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Educating your management team

In my last blog we talked about "putting your team under the microscope" (see blog posted 7/21/14). Having identified the need for management training - how do you start to educate them?

The first thing to recognize is that your business will most likely be sitting in the "in-between-zone" (see blog dated 6/16/14). That means that you can no longer manage like  "Tom Brady in the huddle" - and more to the point you really don't want your management team to be copying your bad management habits!

The problem is that for many years they will have been closely watching you in action and you are quite likely their only (or at least a major) role model. Not good! Let's think about how you work. As an entrepreneur, you are really good at "spinning a number of plates" - so that means you:

- don't prepare in advance for management meetings (you don't need to because you can "wing it" - obviously!)

- don't thoroughly brainstorm all the various possible actions (because you intuitively know what will work best)

- don't properly test ideas in advance of implementing them (see "intuition" above)

You see the pattern? Basically you behave like a typical "entrepreneur" - because that is what you are!

The problem is that your management team will probably not be populated by "entrepreneurial types" (or they would be running their own businesses). 

More importantly, if you have plans to really grow your business, that is not really the style you want to see in your management team. You want a "properly managed business" where your team are all pulling together in the same direction (towards your clearly understood business vision) - not a gang of entrepreneurial types all trying to copy your "wing it" style.

So how can we educate them (so they don't do as you do)?

A good place to start is to think about implementing a standard framework for building a plan - and in so doing start building good team habits.

Building a standard framework for of an action plan (any action plan)  

The idea here is to recognize that any potential action plan has 2 big variables:

- How much VALUE the potential action might bring (ranging from high to low): - where 'value' is based around concepts like - growing profits, building competitive advantage, value growth etc

- How much EFFORT the potential action might involve (ranging from high to low): - where 'effort' is based around concepts like - time, cost, hassle etc

The quadrant you want to avoid is bottom right (low value - high effort - "working on the chain gang"). All of the others have business merit (they are just different - see below).

How this works at most "entrepreneurial/ in-between-zone" businesses is that all the steps happen in the same meeting - more or less simultaneously. It is like watching a "stream of consciousness". It goes like this:

 We identify a problem - we discuss it for maybe 5 minutes (max) - somebody suggests a couple of ideas - one of those ideas seems like it has some merit and is seized upon -  we stop discussing other ideas - we home in on the idea that appears to have some merit - we start discussing how to implement the idea - the meeting gets bogged down in detail (and we lose focus) - we end the meeting thinking we have solved the problem (loosely) - we leave the meeting - but nobody "owns the problem" - we meet up again in X days / weeks / months - we discover that nothing has happened in the interim - we repeat the above pattern at that next meeting!. 

Sound familiar? Yes you are in the "in-between-zone"! How can you educate your team to do it better?

Step 1 - brainstorm properly (as a totally distinct exercise). That means - setting time aside to do it (not in a regular meeting) -  have a flip chart or white board - somebody holds the pen - have rules -no ideas are off the table - every idea is captured in writing - we don't start discussing the merits of any ideas until we have completely exhausted all ideas (which hopefully will take a long time if done properly). Recognize that whoever is facilitating has to try and dig deep and keep asking "why questions" (they need to observe the rule of "5 whys"). 

Step 2 - having captured a lot of possible ideas - sort and grade them properly. Use the criteria above ('value' and 'effort') and score each (on a scale of 1-10) idea based upon the relative values and relative effort involved. Remember, once that you have scored a couple of ideas you will have created a benchmark for comparison (and there is always scope to go back and recalibrate). Not every idea is a 10! (in fact probably none are ever higher than 9.9 if you are doing it properly).

Step 3 - complete the initial  scoring quadrant above

-  Top left - high value / low effort ideas (in which case get on with them!).

- Bottom left - lower value / low effort ideas (pick a few and get on with them - they help your team create a feeling of momentum).

- Top right - high value / high effort ideas (this is where you need to be careful - and really build a plan - see below).

Remember - you can't try and do too many of these top right actions simultaneously (too much effort involved - see "elephant sandwich" blog dated 4/ 29 /14). Also because they will likely take time, that creates a risk of losing strategic momentum (see low value / low effort above to create a balanced approach).

But mainly you need a proper plan to be built. How does that work? 

Step 4 - do a 'forcefield analysis'. Essentially this is how you build "the bones of a plan" (see below).

You start by considering all of the BIG POSITIVE actions that you need to happen. List those on the left of the illustration. It would be normal to expect at least 5-6 big actions things in any plan (e.g. in a marketing plan you would need to do "big things" like identify what target customers look like etc).

Once you have exhausted all the big, positive actions - now consider and list all the BIG NEGATIVE FORCES that are going to stop the plan happening. Usually these are things like - 'we don't have time to do this' - 'we don't have some of the skills needed' etc etc. Again you would expect at least 5-6 big negative forces that are likely to challenge implementation. You write those up on the right of the forcefield.

Now - go back to the positive list on the left. Under each of the 5-6 big positives - brainstorm (say) 5 sub-actions required to complete the big action.

Similarly - go back to the negative list on the right. Under each of those 5-6 big negatives - brainstorm (say) 5 ways we could mitigate (halve the impact) of the negative.

In this way a team (working as a team) can quickly (within 1-2 hours) build an outline plan with about 50-60 agreed actions required (5-6 x 5 each on the left + 5-6 x 5 each on the right). That probably will not comprise the whole plan - but it will cover the highlights (more than 80% of what is important - and you will have benefitted from "team effort" and achieved a high level of team concensus).


If you look at the illustration above - you have completed the initial PLAN (brainstorm, matrix, forcefield) stage of PLAN - DO - TEST - ACT.

The next stage is DO. That means making somebody on the team accountable (with a timescale, resources etc) to "put flesh on the bones" of the forcefield plan. Usually this involves bringing the fleshed out plan back to the group for the next stage of agreement.

Having reached that stage - we can then move to TEST. Often this is where the initial plan is tweaked 2-3-4 + times. Let us really get it right before we implement fully.

Finally ACT. Implement the plan (whatever it is).

Obviously the detail of the plan is going to vary - but what we are beginning to do is to educate the team - to work together - to work in a pattern that is likely to achieve better results. We are on our way towards the "properly managed zone" - but remember - a journey of 1,000 miles always starts with a single step! 

Step 1 - you need to educate your team so that they don't believe that "plate spinning" is the only game in town!

By the way - if you are wondering about Step 2 - just remember as a leader that you need to "walk the talk" - so that means no more "winging it" for you from now on too!

Ready to get going on your journey? Start Here