Monday, February 20, 2012

Poor Management = Disengaged Staff = Lower Profits

I think it was the 60's folk group, Peter Paul & Mary who sang "When will they ever learn?"

I couldn't help but think of this over the weekend.

I have 2 daughters who are still studying and, like most of their peers, they work part time to generate income as they complete their degrees. One works in a locally owned fashion store and the other in a well known jewellery chain with high quality merchandise but owned by overseas interests. Both enjoy their work - they love the interaction with people and each of their employers recognises them as people who make their targets.

Last Thursday the daughter who works in jewellery mentioned that, on Friday, the regional manager would be visiting the store where she works. She said that her manager appeared a bit concerned because the shop's figures were 8% down on target - a situation that their research showed was somewhat better than most other retailers in their shopping centre and a lot better than the situation with the other members of the same chain in nearby shopping centres.

On Friday evening she came home furious. We learned that the regional manager had shown absolutely no understanding, had not been prepared to listen, and had given all 11 staff members a formal warning of dismissal - this despite the fact both my daughter and her manager were ahead of budget on their individual figures. On Saturday my daughter learned that she was not the only one now looking for another job.

Now I know that retail is a hard business at the best of times and that, right now in Australia, it is especially difficult. But surely the last thing you want to do is to have your good staff looking for other jobs!

The truth is that good people don't work for bad bosses! Once good employees find out that their management is poor to bad, they start looking elsewhere - and, because they're good, its not too hard for them to find alternative employment even when the job market is tough.

Retail trade is very dependent on floor traffic. That is why so many retailers go into large shopping centres where the multiplicity and variety of shops encourages a wide range of people to browse even if they have nothing specific to buy. If floor traffic is down there is very little, if anything, that a small individual shop can do to generate more shoppers. If this low floor traffic is coupled with a reduced spending pattern (such as Australia is now seeing) then meeting targets becomes even more difficult. The evidence of this is seen in the closure of so many retail outlets across the country over the last year or so.

In difficult times organisations need highly committed people who are fully engaged with their employer and their work associates. These fully engaged people will function as effective teams and will search for creative ways of meeting targets. They will engage with potential customers knowing that satisfied customers spend a lot more money than dissatisfied ones. Good management recognises this and seeks to enhance commitment. Poor management destroys commitment by making threats.

My suspicion is that somewhere in an office well away from Australia, is a management team that has looked at the jewellery chain's Australian figures and has put a lot of pressure on the local management to improve results. The local CEO has passed this pressure down and it has reached regional manager level. The regional manager, feeling threatened, has hit out at the managers of individual stores, etc. Its a classic example of PPM ("piss poor management").

Of course, this isn't only found in retail and its not only found in overseas owned operations.

There is significant research showing that the most critical thing in achieving desired results is that people feel physically, emotionally and psychologically safe. Immediately a person is threatened with dismissal this safety factor is triggered. At that time the person becomes more concerned for their own welfare than they do for their employer. A descending spiral commences which results in everyone losing. I can see this starting to emerge with the jewellery chain in question.

All of the data shows that most people want to do a good day's work and achieve results. Good managers understand this so they set clear performance targets in both qualitative and quantitative terms, then through effective feedback and an appropriate balance of control and empowerment, they create an environment in which people are fully engaged and in which they can achieve the desired results. It a pity the senior management where my daughter works doesn't understand this.

I believe its well past time to get rid of PPM practices.

I'd love to hear what you think. Please provide me with some feedback.

More about Doug Long at

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ash Wednesday Revisited

On the radio this morning I heard the announcer say that it was today, 29 years ago that the Ash Wednesday Bush Fires erupted in South Eastern Australia.

I was living in Melbourne in 1983 and I remember the day well.

Like today, it was sunny although, unlike recent Sydney weather, February 16, 1983 was the continuation of a hot, dry period of late summer. I was working quietly in my home office and scarcely noticed the wind rising. However, as the day progressed, the wind got stronger and the sky darkened - but not with rain. I turned on the radio and was quickly aware of the fact that fires had started in various parts of Victoria and South Australia. With the strong winds that had developed, these fires were racing across farm land and through the bush. All available fire crews had been mobilised to fight the various conflagrations.

It was late afternoon when I was contacted and asked to report to the State Relief Centre in Melbourne to help out there. On reporting I was asked to coordinate the Centre's operations and ensure that, as far as possible, people and communities affected urgently received the support and assistance they needed. I'm still proud of the work done by the team with whom I was privileged to work.

As I think back over that period, several things come to mind:

First, apart from those who were already part of the various emergency and relief organisations, the absolute commitment to help and the generosity of so many "ordinary" people was amazing. All support agencies in Melbourne were besieged by people offering time, money, and goods to help those in need. The contract drivers for a major trucking company volunteered their vehicles to transport goods wherever they may be needed - and that included all costs involved. Quick food chains arrived with food for the volunteers both wherever they may be. In affected areas, accommodation, food, clothing, and all other forms of support miraculously appeared. There was no need to appeal for help - in so many cases, it simply arrived.

Second, that all too often we give only lip-service to the dedication, courage, and commitment of those in the front line of disasters - how often are we quick to criticise the police, the "fireys", the "ambos", and the others who are actually face-to-face with the issues and doing whatever is necessary for as long as necessary in order to achieve results. We praise them on the day then return to simply treating them as part of the scenery until the next major disaster occurs. We are happy to use them when its to our benefit but largely ignore them the rest of the time.

What my experience with the Ash Wednesday Bush Fires taught me is that, when made fully aware of an issue and given the opportunity to contribute, most people will willingly put in astronomical amounts of time and effort to being about a satisfactory solution. Most people want to contribute to something worthwhile and, given the chance, will become fully engaged with achieving results. When they believe that something is worthwhile and their energies are correctly harnessed, ordinary people achieve extraordinary results. Those with specialist training and roles will draw on all of their knowledge and skills while unskilled generalists will go out of their way to provide whatever additional support is required.

The tragedy is that our politicians and business leaders (totally supported by the media) seem to forget this. We are surrounded by walls of spin that seem to assume people either cannot handle the truth or that we cannot be trusted to do anything satisfactorily unless we are rigidly controlled. Our politicians seem to believe that only they and their bureaucrats know what is best - the strongly and rightly criticised legislation from both the Howard Government and the present government affecting Aboriginal communities in Australia is but one case in point. Our business leaders seem to believe that only they know how what are the issues needing to be addressed in their organisations and how to address them. Vested interests from those "in charge" dominate what is done and how it is done.

As I said, my Ash Wednesday Bush Fires experience taught me that, when made fully aware of an issue and given the opportunity to contribute, most people will willingly put in astronomical amounts of time and effort to being about a satisfactory solution. When people are fully informed with the "truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" and then are empowered to help bring about desired results, amazing things happen.

Isn't it about time we really learned this?

What do you think? I'd love to know. Please make your comments below.

More information about Doug Long at

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

You've got to love those skinks!

The skink was back on Sunday.

Well, I'm not really sure if it was the same skink about which I wrote a week or so back, but there certainly was a skink back in the kitchen - and the cat was still around.

For those of you not familiar with Australian fauna, the common garden skink (Lampropholis guichenoti) is found virtually everywhere in South East Australia. It has a smooth dark greyish body with a dark stripe running along each side - a very beautiful creature that is totally harmless, good for the garden, and enjoys sunning itself on rocks and ledges. From tip of nose to end of tail the ones around here seem to be about 18 cm (about 7 inches) long.

But we seem to have a skink with a penchant for danger - or one that
knows that there is a short cut between the front and back gardens if one goes through the house! The cat was sleeping near the door when the skink arrived on the porch, paused, looked at the cat, then scurried inside close to where I was reading a newspaper. There were a few moments of activity then, safely caught in a bag, the skink was removed and released into the front garden.

Now I know that skinks can't think rationally (and probably can't really think at all) but I had to wonder why a creature with no defence mechanisms other than flight or freeze would stray into the path of danger (the cat) and away from an environment in which it can find plenty of places to safely hide. And that got me thinking about the behaviour of people. How often do we act without thinking (virtually operating on 'auto pilot') and put ourselves and others in some form of danger?

We all see it every day. Someone puts an item on the stove (or a bench, or a table), close to the edge and with a handle sticking out in such a way that it could be easily bumped and dislodged; someone listens to music or talks on their phone whilst walking along a street totally oblivious to other people, traffic, or immoveable objects; people remove children and/or items from their car using the door that juts out into the traffic flow endangering both themselves and that which they are moving and passing traffic; people in shops block an entire aisle with their shopping basket or while chatting with a friend; and so on. There are myriad everyday examples, with which we are all aware, of unthinking risky behaviour. People operating on auto pilot with no manual override apparently present!

We all have 2 minds - a childlike mind that operates without thinking and an adult mind that is capable of rational thought, of planning, of "thinking outside the square", and generally enabling us to be creative, exciting people who are aware of others and our surroundings and who seek to operate safely and successfully without endangering ourselves or others. A childlike mind is totally acceptable in a child - in fact it is one of the endearing factors of children - but its not the best mind from which to operate when we're grown up.

You can shift your brain's control to the adult mind. Its not all that hard - all you've got to do is to access something that is already there; that you use frequently; and make it your default way of thinking and acting. There's some more information about how you can do this on

Why not let me know what you think? You can place your comments below.

More about Doug Long on

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Improving Decision Making

Chris Stephenson, a highly successful and well respected CEO who is now a management consultant in Sydney, has recently completed a valuable study on decision making[1].

There is plenty of material available that shows the importance of making good strategic decisions and, in retrospect, it is always easy to nominate “good” or “bad” decisions. Of course, there are also plenty of models around that can work us through a process (usually quite time intensive) designed to ensure we make the “right” decision.

But most of us don’t have the time to work through some complicated decision-making model and, even if we did have the time, the evidence shows that there is still no guarantee that we will make a “good” decision every (or even most of) the time. In fact there is data that shows only about 15% of organisations have the ability to make and implement important decisions effectively.

Stephenson interviewed CEOs and Executives in Australia about their decision making processes. His interest was to find out how we can improve the quality of decision making – in other words, rather than considering decisions that had been made and then deciding were these decisions “good” or “bad”, he wanted to find out those things surrounding the final decision being made so that the probability of a “good” decision improved.

He found that the key factors that resulted in poor quality decisions were:

  • No decision-making process – Decisions are made on a case by case basis often by a small sub-group or by the CEO alone mandating a direction without any discussion.
  • Lack of transparency – Excluding stakeholders from decision-making, withholding information, side-bar discussions between the CEO and individuals outside of the TMT.
  • Low tolerance for diversity and alternate views – A low appreciation of the value of diversity and experience.
  • Disrespect – Treating those with different views as disloyal and not team contributors.
  • Data – Ignoring data when it didn’t confirm favoured outcomes. Over relying on small data samples when they supported desired outcomes. Pretending everything is OK when it’s not.
  • Dominant individuals – A CEO or others dominating the discussion and chiding anyone that offers alternative inputs.
  • Self interest – Allowing self interest to be the basis of decision outcomes rather than organisational best interest.
  • Emotional factors – Taking decisions on gut instinct without cross-checking against the data. Not appreciating the affect of personal biases on decisions.
  • Narcissism – Decisions driven by individuals with an over developed self belief and inability to comprehend other people mattering or themselves being wrong.
  • Ego – Decisions driven by one person’s agenda to further themselves.

All business decisions today are made in an environment of increasing complexity, information overload, reducing lead-times, personal motives, survival and self-serving instincts, and pressure associated with meeting market expectations. What Stephenson found out was that the quality of decisions depended a lot on:

  • Knowing who is making the decision and their accountability for it
  • Understanding the timeframe
  • A robust process
  • Transparency
  • Inclusiveness
  • Appreciating diversity
  • A sense of order
  • Accurate data
  • Mutual respect
  • Active debate on issues with everyone involved having a say

Where this second set of factors were clear throughout the organisation – in other words, this was the organisation’s culture - the quality of decision making improved significantly.

What decision making culture exists in your business? As Stephenson shows, its not hard to make it positive.

More information about Doug Long at

[1] Unpublished DBA thesis through Southern Cross University.