Who is the economic sunshine shining on?

It’s an election year and the politicians are promising us all the earth again, whoever you are whatever you want they will deliver it. Old allegiances are coming out and those well worn sayings like “You have to vote labour if you want to save the NHS” and “You can only vote conservative if you want to reduce the deficit and improve our  economic outlook”.

It may come as a shock to many that governments don’t actually have control of the economy. They would like us to think they have but global economics eats governments and spits them out as Greece has found to it’s cost.

As with all economies we have some good some bad and some conflicting and even confusing economic indicators. Will these change significantly if there’s a change of government? For Britain as a whole we have “the best of times and the worst of times”

I worry that a conservative government on it’s present course if its re elected would continue some of it’s harsher policies against groups in society in should support more. However I worry if labour get in they will revert to tax and spend. Neither of these are good for the country and cohesion in the long-term. Of course if we end up with another coalition that may give more uncertainty for business and individuals.

We have fractured groups in society there are many at the top like Malcolm Rifkind who think they deserve everything because they have worked hard. There’s another group at the bottom who believe they should be able to do what they want when they want to and the rest of us should pay for it. Both groups sense of entitlement is unjustified and a little disgusting.

Some want an economic model that relies on the free market without minimum wages where the majority of us scramble for what we are thrown. Some want salaries and benefits that they are not skilled to attain. We have debacles over zero hours contracts and charities paying below the living wage. Many in work on reasonably good salaries struggle with debt whilst small business owners struggle with mountains of bureaucracy.

Whoever gets into power they need to be mindful of the squeezed middle they are educated and starting to realise the current system is actually working against many of them. The next five years will be interesting politically and economically. Will wealth continue to trickle upward or will trickle down finally begin to happen and make society a little more equal? Government can have put vehicles in place to support this but will they?

The great divergence identified by economists and academics has been talked about by President Obama. This divergence is gaining in momentum here and even some of the super rich see that business as usual cannot continue if people do not have the disposable income to buy goods and services. Long term I believe this will ultimately drive economies downward. As super rich Nick Hanauer says he may earn 200 times more per hour than the average employee but he doesn’t go on two hundred holidays, buy 200 houses or pairs of jeans. So he is not spreading or trickling down his wealth.

Is their a different way?

According to the Billionaire governor of Minnesota there is and he isn’t just saying it he has proved it. The previous governor didn’t raise taxes as he said businesses and people would leave and the state would become bankrupt. Exactly the opposite has happened it has attracted more businesses and has substantially increased the numbers of rich and super rich living there. For those on average incomes they have gone up around 10% and employers in the state pay above the minimum wage.

Whoever ends up in government here for the next term maybe they should give Minnesota governor Mark Dayton a call. They might just learn something useful.

Whilst you ponder here’s a happy ditty about money and one about the economy courtesy of Peter Cook at The Academy of Rock

Fiscal Cliff  –  A Hard Rock song about Hard Times and the Hard Road to Revovery

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Coast to Coast Black Sabbath

You may think that’s an odd title for a blog but what do the Restaurant chain Coast to Coast and the fathers of everything metal Black Sabbath have in Common?

Let’s start with an instantly recognisable unique brand and product and carry on with great customer service and communication. Let me expand I attended the final night of Sabbath’s current leg of their world tour at a hometown gig in Birmingham on Dec 22nd 2013.

I had booked the tickets several months earlier through Sabbath’s website where I was asked if I wanted to leave my Facebook, Twitter and email details and I did.

From then on I had regular communications via all three channels giving me information; photographs, fan reviews and band interviews. Each of these reminded me that it would not be long before I would be with the band. Although I knew the same was happening with tens of thousands of other individuals on other continents I still felt special.

I felt part of a club a family even and as my anticipation and excitement grew the nearer the concert day came I took to social media along with thousands of others. This ensured Sabbath were constantly in the news as fans created a frenzy. Even on the day a couple of hours before the concert I got updates telling me the band were looking forward to the concert and they hoped I enjoyed it. This also continued after the concert. The attention to detail in communication was a masterclass in how to run a news/social media campaign for an event.

We arrived in Birmingham mid afternoon and after settling into the hotel went to look for eateries. We settled on Coast to Coast as it looked warm and inviting from the outside its signage caught your eye more than other restaurants on Broad Street.

So we stepped inside The Restaurant Group’sBirmingham restaurant and were met by a greeter with an engaging smile who was friendly, helpful and engaging in conversation. She introduced us to our server who took us to our table; she introduced herself and again engaged us in conversation.

Throughout the meal she returned to the table and rather than just ask how the food was or did we want another drink she engaged us in conversation each time. She also remembered bits from previous conversations and brought those into the current conversation. She was doing this for several other tables at the same time as were other servers.

The ambiance was very good and a lot of thought had gone into furnishings, uniforms and staff training and the food was pretty good as well. When we finished and paid the bill we had a five minute conversation with our server Josie and then the same with the greeter on the way out.

All this communication is meant to make you feel at home and want to return again, which it does. The face to face communication starts as you walk in the door up until you walk out again. But whilst you’re there, there are subtle hints about connecting with the Coast family via all types of social media. Of course when your friendly server asks you to fill in a feedback form at the end of the meal you can’t wait to do it.

That feedback form includes your social media details and the day after I received a thank you email for dining with them and special offer vouchers. As I am now a customer and part of the family I get regular updates about special offers, openings and information regarding Coast restaurants near venues where I may be going to a gig.

Now you may say others do this so what’s special about Coast and Sabbath. What’s special is that all that communication, branding, marketing and social media interaction is done seamlessly, effortlessly and unobtrusively.

By the time you sample the product you are fully engaged with it and can’t wait to taste or hear it. At that point the engaging human interaction seals the deal and you really want to come back to Coast to Coast just as you want Ozzy Osborne to be your best mate and go for a pint at his favourite Birmingham pub and tell you about his days in the factory.

As an experience both make it one you will never forget. Many companies get the marketing and branding right and even have a great product. But when you engage with them on a human level they don’t quite match the expectations they have built up.

If you want to make your business no matter what the size or sector more successful in 2014 checking out how Sabbath and Coast to Coast run their business would be time well worth spending. I believe Andrew page CEO of The Restaurant Group when he says they are thriving because of their customer focus. But the last word has to go to Ozzy “To each their own to question why, learn from each other so they say”

Have a happy and successful 2014

Performance and Culture – Can business learn from a state school?

The last two weeks has seen triumph and tears for our national Rugby League and Rugby Union teams. But for me and my former school it has been a week of joy and jubilation. What has been achieved in the sporting arena you would expect a public school may accomplish once in its lifetime? The Last two weekends saw six former students from the state school step out onto the pitch to represent their country three in each code.

But it’s not just in the sporting arena that St John Fisher RC High School excels, it constantly exceeds local and national targets for hard subjects such as Maths and English.  As it does for “added value” which means helping students exceed their predicated grades. The school also excels in its role as a Leading Edge School and Performing Arts College.

So how does it do this? Well to understand that I need to take you on a short historical tour. St John Fisher is in Wigan which many have said is the world centre for Rugby League and the school along with several others in the town have fed professional rugby league teams for 70 odd years and in later years Rugby Union teams.

I left the School in 1974 and there was a very supportive ethos no matter what your ability or what the subject. My children attended the school in the 90’s and early 00’s and I joined the PTA and then became a governor in 2005. The same ethos was still there and it is there today.

When I joined the PTA in 2002 there were still teaching staff who had taught me passing the school ethos on to a new generation of teaching staff. The school attracts high performing teachers who want to support students to fulfil their potential. They stay because they have a commitment to the school its students and the ethos in return the school supports them and their development.

The school has an expectation that teachers, support staff, parents, students, governors the PTA and wider community all share. Along with the performance expectations there are high levels of respect and communication. The desire to succeed has been honed within the schools culture over generations.

In business good cultures built up over years are often lost as organisations downsize quickly. In the case of the public sector several years of job losses and cuts to services and pay have also taken their toll on employee motivation.  Many organisations are facing an uphill struggle to motivate staff and increase performance whilst trying to re-establish a new culture.

Is there a lesson to be learnt here that whilst cutting quickly in several areas simultaneously may save on the bottom line now. Do organisations pay for that in following years with low levels of performance, high turnover and sickness rates and lack of direction? Which in turn can lead to poor customer service, loss of customers a decrease in profitability and loss of reputation. Food for thought indeed.

Finally congratulations to England in their win over France in which our former pupils played a pivotal role. This coming Thursday 21st November I am looking forward to attending St John Fisher’s annual awards ceremony which will be a wonderful celebration of what our students have achieved. They all have the “Fisher Factor” thanks to the positive culture and ethos maintained by dedicated staff,

Links

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/rugbyunion/article-2508232/Wigan-school-produced-Test-rugby-players-just-afternoon.html

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/sport/rugbyunion/article3920701.ece

Free Presentation Webinar 22 April 2013 – 1.00 – 2.00 PM

 

Join this FREE lunchtime webinar with Caroline Hopkins ‘How To Make Your Business Presentations Rock!’  1.00 –  2.00 pm today Monday 22nd April. You can join at http://www.lovepresenting.com/

Caroline is a master at presentations and has many years’ experience helping people to present with confidence and engage their audience and gain the results you want.

Also check out her E-Book “Help I’ve Got A Presentation Coming Up” which is a great resource for anyone who has to give presentations.

I also have an interview with Caroline for Everybody’s Business on Salford City Radio this Friday 26th April 12 noon to 1.00 pm UK time. Caroline will be taking us through her journey and giving us some tips to help create a memorable presentation.

 

 

Real Performance Management how do you perform?

In a recent interview with Personnel Today the Pensions Minister Steve Webb told employers that Age should not be an excuse for “inevitable or excusable” under performance.

You can read the full interview and make your own mind up on this issue.  I am more interested in performance by all which means able bodied, disabled and everyone else in the workforce. More specifically how that performance is managed and how those “hard” conversations are approached and carried out by managers.

It seems that no matter how much training is given a significant majority of managers do not like having those “hard” conversations.  This is bourne out by many studies and reports from the Chartered Management Institute the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and the Institute of Leadership and Management.

Instinctively many people do not like conflict and will avoid it like the plague and this includes managers. Many other issues also come into play here including lack of knowledge or skill, fear of getting it wrong, familiarity and favoritism to name a few.

Is it the fault of HR or the learning and development section in an organisation; was the wrong training procured or the delivery poor? In most cases it was the right training delivered well but here’s the rub. It’s OK going through role play based scenarios in a training room but it is totally different carrying out a performance review in practice. Especially if that review has lots of negatives in it.

The first question is why are there so many negatives if performance is supposedly managed well and regular 1-2-1’s are carried out along with timely return to work interviews? Surely everything’s been discussed along the way and relevant training and development opportunities put into place or help and support?

There are more management books on the subject than ever and an expanding number of management training organisations. Yet survey after survey shows a lack of confidence by employees in managers. Part of a manager’s job is to have “hard” conversations but many struggle with them for various reasons. Some reasons I have mentioned previously but the real skills needed to carry out those conversations need spelling out. They are listening and hearing what the person is telling you, empathizing and understanding their situation and supporting them in whatever way you can.  This shows you care about them as a person and not just as someone you have to move through the corporate process.

Of course at some point that “hard” conversation may mean you have exhausted every option and the options that remain may mean a reduction in salary as the person needs to reduce their hours it may mean termination of their employment because even with extensive training and support they cannot perform to the required level.  It is at this point that guilt kicks in for managers and indeed some employees will blame you personally.  Because they are now going to lose their house or cannot pay for a child’s wedding or support them though university.

Those circumstances are tragic and if you fail to be moved by them then in my personal opinion you should not be managing people. But you have a responsibility to the rest of the team, the organization, customers and shareholders in the private sector or taxpayers in the public sector. Performance management needs to be effective no matter what the person’s physical or mental ability or their age.  It should be relevant and individualistic to them.

So what do you do?

Can Government learn anything from Branson’s Employer Brand?

In the recent article “Branson’s employer brand Jessica Collingwood

Group People Director at Virgin explained why the organisation was an employer of choice. It’s down to the company ethos which is take care of your staff and they will take care of your customers this is embedded in the company culture. It delivers profits and higher shareholder value and everyone is relevantly happy company is described as a “funky” and “young” place to work.

Along with this effective ethos being human when dealing with staff, stakeholders, suppliers and customers is key.  As is allowing staff some flexibility and independence to work outside the script and understanding that one size does not fit all.  Whether that’s with staff or customer groups another factor is a relatively stable management team over a long period. Virgin does have problems like any other company and the average age of it’s workforce is higher than the funky young label might make you believe.  Collingwood describes it as a young at heart company.

So how does this relate to branding and employee engagement in local government? Many surveys from government and professional bodies have highlighted that very few councils are good at getting across the benefits of working for them.  It’s not rocket science so why is it so? First most HR&OD departments have been dealing with legislative implementations, various reviews leading to higher numbers of appeals and grievances.  This at a time when the workload is increasing and the staffing and budgets decreasing. In short they are wanting to get around to it, understand its importance to the business but there is just to much other really really important stuff to do.

Second and more importantly the minute you start to talk about the benefits of working for local government the unions and some disgruntled staff will immediately point out what has and is going to be taken off them. Which is a disincentive that does need addressing so let’s do that now.

In the last three years large numbers of local government staff have seen the following:

Reductions in pay due to restructures or job evaluation

No pay rise for a third year running

Increases in pension contributions, and having to work longer before getting a lot less than they thought they would on retirement

Loss of holiday entitlement  – up to 5 days by 2014

Loss of other benefits such as free parking

Reduction in training and development

No clear career path or promotional prospects

What is going to happen in the future?

The chancellor has signalled 1% max pay rises in the next two years

Significant budget reductions after 2015 meaning further job losses, pay cuts and loss of more benefits

Local pay which many believe is a means of reducing pay further

One other thing I must mention as I am sure someone else will if I don’t is that redundancy pay is not usually as generous in local government as it is in the private sector.

So why would anyone want to work for local government?

 

The pay is comparable or above local rates for some types of work

The pension although being reduced is still better than many private companies offer

Even though holiday entitlement is being reduced it is still better than many private sector companies

There are some good jobs and great careers in local government

The work life balance and flexibility is generally better than the private sector

There is a sense of doing something that matters for society and the community

There is often a good team spirit

Some of the problems local government face are similar to the private sector but others mean that it is not possible to stay as stable for such a long period like Virgin.

Private companies generally have a number of products they sell and a board responsible for funding strategy and direction.  Local government has a plethora of funding streams which are often conditional, the number of products and services they are responsible for is also wider than those of private companies. There are also many more political considerations and obstacles for local government Chief executives and their management teams.

These things do make it a challenging and often frustrating environment to work in.  Lack of funding means creative and innovate methods have to be found to deliver services.  It would be helpful to local and central government employees if our political masters would refrain from making it sound as though all the country’s ill’s are public servants fault. Like most other working people local government employees are trying to cope with the recession the best they can.  When was the last time you heard Richard Branson or Bill Gates denigrate their employees?

We keep hearing of a crisis of leadership and that management in this country is failing. Maybe it’s time our political classes learned how to motivate and enthuse instead of playing the blame game. Positive dialogue will increase the brand image of local government  and make it an employer of choice.

Statistics are they useful, meaningless or are they there to be manipulated for your own ends?

Not a week goes by without another government department , union, institute or consultancy releasing a plethora of statistics about almost anything you care to think about.  The economy, manufacturing, the service sector and employment; the number of jobless is one area where a government minister will tell us it’s great news the total number of jobless has fallen.  Sounds great doesn’t it we can all take a sigh of relief can’t we?

On the surface that is fantastic but then we get the statistics from the Office for National Statistics which confirms what the minister said. You are dumbstruck at this point aren’t you a government minister actually told us the truth. Yes he did but a version of the truth that suited at the time for that televised soundbite. The real truth is a mixed bag that paints a slightly different picture.  Let’s look at the figures in more detail;

On the Plus side

  • The number of jobseekers dropped by 13,700 to 1.59 m in April
  • The number of people with jobs rose by 105,000 to 29.23m
  • The number of self employed rose by 89,000 to 4.1m
  • Exports rose to a 36 year high

The Government is also putting incentives forward for firms to take on apprentices and the long term unemployed.

On the minus side

  • The number in part time jobs who want a full time job rose by 73,000 to 1.4m.  The highest total since records began in 1992
  • The number unemployed for more than a year rose by 27,000 to 887,000
  • Youth unemployment is very high and a concern
  • The number of self employed rose by 89,000 to 4.1m

 The IMF is telling the chancellor that Britain is not out of the woods and interest rates need to be cut along with the severity of austerity measures There are still significant job cuts to come in 2102/13 in the public sector Another cohort of School, College and University graduates will join the job market in July. The Euro zone crisis will more than likely have a further negative impact on Britain

The picture doesn’t look quite as rosy after reading those statistics as the initial soundbite would make you believe. The figures for the next quarter should prove to be interesting and I wonder what they will show if the above exercise is repeated?  We have all ignored statistics that don’t fit our view so how do you use statistics?