Issue 1 | Jan 2010


Kick Start the New Year by Reviewing Your Management Practices

Hot Off the changingorganisations Blog

New Website



“Stephen’s good at working with different groups of people. He’s good at mediating and facilitating meetings with difficult people when you’re trying to get to an outcome.”

Mike Britton
General Manager
Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand

Welcome to our new look newsletter, for January 2010 which is for my clients and other professionals interested in organisational change. The newsletter used to be called “Changing Organisations” and I have now changed the name and the look and feel, to distinguish it from the blog. I am keen to know what you think about the new format.

Kick Start the New Year by Reviewing Your Management Practices

Are you aware of the management practices that are prevalent in your organisation? Do they support what you would like your organisation to achieve in 2010?

Whatever the operational function of your team, the interactions of your people with others are important to your organisation’s success. This is true for those who interact with external customers providing customer service, and for those who deal with other people from within your organisation (some of whom will be internal customers) or suppliers external to your organisation.

As a leader you have to be thinking not only of the interactions your people have with others, but also how you and your managers enable and support those interactions.

It is easy to call these interactions (especially with external customers) as customer service and think of them in terms of smiles, greetings, friendly manner, and rapport with internal and external customers. These of course, are aspects of the individual interactions that take place between your people and your customers.

But customer service is more than just being nice to customers. It is also about honouring promises made through the brand, and individually by members of the team. Your people are regularly making promises to others (“I have just updated that for you in our system” or “Your refund/replacement product/delivery/amendments will be ready on Thursday”) based on your organisation’s processes and standards that have been established. The larger your organisation, the less likely it is that the person making the promise is actually responsible for carrying out the promise. They will be instead relying on the systems and processes that have been established in order to say confidently to someone else that certain things will happen.

Therefore, it is clear that some of the aspects of the delivery of your team’s results may not be under your direct control. For those things that are the responsibility of your colleagues in your organisation, you must go through the process of working out with them what the expectations of both parties are, reaching commitments from both sides to meeting those expectations, and giving and receiving feedback on success in meeting those expectations and commitments.

There are many other things that are within your purview to change. And with respect to your team, the most important things you have direct control over that have the greatest influence on your team are your own management practices.

As a leader your job is to enable and support the “right” interactions and this means being clear about what the desired interactions are. At one level this is easy – “Delight the customer” is the bromide. But how do you delight the customer in front of you without taking so long that the next customer is annoyed at the wait? You have to find a means of providing customers with timely access to a person armed with the right information at the time the customer needs it. And you don’t know what information the next customer will need. This is far from straightforward.

So, whether 2010 requires a major customer service overhaul or just a tune up, change begins at home. Start by looking at how your own customer service management practices stack up in these four areas.

Setting Direction

Setting direction means making sure your people know where you are heading – what it is you want to achieve, and keeping them posted on adjustments and changes to your course in response to events.

You could do worse than start your new year by going through your business plan or strategy with your team to remind everyone and create a sense of focus. Make this an opportunity for your people to ask questions, about policy, strategy and direction. If your team challenge you on the strategy, be pleased rather than seeing it as resistance. Be pleased because they are attempting to understand the strategy or plan from their perspective, which won’t be the same as your own perspective. And answer them accordingly so that everyone gains a better understanding of what you are trying to achieve.


The idea of the manager as a coach is not at all new. If you haven’t come across this concept before then you need to expose yourself to more thinking about leadership.

Do you think of yourself as a coach? Take an honest look at the coaching you provide your team members. I have found that the more senior you are, the less likely you are to practice coaching with your team members on a regular basis.

Think of coaching the skills of individuals, the team as a whole, and coaching to achieve results. Which means watching the scoreboard (i.e. performance against KPIs or targets) and also watching the game (observing your people in action and providing them with feedback).

In other words, as well as providing feedback on the results people are achieving (such as satisfied customers, sales of new products or enquiries resolved) also observe them in action and provide feedback on how they go about achieving their results.

If you start doing this, or doing it more effectively, coaching alone will make a huge difference to the performance of your team this year.

Monitoring and Reporting

Monthly reports – these are often a drag in many organisations because you submit them, get no feedback on your report, and they don’t record the important things anyway. If you are in this situation, do two things. First, have a talk to your manager about changing the format of the reporting so that it reports on what is important to your group in achieving its results. Second, change the reporting your team does to you, so that at least they are reporting on something meaningful, regardless of whether you change your own reporting upwards.

Additionally, make sure you have a forum to discuss your reports with your team, whether it’s in a regular team meeting or individually with each person.

One final thing in this category – are there any better ways you can update and present information to your team on your performance regularly? For example, do you have a meeting (or phone conference) at a set time each month where you go through these results together? Do these meetings provide the opportunity for people to discuss these results with each other (not just asking you questions)?

Recognising Good Performance

Your team members are not robots responding to carrot and stick rewards and punishments. Nevertheless, consider what recognition people receive for their efforts. Kiwis tend to prefer low key approaches to recognition, with many people being painfully embarrassed at being singled out for praise in a group. And if you’re giving out prizes then you have to watch things like giving a bottle of wine to someone who doesn’t drink, or a meat pack to a vegetarian. This means that you have to know your people well in order to understand what they personally find rewarding.

I contend that many managers don’t know their people well enough to be able to work out how they can best support good performance. I once had a person working for me who told me when I first started that they responded well to tight deadlines. So I always made sure I gave him deadlines far tougher than I expected, and left him to it. We had a great working relationship in which he performed really well – the recognition I gave him was individual, relating to the accomplishment of those deadlines.

Other people don’t respond as well to this and are not able to navigate themselves through a number of tasks and decisions to a deadline. Those people require a different style where you make yourself available to them when they have concerns or issues for resolution and you work out interim milestones or regular progress points where they check in with you. Recognition is then about the achievement of those progress points that you have previously agreed. I once had a person for whom the only thing that would work was a daily report, or things would start drifting immediately.

So you need to be aware of what makes each of your people tick, so that you can work out what the frequency and nature of your progress reporting and recognition of achievement will be. Recognition has to be something that appeals to them, and it may not necessarily be what you yourself would like if you were in their shoes.


Whatever your aspirations might be for 2010, and whatever the functions of the group you manage, the relationships your people have with others are going to be important for you to perform well as a leader. These relationships might be with external customers, suppliers or others in your organisation.

Improvement in your results starts with you as the manager and your everyday management practices. So, consider what you do to set direction, how you coach your people, the monitoring and reporting that is in place and how you recognize the success of your people.

Discuss your management practices with your team, and discuss the management practices of any managers that report to you. Adjust and amend these management practices so that you and your managers can help your people adjust and amend their own practices. This will give you a great kick start to this New Year that has just begun.

Hot Off the changingorganisations Blog

I have now written over 200 posts on the changingorganisations blog, and the most commented on conversation in 2009 was about what it means to be self organising. Human affairs are self organising but this does not mean that anything goes. Rather it means that myriad interactions occur and the overall patterns that emerge from those interactions are not under the complete control of any one person, even the most powerful.

The challenge for managers that is presented by the concept of self organisation is not "How can I empower my people to be self organising?" They are already self organising. The challenge is "How can I influence the constraints and power relationships so that different (hopefully more desirable) patterns of social interaction emerge."

Understanding self organisation means recognising that 1) managers have a lot less control than the dominant managerial literature would have you believe, and 2) managers themselves are also part of this self organising dynamic of local interaction. The actions of the manager will play a big part in whether those results are more desirable or less desirable, but the manager does not have control.

As a manager you can only influence your organisation from within your own local interaction with others. So you must pay attention to your own interaction, observe what results and adjust as you go along.

New Website

I am very excited about my new website that is nearly ready to launch. It will be complemented by the blog, and will focus on resources to help lead organisational change effectively. We are just testing it at the moment. I am planning a prize draw in association with the launch and I’ll provide another update next month.


What do you think of the new newsletter? Click here (or just send me email by reply) to give me some feedback – what you like, suggestions for improvement, topics you’d like me to cover in future newsletters.

Our Christmas was filled with lovely family conviviality and beautiful summer beach weather. New Year has carried on the family and friends theme, along with weeding and outside maintenance, but not so much on the weather.

I hope that like me, you are feeling a sense of anticipation of positive things in the year ahead.


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