Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Seven Ways To Improve Minion Engagement

One great thing about having lots of children is the guilt free pleasure of watching all the kids movies - which are usually much better than 'grown up' films.

As stated in several previous articles, it's hard for me to watch a movie without analysing management style - which in the case of the lead character in Despicable Me is just exemplary.......

In case you missed this excellent movie, Gru is an evil super villian with a horde of minions set on committing (and sometimes solving) various criminal acts.

In order to achieve success, he has hundreds of marginally uncontrollable minions who don't necessarily do the right things (sound familiar?)

Nonetheless they always work hard, innovate, complete seemingly impossible tasks, and enjoy themselves in the process. 

Without them Gru would never succeed in achieving his goals.

I would argue this is due to the high level of employee engagement demonstrated in the organisation, and would offer the following seven examples as proof:

1. Set Clear Direction And Explain Your Goals

There's never any doubt about the focus of the team. The goals are set clearly, and although the deadlines are tight there is absolute transparency with regards to the end goal - even if that end goal is stealing the moon by first stealing a shrink ray.

2. Celebrate Success Together & Give Credit

The word 'we' is used often - never 'me'. We stole the Times Square Jumbotron. We have had a great year. We will have a party. Great success calls for celebration, goals and rewards are shared at all levels.

3. Never Stop Employees Having Fun

The minions cannot help but enjoy their work - naturally mischievous, they find things to enjoy even during the most mundane of tasks. Simple pleasures cause laughter and everyones day passes faster because of it. The goals are achieved, but their enjoyment of life is not seen as an inhibitor to success - but rather a sign of a highly integrated, functional team.

4. Be Appreciative Of Failed Innovation

It is unlikely that one of your staff is going to present you with a fart gun today, but if they did would you be impressed with their innovation, or furious at them for not focusing on the task at hand? 

In the movie, a simple misunderstanding about a dart gun requirement produces an unexpected result  - but lessons are learned, and it eventually becomes useful. 

Most importantly, failure is appreciated as a learning experience.

5. Ensure Adequate Staffing

There are no shortage of hands to help complete the work. In fact having a few extra bodies helps a great deal when things start to go wrong - and that excess of resource allows for new creations. 

Extra resource ensures a high quality of work and confidence that the job can get done. When too many minions go missing in the second movie, all kinds of disasters occur and everything starts to go wrong.

6. Really Delegate Responsibility

Gru cannot do it all. He is clearly the leader, but together with a highly skilled middle manager (Dr. Nefario) - he hands out clear tasks and steps back. 

He is never guilty of micro-managing and only comes to help when it becomes apparent that he can provide resource, advice or clarification to ensure success. His door is always open, and if no-one comes to visit, he takes the time to go and see what's happening.

7. Listen To Concerns And Take Action

When minions notice things going wrong - the departure of a respected manager, a reduction in staff, missing children and so on - Gru takes notice. He doesn't spend time questioning motive or accusing them of wasting his time. 

As a consequence, lines of communication remain open and problems are not hidden from senior management.

If you follow these steps, not only will your own employees become more engaged, they will be more productive, your business will be more profitable, and everyone will be happy....

(now turn up your speakers and play this clip)

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Do We Really Value Others?

A week after the CIPD Question Time event on the future of work, one of the things discussed is still playing on my mind.

There was complete agreement from the panel that the focus on University education was screwing up the country, and that past and present decisions by various governments had brought about some unintended consequences (more on that later).

In particular the perceived value of trades has been greatly diminished - as Lembit Opik remarked "We need to rehabilitate the idea of trades as valid professions". 

An almost maniacal focus on increasing the percentage of teenagers that go to university has left little focus for manual skills in other areas. 

Almost 50% of school leavers are presently attempting to gain degree level education, despite the fact that (according to this mornings quarterly labour force survey) the UK has 424,000 graduates under the age of 25 in non-graduate work.

The original target was a nice, clear goal for government to set - but now plumbing, carpentry, building, mechanical and other trade skills are seen as somehow 'lesser' options in the UK - and then we complain about economic migrants 'stealing our jobs' in these areas.


This morning the government announced a £2000 tax break if both partners are in employment. 

Those that choose to give up work to look after their children have been overlooked by successive governments, and this announcement reinforces it - otherwise their tax free allowance would move to their partner. 

This is the latest in a long line of policies designed to reduce 'unemployment' by increasing the number of mums returning to full  time work.

The most undervalued part of British society right now are the stay at home mums. Which leads to the general perception that those that stay at home to raise children are less valuable to society. 

My Wife gave up a senior management role at a London graphic design agency fifteen years ago to look after our four children and support me at work. I can categorically say she works harder than me, for longer hours, for less thanks and provides a heck of a lot more value. 

But that's increasingly seen as a 'lifestyle' choice that's no longer as appreciated as it once was - and 'Mum' is no longer seen as valid role.


Now - those unintended consequences .....

After the event (held at Kings University College) I was talking to one of the lecturers present - and expressed my view that University places should be free for all. I would not have driven myself into debt to go when I was 18 - and believe that money should never be a barrier to education. 

(I'm also happy to be taxed more to provide better education for those who will be part of my welfare in old age)

The lecturer agreed, but for different reasons. She sees an 'entitlement' culture emerging from students - who now feel that they are paying for their degree and deserve it, no matter how little effort they put in, or what their level of aptitude and intellect. 

Coupled with increasingly measured and socially open methods of lecturer 'judgement' where students evaluate staff internally and post external online reviews of their abilities - the educational system is in danger of suffering irreparable damage.

Simply put, students are increasingly empowered to bully their way to a degree, given that they believe that have bought it already.

Sadly though, the idea of 'degrees for all' has meant that the old system was financially unsupportable and funding was needed - the only way of fixing the problem would be to reduce the number of places at University to the point where the taxpayer could fund all. 

Which would promote competition for those places left and let only the brightest, most apt and hardest working gain success at Univeristy (just like the workplace).


Society doesn't function if all parts are not valued. Neither do companies. It's important to remember that we all have our role to play, and appreciate efforts of everyone around us.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Never Make Acronyms From Core Values

Acronyms, don't you just love them? 


Whilst some have slipped into common use (TV, PC, DNA) - and even more have become part of a new mobile language (LOL, LMAO, IMHO), they should never, ever be used for your core values.

Here are some reasons why it's a terrible idea....

  • If you need an acronym to remember your values, then your values suck.
  • If someone created an acronym, they probably had to change the words or add some new ones to make them fit, which messed them up.
  • It speaks more of care for 'image and marketing' than for honest, straightforward common sense.
  • It won't translate to other languages well, and therefore screw up your international efforts.

A few months ago I wrote a blog on defining core values the cowboy way - the values created at the end of that article were:

1. Speak the truth
2. Do the right thing
3. Respect others

Let's imagine for a moment that instead of capturing things properly, somebody decided that an acronym was needed. Looking at the above, perhaps the word 'Steer' could be used - and we could make a good logo out of it too...

 Speak the truth
Taking other peoples stuff is wrong
Elders come first
Everyone eat steak
Respect others

We've kept to the content of our employee voice capture, but in essence we've created something that looks a little better, but is clearly full of crap - which is something we know Cowboy Inc. likes to avoid.

If you want to make it worse, then define your value acronym against the current company tag line - then employees will be absolutely sure to see it as a marketing exercise.

If you have acronym-based values (and many do), then I hope this doesn't offend. In the unlikely event that they work well, and the behaviours that underwrite them drive better business then you should be proud to be in the minority.

If not, it's time to make some changes.