Monthly Archives: November 2011

Of personalities, interpersonal relationships and management.

I know when it’s time to go on vacation; this blog starts to dry up. It’s a great indicator because I write how I feel on this website, and when I’m too busy to think about that, I’m already past my best. And so from the 9th September until the 18th November, this column was barren.

It may be useful for you to consider your own life/work balance and see what the triggers are to take some time off. The earlier the trigger you can spot, the better you can deal with it. I bet there’s a much earlier trigger than waking up at 6am with a banging headache. Did you start eating out too much, or start skipping the visits to the gym? Maybe a tick in your hand? Spotting early triggers to burnouts are a really useful coping mechanism to the myriad of stress in our lives.

I also know when I’m healed and nearly ready to come back from vacation. It happened when I woke up at 4.30am today and lay there thinking about the Belbin Team Inventory, and what it means on the 30th anniversary of his writing about it, to our personal and business lives? Is it still relevant? Was it ever? Can we learn anything? And my catharsis is to write about it here.

What’s Belbin all about?

For those that haven’t read about Belbin, Wikipedia does a much better job than I do about explaining it, but the basics are that a chap called Belbin spent a lot of time in the 1970s researching and observing successful and failed teams, and trying to draw conclusions in the statistics. He wrote it up in a book called Management Teams: why they succeed or fail.

The principle is that there are 8 distinct roles in a team:

  • Plant: The creative person, solving the tough problems who loves to come back and present their fantastic ideas.
  • Resource Investigator: The networker, who always knows someone who can help, where to get it from and how to get it.
  • Co-ordinator: Makes sure that everyone contributes and participates, ensuring fairness. Allocates roles and responsibilities.
  • Shaper: Dynamic, loves a challenge and pressure. Has drive and courage; pushes and challenges the group.
  • Monitor-Evaluator: A strategist, looking at all options and choosing carefully. Stops the team wasting time and prevents mistakes.
  • Team Worker: Ensures that the team interpersonal relationships are maintained. Sensitive to undertones, gives personal support and resolves conflict. Ensures long-term cohesion.
  • implementor: The practical thinker that creates systems and processes that deliver. Strongly rooted in the real world.
  • Completer Finisher: Eye for the details, flaws and gaps. Monitors schedules and makes sure work is on-time and to-budget.
  • Specialist: Provides rare expertise and skills, single-minded and dedicated.

Recognise yourself in here?

I know I do. The role I play depends on the team I am in, but it’s usually the plant or the specialist. So there I was, considering my interpersonal relationship with a friend, who is a classic completer-finisher. It’s interesting because sometimes we simply can’t see eye-to-eye. My friend can’t understand why I don’t always have attention to detail, and the answer is easy: detail does not come naturally to me. I can do it if absolutely necessary, but it requires effort.

Belbin theorizes that an optimal team size is 4, and each person in the team should know their roles within the team role inventory. Roles can be combined, but for instance a plant is unlikely to also be a completer-finisher.

So is Belbin really relevant today?

I’m not sure. There are far better management books out there now. If you’re interested in this stuff then try Marcus Buckingham’sĀ First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. I think it’s as good as any place to start to learn about how to be a great manager and leader.

But on the other hand, the Belbin roles do sort of fit and it’s a really simple theory. What’s more I believe it’s important to recognise your strengths and weaknesses and employ people around you – or organise a team – in such a way that you can play to your strengths, and someone else can fill your weaknesses in.

A great example of this was when I employed someone to do an aspect of what my work role contained. A few people commented to him “so I hear you’ve been employed to be John’s b***h!”. They chose to notice that I employed someone to take some work off my plate, but also conveniently chose not to notice that he does it so much better than I do – because he plays the Implementor and Completer-Finisher roles better than I do. As such, we are complementary.

How do you build cohesion between team roles?

And this is really the guts of it. Can a plant and a completer-finisher really ever see eye-to-eye? I think so, and I think Belbin can be useful in this respect. Because, by considering which roles we can fit into – trying on clothes for size, if you like, we can recognise some of our strengths and weaknesses.

And when we recognise those, we can both avoid to some extent doing the roles that we’re not good at – and also, perhaps, empathise with people who have different strengths to ourselves.

If you really want to try this out in a more analytical manner – try Tom Rath’s Strengths Finder 2.0. It’s a pretty excellent read and may help you define who you are. And I’m pretty certain that without Belbin, there wouldn’t have been Buckingham or Rath.

Final Words

If you take one thing from this: please try to empathise with people with different strengths and weaknesses to yourself. We all bring different things to the party and if we were all the same, the world would be a pretty dull place.

From a practical point of view: if you’re not a completer-finisher, you need to make sure you find someone who is! As for me, I’m glad I’m refreshed and ready to get back to work next week.

How to make it in consulting – ten tips for success

It seems to me that as the years roll by, the world becomes an ever tougher place in which to do business. We have a global recession which has hit everyone in the Western world hard and it has changed the way people buy. I believe, permanently.

Gone are the “golden” days of consulting where big corporates would spend thousands of dollars a day on “consultants” – nearly fresh out of university and certified, but with no experience and in many cases no real talent. That ship sailed and I believe the world is better for it. If you want to make it in consulting you have to be valuable to the people that you work for – and take that value from customer to customer, building along the way.

So with all this in mind, here are my top ten tips on how to make it in consulting.

1) Be single-minded in your success

It’s perhaps pretty obvious but this point comes first because it overarches the other nine points. Regardless of whether you are a contract resource or if you work for a huge consulting outfit like Deloitte, there is only one person who really looks after you: you.

Your consulting manager, customer, HR department, coach, mentor and all the other people around you are enablers to your success. They can be catalysts and value multipliers, but you are the only person responsible for it. You are responsible for everything that follows and no one else can make it happen for you.

2) Be prepared to work beyond 9-5

I’m not saying that you need to work 80 hour weeks or sell your soul to lucifer himself, but successful consultants don’t work 9-5 any more. If you’re a chargeable resource then you spend 9-5 working at a customer and whilst you may be learning, you are not broadening your horizons. You need to spend some time beyond 9-5 furthering your career in whatever way you choose best. Blogs, webinars, seminars, conferences, books. It’s your career, do it your way.

For example, I’m on vacation this week. This blog is part of my brand and I had the idea for this post in my head – and so I’m relaxing with a pretty vista, writing. I’m good with that and it will get the idea that has been bugging me out my head.

3) Be an expert in something saleable

As many of you know, I run a consulting practice and it is full of intelligent, driven individuals – as it should be. But there are some people who you can never book onto a project because they are always busy. Sticky, we call them. One of the key differentiating factors with those people is they are an expert in something. But don’t be “me-too” – find something niche that you are good at and learn everything there is to know.

Don’t be intimidated by people who have power-brands – you don’t need to start by emulating them. Just being great at something that customers want to buy is good enough.

4) Create a personal brand around it

Consulting is rather similar to prostitution – you are selling yourself for money. The better your brand value, the more saleable you are. And creating a personal brand couldn’t be easier. Take your area of expertise. Create social media accounts in places like LinkedIn and explain your expertise. Now write about it somewhere on the internet. A personal blog, a work blog, an industry website – whatever works for you.

If you’re worried about writing, then get over yourself. It’s tough and we all get writers block sometimes. Just tell what you know.

5) Share knowledge compulsively

There was a mantra in consulting for a long while that consultants need to build their IP and sell it onto the next customer. I believe this is nonsense – you will get much more pull if people perceive you to be an expert in an area than if you horde information.

Share compulsively – it is nearly impossible to go too far here. If your customers do the simple stuff themselves and bring you in for the value-add, that is a far better and more interesting situation to be in. In the meantime you will get respect from your peers in the market.

6) Build a network

Your network is one of your most important assets. Build it unashamedly! Make sure that you have a quick pitch on who you are and what you do – one or two sentences please – so that you can explain yourself to new potential stakeholders. Hand out business cards and get them back. Add those people on LinkedIn.

And remember when you build a network that you choose your peers – no one else does that to you. Treat those people you want to be your peers as peers and they will make that leap for you. Also, make sure you network with people more experienced and more intelligent than yourself. This is where the learning happens.

7) Learn to communicate to your stakeholders

This sounds so obvious but I see it so often, especially in the technology field in which I work. A consultant explains something to a customer and their eyes glass over as the consultant explains the wonderful workings of the amazing solution they just created. It’s good to be passionate but even better to explain it in their terms.

Learn your stakeholders, empathise with their perspective and talk to them in words they understand. And make sure you don’t patronise them in the process!

8) Challenge your customers

Great consultants challenge customers all the time. Be careful not to be overtly disruptive in the way you do this – but they are paying for your expertise, and this means not blindly gathering requirements and going off and delivering something back to your customer.

What it means is you listen to what they say they want. You use your past experience and theory to challenge their thinking. If you think they are getting it wrong – tell them and tell them why they are wrong, what you think the right answer is and explain your thinking and justification in detail.

I’ve used this approach on some very senior people and provided you have content and knowledge and you are not arrogant, they will respect you for it every time and come back for more advice.

9) Don’t be afraid to be pushy

The world is owned by pushy people. I’m not saying that this means you have to be loud, abrasive, arrogant pushy and you definitely need to weave this into your personality rather than to have a personality transplant! What I’m saying is that you have to be prepared to push for what you want to achieve.

And much of the time if you ask, you get.

10) Empathise: learn to be humble

This is perhaps the hardest thing of all. With your brand, network, depth of knowledge, you are supposed to challenge customers and be pushy. But if you do this and you’re not humble with it, you won’t gain the empathy of your customer and they won’t open up to you.

This is genuinely difficult and you have to be prepared to learn. Remember this: most of the time, the customer knows their business really well. You know your subject matter really well. A good consulting output is when you mix your experience and subject matter expertise, with their knowledge of their business and come up with something special. That’s where the magic is.

Final Words

This may sound like a daunting and difficult list of things to achieve, especially if you are new to consulting. If you feel that way then I have two things to say to you: first, knock these points off one by one. It will take time and that’s OK. Second, toughen up princess! Consulting is a potentially lucrative, but tough career.

I’ve you’re reading this and have something to add then please comment. I don’t pretend to have all the answers – I just hope that this reaches a few people and helps them bring success to their customers.

What happens when BA vandalise your luggage? Nothing.

As many of you may know, I spent the week of the 8th November at SAP’s flagship event, SAPPHIRE, in Madrid. I flew, as I often do, with British Airways, because I like Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport (it’s close to my home) and the points system.

But what happened to me on the way back has led me to reconsider the meaning of customer service and what it means to social media in the 21st century. Have you read the story of United Breaks Guitars? If not, then I suggest you do so, here:

And if you empathise with the story that follows and have had something similar happen to you, then please chime in on the comments. United (no pub intended) we stand.

When I returned home after Madrid on BA flight 457 I found that a sequence of events something like this had occurred:

  • The contents of my luggage had been removed from my bag (fair enough if they want to search it) – but there was no letter as there should be stating this included.
  • All of the contents had been removed (shoe trees from trees, formal clothes, wrapped leather goods, cosmetics from plastic bags and protective wrappers to avoid spillage etc.).
  • All the contents had been thrown back in, in a random order.
  • An expensive smartphone was missing.

I think you can imagine the damage caused inside the bag. Leather goods, clothes, shoes ruined. It’s why bags are packed carefully in the first place, right? To avoid this.

To my mind this is nothing else than wilful criminal damage. Such a thing could only have been done intentionally, and anyone repacking the suitcase in this way would know the damage that they were causing. I feel that BA have a duty of care to look after my luggage as best they can. Accidents happen, but this was not lost or damaged luggage – it was an act of vandalism.

So, I got in contact with Heathrow Airport on Twitter (@HeathrowAirport) who were fast, efficient and helpful. They took the query, explained that BA are responsible for the baggage from end to end and had sent the response to BA for them to look at. Well done, Heathrow. I also asked the BA Social Media team to do the same, on @British_Airways.

British Airways haven’t quite got the memo on Social Media and need to look at that internally – if you’re listening, I’d be happy to give you some advice on this – but I don’t want to focus on that, because it’s a distraction. Let’s just say that after a couple of days of prodding, nudging and letting my feelings know on Twitter, they picked up my request and ran with it.

And here’s parts of the response from Lisa Aubin at BA Customer Relations – and my comments.

We go to great lengths to take care of our customers’ belongings at British Airways, but of course all of the checked-in luggage has to pass through various hands on its way to and from the aircraft. So on the rare occasions when belongings go missing, it is virtually impossible to pinpoint what happened.

Sure – but that’s your process and system and choice and not mine. You have a duty of care to me, and who you outsource that duty of care to is your problem.

We always advise people to keep anything of special value on board with them during the flight, because of this – and because airlines have only limited liability for any items that do go missing.

I value all my belongings – don’t you? And again – this looks like it is passing responsibility. Let’s be clear – you took my belongings and wilfully vandalised them.

I understand you wish us to contact the authorities on your behalf. Unfortunately we are unable to do this, however if you wish to do so, I would be more than happy to provide any further information you may require.

Yes – I see this as a matter for the authorities and a matter of responsibility for BA – which simply hasn’t been taken in this case. Presumably this is because you don’t take acts of vandalism by your staff or agents seriously.

So, dear reader, my request to you is this. If you empathise with my story, if it strikes a chord with you and you want to help make a change, please spread the word. Make comments on this blog. Tell your story. Share.

And if someone with a head on their shoulders from BA is listening – this is not a winning customer service strategy. United Break Guitars – and BA Vandalise Luggage. It’s not about what happens, it’s how you subsequently deal with it.

P.S. I forgot, I had a request of BA to help me with my booking on the same day down to a booking on my next flight. I asked them if they would help me out. It would have cost them nothing to do so – but it would have required some customer focus – and it turns out I managed to figure it out on my own and I’m OK. But they weren’t interested. Perhaps more on that later.