Monday, September 2, 2019
Bringing senior members of a company together is key to continued improvement, says Steve Hutin, the managing director of Rope and Sling Specialists Ltd.
Another sporting analogy for you: imagine a football or rugby team that wasn’t allowed to train together during the season. Further, they weren’t permitted to meet before games, get together for a half-time team talk, or debrief after a match. Beyond that, the manager or coach was forbidden from interacting with his or her players face to face.
Can you see them winning the league under such conditions? No, me neither. It’s interesting then to consider that many companies operate that way in business. They go to work every day in all four corners of a region, country or even the world, attend trade shows, visit customers, succeed, fail, troubleshoot, hire, fire and toil, but never come together to refocus on goals or find solutions to problems. If we wouldn’t expect a sports team to be successful like this, it’s unreasonable to challenge a business to try.
That’s why I bring my managers, directors and senior testing professionals together once a year to ensure we remain a winning team and keep in alignment with our goals. We’ve been doing it for eight years now and every time I’m reminded how important it is. That’s why I want to dedicate a blog to encouraging all businesses to afford time to bringing the leadership team together. It doesn’t matter if the company is a micro biz of two directors, a slightly bigger small and medium-sized enterprise (SME), or a global conglomerate. There’s value in leadership meetings for all of them. And I’ll give you a few reasons why and how to make them effective for your business.
Location, location, location
Assuming we’re all agreed this is a worthwhile endeavour, the first thing to consider is where to stage the meeting. This is important, particularly at the outset, because it’s got to suit as many people involved as possible. We’ve got six UK depots, for example, spanning hundreds of miles from Scotland to South Wales, London and other places between. Summoning everyone to de facto headquarters here in Pyle would mean a significant trip for some and nothing whatsoever for others. Immediately it would create a problem. The impression might be that our regional representatives would be visiting ‘head office’. And that’s not the point, nor is it fair. As such, we tend to meet in Bristol where those attending from Scotland can fly in and others can drive without spending a whole day at the wheel.
Always guard against elitism and a sense of superiority. This is an overarching issue really because at the point of recruitment or promotion, it should be made clear that leaders push a team from within, not sit in an ivory tower. Yet, it’s still necessary not to make such annual or periodic meetings the ‘promised land’ where other staff can only dream of being invited to one day. Contact and cohesion throughout the year (always covered during the meeting) is another way of ensuring those not involved in management meetings still feel part of the team. Everyone is responsible for not creating a ‘them and us’ atmosphere or culture.
The same commitment to continuity must exist between business owners and management too. I’m not suggesting an annual meeting should be the only time in the year a CEO talks to his regional managers. This isn’t about pretending to like each other for a day and then going back to our old ways. Keep in mind the team-talk analogy at the outset; these meetings should focus on game plans, tactics, repetition of what’s working, and elimination of what isn’t. To implement such strategy takes year-round communication. It just helps if that is given a point of focus or period of time to work, and that’s where an annual meeting serves its purpose.
I’ve even got my own whiteboard. Well, not exactly, but I put together an infographic (posh word for a poster) that outlines our goals. It’s not quite like a football manager sticking magnets on the board in formation—“Today, we’re playing 3-5-2 and I want the wing-backs flying forwards. Al, you’re box to box for 90 minutes, today”—but it’s what’s in my head, just the same. I’m not saying every manager’s whiteboard should look like mine, but for reference, for the latest meeting I highlighted words like performance, personnel, problems and products. I championed honesty, education and ownership. I also outlined certain negative scenarios we must continue to avoid.
But it’s never just about me. Too many business leaders give a sermon at such gatherings. It’s crucial that everyone in attendance is invited to speak and put things forward. Nobody should be at a summit of senior representatives only in a listening capacity. I don’t want anybody driving or flying home thinking they didn’t get an opportunity to speak or that the agenda didn’t follow the pathway they’d hoped. It’s not acceptable for a regional manager to hold onto a problem and hope someone else addresses it. Nor should it be conceivable that ignorance is bliss; no issue is better brushed under the carpet.
That means matters might (should) arise that aren’t necessarily on the agenda. While issues must be handled on a day-to-day basis, there are always moments in a managers meeting where we have to tackle something that arises from the floor. I encourage total honesty but with it demand a contribution to the solution. Nobody at senior level in any operation should slap a pile of problems on the table and expect someone else to clean them up. I often ask people who say they’re disgruntled because something hasn’t been fixed if they’d presented the tools to do so. Good businesses tend to be very good at stopping small problems—and we all have them—getting bigger.
The hallmark of any meeting at my company is that they’re fun. Yours should be too. I’m not suggesting we all roll around the room launching at each other’s outrageous jokes, but they’re not oppressive, demanding days. We have regular breaks and never let tension or boredom levels rise. Nobody prattles on, either. I’ve heard companies competing over the length of their meetings, which is nonsense. “We met for breakfast at 6am and didn’t stop until 6pm,” one business owner says, only for another to reply, “We overrun and needed to go into a second day because we had so much to cover”. More fool you. We make sure we’re done nice and early so we can get to the restaurant or bar and enjoy some downtime in each other’s company.
When was the last time your management team got together?
Rope and Sling Specialists Ltd