Monthly Archives: July 2012

Tennis for businesses – balls, wimbledon and development

So I watched the mens final at wimbledon this week. It was great to see a fellow Scot (or Brit) reach the finals with the hope of a first male home victory in a long time. Sadly it wasn’t meant to be. The news reported of Andy Murray’s valiant attempt (ignoring Federer’s heroic 7th win, but that’s another story). It also reported about the new generation of players inspired to take up the game in search of becoming the next Andy Murray. They all have different reasons, some because they come from the same city as him, some from the same country and some purely because they think it’s amazing what he can do with a tennis ball. Now I know that there are very few who will reach the same heights as Andy Murray but there is a large portion of national funding going to support tennis for future generations and hopefully help find the next great talent. The investment in development of these youngsters, however fruitless, is, to me, inspiring. The particularly patriotic will always represent their country and be thankful for what they have received.

Where is this in business?

Beyond a graduate scheme, there doesn’t appear to be much in house intensive development available to employees and that includes management. Now I don’t know the inner workings of every company and this is a huge generalisation but beyond the junior tennis academy in business there don’t seem to be many coaches to assist along the way. Don’t get me wrong I know there is a lot to be learned on the job. A tennis player will refine and improve their serve over time by themselves if they are curious, looking at the mechanics of what happens but a good coach can offer drastic improvement in a short space of time. The same can be applied in business, over time someone can become more confident during a presentation. With a little support that can happen a lot quicker. My big issue here is that very few people I have worked with have the belief or curiosity that is needed to take on a new challenge. They don’t notice they are developing half the time.

Where are the coaches?

Coaches in business are big business. Some would call them the holy grail of development. But with everything that happens on the job, it always comes second, behind the job. Coaches are put in place in organisations without a thought to the resources needed. A lot of managers are expected to become consummate coaches over night and develop their team rather than drive them. A lucky manager may have a natural fit and fall into this role nicely but still may not have the time to actually coach. Some larger organisations pay a lot of money for executive coaches to work with the senior team. They come in, make a difference, and leave. At great expense. When you don’t have the time, skills or mindset, coaching is as much use as a coffee break. There is a debate on ROI for coaching and if it has any real value. This is something I’m not here to talk about.

I think coaching has it’s place amongst a broad spectrum of development tools. A lot of employers sponsor their staff to take external courses. During class I sit next to HR managers who are being paid by their employer to gain new knowledge and requirements for CIPD accreditation. If that was tennis, it would be a theory class on why the ball bounces the way it does and a critical evaluation of the effect of weather conditions on match day psychology. A nice to do. It takes a long time, it’s expensive and can’t always be applied to the every day. If a tennis player took a year out to study the theory, their ranking would quickly plummet.

Ok coaching and development might work, why bother?

For the same reason that national funding is given to tennis. To develop the future stars. There is a lot written about the war for talent and how we have a huge skills gap. Government aside, it is up to businesses to help bridge that gap. The training might even help a candidate fill a crucial role in your company or become a finalist at your industries “wimbledon”. I know there are many reasons why companies don’t budget highly for development of their staff. The main one is money. There is no guaranteed return on any development funding and those highly trained and competent staff may just join a new company in a better position after all you’ve given them. Sadly businesses can not hope to achieve the patriotic loyalty a nation is bestowed. The second reason is when staff are knowingly developing, they aren’t working. Another money drain. Ok so it mostly comes back to money and its short term loss.

How could it be different?

The list below is not a one-size-fits-all list of recommendations that can work for all organisations but some food for thought

Highlight to staff the massive development opportunities available in the everyday and the special occasions. Help them to understand the benefits given. Communication is free. Awareness is invaluable.

Bridge the gap between graduate training and external courses. Get creative with how staff are developed. In fact, bring staff together for a think tank of how best to develop them. They know the job role best and when is right to develop. Training courses are old.

Develop your developers. The burden of a coach/mentor/trainer can sometimes be a difficult one when they aren’t seeing results. Create a mentor or coach network to allow for cross development or assign a master coach to share their skills.

Inspirers aren’t always the best developers. Andy Murray may have inspired a new generation to pick up a tennis racquet but he might not turn out to be the best coach. Don’t confuse performance and knowledge with coaching ability.

Strategy isn’t only relevant to your senior managers. They may have the experience and the industry knowledge but don’t rely on them solely to bring about new initiatives. Offer developmental experiences alongside current roles to more junior employees to work with your senior managers. Diversity brings creativity and improves communication links through the management levels. A think tank can develop more than just a new idea.

Allocate staff time to reflect on their working week, their accomplishments, wins, challenges and how they overcame them. Everyone can be their own coach if they have time. Sure, half an hour on a friday afternoon may not be best used to learn but find a time to rejuvenate your staff.

Not an idea but a mindset. Be Brave about developing your staff. Parents want the best for their children even when they leave the nest. If we genuinely devote time to supporting and developing staff, there will always be a link there to call on, especially when talent is running low.

So when you’re thinking about training up the next Andy Murray, the more balls you have, the better.


Through the hourglass – branding for employees

A brand is important for a business. It is the perception of customers about the organisation. It is built up from experiences of the organisation. I like to think of a brand experience as an hourglass. A customer starts at the top where their brand experience is wide: recommendations from friends, browsing, test driving, googling etc. The end of the brand experience is just as wide: adoration of your friends, using the product, after sales support, additional purchases etc. The mid-point, the bottleneck, the flashpoint, of this brand experience is the time of purchase. This mid-point is the make or break point of a brand experience. Good service and they come back, bad service and the whole company is to blame. Many organisations use sales training to ensure this service is as consistent as possible. It’s hard work being consistent. Good sales training is built to enhance this experience beyond selling a product and becoming the face of a brand. I have worked for years with staff on becoming ambassadors of a brand. I have been fortunate enough to work with admired brands and this job became quite easy. Who wouldn’t want to be the face of a great brand?

I visited an old friend in London and was introduced to her long time partner, a lawyer. He was successful, working for a prestigious law firm in the capital. He was proud to work for them. But through a long dinner conversation, as with most jobs, it wasn’t always easy. He was very pragmatic about his job. He gets paid (quite a lot of money) to work hard for this admired company. Discussing career paths it was evident he had little loyalty to the company. So I asked, why this company? What makes them so prestigious?

The only answer I received was reputation.

And it struck me. While the public face of a company can be the difference in the market place and also a key recruitment tool there was no internal brand for the staff to connect with. A law firm is built around good practice and client base, but for the staff creating this experience, how do they connect with the brand? A lot of engagement and motivation tools are created by a strategic team. Competitive pay, benefits, reward, career progression and talent management. These are all then offered to the staff. If we use the hourglass again this would be the top half. The lower half of the experience could be the adoration of your friends, job satisfaction, lifelong learning or more. But the mid-point of this experience, much like a consumer, is how we interact with the people of the company. That one sale to a customer is replicated every day an employee comes to work.

So how is that being made special?

For the staff to love their job stage 1 is taken care of and stage 3 is the desired result but how many managers relate their actions to the flashpoint in the middle? I’ve always related happy staff to performing staff, rightly or wrongly, and there is a whole host of things that can motivate and satisfy staff. The big disconnect for most managers is assuming they know best about what will motivate the staff. Standard benefits have become just that, standard. Rewards specialists are always thinking up new ways to reward the staff better than anyone else and this could be more expensive. The company may become seen as an employer of choice for the outside but how does the brand look on the inside? Why not just ask the talent you have what rewards they want? Every colleague I have ever worked with wanted something different out a job. Some just wanted a thank you. Some wanted a ferrari for showing up on time.

Secondly how is the company decision making process being communicated to the staff? Is it being communicated wholly? Or just “what they need to know” ? Much like rewards, the communicating of business practice is as crucial to employees brand experience at the bottom as getting it right at the top. Everyone is an adult and should be given an explanation as to why things are the way they are. Like in my previous post about engagement, what you don’t say can speak louder than what you do say, so don’t give employees room to think anything but the truth.

Taking this even further these decisions should be marketed to the team rather than dictated. If a watchmaker just released watch 1, watch 2 etc then they might not be as enticing. This should be the same as every people process in an organisation. Rather than just stating to employees what is happening, sell it to them. Change becomes easier then.

Think about who “sells” to the employees. How are they trained to relay this vision and brand? Line managers have more responsibility than ever so it is important that they are trained in delivering that message in a way that won’t devalue the brand to employees. This is probably most crucial in building an internal brand. When a customer receives bad service they are a lot less likely to come back for more. This may be the difference in your top talent staying with you, or being enticed by another shop window.

You may be sitting reading this thinking that an internal brand would be an expensive thing to create and uphold. You would be correct. The cost of providing service for your people however, may be much smaller than providing a better marketing campaign. A strong internal brand provides more advertising free of charge. Your staff love their job and recommend the company, and it’s products, to more people, whether on or off the clock. And at the end of the day, when employees enjoy and understand the brand they work for, they embody that brand to its customers even more.



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