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No One Makes Mistakes on Purpose

“Bob is not doing his job. Always mistakes. What should I do with him?”
“Mary has messed up our relationship with a key client. I had to step in to save the day.”

Having done a multitude of projects in all kinds of private and public organisations, we have frequently encountered these and other remarks by managers about their staff. Although the comments are usually based on symptoms that come in the disguise of facts, starting a project, especially an improvement project, with this type of mind-set is generally a bad omen. It sets the wrong focus and leads very often to failure.


Customer to Cash – Customer Segmentation for AR

Collections represents the ‘end’ of a sales cycle. It also represents the firm’s ability to convert cash expended from when a customer order arrives through fulfillment and payment. For many firms the operating motto in this area of working capital management is to simply try to collect faster. Few go beyond to address this ‘end of sales cycle’ activity that is the key provider of cash for the firm.


Do You Have a Clear Line-of-Sight?

Whenever I entered the management team meeting at MyBank, I had my state-of-the-art PowerPoint pitch showing the performance of each department and its core processes as part of our dashboard. Every month, we got the latest underlying data together, aggregated them and displayed an overall dashboard of how the business was doing. With that, we had a clear Line-of-Sight.


Excuse Me, Why Should HR Know About Six Sigma?

A friend recently spoke at an HR Conference on a competency development roadmap for Six Sigma professionals. During the break, a few participants went up to him and asked him what Six Sigma is. Only then it occurred to him that not every HR person is familiar with well known basic principles and management practices contributing to business performance and leadership development.


Difficult Conversations – Keeping Mentoring Relationships on Track

The Quality of a Relationship relies on the Quality of the Conversation.

At some point in a mentoring relationship, the need for a difficult conversation will arise. Whereas every conflict is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all advice, there tend to be patterns to what goes wrong, and what helps. Every difficult conversation has three different dialogues that occur simultaneously. The What-Happened dialogue, the Feelings dialogue and the Identity dialogue. As you prepare for a meeting with your mentor/mentee, consider asking yourself some simple questions in order to navigate through these three dialogues.


Being a Mentee – How to Benefit from a Mentoring Relationship

Congratulations, mentee. Someone has decided to be your Mentor.

When Odysseus gave the task of protecting, guiding and educating his son Telemachus to his old friend Mentor, he did this knowing that Mentor would be the best person possible to care for his only son during his absence from Greece. Since then, Mentor is synonymous for someone who is willing and able to provide guidance and support to bring out the very best in his mentee – without any other personal agenda.

Being a Mentor – How Not to Disserve Your Mentee

When you agree to mentor another person, you offer to help someone in his/her development in the organisation. By mentoring, you have no agenda of your own and thus you are able to create a safe arena within which to develop a trusting relationship.

Mentoring Relationship

Mentoring Relationship

Mentoring is not always easy and as natural as we expect. Here are some tips on how not to disserve your mentee.

1. Make Time

Cancelling appointments at the last minute, turning up late or leaving early or showing up for meetings in a rush without knowing your mentees’ priorities are common worst practices by mentors.

I agreed to mentor 3 young managers in my previous organisation. After a couple of months, I realised that I am not able to keep to all the meetings with my mentees while performing my daily role as the Head of Department; attending to several internal and external meetings. I found myself dancing on my schedules with my mentees – postponing appointments one hour prior to the meeting.

I knew Eva, Jack and John were not very happy with me changing schedules frequently at the last minute, but they did not dare to tell me how they felt. I only learnt about it during the mentoring mid-way review feedback survey. Luckily I had another 9 months to repair my relationship with my mentees. Things turned out well after I committed myself to allocate the same priority to both my meetings with mentees and other business dealings. I have also learnt to delegate work to my team members – something which I taught my mentees to do!

Mentoring is a commitment – you need to set aside time to prepare for the meeting and afterwards to reflect and prepare notes. Therefore, do not over-commit to too many mentoring relationships at the same time.

2. Be Patient and Don’t Make your Mentee Become You

You may sometimes feel that you know exactly what to do, from similar experiences, when your mentee explains his/her challenges. So, it can be frustrating to see your mentee taking a longer time to find the right solution. Good mentors are patient, letting their mentees find solutions with guidance instead of blunt instructions, no matter how long it takes.

Eve just got her promotion to a Team Leader role in her department. When she related her challenges in people management and her problems in engaging her team members to be aligned with her objectives, I could see the then-me in her. Instead of sharing with her my problem-solving skills and letting her find the solution, I was telling her how to tackle the issues using the same way I did before. I told her what she should say and do. I even called her a week later to check if she had done exactly what I told her.

Later, Eve shared with me that she was not very comfortable in doing exactly what I instructed, and that she would prefer to take more time to build relationship with her team members. It then donned on me that I have made one of the biggest mistakes in mentoring – I was focusing on ME rather than developing my mentee!

Mentoring is about developing mentees’ talents, not turning them into carbon copies of their mentors. A mentee’s success often follows a very different path from their mentor’s. Respecting and cultivating people’s individuality is more rewarding than just solving their problems. By doing so, mentors may even widen their own horizon.

3. Don’t Start Telling Too Many Stories

Sometimes a good personal anecdote is the perfect way to make a point. Your mentee wants to learn from your experience, after all. But don’t start telling too many stories that are more indulgent of yourself than helpful to the mentee.

Jack is a very quiet person. Our conversation tended to be very formal and sometimes I found myself referring to theories I picked up from books or articles, and at times I used my personal ‘war stories’ to relate to the subject. He listened attentively, usually. Our meeting could last about 1 to 2 hours – with me talking most of the time!

I decided to ask him for feedback on our mentoring relationship and how else I could better support him as mentor. Jack said to me that my personal experience is a useful reference but he felt it was rather difficult for him to relate to his own challenges. He told me that it would be good to keep the sharing succinct and focus more on ways to address the issues. He liked the challenging questions I posted to him as they did help him think through the essence of the support and guidance he needed from me.

I have been reminded by this episode that mentoring relationship is a two-way street, not a lecture hall. I have also learnt to make sure I leave room for my mentee to make decisions, and encourage them to develop and trust their own judgement.

4. Mentoring Also Means: Giving Feedback

Every now and then, it might be appropriate to give your mentee some feedback which describes your response to the “story” you have heard. I prefer to package my feedback using the SBI technique:

  • Situation and circumstances at which the behaviour occurred.
  • Behaviour you have observed.
  • Impact of this behaviour on you and others.

You might, for example, want to give him/her positive feedback on how he/she has handled things so far. Or challenge his/her behaviour or attitude in response to the issue.

Whatever form your feedback takes, you should observe the following ground rules:

  • Ask your mentee if he/she would like to hear your feedback and respect his/her right to say ‘no’
  • Focus on specifics and avoid generalisations, especially if you are giving feedback on the person. Use the Situation-Behaviour-Impact (SBI) technique.
  • Give less rather than more; focus on the key resources that will be most useful for the other person to hear
  • Avoid wrongfully highlighting to your mentee that you are an ‘official’ mentor to his/her role.
  • Emphasise that your feedback is an opinion, not a fact. Emphasise that this is only your response, and that it says as much about you as it does about him/her
  • Allow your mentee to respond to your feedback

Mentoring is about believing in someone and then taking action to help that person be his or her very best. Do try to use the above tips while embarking on a fulfilling and rewarding experience.

Management by Walking About

Management by Walking About - Meeting Staff at Their Desk

Management by Walking About – Meeting Staff at Their Desk

“People leave bad managers, not companies …,” is one of the results of a famous Gallup survey at corporations in the US. This does not mean we have “bad” people as managers. It rather means that not every high-performing employee is really suitable for a managerial position. Other surveys have shown that less than 30% of high performers have the ability to do well as supervisor.

Many managers lose their people because they have not been able to develop processes for sensing their environment, for feeling the pulse of their organisation beyond what numbers show. Since they have reached senior rank, they unintentionally surround themselves with various mechanisms that prevent them from getting an accurate picture of what is going on. They may have the facts and figures, but often they do not know too much about the feelings of the people, about the heartbeat of the organisation.

In my opinion, there is a real need for managers to constantly gain feedback from all levels in order to help improving the company as well as their own performance. How can managers learn, how can they develop if they do not know, where things are going right, where they are going wrong, particularly if it affects their own managerial behaviour?

Annual culture surveys are not good enough to connect managers and their staff. In fact, they are too formal and deliver only lagging information in a very stringent way. They cannot measure the daily pulse of the organisation. Therefore, we need other, more informal ways for helping sense the environment and creating bonds.

Management by Walking About – MBWA

When I was with AT&T, we were encouraged to see our Managing Director taking time to meet staff on the production line and at the office. He did it nearly every day after lunch, dropped in unannounced and spent time talking to people, found out what was important to them. Staff members did certainly acknowledge the meaning of our MD taking a personal interest in them. This routine – “Management by Walking About” – is an amazingly simple method of going to your staff, listening and talking to them and finding out what drives or bothers them. Yet, it is a powerful way to get feedback from all levels.

Later, after I became HR Director of an insurance broking company, I applied what I have learnt at AT&T. Especially for an HR Director, it is too late to learn about staff leaving the company – during the exit interview. Therefore, I made regular visits to the different business units which were located at different storeys. So, I did my Management by Walking About. I made it a habit to speak to my colleagues nearly every day. We had short chats to find out how they were and what they were doing … even beyond work. At the beginning, most of them were not comfortable to see their HR Director walking around and interacting with them. Some were suspecting that I was checking on them. However, trust was built over time.

One day after I came back from my vacation, a colleague approached me when I was doing my usual Management by Walking About and said “I have been waiting for you as I do have some issues I would like to seek your advice on …”

I truly learned a lot about my colleagues. From time to time I was able to help them – sometimes even with personal issues. And, I have to admit, I learnt about myself, too.

Never underestimate the power of face-to-face dialogue, even in the era of email and SMS.

Why Competency Framework? Isn’t SOP Enough?

“Why do we need a Competency Profiling?  We have SOPs. That should be enough” was one of the statements I heard from a colleague. Here is some rational explaining why there is usually an added value in having competencies defined in addition to Standard Operating Procedures (SOP).

When SOP is in Place

Spending some days in Nanjing, the former capital of China, is enjoyable. People are nice, work is fun, food is outstanding and my hotel is awesome. Nowadays, the service in most hotels in China is world class.

Competency Profiling

Competency Profiling starts with Understanding the Job

Monday morning I make my way to the restaurant, expecting my usual sumptuous breakfast. I am greeted with a smile and with the usual dialogue:

“Good morning, sir. Your room number, please” requests the waitress with a sweet smile. I answer 1326.

“Smoker or non-smoker?” I opt for the first one.

“Tea or Coffee?” I answer this one as well and start toasting my bread.

On Tuesday morning, it is nice to meet the same waitress with the same sweet smile.

“Good morning, sir. Your room number, please” she wants to know again. I did not expect her to remember, of course.

“Smoker or non-smoker?” I answer as well.

“Tea or Coffee?” I answer this one, irritated.

Wednesday morning the same waitress, the same questions.

On Thursday and Friday exactly the same procedure.

I am very sure it was always the same girl. And, I am very sure I was always myself staying in the same room, being violent non-smoker who always likes coffee with milk in the morning. And I would bet she must have recognised me from Tuesday onwards. I just assume she was following her procedure and was not willing to think one step beyond.

She knew her procedure. No doubt. Even with a smile. However, I gave her a not so pleasant rating when I checked out. She was the wrong person for the job.

After Competency Profiling – SOP and Competency Framework Come Together

A friend mentioned the following story to me.

She arrived in her hotel in Myanmar on Sunday in order to work the following week. The hotel was ok. It was clean and nice but not really comparable to hotels she was used to. She went for breakfast on Monday morning and was greeted by the waiter. The waiter asked the usual questions that seemed to come from the worldwide handbook for hotel waiters. This waiter, dressed in a not perfectly clean suit, was not too busy so that he started a small talk with my friend.

“How did you sleep”, was one of his questions – in starter English. And my friend hesitated but replied truthfully that her night was not that good. Just by the way, she mentioned that her pillow was too hard.

When she returned from her client meeting, she was truly surprised. On her bed she found two additional pillows with different height and filling. Exactly what she needed. I am sure this little deed resulted in a nice tip for the waiter upon check-out.

Competency Profiling - Competency Framework and SOP Working Together

Competency Framework and SOP Working Together

We do not know what the SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) for the waiter in this hotel says – if they have an SOP. I do not believe it instructs him to do what he did for my friend. If he got an SOP it was surely for waiters, not for chamber maids.


SOPs describe how a task has to be performed – often step by step. Competencies describe knowledge and skills needed to perform this task. Additionally, they formulate requirements towards attitudes to apply knowledge and skills. Competencies describe WHAT it takes to complete a job successfully with the “HOW” to do it. This HOW is of less importance when the job is about repairing a car, for example. However, it is of paramount significance if the performance has to be shown in the service line of business.

SOPs and competencies combined can help delivering the best results. Job competencies often take over the instructional task of SOPs in case SOPs are lacking substance or don’t exist at all. If it serves the purpose, why not? Investing in Competency Profiling may add value to performance management as well.

Performance is achieved through application of knowledge and skills with the right attitude. The waitress in Nanjing did her job, but was lacking exactly this attitude whereas the waiter in this second class hotel in Yangon did. He displayed competencies we could summarise with Customer Orientation, Collaboration and Teamwork as well as Alignment with Organisational Values.

He sincerely listened to customer needs and translated them into actions. This attitude is completely unlike the usual “How are you?” for which no one really wants an answer. Furthermore, he showed a great degree of Collaboration and Teamwork by helping his colleagues to satisfy the needs of their customers – beyond his own scope of work. And, he exhibited his organisational values, probably without even knowing.

His mind-set made the difference between poor rating and commendation by customers.

Why do we do the Things, the Way we do

We have just acquired a bottle of Italian craft, homemade and aged balsamic vinegar from a dear family friend who we think is trying to expose us to the wonders of dipping bread into the vinegar, for a total sensory experience. This is ironic because he is definitely not a fussy eater and is the epitome of ‘eat to live’. But, that’s a different story.


Nuts and Bolts of Solutioning

Each improvement project undergoes two general phases, As-Is and Should-Be. Whereas the first stage is about understanding the problem, identifying and confirming the root causes, the latter one requires to turn the newly gained knowledge into impactful solutions that have a good chance to get implemented. Here are some tips for the solutioning stage.

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