Saturday, 15 August 2009

Why senior managers should communicate directly with the team

Communication is one of the key skills for managers. Every manager who disagrees with this comment should have a long, hard look in the mirror and think again.

I always rated communication very highly and disliked those kind of senior managers who like to play Chinese Whispers in there attempt to follow protocol and only speak to their direct reports. Of course this is fine, after all this person is in charge of their department and therefore need to be aware of the workload and demands to the team. However, what's the point in telling a manager that a certain piece of information is required, when you know exactly that this will be passed on to a specific member of team. Wouldn't it be more sensible to talk directly to the person with direct responsibility for the topic in question?

The reason I am currently considering this issue is easy - it's based on recent experience. In the last few weeks:

- Our Marketing Director mentioned to a colleague who is slightly senior than me that he wants me to provide a full report on a specific topic. This colleague forgot to mention it to me - and I got a telling off a couple of weeks later directly from our Director that 'not delivering without even giving a reason' just wasn't good enough.

- Our Head of Marketing told our senior marketing manager that the team is to prepared a tactical plan of marketing activities for 2010 by the end of the week. The manager told us, but had misunderstood the brief - it wasn't an area where he usually got involved and therefore didn't ask the right questions - and we prepared only half the work. When we submitted the work on Friday a big panic set in and we had to work until late at night to complete the remaining work.

In both of above examples it would have been so much better if the brief or the request would have given directly to the employees who were expected to do the work. It would have saved a lot of stress and panic and it would have filled us - the team - with much more confidence in the ability of our senior management to work efficiently.

As it was we felt left out of the loop and badly done to. That senior management apologised to us on both occasions didn't really make up as it was still us who suffered the consequences.

My advice to senior managers would always be to speak to the direct report (may it be the senior manager, manager or team leader) if it is not clear who is expected to do the work. But if the message is 'Can you ask Mrs. X to do Y' - advise your direct report that you will request this (either beforehand or copy them in on the email), but speak directly to the person. It will make the staff feel more respected and important, limits the risk of misunderstandings and miscommunication and will get you the expected results much quicker!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Should high heels be forbidden in the office?

If there is a weakness that most women share it is without a doubt our love for shoes. This passion usually embraces us when we turn into teenagers and never leaves us again. My grandmother still tried to wear her beloved heels when she was arguing with my father if she needs a hip replacement or can cope with the pain!

But high heels in the office are again and again at the forefront of discussions as well.

Not long ago a female colleague fell down the stairs and broke her leg. She couldn't remember why she fell, but that didn't stop our health and safety department to send out a memo with the warning that "High Heels Are A Serious Safety Risk". All female staff (well, nobody expected the guys to come in with their heels!) should seriously consider putting themselves at risk for vanity. If they could not resist wearing heels they should please use the lift or use both hands to hold on to the railings when walking down the stairs.

You think that's patronising? Well, we thought. A large number of complaints about this memo were sent to the health and safety department, but we were told that the memo was sent out for our safety and that the company can't be held liable if we don't follow this guidance.

Well, I can't blame the company for trying to protect themselves, but as a woman it is quite difficult not to wear heels at work. You need to look smart - and heels help you to do that. And to progress without looking the part is certainly more difficult than it already is!

The Trade Union Congress - and its mainly male members - have now advised that 'high heels should be banned from the workplace' as they pose a risk to health and safety.

I think this is health and safety gone mad. I can understand that there is a risk involved with wearing very high heels. And I appreciate the concern of the "Mr. Bosses". But we women wear high heels day in, day out - whilst going shopping, going for a walk with the children, driving cars... I even know women who are so used to wearing heels that they find it difficult to balance without them - they say their feet have adjusted to the heels.

But more to the point, it is the women's choice. It is no more dangerous to wear heels at work than at home. We don't tell men what to wear, so women should have to right to choose themselves.

Heath and Safety can go too far at times and I am sure there are more important things to discus than if a woman should be allowed to wear heels when entering the office, or if she needs to leave them outside in the car.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

How to prepare a CV that gets your foot into the door

If you are looking for a new job, you should spend a reasonable amount of time on writing your CV. A good CV won't get you the job, but it can get you in front of the employer. If your CV lets you down, you won't even get that far and miss your opportunity.

What do you need to consider to make sure your CV is standing out in a good way and gets you noticed?

Spelling mistakes are so easy to avoid. After all, there is an in-built spell checker in word. So even if your spelling isn't top notch, there is no reason for your potential future employer to know this. And a CV with spelling mistakes indicates that you are not really interested - otherwise you would have taken the time to check.

The same is valid for grammatical errors. We often try to impress in our CV - and this means using complex sentence structures and difficult words, we would never use in real life. But being out of our comfort zone we make mistakes. And if the sentence is not grammatically correct, it might be difficult for the recruitment manager to understand it. And he won't waster a lot of time on trying to figure out what you tried to say.

When reviewing CVs you often find CVs with gaps in them. If you haven't been employed for some time, please say so in your CV, ideally with an explanation as to why this was. This shows the employer that you are open and honest and don't try to hide something dark in your past. It will make it less important and saves the employer from the annoying task of having to find out what you've done during those gaps.

Your CV is the first thing a potential employer sees from you. You therefore should try to make a good impression. If they'd see you in person, you'd dress smartly, make sure you look professional. You need to apply the same logic to your CV. Make it look clean, ideally get all the relevant information onto 2 pages (there is no need to go into too much detail, just state the most relevant points and give more information in the actual interview) and make it easy to read. By cramming too much information into the document and applying a complicated layout, you won't get the employers interest, but rather get them annoyed and bored.

And finally, be honest without false modesty. The CV is there to get your foot in the door, to sell you as a promising candidate. If you exaggerate to the extreme the employer will know that you try to come across as someone you are not - and they won't believe a word of your painstakingly written CV. But there is no need to put your light under the shovel neither - after all, you want to impress, so make sure you state your achievements and successes.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Commuters who drive to work 'face workplace parking levy'

Have you heard the news that councils will be able to start charging businesses up to £350 for providing car park spaces for their staff from 2012? Well, I understand that councils need more money to cover their increasing running costs and debts. But for us employees or business owners this is simply a ridiculous demand.

Let's look at this from our point of view:

We are in the middle of a recession. Small, medium and even large businesses (who will ever forget the collapse of Woolworth) are fighting bankruptcy, lack of liquidity and are finally forced to close down. Countless companies are struggling and are reducing their head count to be able to keep their business going. Mass redundancy, crisis on the housing market, lack in consumer spending and an ongoing reluctance by banks to start lending all play their part in making this a very hard time to live in.

If councils will start to charge businesses for providing car parking spaces to their staff this will result in one of the three consequences depending on the business:

- The business absorbs the cost
For employees that's the best solution. But it will have a further negative impact on the business' liquidity and ability to survive these hard times. There are likely to be no pay increases or there even will be pay cuts. Potential recruitment of new staff will be further delayed. This certainly won't help to improve market conditions.

- The business passes the cost on to staff
With many people already struggling to pay their bills and mortgages and often no reasonably easy accessible public transport available this will have a major impact on staff. Employees might have to find parking spaces outside the office block, double parking residential areas or walking a long way to work from alternative car parking or public transport. This will increase stress levels and productivity. And there also will be staff - in particular young mothers working part-time - who will have to quit their jobs as this additional levy doesn't make it profitable any more to go to work and pay for childcare in the meantime. Again, this will do our struggling economy no favours.

- Companies stop providing car parking spaces
I worked in city centres before where only limited car parking was available - and this was reserved to senior management. The 'normal' staff like me had to find their own way to work. In my case there was the option of using public transport (which would have taken me 2 hours each way and would have resulted in me having to leave work early to avoid missing my last bus home), paying for car parking in the close vicinity of my office (which would have cost me nearly as much as my net salary per day was) or to find a car parking space in residential areas and walk 30 minutes from there. I chose the last option and was often terrified walking through isolated parks in the dark on my way to and back from work. This stress didn't improve productivity by any means. Do we really want to get to a point where this is the norm?

I believe that businesses should rather be rewarded for providing car parking spaces for their employees by taking the cars off the public roads than being penalised. Motorists are already charged a lot of money for roads that often leave a lot to be desired. Isn't it time we start looking at how to get public spending under control rather than putting more strain on businesses and motorists who already struggling to make ends meet in the middle of a recession? I really think there must be better ways to solve the financial issues faced by councils.


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Essential Manager's Manual

It's Saturday afternoon and I have nothing better to do than tidying up. But whilst doing this, I just came across a book I bought when I was first made a manager. It's called Essential Manager's Manual.

It's quite a big book with well over 800 pages and when I bought it I thought that I'd probably never read more than a few pages. But during my first few months as a manager it became quite an invaluable tool. It covers the most important areas a good manager should consider such as:

- Communicating clearly
- Managing time
- Making decisions
- Delegating successfully
- Motivating people
- Managing teams
- Managing meetings
- Presenting successfully
- Negotiating successfully
- Interviewing people
- Managing change
- Minimizing stress

I must admit that most of the areas covered are common sense. But when you are under pressure to deliver as a manager (possibly for the first time) it is easy to oversee the logical little things you should remember.

The book is so easily written, that you can read it either in full to prepare yourself for your new job as manager or can use it as a reference guide if you'd like to improve in certain areas or refresh your knowledge.

I'd recommend this book strongly to any manager - new or experienced. We all can learn more!
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