Categories
Anonymous Career Advice

Is there a better way of quarterly planning?

In this week’s anonymous career advice column we tackle the dreaded planning phase, a team lead asks how to improve their planning

Dear Focus, When it comes to planning my team hate it, they struggle to complete the required documents and prefer just to do it. Is there a better way of planning? 

Almost every company has a slightly different approach to planning, whether thats campaign, projects, monthly, quarterly, annual or long range planning. 

Categories
Focus News Leadership

20 Lessons In 20 Minutes From 20 Years Experience

I was invited to speak at an online event, it was broad brush on what I would like to talk on.

As it was planned for a 20 minutes talk with a lot of Q&A, I created a 20:20:20 deck, 20 lessons in 20 minutes (around 20 slides) from my two decades of work.

The majority of lessons are those that I leverage through Focus but there are a few more specific Marketing and Growth lessons that go against the grain of “the standard” advice.

Here is the 20:20:20 deck, which you can download at the bottom of the post and I have broken down the advice below for slightly more context.

Categories
Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 51

Internal Podcasts

Dear leaders, 

I have had a number of conversations with business owners, founders and leaders about how they gain more cut through with their teams and how to be more open, more transparent, help everyone understand what they are trying to achieve. 

There are a number of businesses that offer AMA’s, I am a huge advocate of AMA’s and opening up, there are many ways you can gain more feedback and answer questions, but enabling open conversations and allowing people to relax podcasts are often the way many professionals open up.
So much so, there are specific media training courses covering podcasts alongside TV interviews. 

Categories
Anonymous Career Advice

How do I get unstuck in a stagnant job?

This week’s anonymous career advice is something I am confident 99% of people have faced and a large number of people are facing today, not just because of the job market and business climate, but down to how we all face career crossroads every few years of our working lives. 

Dear Focus, How do I get unstuck in a stagnant job? 

There is a time in any job when you feel like you, the role and/or the business is stagnating. It’s one of the most common discussion points in my coaching services

One of the more painful truths in business is roles do actually slow and stagnate, one of my truths I let people know is if you feel like something is stagnating you have the power to evolve in and around a role, don’t let the company or the role hold you back.

You have the power to understand your strengths and weaknesses, you have the power to find resources online to help you (the internet has brilliant free resources), you can find an internal mentor or find an external mentor to help you develop. 

If you need help to understand your professional strengths and weaknesses, read this it’s time for a professional and personal SWOT leaders letter for guidance and how to address some of your concerns. 

If you feel like this is a professional injury or you need rehab from previous situations, read this professional injuries and rehab leaders letter and speak to your manager or step up as a leader and help those to progress around you. 

One of the most important aspects here is to uncover what is stuck, where do you feel stuck and what opportunities are there for you. This could be taking on broader projects, stepping up and taking over an area of the business that is underperforming or needs more guidance or assistance.

Something many people take on as a challenge is a side hustle or a passion project. In a lot of my own personal career, a side hustle taught me more about business and operations than many large businesses I worked in or with.

If you feel like you want to make the move away I recommend reading our recent anonymous career advice, unfinished business vs knowing it’s time to leave

If you need more help or you need help highlighting bigger issues at your company, our anonymous text helpline will help take this forward.  

Good luck and remember this is the time to step up and own your career.

Categories
Company Culture hybrid office

Prepare yourself and your HR team for difficult conversations

Since the start of 2020 we have seen a number of business changes, one important area that has not changed as much as normal is hiring and natural staff turnover. 

As we see more vaccinations and confidence come back into economies, we will see large numbers of staff reconsider the roles they are in, their role within their team and importantly within their organisations. 

We have seen in 2021 that many people are living in the better the devil you know, we are about to see this change. 

Change Is Coming

This is where business leaders have to start internal conversations around the management team table, around the exec table and bring in human resources to start preparing for the influx of difficult conversations around staff members wanting to explore their options and for some receive offers from other companies and in some cases staff leaving for complete career changes.

Get Ahead Of Turnover

If your department or team has seen turnover, do not expect this to end, action the following:

  • Gather intel
  • Create a market overview
  • Understand how the market has evolved for your department and their roles
  • Consider how you and your business will approach talent retention and career development for each staff member individually.

This period is essential to understand the motives behind wanting to leave or a desire to improve their skills and where you are placed to assist. 

Learn From The Market & Other Companies

In recent conversations; poor company culture, lack of career development and weak company strategy have all been areas raised as to why staff have wanted to leave.

In other conversations, something that many businesses have ignored is the requirement from the teams for hybrid and flexible working from home.
Do not allow your inflexibility in shifting to the hybrid office or making important tweaks including introducing hybrid perks

Not A Normal Time

This situation is something a manager or department lead experiences throughout the year, however, with summer approaching and changing landscape, we will see a rush for talent.
We will likely see more investment made into company developments and into key growth departments and more roles becoming available, more recruitment companies contact staff and headhunters going through teams and approaching them for an alternative role.

Prepare Yourself & Your Future

As a manager or department lead it is imperative to have discussions around headcount and knowing if you are likely to lose someone you will be able to replace and reshape your team. 

You will likely see more change than you want but it is essential to be ahead of this wave of change and be able to reduce any anxiety around headcount and if you are in a position to hire a way to show your plan and lead from the front. 

Categories
Company Culture

Why The World Of Work Is Broken

At Focus we are on a mission to address the many foundations of the broken workplace.

Simply put, here are the most common broken elements to the workplace.

Company Culture

  • Bad and toxic cultures
  • Company Culture is seen as a soft skill
  • Company Culture is shaped by the wrong people, leadership and HR are too far removed and dictate, don’t hear or feel what is broken
  • Company Culture is not traditionally connected to company performance – this is incorrect

Communication

  • Bad communication habits became the default
  • Under communicating important decisions and why actions were taken
  • Hiding behind statements and buzzwords – rather than being deliberate and taking the time to write clearly
  • Communication live and die by the spreading of the most valuable pieces of information, being kept in private channels, chats and emails do progress businesses forward

Strategy

  • Lack of one company-wide strategy
  • Everything became a strategy to become important
  • Tactics and action plan is mistaken for strategy – this is confusing teams, departments and companies
  • Deliberate plan of actions that do not connect, it breaks companies progress

Leadership

  • Leaders are too busy to lead, let alone manage
  • Managers have no leadership training or coaching
  • The best staff members are often promoted to become a manager to lead people, when they are not capable of leading
  • Leaders do not manage, they do not coach, they do not mentor – this is not leadership

Busy

  • Lack of feedback and open conversations lead to everyone being busy and people being deliberate
  • The badge of honour everyone has had to wear
  • Busy became an excuse to not deliver
  • No one has owned removing busy to become effective

Bad Meetings & Too Many Meetings

  • Default to decisions being made in meetings
  • Back to back meetings have become a hiding place for staff of all levels
  • Virtual meetings happen to update poor managers
  • Status updates that have to happen in a meeting as blinded by meeting culture

These are just four examples per broken functions of work.

The Focus mission is to fix the broken world of work and help businesses evolve.

Find Out About Our Service Fixing The Broken World Of Work

Important Related Reads To Help You Improve The Broken World Of Work

Prefer watching videos? Here is the focus manifesto

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Categories
Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 41

The Four Questions To Build A More Informed Company

March 22nd 2021.

Dear Leaders, 

In recent times the majority of companies start by solving a problem or particular customer need and then build out on top of it. 

Some smart businesses solve a need by combing a few needs together, the package and branding create a desire for that particular product or service and then it catches on, gains referrals and gains tractions. 

The Large Company Example: Apple

Apple is the most famous at this. Steve Jobs for all of his known management and people management faults obsessed with only three things at one time and answered customer problems while packaging them together like a magician.

Apple famously followed this magic many times, firstly with the iPod, created a whole market with the iPad and most specifically with the iPhone, it’s been that way for fourteen years.
Given the choice, the majority of users would move across to the Apple ecosystem and then buy up and keep buying into the ecosystem once they are in.

Most recently Apple created a multi-billion dollar operation in the AirPods. Yes, Bluetooth headphones that most first thought was not much better than their parents Bluetooth headset for driving. How wrong were they?
There is an argument to be made it is down to age, brand power and equity, however, Apple is known for their quality, known for creating inspiration and aspiration in their product and marketing, but also, knowing where they can make smaller improvements in their core products that last without having to launch numerous products but large leaps in existing problems and releasing at the right time.

The New Entrance Example

Startups do well as they start small, niche and the bigger companies do not fear one problem being solved, what startups and smart companies do well is understand customer needs and builds out their solutions.
By the time the startup builds up and answers more problems, the incumbent struggles to defend and cannot attack.

You have likely been in one of the two positions, you could have been in the third, the thick middle aka the hardest fight, where you cannot seem to compete with the big player but the smaller more agile startup starts eating your dinner too.

Over Subscribes

Most recently the shift to subscriptions has seen many businesses move towards valuing their product or service monthly and suggesting to customers you have the choice to look around but the pain point and friction to leave is going to outweigh the price difference or the value difference. 

With all this said and experienced, this has helped me to ask questions that open up leadership teams and make them face the battles they have likely ignored or not made time for.

Consulting with a number of companies most recently, there a few questions many if not all struggle to truly answer. 

The four questions many just cannot answer are:

What are you uniquely good at? 

What problem are you truly solving? 

If you turned off all marketing – would anyone come directly to you and still buy?

What is your internal secret sauce?

These questions are designed to be easy to answer however they are crafted to make you rethink who you are, what you do and how you do it.

Great leaders have to be able to ask and answer these questions, not alone but with their departments, with the smart people around them and know if they are struggling to answer these type of questions to bring in the right support or external agency or consultancy to help improve their company.

Survive is not a strategy and is not something that helps teams buy into the company or the leadership. Survive is the bare minimum, despite how hard it feels this is only going to result in you creating an uninspired and unhappy workforce.
Going from survivor => compete => thrive can feel like a long battle however as a leader it is essential you and the company know how to and when to ask these important four questions.

As Q2 starts this is typically the best time to ask these questions and gain market intel on competitors to inform some of the reshaping of the business.

If you are struggling to answer these, you are not alone, however answering these four questions will help to shape your company’s requirement to improve product, improve training, improve internal communications and external messaging and refresh how you approach problem-solving.

Why not add these questions to your next management meeting or ELT and prep time for you and your colleagues to discuss this at length.

For one business, we created an internal motto; more deliberate direction = less reaction, more action. This was then added to the leadership principles.
Consider how you leverage both pieces of advice to progress your company this month.

Good luck for Q2 and keep driving forward.

Thanks,

Danny Denhard

Categories
Business Performance

Why No Meeting Days Need Transition Plans

I think it is safe to say, meetings have always considered an essential part of the working day.

Meetings have however become one of the main factors of the broken world of work.

I believe I can safely speak on behalf of almost all of us, lockdowns (and quarantines) have made back to back meetings feel like it is the only way we can do our daily work.

This is definitely dangerous and a broken way of thinking and a broken way of work.

Deliberate With Meetings

In most organisations, they have not defined when, why or how to host or have meetings. This is causing stress, burnout and meeting fatigue.

If you have worked in a fully remote or fully distributed team, you know meetings are essential parts of projects and campaigns but will often slow down important work. So deliberate reasons for meetings, brainstorms and quick asynchronous standup have been vital and calculated to get the most out of “meetings”. If you have ever spoken to someone who has worked fully remotely, they will tell you deep work is essential and arranging your days around meetings slow’s the flow and projects right down.

Meetings = Burnout?

At the end of 2020, Google introduced no meetings week, as I wrote then, this move would have from the outside seemed a good idea to prevent burnout but internally the anxiety levels would have increased and many businesses are not set up to align, agree on progress or make important decisions on email threads and instant messengers like Teams or Slack.

Many organisations I have spoken to over the last nine months have suggested meetings in person moved online and onto video as default, with the same structure of meetings, the same decision process is happening, now just more slowly or with more but shorter meetings to gain alignment.

More meetings do not help, they take more time, add more opinions and add more complexity to your workday, this is actually causing more fatigue and potential burnout.

Back To Backs – The Exec Problem

Even the most senior and well-supported company executives burnout from back to back meetings, if you speak to anyone at a mid to large-sized business in a leadership role, their calendars are back to back to back. For some this is the way they have learnt, others this is the way they are expected to lead. For most this is a choice and ripples through businesses.

This back to back theme became the norm in the early 2000’s and has plagued organisations since, this is where a HiPPO should lead and ensure the company knows this is bad practise and does not enable productive or positive working environments.

A Dive Into Meeting Stats

  • With the move to forced working from home, we now average 6.9 meetings per day
  • That’s a 13.5% increase YoY
  • Meeting lengths
    • 31% of meetings were 15 minute meetings long
    • 36% of meetings were 30-minute
    • 20% of meetings ran for 60 minutes
  • Studies found that staff attend on average 62 meetings per month, where ~50% of the meetings were considered a complete waste of time.
  • 50% of meeting agendas are recycled – this can help and hinder

These many meetings mean we do not have time to recover from meetings and digest what was said and the actions that need to happen. Frustrations with meetings, the time it takes away from you and the feelings it creates are known as Meeting Recovery Syndrome. MRS is an important component of your workday and is one of the most misunderstood parts of the day.

Running late on video calls on the surface seems to waste more people’s time, with six or more people staring at pixels and inspecting the backgrounds of their colleagues, a meeting overrunning also brings more stress and anxiety, this zaps more energy from meeting attendee’s meaning MRS is heightened and tension builds from meeting to meeting. MRS is taken from one meeting to the next.

Unfortunately just not having meetings or reducing down meetings with bad habits, is not going to positively change how your company or agency operates, it will reduce some stress but will apply more pressure on the meetings that take place and will see more internal communications that has not been planned for.

Meeting Design

Meeting design is a whole category business should dedicate an owner to, research, adopt and introduce company-wide.
Learning how to craft meetings, being thoughtful of those who need to attend, why they should attend, what time they should attend, the work required pre-meeting, the reading materials supplied, the crafted vs recycled agenda are all essential parts of making one meeting a success.

Fewer Meetings Vs No Meetings

Trying to turn this off and reduce meetings down when we are having more meetings on the surface seems a good idea but second-order thinking will allow you understand this is a bandaid approach that many businesses will struggle to help their teams adopt.

No meetings will help reduce a day to two of stress providing it is planned for and the campaign, project or product leads understand how they are critical parts of reducing stress and organising around previous poor workflows could and should work.

Are No Meeting Days Possible?

No meeting days is not a new concept, the concept has been around for a number of years and has enabled a number of people to get their head down and get their work done.

Company-wide no meeting days has been an answer many businesses have tried but has failed for mass adoption or success, this is typically down to organisations who rely on meetings to make decisions, relying on meetings to keep management up to date with what is happening and misalignment on work being mixed up with meetings.

No meeting days will be possible if you build-up muscle memory up towards no meetings, you have to remove the friction points (for example decision making only happening meetings) and then enable them to happen over email, project tools or instant messenger. Having a company-wide agreement that is followed by the most junior to most senior is essential.

No Meeting Days Plan For Success

Meeting free days actually take a number of months to transition to, there are many reasons but the most important to note are

  • To build a company-wide agreement of what a meeting is and is not
  • To build confidence no meeting days can work
  • To enable teams to move away from meetings, stand-ups and in-person and hybrid status updates
  • To replace the reliance on meetings to make decisions
  • To replace decision making in meetings with an agree process, whether this is on email, on chat, on a dedicated document or on a project management tool.
    • A decision document will be an important step to increase awareness of decisions and why these take place.
  • To build a new way of asynchronous communications.

The way the world is changing and the way many have already embraced working remotely and from home, we will see meetings play an essential part of the hybrid office, this will however require work, investment into people, tools and processes and agreed to company-wide principles to follow these, even when projects go off schedule, things hit the fan or the HiPPO demands a meeting.

The ways to win:

  • Reducing down meetings is being more deliberate with what a meeting is, is not and what you have to achieve from the meeting
  • It is knowing what the outcome of the meetings are and then giving the company and teams a chance to create more deliberate and considered communications asynchronously.
  • This methodology reduces the requirements for meetings, you build up muscle for making decisions away from meetings and ensure the company know when they are deliberate, they win vs requiring a meeting to make progress.
  • Remove the busy badge of honour and replace it with deliberate communications and thoughtful work wins and knowing that they can trust each other and no meetings days to win.

Recommended Reading


Stats Source – Otter

Categories
Company Culture Leadership

Rethink The Leader – Manager – Coach – Mentor – Operator Dynamic

Rethink The Leader - Manager - Coach - Mentor - Operator Dynamic

Each week in Focus’ newsletter Leaders Letters, we discuss leadership, what a leader is and is not and how to channel that inner leader on important topics.

2020 – 2021

Throughout 2020 there has been a number of recurring themes, one of which is your role within the company vs the job title you have.

Role Vs Job Title

There are a few core tiers of role vs job title that often stands out and is important to raise and for you to discuss.

Often we see a hierarchy, we see it by the org chart, the title you have or the role you play within the business. This org chart rarely suggests or shows the different roles you play and how you operate. Hidden Leaders often play multiple roles within your org, they might not a manager but can be a coach and a mentor alongside being a high level operator.

Many hidden leaders are not ‘a people manager’ and this is actually a bonus to their career and the people around. I dislike the term individual contributors as this is so limited to what some people offer and the impact they have on those around them and the service they bring company.

In leaders letter, fewer managers more coaches and mentors we recommended a way to rethink your company set up and question do you actually need more managers and more hierarchy, or does reshaping your business with more mentors and coaches actually make more sense.

The Impact on Company Culture

Hierarchies will often dictate decision-making processes, the flow of information or in some orgs who is the ‘ultimate decision-maker”, this impact staff happiness and what is your company culture.

Leaders Are More Than A Title

Leader – Manager – Coach – Mentor – Operator for many are defined tags or labels you have and associate into your title. For others, these are hard labels you have and enter into a tiering system.

For me, these are interchangeable and should be used by companies to help colleagues understand different layers of leadership and development.

I challenge many managers to list down which of these roles are the people within their team and those who could offer reverse mentorship to them or identify a reverse mentor within their business who would help both parties and the company to progress.

The Roles Explained

  • Leader – A leader doesn’t have to have a C or V title. You do not have to be the most senior to be a leader, you can set the example and drive behaviour forward whether you are inexperienced or the most experienced or most senior.
    Leaders come in many forms and it is essential you understand the true difference between a manager and a leader.
    A leader can be a good coach and a mentor providing they have the time to dedicate and the energy to provide true value to their colleagues. Some of the smartest leaders have reverse mentorship and provides tremendous benefit to the org.
  • Manager – Typically a title, you can be a manager on a project and be less senior but have an important role to play on a project and manage those around you. Project Managers often drive businesses forward and made important decisions over more senior titles.
    Managers can be extremely busy and many are not taught to develop their team members or their department, this is where coaches and mentors will be valuable members of the company’s development and evolution.
  • Coach – Coaching is one of the most difficult and most challenging but is the most rewarding activity of work when you see your colleagues grow.
    A coach although typically older is someone who helps individuals grow, improve colleagues skills and helps to nurture the business forward. Some of the best coaches in business are inside of your org, they are likely in other areas of the business but can help improve your skills and might actually be lower in rank and title but will coach you.
    Remember the best sports coaches did not have huge professional careers, they have the best approach and methods for improving others.
  • Mentor – Mentors are often unspoken of, at any point you will see many people mentoring others, this is most regularly informal and is helping colleagues to guide others without having hard written goals or targets.
    I am personally extremely passionate about mentorship, many managers are just too busy to help you, often you can arrange fortnightly or monthly mentoring sessions with more senior members of staff and gain huge amounts by discussing your work, your aspirations and growing your role and influence. Many organisations will help you arrange a mentorship programme if you have not organised a mentor programme consider how you will match colleagues together.
    Try not to make the mistake many businesses do by only organising this for the raising stars or standout performers.
    A mentor will provide your business with a large amount of benefit, they will be guiding force and help those around them as much or more than most managers.
  • Operator – A specialist operator is hard to come by, they are often stand out performers and often led towards a management role. This does not actually benefit the operator or the business, this is often down to conditioned ways of thinking. An operator can be a better coach or better mentor vs having to take on formal management roles.
    As mentioned above an operator can be far more than just an individual contributor and offers far more than a flat title as this.
    A high-level operator (many from a developer background consider this the only way to progress) will feel pressure to ask for a manager or a senior manager, consider how you help to shape their careers and help the team or colleagues around them gain the most from the operator.

Move Away From Flat Titles

Moving forward I challenge you and your business to move away from flat and ignorant titles and build out layers in which truly reflect the impact and influence colleagues have within the organisation.

Pay special attention to developing out who would make great coaches, mentors and leaders and building managers who can manage their time, benefit from reverse mentorship and built out succession planning and the next evolution of leadership within your organisation.

If you would like to understand and develop this out further, I recommended reading a related and worthwhile article is what is leadership.