On Muddle Management

The Australian Institute of Management has recently released a report on the perception v reality for middle management.

It is not pretty reading – especially if you’re a middle manager!

Now, the survey was conducted by AIM and Monash University and surveyed 1,898 people across the business spectrum and, according to the Press Release from AIM:

The survey participants said middle managers in their organisations are significantly underperforming across the range of key indicators including people management, communication and leadership


As AIM states,

Middle managers are the communication ‘gatekeepers’ in an organisation responsible for transmitting messages up and down the workforce ‘ladder’.  It is these managers who have a key role in shaping a company’s workplace culture and who help determine the success of productivity initiatives and major change programs.  Pacesetter organisations are those in which middle managers are in sync with their organisation’s vision, goals and business strategies.

It all comes back to the leadership within an organsiation – how well the goals and mission and vision of the business are communicated not only from those at the top, but through those all the way “down” in an organisation.  From my experience, there are not very many businesses that devote any time or effort to really get this information effectively all the way through their business.  Those that do are exceptionally successful, those that don’t wither and underperform.

Whilst the report encourages middle managers to take more responsibility to refine their own skill sets in the areas of  leadership, communication and staff management, the reverse is actually true – the owners/senior management within organisations need to provide their own leadership and support in this area.  “A fish rots from the head” is an apt analogy here.  Those “at the top” are obliged to provide what is needed for those reporting to them to deliver what is required.

With an effective strategy to engage and develop middle managers, organisations can truly excel.  We have seen loads of examples over the years where businesses have invested in processes and strategies that specifically address the need to communicate vision and mission and goals through and organisation (the Stages of Growth process is ideal for this and, being research based, is incredibly effective) and also to enable people within an organisation to understand and then play to their strengths (the Trimetrix Assessment is perfect for this).  The end result of undertaking these processes is that the organisation is healthier, more focussed and far more effective in what and how it does what it does.

One of the more telling components of the report states:

Our survey results confirm that now is the time to be more strategic when evaluating the contribution and capabilities of middle managers.  Certainly, if organisations are to maximise their performance in a marketplace that is becoming more global and more competitive by the day they need to ensure that middle mamagers are a positive asset, not a hindrance.

Where an organisation understands that middle management is there to provide the support, guidance and direction to the operations level of the business and then ensures that middle management has the right information, communication skills and leadership abilities, they will do exceptionally well.  Unfortunately, we often find that most organisations adopt one (or more of the following excuses – and this is not an exhaustive list):

  • we’re too busy
  • we don’t have the budget
  • our people aren’t up to this
  • we don’t have the time
  • it’s not onoe of our priorities at the moment.

Thinking such as this on the part of senior management will ensure that they won’t allow their organisation to thrive.  There will always be an excuse and there will always be the opportunity to work on the business to make it better.  By putting it off and/or ignoring the potential that exists within an organisation, the argument is that the owners/senior managers are being negligent.

So, if you want to invest and get a very solid return on the improvement that is waiting to happen within your organisation, why not get in touch?  The survey results show that most businesses are pretty crap at management of middle management.  By improving their performance in this area, they will significantly outperform their competitors and find life is a lot less stressful.

Nothing to lose, everything to gain.  It would seem stupid if you didn’t pursue the opportunity for your business.

By way of example, we did a Stages of Growth Xray with one of our customers the other month.  As a direct consequence, their gross margin increased from 34% to 51%.  Would you like to do that?

To read the report, please follow this link.

On The Feedback We Love

happyOK, so we all like to think we do a pretty good job doing what we do.

We work away at delivering the “why” of our businesses to the customers with whom we work.  It can sometimes be challenging to know how we’re going and how we’re being perceived as we tend to get too focussed on the matter(s) at hand and forget to look at the big picture.

What a wonderful thing it was this afternoon when I received the following email from the Business Manager of one of our customers:

Hi Matt,

 Just thought I would take this opportunity to say how happy and pleased I am (as is the firm) to have the support of the fabulous team at MTA Optima.

I’m sure you already know, but I’d like to say what a great group of people you have on staff.

 Corey, Daina and Jane have been superb to work with;  nothing is ever too much trouble and I am completely at ease in dealing with them.

 So you know, Jane is taking care of payroll for me whilst I am on leave;  this is a huge benefit not to mention relief for me.

 In the past it would have been necessary to  prepare in advance multiple weeks of payroll which is quite a task.

I can go on leave with absolute confidence that Jane has it all  under control.

 Most importantly, it also ensures that [we] have a backup plan for payroll and are no longer exposed in this area.

 Many thanks and kind regards,

This sort of stuff inspires me and the team to push for even greater things and see how much further we can go in delivering our “why”.

I am very proud of our crew and what they do for our customers – they really do care about what is going on and try to work out ways to remove the headaches, reduce the risk and provide real value to the people with whom we work.

On Development & Sitting on Fields of Diamonds

plant-growing-300x240I always love the end of one financial year and the start of a new one.

There is the opportunity to review what you have done, what you still have to do and clear out the crap that has been holding you back.  In many respects, the opportunity for renewal and reset is welcomed half way through the year.

This also presents for us an opportunity to review how our customers’ businesses have been going and work with them to determine what they are going to continue to do, start doing and stop doing.  This high level review is often fogotten as people are just too busy being busy.

Flic and I recently caught up with one of our customers to review their year and plan forward.  When we looked back on the year, we found that the strategies we had planned for and implemented at the end of last financial year had worked an absolute treat and delivered on the potential that we identified.

As part of our conversation,we also reviewed the progress of the establishment of a highly specialised business unit within the existing operations.  This “new” division is actually work they have been doing for years – we had identified it as an area where there was little competition and significant opportunity for them to be seen to specialise (even though they were already doing it).

The difference between reality and perception is something that many businesses grapple with – often times they kow what they do, but their customers don’t!  In this situation, we undertook a branding and communication strategy to highlight the activities the business already did however they haad “hidden their light under a bushel” and not let their expertise be seen by the broader market.  By adopting a strategy of getting very specific and targeted in this space, they are already seeing increased activity and higher credibility in the industry they operate in.  This leads to more work and buyers feel “safer” going with a specialist.  Just to reiterate – this is work they were already doing and had been doing for many, many years.

Reflecting on this, it would seem that nearly every business is sitting on a “field of diamonds” that they don’t exploit because they’re just too busy doing other things.


We have seen a number of situations where businesses have things that they do (and do very well) because they haven’t been able to source another business to supply them with the good/product/service that they need.  Necessity then becomes the mother of invention and they develop internally to solution to their problems.

This internal business solution is seen as part of the existing service offering and not often reviewed as a separate business opportunity in its own right.  Yep – another cliche – familiarity breeds contempt.

Odds on, if a business has had to internally develop a solution to an issue they have, then it is highly likely that every one of their comeptitors has had to grapple with the same issue.  They either do it poorly, half heartedly, not at all or really well.  Many of the competitors will not do it well.  Imagine then what could happen if you spent some effort to make this opportunity work well and took it to the market?  Often times, your competitors will thank you for solving their issue, they will then become your customers and you have expanded your business base to add a new revenue line and profit centre.

We saw this a couple of weeks ago – a customer was having issues with a particular supply for an important part of their business.  Most of their comeptitors had the same issue.  Every one had done the “cheap and cheerful” solution which allowed them to do the work needed in very basic form but more complex work needed to be outsourced (out of town) which necessitated significantly increased costs, time delays and “brain damage”.

Our customers went through the cost benefit analysis with one of our crew, got very specific about the opportunity and proceeded to invest in the specialised equipment necessary to allow them to offer the full service in town to their competitors.  I have been staggered at how well things are going for them with this piece of gear.  And they haven’t marketed it properly yet (mind you, given the uptake, they probably won’t have to).

I had a similar experience when presenting to a conference of accountants many years ago.  A regional firm was saying that they couldn’t expand any further in their area.  When asked about the services they offered, they indicated that there was demand for services that they were providing but they were treating the demand they were getting as more of an interuption to their life rather than deliberately exploiting the opportunities that were apparent.  Subsequent to this meeting, they pursued the opportunities that were available and were absolutely knocking them dead!

So, at or around the 1st of July each year, take the time to have a think about the things you want to continue to do, what you want to start doing and what you want to stop doing.  Couple this with a really honest review of the things you are doing in the business at the moment – especially with a view to those things that you’re doing and around which significant opportunities revolve.

Chances are, you’re sitting on a field of diamonds and don’t realise it.  Growth isn’t that easy, but with planning and effort in the right direction, it can be very rewarding.

Happy New Financial Year!

OMFG! This is Going to be Huge…

enormousWe’ve just started working with a customer who has a product which looks like it is going to change an industry.  You don’t get them very often!

Put it this way – you know how Apple approached things differently because “it’s the design stupid”? 

Well, this product is very similar. 


  • is niche (good);
  • offers things the competing products in its niche don’t (good);
  • provides massively increased safety and protection for users over what is currently available (really, really good); and
  • is easier to use, more adaptable and at a better price point than its current competitors (really good too).

There is only one, final, regulatory step to go to get it ready for launch, and, given the feedback we have received from those “in the know” who have tested it, it will fundamentally alter the industry it is entering. 

If you’d like to know more, send me an email.  It’s very, very exciting!

On Director Fees and Bad Advice

In the lead up to the end of the financial year, we often hear of wonderful schemes that are apparently available to reduce taxation liabilities.danger-sign11

One of our crew came across some advice on a blog that is just plain wrong.  It concerns us deeply when advice given freely isn’t based on legislation.  The blog in question related to the payment of Director Fees or Director Bonuses at the end of the financial year (or even after!).  The advice provided by an accountant said that this was all fine and there are no super liabilities associated with such a payment.

Now, in certain limited circumstances this is true, however, based on our experience, it will not generally apply to the owners of smaller businesses. 

As we discussed in the office, always go to the legislation and, in this case, we refer to section 11(b) of the Superannuation Guarantee Administration Act 1992. 

We always work on the thinking that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

On 4 Dimensions in People

4 dimensionsPeople are not shallow or stupid (OK, some are, but humour me here).

Having done a fair bit of reading and cogitating over recent weeks, the issue about effective communication between people has been vexing my mind.  There are piles and piles of articles about how communication can be better and why we’re becoming less adept at it in this hyper-connected world.

The theory I have come up with is that we’ve become so accustomed to dealing with people on a two dimensional (2D) basis that we’re absolutely attrocious at dealing with people in a four dimensional (4D) way.  Allow me to explain.

In our office, I see our crew spending heaps of effort sending emails and telephoning people.  Sure this is convenient and somewhat effective,  BUT, does it really get you the results that you are desiring (for both parties to the conversation)?  Liaising with a 2D monitor, mobile phone, tablet or the like gives the impression that you are achieving things.  I believe this is wrong.

During my recent 1:1’s with my crew, I spent a bit of time with the younger, “connected” folk to explain to them that the 2D methods that they are really comfortable with aren’t as effective as 4D approaches.  The 2D focus has come about from the ubiquitous presence of social media and is creating pressure on people to react rather than respond. 

I had better explain the 4D approach:

You deal with the person in person (ie: 3D), but you “invest” in the fourth dimension with them – time

Personal interactions are far more effective as you can gain a far greater understanding of not only what is being said but also what is not being said (body language, tone, focus of attention etc).  By utilising this approach, you will be far more informed about the person you are dealing with and will be able to work with them to achieve the outcomes and results that are desired.

It saddens me when I see people at a restaurant supposedly dining together sitting focussed on their mobile phone or other device.  This constant distraction cannot be healthy and I read somewhere a while ago that the average teenager now has an attention span of 8 seconds (a goldfish gets to 9 seconds).  How are these younger folk going to be able to make meaningful contributions to their family and society if they can’t concentrate on anything for more than a few seconds?

When you consider the really valuable relationships you have with people, I would hazard a guess to say that most of these have been achieved by having personal (face to face) contact and spending time with them.  It is for this reason that I believe we need to focus back on having 4D relationships.

By spending the time and making the effort to develop more 4D relationships, you might just find that people aren’t shallow or stupid and the quality of those relationships will improve markedly.

On Getting Your Ducks in a Row

ducks in a rowTrying to “line up your ducks” is one of the biggest challenges for any leader or leadership group.

This morning I read the latest report from Deloitte Consulting titled “Business Trends 2014″ and one of the sections in that report is titled “The C-suite: Time for version 3.0?”

In reading the findings from the Deloitte research, it became apparent to me that one of the major factors that senior management and Boards need to consider is the ability of their team to work collaboratively and effectively across a range of specialist areas.  The development of team building and development strategies should become an agenda item for every Board of Directors.

As they state in the report:

A key requirement for the next-generation C-suite will…be the ability to secure alignment and coherence across multiple dimensions of essential change, without defaulting to the command-and-control arrangements of a bygone era.

This all has to do with the capacity of the leadership group of any business to be able to work with and across a range of functional specialties and be able to extract the information from those specialties to enable better decision making to be achieved.  Often this can be difficult because the leaders can be subject to assumptions that cloud their thinking or limit their imagination.  This can lead to issues with limiting the imagination or creativity of the team with the result that they deliver less than optimal outcomes.

By investing in personal development and team understanding, the chances of this limiting approach can be lessened.  We have found that utilising tools such as Trimetrix and the Stages of Growth creates massive upside and allows the senior leaders in any business to see well beyond their area of specialisation.  The tools help identify opportunities and allow the establishment of highly collaborative, multi-specialist teams to further investigate and exploit the opportunities that do exist.

Having a leadership team that works effectively and can not only see but work towards delivering “the big picture” will help to keep the organisation dynamic, make a massive difference in staff engagement (they will see true leadership from “the top”) and allow the utilisation of talent that would otherwise be left to stagnate or “vote with their feet”.  The collabroative teams can be drawn from across the business and business units which increases the “team” feeling and allows those people in the organisation with particular skills and talents to be more fully aligned with the whole business.  In effect, it helps to assist develop a culture that encourages innovation, collaboration and creativity.

I encourage you to read the report which can be found here and to have a think about what it means for you and your business.

Once you have had a think, initiate action to start “herding your ducks”.

On 2020 Vision

Your big opportunity may be right where you are now

Napoleon Hill uttered these words and I was prompted to think of them when listening to Bernard Salt at last week’s Business Day Out hosted by Commerce Ballarat.

Bernard presented some fascinating information on the demographics of the world, Australia and Victoria in particular.  The information really “got to the guts” of what is likely to happen to the population over the coming years and any business owner, manager or strategic thinker would be well advised to take heedof the detail provided.

By far the most interesting statistic was the one which showed the greatest increase in population in Victoria in the years to 2023 is going to be in the age groups from 30-39 and 70-79.  There is also going to be a significant increase in the number of kids aged 5-14.

Now take this information whichever way you like, but I would be thinking about what these people are going to be wanting and needing from the perspective of goods and services, schooling, clothing, food and the like.  What, for instance are the propects for a business that is targeting new-borns?  Not as good as one targeting school-age kids.  Demand for the 20-something requirements (cheap housing etc) is likely to wane.  What are the retirees going to be needing as they do become less mobile and move from their established family homes? 

When you are planning your business for the period in to the early 2020’s, have you really considered what your customer base is, where they are coming from and what they need from you? 

For example, did you realise that the number of people in the 35-39 age group in Victoria is expected to increase by 120,000 over the 2013-2023 period?  What are they going to need, where are they going to be living (probably not in Charlton!) and what is going to be important to them?  If you consider these types of issues, you will be very well placed to ride the wave that they create.

By opening up your eyes and accessing informaton such as that provided by Bernard Salt, you will be placing yourself in the position to take advantage of the opportunities that are presenting themselves.

Take off your spectacles and use the 2020 vision that has been provided to you!

On Setting Them Free

FreedomYou know the situation – “They’re causing issues and I just want to get rid of them”.

One of our customers was faced with a similar situation which we detailed recently.  I met with this customer yesterday to discuss a number of things going on in their business and we also reviewed how things were progressing after the Trimetrix Analysis we had performed.

When we undertook the Trimetrix review of the people in the business, it was singularly apparent that one of the people we were working with had HUGE potential for management.  Due to the management peceptions of this staff member in the business at that time, this wasn’t ever considered.  In effect, the people in the business has let their own “glasses” distort the real picture that was there.

Subsequent to the review we did and the various debriefings that were part of the process, we recommended to the MD of the business that they seriously consider moving this person into a management role.  To their credit, an opportunity arose and the staff member was offered a senior role in a “Special Projects” area. 

In discussions yesterday, I could not believe how highly the MD spoke of the progress and contribution this team member was now making.  As he said –

“they have gone from being last in and first out to now being first in and last out.”

The level of engagement that this team member now has is exceptional.  BUT, the sad thing here is that they were always wanting to do this, it’s just that the culture and approach in the business had not previously enabled them to engage to the level they now have.

Reflecting on our discussion last night, I thought about the number of people that aren’t being fully engaged with their work or with the business with which they work.  In most cases I believe this is due to the fact that the environment is one where preconceived biases are acting to (in effect) “pigeon-hole” people.  These biases can serve to restrict engagement or to protect people who might appear to be doing a good job but who aren’t.

Imagine, if you will, what would happen if you took a really gutsy, positive and proactive step with your people and found out the following:

  • what are their strengths?
  • where do their real abilities lie?
  • how do they approach lots of things (challenges, people, systems, tasks, themselves)?
  • which is the best way to communicate with them?
  • what are you doing that is holding them back?

Once you had found this out, you will be able to truly engage them with their role and they will then be able to make an incredibly positive contribution to their fellow team mates which then flows on to your business.

One of the other things that came up in our discussion was the fact that the customers of this business were providing incredibly positive feedback to the MD about this person’s job performance.  In effect, the level of trust they have in the business has increased significantly since they had taken on their role.  Wouldn’t you love your customers to say that about your people?

I applaud our customer for having the trust in themselves to trust the person they have promoted – this was so far outside the realms of possibility before we did the Trimetrix that it would have been laughed at.

The results are there to see – improved performance, singificantly higher engagement, better results, happier team (the whole team) and a less-stressed MD. 

If you’re prepared to engage people in your business, why not have the guts to invest in them to find out where and how they can make a seriously positive contribution to your efforts?  You might just be amazed at the results you do get.

I have long been a firm believer in recruiting great people, providing them with the tools, support and environment to let them excel and then getting the hell out of their way.  If you’re interested in some of the thinking behind this approach, have a look at Marcus Buckingham’s video here or the Employee Engagement video here.

As I say to all of my crew – if you’re good enough to employ, you’re good enough to trust. 

Many business owners and managers feel that they aren’t doing their jobs unless they are micro-managing their team.  This is bullshit.  Our job is as detailed above then to set them free.

Do you have the guts to do this?  If you’re willing to challenge some of your own thinking and help get your people on a  track that delivers outstanding results, give me a call.  What have you got to lose (apart from stress, unhappy and dis-engaged staff, un-satisfied customers and a whole pile of issues)?