Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Is Honesty and Trust Still Alive?

The news and newspapers have be filled with the story about the Labour Party Ministerial adviser who was caught fabricating stories about Conservative Party MPs.

It makes me smile to hear how much of an up roar this is causing. MP's are acting as though this is a new form of behaviour. This has been the 'norm' in the corporate world for many years and I am sure it is not the first time it has happened in the political world.

It certainly reminds me of some of my corporate days and the types of behaviour some managers enacted. I remember a number occasions where managers stole ideas and programmes developed by other members of staff and claimed it as their own; Instances where some felt it to be better to destroy the reputation of others in an effort to climb the corporate ladder. This certainly not new.

I am not saying that I agree with it, on the contrary, I do not. I think it is both dishonourable, immoral and unprofessional.

The corporate or political arena are not the only place where dishonesty exists. I went into town today and parked my car in a paid and display space. The paying machine was not working.

In effect, it was not legal and should have had a sign on it indicating that should not be used yet. As I understand it, to make pay and display machines legal, requires the Council to put up an appropriate notice, near the machine, notify the public of its existence and the times pay and display will be in operation. There was no sign in place on this occasion.

Before I discovered this interesting fact, I had put a pound coin into the machine to cover half an hours parking, but the machine failed to issue a ticket or to return my pound. Another case of dishonesty really on the part of the City Council. I wonder how many people have lost money trying to use this machine?

Just as I was about to give the machine a thump, another driver walked up and stood next to me waiting to pay his parking fee. I explained that the machine was not working and that I had lost a pound.

He immediately pulled out his mobile phone and dialled the number listed on the machine for problems. He explained to the operator that the machine was not working. He also kindly explained my predicament, but then went on to say that he had lost £3.50. This took me by surprise, as he had not put any money in the machine and had arrived with his colleagues, after I had.

I must had admit, I did not dispute his claim. I was on my own and a little afraid at the possible outcome disputing his claim might raise. Needless to say he got free parking.

Just in case you were wondering, the operator advised us to leave notes inside our car windows explaining to any passing Traffic Warden that we had paid and by what period of time we should be returning. This I and my counterpart dutifully did.

Any way, going back to my original rant or should I say my original point - It seems that is it the norm to be dishonest and if one chooses not the be, you feel in the minority.

Just few minutes ago, as I sat here writing this blog, I heard on the news about the captain of the basket ball team that went to the Para-Olympics. He has been jailed for fraud, for claiming benefits when he should not have been.

The whole reason why the economy is in the situation it is in right now, is due to greed and dishonesty. Are we to believe that the only way to succeed is to be dishonest? I would hate to think so.

We forget that it was good morals, honesty, good values, care and respect for each other that made this Country a great democracy. A Country where people from all other the world have wanted to come and live. It seems to me that we are becoming a place were people are ashamed to be honest and fair. A place where the recent headlines have made me ashamed to be a part of.

I think that in our desire to create and gain as much money as possible at any cost, we have lost touch of what our true values are. Not only as a Nation, but as individuals. Our values and belief are what affects our actions and behaviours.

Many people to day may frown on such proverbs as the golden rule: 'Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you.' but these are the values that encourage us to behave in a manner that builds up our Country and each other.
Just in case I appear to be lapsing into a deep dark hole of despair, I am pleased note that I also heard a story this week on the radio about two young lads who found a bag full of money and handed in to Police. Thank heavens there is hope. From the mouths of babes...

I think my next blog should be focussed on the number of times I have come across someone being honest, don't you? Just to balance things out :-)

Honesty and Truth are certainly not dead, but could do with a little polishing up and dusting off right now.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Moral and Professional Business Practises

I am sure that many business owners have experienced the difficulties that can arise when working on a project with a client. Thankfully for me, difficulties in working out and agreeing contracts have been few and far between. However, in recent weeks, working with a new client has been very interesting.

This experience has made me take a second look at my own business practices and principles and those employed by some others. This reassessment has demonstrated stark differences in how people conduct their businesses, particularly during these times.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am not naive, but I do think that reviewing one’s principles, in light of other people’s behaviour can be an interesting exercise. It can either confirm your methods of dealing with others, or allow you the opportunity to change. Running your own business can be a toughing up process.

It can be even more difficult at times like these to get some clients to agree a fair exchange of services for reasonable payment, when everyone is trying to hold on to their finances and keep their businesses out of the red.

When all you read about and hear about in the news is how difficult it is to get work or keep a business going, one can be drawn into panic thinking and therefore panic behaviour or less than professional behaviour. All of this external pressure can bring the temptation to be drawn into a method of thinking and behaving that is far from morally acceptable and less than professional.

When the chips are down, as many are shouting from the hilltops that they are, how many of us are tempted to change our principles and begin to behave in a less than professional manner.

It is right to sell yourself cheep? Is it right to give your services away for next to nothing? It is right to accept a less professional standard of delivery or quality in order to bag the deal?

Over the past few weeks, whilst dealing with this new client I mentioned previously, these are questions that I have had to address myself. It has been quite a roller coaster ride.

I guess I have always taken it for granted that people will operation with the highest moral and professional regard, but it appears that this is not always the case and the economic climate is just the latest excuse some are using.

There are some people who practise unscrupulous behaviour even in a good economic climate, this is true. What is clear though is that in times of difficulty, one’s reputation goes before ahead even faster than usual. These types of businesses become less ideal business partners for those who wish to maintain our moral and professional practise.

One thing I have learnt is that difficult conditions can be a little like suddenly winning a large amount of money, like winning the lottery for example. Unlimited money, as with difficult times, makes people more of who they have always been. In business they behave more profoundly the way that they already do.

The difference is that in times of plenty, this may not be noticed, as we can easily afford to ignore things that we may not like or because there is plenty of work, we can just ignore those people whose methods of operation, we do not agree with.

I guess this is more of a personal assessment than a huge study on business relationships. But I am sure that many others may have found themselves in similar situations.

And from the point of view of a business buying in a service, it is ethically or morally right to try to force a service provider to provide their services for nothing? In other words, using the economic climate as an excuse to drive down how much you are going to pay for a service. Yet still expecting the same level of high quality performance or service?

An organisation or business owner who employs bad practices will always employ bad practices whatever the economic environment. Unless they are prepared to make a personal and organisational effort to change. What many who employ bad practices as a strategy are failing to appreciate is:
  1. Their reputation will suffer in the long term and short term;
  2. The quality of their service provision will certainly suffer, as you will only get what you are prepared to pay for;
  3. The less you are prepared to pay, the lower the quality of service or production you will get;
  4. They will loose customers;
  5. They will loose out on getting and keeping the best staff;
  6. They will loose good suppliers;
  7. They will irreparably damage your reputation with your clients and your suppliers.
  8. When the economic client improves, those who are forced to work with them during the down times will certainly not want to do so every again and will not have to;
  9. They will have a harder struggle to survive the longer this period of challenge continues.

When I ask myself what lessons I’ve personal learnt from this recent experience, these can be easily summed up with the phrase ‘where there is smoke, there is fire’. If a business or business owner has a bad reputation, there is always the possibility of some truth to the rumours. It is important not to believe all rumours. But whilst you spent time finding out what is true and what is not, it is always necessary to protect your business.

Some tips to help you this are:

  • Protect yourself by ensuring that all contracts are signed before work is started - Don't be pressured to start before this:
  • Do not be pressured into reducing your prices half way through the contract- if you have too walk away;
  • Stick to your values and moral principles;
  • Be clear about what you will and will not do to get or maintain contracts;
  • Resist the temptation to sell your services cheep to get the deal;
  • Don’t get drawn into helping out in badly prepared for situations without be given the time required to prepare the project or programme;
  • Maintain your professionalism.

I am sure my list will increase and I consider this experience further. It has been an interesting experience, but I have come through it even more sure about my values for my business and how I am prepared to treat other people and to be treated myself. I have learnt that it is good to be touch and principled. You can be.

I am sure that only those businesses that provide quality service, value both their customers and their suppliers, and maintain a high moral and professional business practices, will come through this period of challenge even stronger.

In this environment people are looking for honesty and good quality service, before they spend there money. Even those providing a service still have the option to decide who they wish to work. The qualities of honest and good quality professional business practises.

Bad practices will cause the failure of bad businesses during this challenging period. This is ironic justification for bad behaviour.

As a dear friend of mine would say in a situation such as this ‘lessons learnt’.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Dealing With Redundancy As A Small Business

Many people think that only larger organisations have to deal with redundancy or the uncomfortable issues of laying off staff. However, this is also an issue for small and medium size businesses. Being smaller does not make this any less uncomfortable or any easier.

The issue may some times be greater because small businesses may not have the where-with-all in the area of experience, finance or human resource staff who are more of the experts, to deal with this properly. This in itself may cause problems for all concern now or at a slightly later date.

Employment law makes no distinctions with regard to the size of the business and if managers or business owners get it wrong it could be a very expensive mistake in deed.

Many owner managers of SMEs feel that as they are smaller, they do not have to make themselves aware of what their responsibilities are under the law and that not knowing about this will exempt them. Still others feel that because they are a smaller business current or even ex-employees will not pursue bad practice or unfair treatment, but in this economic climate, as in any other, this is far from the truth. Disperate times can make people in difficulty pursue lines of redress more furvently than they may have previously. An incentive to do this may be the promise or possibility of monitary gain at the end.

I have known of situations where the employees were far more aware of the their rights under the law than some owner managers were, and this in itself is quite alarming. Unions may have lost some of their bite over the past couple decades or so, but the rights of employees are more clearly laid out, better and more than they used to be.

The thing that may make a person insist on their rights or entitlements may be more about the process or the principle than the result. In other words, people may not be happy about being laid off, but how the process is managed may cause more resentment than the actual result - being laid off.

It is human nature to reflect upon the number of loyal years or months of good service given, in comparison to how one may feel one is being treated - Looking in the mind of the employee loosing his or her job, after the initial shock has hit home.

It is important that whether or not yours is a small to medium size or a larger business, that you get support and advice on how to deal with laying staff off, as soon as there is even the smallest inkling that you may have to resort to this option.

This is not as expensive as it used to be and human resources or people development specialist can offer a range of change management strategies to help manage this process easily and where possible as painless as possible.

As my elders would say, you never know what life is going to bring your way. If you fail to treat someone with respect now, it may be that same person who you find facing you years down the road, when you are in need of help. Life has a strange way of engineering itself.

Another side of this coin is that as things pick up economically, you may well need to re-employ these same people. Treat them with respect and as much care as is possible and practical in the circumstance. The old golden rule is still good even in these days.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Optimise Your Staff - 6 Tips

As we work our way through this period of economic challenge, business owners and managers, will be trying to focus on maintaining our customers and as much as possible growing our business. As we focus here, we may forget to recognise and value one of our main resources - our staff.

Your staff are your best asset to help you make it through this current climate and to deliver your business in excellent shape at the end of it. It is true that your staff can make or break your business. You need therefore to ensure that you optimise your staff so that they can help you grow your business.

Here are 6 tips to help you start working on this:

1. Job Descriptions

It is reported that up to 30% of businesses do not have Job Descriptions for their staff. Whether your business is large or small, this is an major requirement, not only from a legal point of view, but from the view of ensuring effectiveness and efficiency.

If you do not have job descriptions, how do you know that your staff are performing to their optimum? How will your staff know what they should be doing? How can you ensure that you are getting the best performance possible from your staff? and How are you setting standards?

Job descriptions will provide both you and your staff member with a clear and comprehensive list of duties, tasks and responsibilities with regards to what is required of them. Really - It tells staff what they are getting paid for! It will also help them to see how they fit into your business or organisation and how they can help you to ensure the success of your business and their jobs.

2. Training Needs Analysis (TNA)

An analysis of the skills, knowledge and ability (against the job description) of your staff will do many things. Here are few benefits:
  • Highlight any skill shortages;
  • Identify where the strength and weaknesses are within your staff group;
  • Indicate where and how you can improve your service to your customers and grow your business;
  • Indicate where to target your efforts to up skill your staff and improve their performance.

3. Performance Reviews

As human beings we all like to know how we are doing, even if this feedback is not always entirely as good as we would like. A performance review will enable you to indicate to your staff what they are doing well and not so well. It will help your staff see where they need to focus to improve and change.

Where they are doing well, it will encourage them to continue doing this. lt also provides an opportunity for your staff to give you some feedback and possibly some suggestions to making changes that might bring about improvements for our business. This feedback from your staff may also help to improve your performance too.

Many organisations provide at least a half yearly performance review. Doing this will keep your staff focused and performing at optimum levels. Performance Reviews do need to be properly managed and not just be tick box sessions. More forward thinking businesses have part of these reviews undertaken by external companies, as this can provide a more honest response in some cases.

4. Goal Setting

Goal setting is simply a form of setting goals or targets. This can be used as part of the performance review or as a separate exercise to help staff focus on what needs to be achieved or improved upon either on an individual level, team level or business wide.

Goal setting can help determine what each person can do to help the business survive, succeed and grow. If goals are develop and agreed by staff and management, they are more likely to be achieved.

5. Staff Training

Staff training is one of the first things to be trimmed or completed cut out when businesses begin to feel the pinch. However, it is at times like these that training is important as it ensures that all staff are capable, have the ability, skills and knowledge to do their job right first time round.

Having completed the TNA it is important that training is provided to assist your staff in achieving improved performance and efficiency. Training programmes can be developed that fit the specific requirements of your business and your staff or staff can complete courses which are prewritten and end with a qualification or not.

A useful form of training is Coaching and Mentoring. These need not be expensive, but may provide a more one to one approach when this is required, particularly when the issues are not related to knowledge, but to performance and improving skill.

6. Reward

Many managers think that financial reward is the only kind of reward that their staff want. However, this is not the truth. Many staff surveys have indicated that financial reward very rearly comes at the top of the list of things staff want from work. Although it needs to be noted that we all work for money to maintain a good standard of living for ourselves and our families. The benefit or satisfaction of an increase in salary is reported to last only approximately 4 months, at a maximum, before the individuals' expenditure has increased to the limits of the new amount.

Staff surveys also show that some of the things that staff value are respect, recognition, and good communication, to name just a few.

So if you are stuck for some ideas when you can not give bonuses or a rise in salary, here are a few that you can use:

  • A sincere 'thank you' for a job well done or for going beyond the call of duty (the extra mile);
  • Recognition for a job well done;
  • Recognition for a good idea or doing something that has helped the business or improved service; Recognition may just be to give credit by telling other members of staff what this individual as done, and recording this on the individuals personal file (do also give them a copy);
  • Giving more responsibility; delegation of appropriate tasks; or
  • Giving training, coaching or mentoring.

Giving this type of reward, when it is done in the correct way and for the right reasons, will have the knock on effect of raising the level of motivation and morale within your staff group, which in turn is likely to produce higher levels of loyalty, commitment, performance and productivity.

It is to the benefit and advantage of your business and you, to optimise your staff. Hopefully these points will give you a reminder or a place to start.

If you need help to optimise your staff performance and grow your business go to Get your free Business Health Check

This is an exert from the Managing Through The Recession Series by Sandra Pollock MCMI DipH

Tips - Developing People - Growing Your Business

My passion is helping people manage their lives and their businesses.

Developing People Tips is where I will put my tips, ideas, information and just my opinion on topics that you may find useful in looking at your live, in its various areas.

I would welcome positive comments, your ideas and questions. I'll do my best to help.

I hope you have as much fun ready my blog and I do writing it.

Life is here for the living - live it well.