It's been good to be out and about again. And I can't help but observe the way people in business are going about things.
I saw someone the other day who reminded me of the way things were done many years ago. It made me think. He was in a selling role in a retail environment. And he was putting the pressure on the people he was dealing with. He was asking questions, overcoming objections and asking them to buy.
Remember the pushy salesperson? When you were afraid to walk on to a car yard for fear of buying something you didn't plan on? Or the office equipment sales guy who didn't leave without the order?
Of course, their techniques worked. But as those people faded away, their methods have been replaced by new ways of thinking and of doing things. Sales has become about solving people's problems, listening to your customer and most importantly, building long-term relationships.
The same thing has happened to management behaviour. No one wants a return to the bad old days of business leaders being dictatorial and disrespectful in equal measure. The days when the workers were told how things had to be and behaved accordingly.
Managers today are revered for their ability to get alongside their people and be consultative and caring. We listen to our people and care about our customers. We talk about diversity and equality and we've created flexible working to make life better for the people we work with.
And that's all been for the good. Work has become a better place to go. We feel more involved and more engaged as a result.
But there have been a few times over the past few weeks where I have wished for — no, longed for — someone in the room to be a bit pushy.
Like many of us, I've had a lot of meetings lately. Most of them have been hosted via Zoom or Teams, and as such they're easy to organise and quick to get to. No need to get in the car, fight the traffic, find a park and run up the stairs to the office. Just terminate one meeting and begin another. So, you can do 10 or 12 in a day without leaving your office!
During and immediately after the lockdown, I noticed that people felt the need to meet, even if they weren't sure about what the agenda needed to look like or what the desired outcome was.
And in uncertain times that's understandable. We had to renegotiate the rent, work out how to get urgent goods to a customer, consider redundancies or help out someone whose husband had lost his job. We didn't see these things coming and they blindsided us. As a result, we weren't as ready as we needed to be.
And there, in those meetings, I wondered if we had all become just a bit too comfy.
As our meetings meandered, we took longer than we needed to take. Sometimes we'd have a second meeting on the topic because the first one didn't achieve what we needed to achieve. Or because someone wasn't happy so we came back to it for another look.
Decisions took too long, opportunities were missed and options dwindled as we found ourselves pushed into a self-induced corner.
And it was during those meetings that I sat there, hoping that someone would suddenly be a bit pushy. Just "put your hand up" and jump in and drive a discussion or make a decision.
The gains that we have made in the workplace environment over the last 20 years have been life changing for people and we must do everything we can to maintain and enhance them.
However, as we seek to recover from the economic pasting the last few months have served up, we will need clear thinkers leading the charge. We need our managers and leaders seeing clearly what needs to be done and communicating the what, why, where and how to their teams. We also need the troops stepping up with good ideas of their own. That bit would never have been allowed or acceptable 20 years ago. But it is necessary now.
So if you find yourself in one of those meandering meetings, here are a few questions to ask. Do we have an agenda? Why are we here? What are we trying to achieve? Cost savings? How much? Seeking new clients? Who is our target market? Whose job will that be? When do we have to have it done by? Next meeting date?
In other words, push the process. As we seek to change our businesses to adapt to the new environment, we will need to make decisions that might once have seemed unlikely. Some of those decisions will be unpleasant. A few will be short term. Others will have a lasting effect on the way we do things.
You see, we need to get things done. So, we need people with the clarity of thought to come together and drive the decisions that need to be made. We need to be a bit more pushy.
Being driven doesn't mean being disrespectful. Talk to your people along the way and tell them why you are doing the things you are doing. If they understand the reasons, they will be more accepting. I always say that your people can't help you to reach your goals if they don't know what you are trying to achieve.
Getting outcomes is what's important. We are better to make a decision and get it 50 per cent right than not to make one at all.
Go to it. Drive the discussion. Ask good questions. Get into the habit of seeking outcomes, no matter how small. Be considerate of people as you do so. Ask their opinion.
They might just thank you for it.
- Bruce Cotterill is a company director and adviser to business leaders. He is the author of the book The Best Leaders Don't Shout. www.brucecotterill.com