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24th April 2015
Leadership: Are you Walking the Walk or Talking the Talk?


There's a difference between managing people to a goal and leading them to it.

We all know that.
We all get sent on courses which tell us that.

Then why do a lot of people talk about leading people to "good results" even though they still treat those same people like robots to do a process?

So how can we truly "lead" our teams to greatness?

First of all, what is leadership anyway?

Before I give my opinion, I really suggest buying The Leadership Pill by Ken Blanchard (Amazon)*. A wonderful parable(?) about the difference of leading and managing. I was actually given my copy by a previous manager and then gave it away to my Deputy to read because I thought it was fantastic.

Leadership is personal I think and, to me, it's about two things...

1) Taking people with you on a journey to a goal.

And you do this by......

2) Treating people like.....People.

Every one is still a human being and you share more in common than your difference in job title. It's a good thing to remember that!

Notice I didn't even mention results. Sometimes, the bigger picture (the economy, tax rates etc) has a bigger effect on business performance than we like to admit when we're trying to manage a shop / a factory / contracts against previous year targets, budgets, costings or other Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

So here's a little personal story:

I'm a manager of a medium sized retail store. For two years we've performed very well and continue to do so. We have someone at the front of the store to greet. The Supervisors "supervise" and make sure customers have a good time and weren't approached too early / too late so they didn't feel either pressured or forgotten. The team is looked after, we socialise out of work and everyone enjoys working there including myself. People are trained to a point they could leave for a better paid job but so many stay because of the team and the company.

But something's missing.

When staff are having fun, joking around and laughing, a customer (just another human being) comes in and everyone puts on a straight face and tries to be professional because it's "the right thing to do". But is it? Surely, that human being would enjoy to be part of the fantastic atmosphere?

Then one day I walked into Seatree (link- strongly recommended*) a fish and chip "bar" well known in Cambridge which is take away and has a small restaurant area to eat in. It was fairly busy and they were a little bit stretched on staff but my god were they enjoying themselves. Laughing to each other, chatting to customers and just generally having fun. Then a customer wasn't noticed when they were waiting to order and another customer had to wait a few minutes to pay at the table. But you know what? It didn't matter. The customers didn't take offence, they relished in the good atmosphere and would have forgiven anything.

On a side note it reminded me of a video I saw about a fish market, a bit over the top but well worth having a look:

Now, back to our story...

I came back from SeaTree and sat in the corner of our shop for 5 minutes. About 8/10 customers had what I would consider a really good experience in that
they got greeted in good time, they were helped at the appropriate time it was needed (not to early or late) and the sales assistant found out what it was the customer was looking for in a friendly way.

But this was achieved by treating the sales assistants as a process. Someone needs to be at the front of the store to greet, someone needs to be roaming to approach customers that need help. If anything's missed you need a Supervisor to intervene / prompt someone to action.

Next, me and my (truly wonderful) Deputy sat in the corner of our shop for 5 minutes and I asked the Supervisors to trust the sales assistants to do everything and only intervene or prompt if it was really needed. This time about 6/10 customers had a really good experience (the rest still had a good experience of course) but perhaps we approached them far too late into their search or we didn't acknowledge them coming in. Maybe they became reliant on someone else prompting them? Who knows.

Lastly, me and my Deputy sat down with all the sales assistants and said "we want to start treating you as people and listen to you. But we want to tell you what we observed. And here's what we saw:
1) When we treated you as robots, we actually got it right 8/10 times.
2) When we treated you as equals and just let everyone crack on we only got it right 6/10 times.

All I want to know is how do we treat you as equals and get it right 8/10 times, or even better, 9 or 10 times out of 10?

Suddenly, ideas came flying out. They seemed to want to prove they could be trusted to better themselves.

The next time a customer walked in, staff didn't just cut off their conversations and put on a straight face, they managed to use it as an opportunity to get a smile from the customer when they said hello. We didn't have one person hovering at the front to greet but instead everyone hovering around the entire store and taking collective responsibility to make sure people got acknowledged as they came in. It was looking like 10/10 customers had a great experience. But it's early days.

The same night someone asked to speak to the Manager. "How can I help?". And the Response? "Please pass my thanks to your sales assistant, she was lovely". Coincidence? Maybe. We do have a whole team of lovely assistants after all.

There is a different way to manage. A better way.

And I hope we can continue on the path we have chosen and continue to succeed even more but time will tell I guess.

I hope this silly little story gets you thinking about how you manage too!

*(DISCLAIMER: don't fret, I have no affiliation with these links above and get no "kick-backs" from them)

P.s. I thought this was going to be about two paragraphs, so my apologies for the longevity of it. But I hope it sparked a few thoughts of your own.

P.s.s. As always, feel free to show me the light and point out any of my ignorance on this topic below! I do very much appreciate it!

Thanks for reading.

I hope this silly little article helped provoke some thoughts about Leadership.

For more of my thoughts see "Stand Out" which I wrote on train journeys to and from London. Find out more here.

See you next time!

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20th April 2015
Welcoming Women at the Workplace

welcome women to the workplace

Having always worked in Retail, I've forever been fascinated by the absurdity that a lot of retailers have a vast majority of front line staff made up of females whilst the vast majority of management (at any level) is generally male dominated. Statistically it is madness, surely. This article (here) highlights in a study exactly that.

That aside, here's just one area of male / female interaction in retail (possibly other sectors? Possibly in people's lives? Possibly a British thing? Who knows.) that I find extremely strange: the anxiousness involved in welcoming women.

Even the BBC agrees.

A man to man encounter at work is simple. At least in Britain. One person, almost without fail, always offers the other man a handshake. That's it. Job done.

Now, I have never really understood why this differs with women.

There's the hand shake, that's always an option. There's also the single kiss greeting, sometimes the double kiss greeting. Sometimes it's the kiss and hug manoeuvre.

Rewind to the fact that the majority of front line staff are female and the management is male.

Time and time again, when I have watched interactions with people, I see a male member of management confidently shake male workers hands and then fail to acknowledge female workers or colleagues with anything more than a "hi".

The only reason I can think of why this happens is the man is unsure of which greeting is appropriate and the lady is waiting for her more senior colleague to initiate the greeting.

So a little bit of social awkwardness suddenly leads to a bazaar situation where a portion of women don't even get greeted properly. Madness, right?

I think we all need to be conscious of the little things which can have an impact and I also think that anyone in a managerial capacity has a social responsibility not to hide away from these things.

My advice: If in doubt, go for the hand shake.

Thanks for reading!

For more of my thoughts see "Stand Out" which I wrote on train journeys to and from London. Find out more here.

I hope this silly little article helped provoke some thoughts about equality.

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24th March 2015
You Should Unplug The Internet Next Weekend

LinkedIn Disconnect

Last week the world ended.

Or at least that’s how my land lady phrased it after she found out we had to endure a week without internet.

Suddenly, you realise just how connected everything really is now a days. I’m not talking about just having to check Facebook or send a tweet, but even just playing a movie on my TV turns out I don’t even have the cable to do that anymore and my Google Chromecast needs a home Wifi network to stream it over. Maybe I’ll watch TV. Nope, even that requires internet in my house for some bizarre reason I don’t understand!
And then something happened. My week flourished as time went on. Here are three reasons why I am now going to do a monthly turn off of the internet, even just for a day or two.

1) I want to become sociable again

With all this new technology: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and many more, being social has never been so easy. Just as it’s got easier to become social it seems to have become a barrier to becoming sociable.


This is the wonderful moment at our Christmas meal where we all got together and had a really nice time. It’s retail and you don’t often get the entire team in one place at the same time after all. Yet, in this snapshot, an entire side of the table was on their phone “being social” with the rest of the world whilst simultaneously being unsociable with the people directly around them. How ironic, right?

And whilst this was only a moment in time for an entire night, it’s easy to imagine household dinner tables like this for the whole duration of people’s interaction together.

2) I want to listen more

With the internet I think I can multi task. I think can check my emails whilst talking to someone. I think I can take in a conversation whilst liking an image on Instagram.
I can’t.

It took the internet to be unplugged for me to realise that. To really listen, to really participate, you need to focus. I learnt more about the people I care about in a week without internet than I did with a month with it.

3) I want to get more done

The World Wide Web is a wonderful place. We are all better for it. My breadth of knowledge is greater thanks to places like the Open University. My career is in thanks to recruiting companies which found me on websites such as Monster.

Yet every time I am on the internet I procrastinate. I go one click away from where I intended to go (maybe that’s why you’re reading this, too!) and then I look at the clock and hours have gone by.

Without the internet for a week I intensively cleaned my room, I fixed my car’s bonnet (which I ordered the part for two months ago!), I washed my car, I finished a research document outside of my day-to-day job to give to execs at work. I spent time with my family, I spent time with my girlfriend and I spent time alone reflecting on what I’ve done and what I want to do. I finished my final essay for my University course. Anything which was worthwhile but I had been putting off got done.

And I felt better for it.

Give it a go.

Switch off.

Even if it’s just for a day.

Thanks for reading!

For more of my thoughts see "Stand Out" which I wrote on train journeys to and from London. Find out more here.

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James Markey

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