes.”

We left the counter highly disappointed with our experience. It seemed that there had been little effort to solve the problem. In fact from our perspective we had been the only ones who had offered a timely solution and that had been quickly pushed aside.

Reluctantly we decided to call the number on the card that we had been provided. The clerk who answered our call informed us that it was not possible to solve this problem over the phone and that the only way that the problem would be solved was by sending an email to an address that was also provided on the card (the phone number was literally 20 times the size of the email address) and that it would take a minimum of three days for a response to our email.

We both decided that we would skip the cinema and not let our poor experience with Village Cinemas ruin our overnight stay and decided to use our time doing a different activity and we went ten pin bowling (that proved to be a great time!).

You are now providing consulting advice to both Village Cinemas and the staff members involved. Your advice to Village Cinemas may include strategic advice regarding their systems and processes. Your advice to the specific staff members may include your suggestions regarding how they could have managed our experience so that Michelle and I didn’t walk away feeling like our experience could have and should have been better.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at http://garyryans.com

Setting Groundrules – The Why and The How

Groundrules are a simple and effective way to significantly ENHANCE team performance. Yet most people don’t create them. Don’t be like them, be different. Follow the simple Three Questions Structure set out in this episode to both create groundrules and to keep them ALIVE for your team. Your team’s experience of working together as well as your performance will both be ENHANCED.

The problem

If you like being like ‘everyone else’ then I recommend that you don’t read any further than this first sentence. If you want to be different and to increase the probability that the people with whom you work can be successful, then continue to read.

Over many years I have been involved in helping people to create high performing teams. Recently I have been facilitating a number of workshops on this topic. One of the fundamental steps for creating a high performing team is to set groundrules. Less than 5% of workshop attendees report that they have ever been in a team where groundrules have been created. When I then ask, “How many of you have experienced being a member of a high performing team?” very few participants report that they believe that they have experienced a high performing team.

While there are a number of factors that affect the capacity of a team to perform to its potential, the existence of groundrules is one of the factors that has a significant impact on a team’s capacity for high performance.

What is then interesting is that workshop participants often say, “Look, groundrules sound okay, but we don’t have time for that stuff!”.

It’s interesting how people often say and/or believe that they don’t have time to do the very things that will save time and enhance performance. What I’m about to say next may seem a bit odd, but in the context of creating a high performing team, slower is faster! I encourage you to be different from most other people and to try the following process for creating groundrules. It isn’t hard, people will respond positively and it takes less than 20 minutes (it’s even faster after you have had some practice!).

The process
I would like to recognise Jock MacNeish (a member of this community) for teaching me this very simple process that I have adapted from his book, Teams – The First Twelve Weeks that was co-authored with Tony Richardson and Angela Lane.

The process involves a whole team conversation and agreement around three questions plus a simple way to keep the groundrules ‘alive’ after they have been created.

Question 1
At work (or study) what team member behaviours happen that really annoy us, let us down or stop us from performing to our expected standards?

Record the behaviours that are discussed in this conversation.

Question 2
In the context of our response to question one, what groundrules do we need to agree to so that these behaviours won’t occur in our team?

Record the groundrules that you agree upon. These will be the groundrules for your team.

Question 3
What will we do when a person breaks one of our groundrules?

This is a very important conversation. It allows the team members to discuss the consequences for breaking the groundrules before they have been broken, which enables all the team members to be very clear about what they can expect to happen should a groundrule be broken. Another benefit of this conversation is that it allows the team to recognise if any of the groundrules that they had originally created were not as clear as they could have been. As an example, people often create a groundrule such as, “We will always be on time for our meetings.” The reality for many people is that on occasion they will be late for a meeting. Discussing the consequences for such behaviours allows the team to then discuss what is expected once you know that you are going to be late which will happen to even the most diligent team members from time to time.

A final benefit of the third question is that it clarifies the behavioural standards expected for all team members. This increases the pressure for people to behave to those standards because they are both explicit and everyone in the team participated in their creation.

Keeping the groundrules ‘alive’
There are two relatively simple ways to keep the groundrules alive.

a.) Create an artefact of the groundrules. I’ve worked with some teams where they have created a cafe menu and placed it in a menu holder. When the team meets they place the menu in the middle of the table. While they might not explicitly look at the menu, the artefact of the menu reminds people of what they have agreed. It’s a simple thing to do and it works.

b) Every once in a while include the groundrules as a topic for conversation in your meeting agenda. Ask, “How are we going with our groundrules?”. Should a new person join your team it is critical that you conduct a conversation with that person explaining your groundrules, and provide them with a genuine opportunity to contribute to updating the groundrules. This process keeps the groundrules fresh and relevant for the specific members of your team.

Please don’t be like ‘most other people’. Be different and give the teams of which you are a member every chance for success. Create groundrules for your team and keep them alive. You’ll find that they will not only enhance the positive experience of being in your team, but your performance will most likely improve as well!

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at http://garyryans.com

Discover Shared Mental Models That Choke ‘Truth to Power’

Truth to Power is the capacity to be honest, forthright and candid with those poeple who hold more real or perceived power than yourself. Gary uses a real life conversation from an elite sport team where dialogue skills were used to challenge a shared mental model about leadership. Gary then relates this conversation to the businessworld and highlights the power of using dialogue to support truth to power in an organisational context.

“Before I was announced Captain of the club”, shared John, “Whenever an issue came up, I would always first look at the Captain for his response. I even did this when someone said something that was funny – I’d check the Captain’s response before I said anything. It was as if I didn’t even have my own mind. When I look back now I realise that I had a view that because the Captain was the Captain, he’d automatically know the answer to whatever issues were raised. You know, somehow he’d been dipped into the font of all wisdom.”

John continued, “Then I became Captain and one of the first things I noticed was people looking at me and waiting for my reaction and I realised that they were now doing to me what I had been doing to the previous Captain. And it wasn’t just a few of the players, it was everyone! But I know that I’m not the font of all wisdom because I’m learning too. If I already knew everything about being Captain then how could I improve over the next three to four years? I can’t imagine that I won’t improve which therefore means that I’m not as good now as I will be in the future. This also means that right now I won’t know the best way to handle every issue that comes up. I’ll know a few because I’ve been around a while now, but I won’t know everything. The pressure you feel to have an answer, “the answer” is incredible!”

After a period of time John added, ” When I wasn’t the Captain I recall a few times when I actually did have a different opinion about what we should do, but I never raised them because I thought to myself, “Oh well. The Captain knows best so we should do what he thinks. Otherwise he wouldn’t be Captain.” Guys, please don’t do that, if you have a different view to me I need to hear it. My view might be wrong. More importantly when we put our different views together maybe we’ll all see something better that none of us could see on our own.”

What an insightful series of comments. John (not his real name) is the Captain of an elite sports team with whom I have worked in Australia. These comments were made in relation to an explicit conversation that I was facilitating with John and the rest of the Leadership Team with whom he was working. The purpose of the conversation was to raise their individual and collective awareness of their mental models regarding leadership. The other members of his Leadership Team remarked that they too had shared the “font of all wisdom” mental model regarding the person holding the title of Captain. They also all agreed how ridiculous such a mental model was and how debilitating it probably was to their performance and their capacity to present a different view to those in positions of power. Yet they also agreed, and I observed in practice, just how difficult such a mental model is to stop from a behavioural perspective.

This brief conversation provides a detailed insight into the collective mental models about leadership that are both flawed and limiting in the context of Truth to Power. Truth to Power is the capacity for people who have less real or perceived power to be honest and direct with people who hold more power. In the example provided by John and his team-mates above it is little wonder people find it difficult to hold alternate views with those in power. Similarly it is little wonder that those in power often behave in a defensive way when people present a different view to the one they hold. Quite literally the issue of ‘saving face’ becomes real.

Elite sportspeople are often described as “jocks who can’t think for themselves”. My experience could not be further from that description. The elite sportspeople with whom I have worked closely have been, to a person people who have been intelligent and willing to learn. Very rarely, including in the corporate world, where we work extensively have I experienced such an open and honest conversation as the one described above. John’s willingness to be vulnerable to his team-mates by suspending (please see the blog on the Seven Skills of Dialogue) his mental models about his role and how they had changed as a result of becoming the Captain was a privilege to experience. John’s intention for sharing this information was to open the door as far he possibly could to enable his fellow Leadership Team members to be honest with him and to not default their views to him simply because he was the Captain.

While we never used the term ‘Dialogue’ the Leadership Team were actually holding a dialogue about their individual and collective mental models about leadership. John was concerned that if he wasn’t explicit about his experience of transitioning not being the Captain to becoming the Captain, then it would not be until the next Captain was in his shoes that he would understand this perplexing situation. While the leadership team still has some considerable distance to travel in their development the fact that this conversation had taken place meant that John could refer to it whenever he sensed that the rest of the Leadership Team were not being completely honest with him about their views on any given issue.

While this example is provided from an elite sport context, the same phenomenon occurs throughout the government and corporate sectors. One of the only ways to release the choke hold on people that the mental models described above can have on people’s behaviour is to develop the capacity to dialogue. My view and experience is that if the capacity to dialogue can be developed within the elite sport arena, then it can also be developed in any other sector. ‘Not enough time’ is often used an excuse for not developing the capacity to dialogue. I can’t think of an industry where time is less available and the pressure as high as in the elite sport arena. The point of leverage for change will come from both those in positions of power and those with less power to trust the learning environment created through dialogue to collectively release the stranglehold of these debilitating mental models.

What are your experiences with holding conversations regarding your individual and collective mental models regarding leadership? Have you ever had them? How do you think they would unfold?

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at http://garyryans.com

Discover How Doing Something And Doing Nothing Can Both Be Great Examples Of Leadership

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One of the most important roles that a leader has is the development of the people that the leaders serve. Often this means letting those people take the lead even though their level of performance may not be at the same level as the leaders.

Recently a client (let’s call him John) shared a story where he had battled to resist his own internal urge to ‘takeover’ from one of his team members (let’s call her Amy) when it became apparent that Amy was uncomfortable performing the task she had agreed to perform.

Amy had agreed to be the host and welcome a High Court Judge to their team, and then thank and provide a summary of the judge’s speech to conclude the evening. After struggling through her initial welcome John had become quite concerned that Amy’s performance was not up to his standards, despite this being Amy’s first time at performing such a role. As his discomfort rose, so too did his desire to ‘save’ Amy by taking over from her. John knew that he could have done a better job and was concerned about how Amy’s introduction would reflect on the organsiation if it wasn’t rectified for the concluding sections of the event.

Taking this type of action in this instance would have by many people’s standards reflected great leadership. After all, who wants top run the risk of their organsiation looking poor because of someone’s poor performance? Something inside John, possibly his social intelligence, told him to ‘hold his nerve’ and to do nothing. That is right, John consciously decided to do ‘nothing’ (which, if we wanted to get technical, is in fact a conscious choice to do something that in this example was to not intervene). In leadership the choice to do nothing is often far more difficult than the choice to do something!

John’s intuition was justified as Amy recovered her poor welcome address by completing an outstanding thank you and summary of the the judge’s speech. The judge even commented on the quality of Amy’s listening and was appreciative of the fact that at least one person had clearly listened to him! Amy was delighted and received a significant confidence boost from having worked through her challenge.

When reflecting on the evening John had mentioned to me that no-one other than himself had been aware of the leadership challenge that he had faced that evening. Leadership is very much like that. A great deal of the work by great leaders goes unnoticed, especially when the leader is holding themself back for the sake of the development of a team member.

John also noted how delighted he felt when Amy had ‘delivered’ at the end of the judge’s speech. His delight came from multiple sources. The first was that he was delighted for Amy because he knew that she would have been disappointed with her welcome and introduction (which she later confirmed) and that she would have been stressing about the summary and concluding remarks (which she also confirmed). To overcome those stresses and to perform so well was exciting because it showed Amy that she could recover from a poor start and it would also give her confidence moving forward into her next development activities. The second source for John’s delight was that he had been his own master in this little episode. On previous occasions he had stepped in and ‘saved the day’, or so he had thought. After this experience his thoughts about the previous ones were, “What if, instead of saving the day, I had actually reduced the development of those people so that I could look good?” It is an interesting question, isn’t it!

Leadership is not always about being the person out the front making all the noise. Often, true leadership comes from having the personal mastery to let others lead. In this way, doing ‘nothing’ can be just as effective as doing ‘something’.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at http://garyryans.com

Learn About The Seven Skills of Dialogue

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Dialogue is a much used term. It seems that it is often used as a synonym for conversation. While this is in part accurate, dialogue is in fact a form of conversation that is distinct from other forms of conversation. The attachment Dialogue continuum Dialogue continuum.pdf positions dialogue at the opposite end of the conversation continuum to debate.

It is important to note that debate, polite discussion, skilful discussion and dialogue are all legitimate forms of conversation. Our perspective is that most people are highly skilled at both debate and polite discussion and poorly skilled at skilful discussion and dialogue. Debating is when each person in a conversation has a view that is un-moving and they seek to sell their view or ‘to beat down’ opposing views until their view ‘wins’. People often use their positional power to win debates which is one of the reasons why many people become very skilled at debating.

Polite discussion is when people have the appearance of agreeing with a particular view, but do not actually support the view. For a range of personal, cultural and organisational reasons people choose not to be honest. Instead, they nod their heads in agreeance or acceptance but then let others know when they are in the office kitchen that they really hold a different view. Our perspective is that polite discussion is a damaging form of conversation and should be minimised as much as possible. At least in a debate people’s positions are clear. With polite discussion, no-one other than the person themself knows their true position.

Skilful discussion is what most of us achieve when we are trying to use the skills associated with dialogue. It is a highly productive form of conversation and is the result of the generally low dialogue skills that most of us possess. Like most skills, if we haven’t practiced them very much throughout our lives we tend to be fairly poor at executing them when we first begin to use those skills. However, many of the benefits of dialogue such as learning, deeper insights, innovation, shared understanding and a deeper understanding of vision, purpose and values can be achieved through skilful discussion. In other words it is a highly desirable form of communication which demonstrates the value in practicing these skills even when we may be poor at them.

Dialogue is a form of conversation where people genuinely try to access different perspectives to enable a new understanding to emerge. Unlike debate, dialogue seeks to discover a new meaning that was not previously held by any of the participants in the dialogue. While difficult to achieve, the seven skills of dialogue can be practised at any time. Through practice, dialogue skills can significantly enhance skilful discussion and dialogue itself when the opportunity arises.

The seven skills of dialogue are deep listening, respecting others, inquiry, voicing openly, balancing advocacy and inquiry, suspending assumptions & judgements and reflecting. Each of these skills is explained below.

1. Deep listening
In its most simple form deep listening derives from the conscious choice to listen. It involves quietening the voice in our heads so that we can hear the true story of the person to whom we are listening. As we listen to understand their whole story we literally stay quiet and just listen. In exercises that we conduct on listening, people often report that they are amazed at how much they can hear when they know that all they have to do is listen. Instead of readying themself for their turn to speak, the listener focuses on understanding the speaker. Deep listening can occur anywhere, anytime. It could be with a team member while walking down a corridor. It might be with a customer in a busy department store or on the telephone. It might even be with our own partners! Imagine the difference that enhanced listening could make in that domain! The common element in all listening examples is the genuine choice to listen. It is both powerful and important if deep listening is to occur.

2. Respecting others
Voltaire, a French author, humanist, rationalist and satirist is reported to have said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” This perspective lies at the heart of respecting others. Clearly this is particularly difficult to do when we interact with people who have contrasting views to our own. Practicing this dialogue skill therefore becomes imperative if we are to develop the true capacity to dialogue. While respecting others does not mean that you have to agree with them, it does mean that you will allow them the time and space to have their say and you will see it as a perspective that while you may not understand it, it is a perspective that is valid in the context that it contributes, even if only in a small way, to our understanding of the ‘complete’ picture of whatever is our area of focus at the time.

3. Inquiry
This is the capacity to ask genuine questions. As such it encourages the use of open questions that enhance our understanding of different perspectives, or assist in the deeply held mental models that lie behind many perspectives to come to the surface. The blog The Art of Skilful Questions provides a range of insights and suggestion to assist with developing improved questioning skills.

4. Voicing openly (advocacy)
Many of us are quite talented in this skill, at least in part. Voicing openly is the capacity to say what you think and to be able to explain why you think what you think. Unfortunately many people struggle to share their view. All views, if they exist, are important for the development of a true understanding of a situation. If those views are not shared, then a part of the picture is missing which is why voicing is so important in the context of dialogue.

5. Suspending assumptions & judgements
The capacity to explain why we hold the views that we hold lies at the heart of suspending assumptions & judgements. Much like we hang our clothes on a line for them to dry, suspending means that we ‘hang out’ our reasons for our views. This allows people to look at them, question them and assist us in developing a deeper understanding of our perspectives. To suspend your assumptions & judgements illustrates a willingness to be vulnerable which is a key attribute of servant leaders (see the blogs Dee Hock – an example of a Servant Leader and The Paradoxes of Servant Leadership if you are not aware of servant leadership). Should we discover that our views are not useful through the act of having suspended them before others, we have the opportunity to adopt new ones. This experience is often described as true learning.

6. Balancing voicing (advocacy) and inquiry
This is as simple and complex as balancing sharing our view and why we have it with asking genuine questions to better understand another person’s view, or to allow the group to talk about issues that will enhance the whole group’s collective understanding of a topic. To practice this skill involves utilising all the skills listed above; deep listening, respecting others, inquiry, voicing openly and suspending assumptions & judgements. Even if the other people with whom you are conversing are not trying to dialogue, practicing this skill significantly enhances the quality of your contribution to the conversation. People will notice your enhanced communication skills because the quality of the conversations within which you participate will be enhanced by your contributions to them.

7. Reflecting
Our fast paced world offers little time to reflect. However the capacity to reflect is a big rock (see the blog The Rocks and the Jar) and enhances our communication skills and capacity to dialogue through considering how we have just practiced our skills. In team environments it is worth holding a reflection at the end of an attempted dialogue to recognise where the skills of dialogue were used effectively and where they could be improved. The blog Conducting an End of Meeting Reflection provides some pointers for such a conversation.

People often recognise that practicing dialogue is not easy. It isn’t. But the various skills of dialogue can be practised at any time in any form of communication, and providing they are used for the purpose of genuinely enhancing communication, practicing these skill will provide immense benefits for all involved and result in improved team/group performance.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at http://garyryans.com

How ‘little ideas’ can make a BIG difference when times are tough

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Recently I had the good fortune to perform an assessment on a division of a large financial organisation for the Customer Service Institute of Australia (CSIA). As both a Senior Assessor with CSIA and through our our own OTM Service Strategy I have had the opportunity to observe many organisations who are striving to deliver great service to their customers.

More and more organisations have recognised the importance of treating their staff as their Number 1 customers (see the blog Providing Great Service Means That Your Staff Come First, Not Your Customersposted on http://studentsthatmatter.ning.com) and there is a strong link between that approach to employees and the provision of great service. I also observed a number of terrific little practices that have produced significant cost savings and efficiencies for the organisation’s with whom I have been working.

The team from the financial organisation that I assessed last week shared a couple of significant results from implementing ‘little ideas’. Last year the staff in the call centre were required to complete eight weeks of overtime leading up to the end of financial year. With 120 staff in the Call Centre that creates a significant salary overhead. This year only one weekend of overtime was required to complete the same amount of work with the same number of staff.

A serious question is, “How did they create such a remarkable efficiency improvement?”.

There were two ‘little ideas’ that drive the response to this question. The first was that over the past year they have created a work allocation system that more evenly distributes work, including ensuring that the work performed by the more senior staff in ‘coaching’ other staff is recorded as ‘real work’ for the coaches. In the past this work was not recorded as ‘real work’ for the more experienced staff so their system included a dis-incentive for experienced staff to share their knowledge. As part of a continuous improvement program where staff submit suggestions, a simple idea to change the system so that the ‘coaches’ were recognised for their ‘coaching’ significantly changed the behaviour of those people. The resultant behavioural change also meant that less experienced staff started to access knowledge far more quickly than they had previously been able to access existing knowledge. The result was that new staff were more quickly gaining the right knowledge at the right time which enabled them to become more efficient in their work.

The second ‘little idea’ that has caused a major efficiency improvement for the team was as simple as pressing a button. Through the continuous improvement program that the Call Centre has created for its staff, one of the team members noticed that each of the 120 computers in the Call Centre took five minutes to ‘boot up’ at the start of each day. There are a number of security firewalls that cause the slow boot-up time but these are considered necessary by the institution for security purposes. One of the staff who arrived early every morning decided that while her computer was ‘booting up’ she would spend the five minutes walking around and pressing buttons until all the computers were activated, rather than staring blankly at her screen.

This meant that when the other staff arrived all they had to do was log in and they could commence work immediately. If you do the math and multiply 119 computers by 5 minutes, by 5 days by 50 weeks you will discover that it adds up to over 14.3 days of extra productivity over the course of a year. Two little ideas, one big saving.

The key factor in these examples is that the organisation has created a culture where submitting ideas is considered normal. I was also shown a number of ideas that have ‘not grown legs and won’t be implemented’ and management is happy about that. From their perspective if two little ideas each year can produce such a significant benefit, then the system is working above expectations!

Another interesting perspective on this story is the way that a downturn creates innovation, if you let it. While I wasn’t provided a statistic from this organisation to support what I am about to say, my suspicion is that there a number of people still working in the call centre who might not have their jobs if the efficiency improvements had not occured. When you consider the human impact that losing your job in a downturn can create, that is a significant benefit not only for the organisation but the staff as well.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at http://garyryans.com

How to Use Stories to Leverage Employability Skills for Employment Success

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Employability skills are a range of generic skills that, irrespective of your technical expertise are considered by employers to be critical skills for high level performance. Employability skills are also known as ‘transferable skills’, ’employee attributes’ and/or ‘key competencies’. The level of expertise that you are expected to have in relation to these skills is related to the level of the job for which you are applying or striving to achieve. As an example the level of communication skills expected of a prospective CEO are different to those of a part time supermarket check-out operator. Yet both roles require some proficiency with regard to communication.

The ten specific employability skills to which we are referring include:
1) The capacity to work in a team;
2) The capacity to effectively communicate with a wide variety of people;
3) The capacity to solve problems both individually and in the context of a team;
4) The capacity to positively influence and lead other people in the achievement of organisational objectives;
5) The capacity to effectively manage your time and the resources that are available to you;
6) The capacity to demonstrate on the job learning and your approach to life-long learning;
7) Having a personal vision and understanding how your work integrates with the achievement of your vision;
8) The capacity to understand and use numbers for business purposes;
9) The capacity for self-management across a wide variety of life activities; and
10) The capacity to provide high levels of service in the way that you perform your work.

With more and more people throughout the world gaining academic qualifications, the point for differentiation and individual competitive advantage stems from how a person has continued to develop their employability skills. Some people believe that it is important to develop your employability skills so that you can obtain a job. Once you have a job then you no longer have to worry about developing these skills. This thinking is flawed. Jobs are no longer guaranteed for life and employees must continue to develop their employability skills if they wish to remain employable (hence the term, ’employability skills’). Seeking opportunities through on-the-job learning or through training and development experiences are critical to maintaining high employability while you have a job.
The benefit of maintaining a high level of employability while having a job is critical from the perspective of increasing your chances for promotion. Also, a high level of employability correlates with high performance. High performance is one of the most valid job security strategies that an employee can implement. While there are no guarantees in this world, an assumption that I am comfortable making is that if an organisation has an equal choice between letting a poor performer or a high performer go, the poor performer will nearly always be asked to leave first.

Consciously developing employability skills is an important process that many people forget to do. In our work with students we often hear them refer to their part time experiences like this, “I’m just an administration assistant”, or, “I just work at a gas station.” Having performed many menial jobs throughout my youth and undergraduate studies I have formed a view that there is never a situation where what you are doing is ‘just a job’. All jobs create the opportunity in some way, even if only small, to develop employability skills. The same is true for full time employment.

Capturing your employability skill development experiences, in the form of stories then becomes another critical step in the process of being able to demonstrate your experience in an interview. If you haven’t consciously developed your employability skills then you are unlikely to be able to re-tell your stories in an interview that demonstrates how you have used those skills in practice. As over 95% of interview questions are behaviourally based (that is, you are asked to provide evidence of having developed a skill, as opposed to making up an answer for a ‘what if’ style question) it is critical to be able to have a range of stories at your disposal to share in an interview.

For each employability skill we recommend the STAR technique for capturing your stories. The technique works as follows:
S = Situation – what was the high level situation that you were involved in?
T = Task – what was the task that you (usually in a team context) were trying to achieve?
A = Actions – what actions did you personally take to achieve the desired outcomes of the task?
R = Result – what was the result of your efforts?

Once you have captured your stories all you have to do is listen carefully in an interview to the questions being asked, and then tell the most appropriate story for that question. A significant benefit from recording your stories is that many stories contain a range of employability skills. For example, a leadership story may also include aspects of teamwork, communication, problem solving etc. Once you have your leadership story prepared you also have the capacity to tell the same story from the perspective of those other skills. In the context of an interview you may be asked a question about teamwork that, for one reason or another the teamwork story that you have prepared may not be the best story or example for use in response to that specific question. Your leadership story, on the other hand may be a better story to tell, but from a teamwork perspective.

In this way the ten stories that you prepare (one for each of the employability skills listed above) can turn into 40 or 50 stories when you walk into an interview. How confident do you think you would be if you walked into an interview with 40 or 50 genuine stories? Most people say, “I’d be very confident!”. The key is to follow the flow of the interview and to select the most appropriate story for the question that has been asked.

In this context what are your employability stories and how have they helped you in an interview to be successful in being offered the job that you wanted? Alternatively, if you have been involved in employing people, how important are employability skills in the context of your recruitment strategies?

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at http://garyryans.com

What leaders can do to maintain focus on organisational objectives

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For many years I have been leadership development programs for graduate students who have a minimum of five years work experience. The focus of the program is to enhance the capacity of the participants (even if only in a small way) to successfully perform in a mid to senior leadership role. The participants in the programs come from a broad range of cultural and work experience back-grounds, which is one of the many reasons that I enjoy facilitating the program. As part of the program I ask the participants to generate questions, that if answered would help them to better perform their role as a mid to senior leadership role.

A recent question that I was asked was, “What is the most important thing that you have to do as a manager to keep your team focused on organisational objectives?”.

There are many factors that relate to answering this question. In this blog I will provide one approach that a leader can use to enhance the capacity of the team that they lead to stay focused on (and achieve) organisational objectives and goals.

Gary Ryan, Organisations That Matter, leaders, leadership, Yes For success, visionStep 1.
Does your team know the organisational objectives to which it is contributing? This may seem like a silly question but my experience has taught me that it isn’t. Too many managers aren’t able to clearly and quickly articulate the organisational objectives to which the performance of their team is contributing. If you are in this situation then it is your responsibility to find out. The answer can usually be found in the organisation’s Strategic Plan or Annual Plan. These documents will exist but all too often their implementation seems remote from a mid-management perspective because a gap often exists between planning and operational activities.

Step 2.
Once you have identified the objectives outlined in your Strategic Plan, the next challenge for you is to communicate how that plan relates directly to your team members. A simple and effective tool, irrespective of the level of the people who report to you, is to use the One Page Strategy Map invented by Kaplan and Norton. An example of such a map can be found here.

Many organisations use the Balanced Scorecard methodology for their Strategic Planning and even if a different methodology is used, the high level strategies can often be focused and presented on a single page.

Step 3.
Literally sit down with each member of the team that you lead and, with a highlighter in hand, highlight each aspect of the Strategy Map to which their work directly relates. On many levels the act of highlighting different aspects of the content on the Strategy Map is far less important than the conversation that you will be having with each member of the team as you go through this process. These conversations will create a clear and specific level of understanding about what each person does and how that contributes to the achievement of organisational objectives.

Step 4.
At the conclusion of your conversation ask your team member if they have identified any work that they are doing that doesn’t seem to fit anywhere on the map. The answer to this question will not automatically mean that they are doing something that they shouldn’t be doing, but it certainly should indicate that further inquiry into this work should be considered.

Step 5.
Ultimately any work performed by the members of the team that you lead should be able to be explained in the context of how it contributes to the strategies outlined in the Strategy Map. Any other activities may be a waste of time and may indicate a loss of focus from the real work that should be performed. If possible, conduct a whole team conversation to enable each team member to clearly and concisely articulate their contribution (and collectively your team’s contribution) to the achievement of organisational objectives.

If you follow the five steps above and regularly talk about the progress that your team is making toward the achievement of the objectives outlined on your organisation’s One Page Strategy Map you will have an enhanced capacity to help your team members maintain focus on the work that they should be doing.

What is your experience with using Strategy Maps or similar tools to enhance the focus of your team? Or, if this blog has encouraged you to try this approach for the first time, please let us know how you go.

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Gary Ryan enables talented professionals, their teams and organisations to Move Beyond Being Good.
View a TedX Talk by Gary here.

The Importance of Employability Skills Recognised in India

The Press Trust of India in Mumbai has reported in the Business Standard newspaper that Indian students have identified that they have a significant lack in development of key employability skills, with a particular focus upon communication and decision making skills.

The survey was conducted with over 1000 students studying across 20 institutions emanating from Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi. The full report can be read at http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/majoritygrads-lack-key-biz-proficiency-skills/371077/

The significance of the report is not that the students have identified that they lack development in some key employability skills. This finding is common throughout the world, including Australia. What is of significance is that the article is evidence, yet again, of the global nature and importance of developing employability skills. The very nature of employability skills is that they are skills that relate to practical situations. In other words, employability skills cannot be learnt in a classroom alone. This is one of the reasons why we constantly recommend finding and/or creating opportunities to put employability skills into practice.

We also advocate that the conscious and strategic choice to practice these skills will significantly enhance their development, as opposed to unconscious development of the skills. An important issue arises, however, for international students studying in places like Australia. How do these students access opportunities for practice, especially during an economic downturn? Part-time work is still available so that is one option. Volunteering is another.

Recently I was speaking with a friend and colleague who is involved with the Rotary Club of Australia. His view was that Rotary Clubs provide a terrific environment for international students to not only volunteer and serve their community, but also provide an excellent entry point to local Australian networks. Such networks, he argued could also result in part-time work and, in some cases full time work. He also argued that Rotary Clubs also provide an excellent environment for international students to speak English on a day to day communication level, an experience which over time can have a positive effect upon a student’s overall communication skills. Such suggestions seem relatively simple and on one level they are. The hard part is taking action and placing yourself out into the unknown. I’d argue that international students are well experienced in taking action and placing themselves in challenging circumstances – after all, haven’t they taken incredible action to leave home and to come and study abroad, often when English is a second language and the culture is completely different! In this context, if you are an international student and you are concerned about the development of your employability skills, consider participating in organisations such as Rotary as the benefits would seem to far outweigh any disadvantages.

Visit http://studentsthatmatter.ning.com for more information

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at http://garyryans.com

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