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You can coach rather than command in any business



In 2017, Linde Engineering brought together a team of 14 men to oversee construction of an ethylene plant for an oil company on the Gulf Coast of Texas. It was a typical assignment for the project management arm of Linde, the industrial gases group: leading a consortium and supervising 2,500 workers, subcontracted to execute the construction plan.

Safety, as ever, was paramount. But this project was a test-bed for a completely different way of working that would use coaching techniques to underpin safety standards. 

To say the Linde managers were sceptical is an understatement. Safety manager Bruce Parnell, an outspoken Texan, recalls how he reacted to news that the team would go through a programme, devised by Linde and coaching group Performance Consultants International (PCI) in 2014, and based on the core skill of “active listening”. 

“Everyone thought ‘This is never going to work. How are we going to get things done if we start asking people to do stuff rather than telling people to do stuff?’ . . . Historically speaking, the construction industry itself, in the Gulf Coast area, especially in the US, in order to get things done, you tell people what to do.”

Mr Parnell was particularly doubtful about the mindset of his senior colleagues, including Michael Kostyshyn, the site quality assurance manager, born in Ukraine, who describes himself as a “passionate speaker”. During the first PCI training sessions, Mr Kostyshyn “found it impossible to keep my mouth shut”. 

“I knew that approach wasn’t going to work too well,” Mr Parnell recalls. “I said ‘Michael K isn’t going to make it. His approach and his attitude isn’t going to work here on the Gulf Coast’, and I wouldn’t have bet 10 cents on him.”

Changing behaviour

Linde’s decision to use novel coaching methods to improve its safety record was not the result of any catastrophic failure. It did, however, come in the aftermath of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster, that had a profound impact on the same Gulf Coast region and increased pressure from Linde’s clients to enforce ever stricter standards.

Using traditional techniques, Linde had reached a plateau on safety and continued to experience small problems — skin punctures, falls — that are a sign of overall safety deficiencies. Kai Gransee, now a senior health and safety executive for Linde Engineering, says he and his team said to themselves, “we have all these processes in place, why do we continue to see these incidents?”

In 2014, Mr Gransee persuaded Christian Bruch, chief executive of Linde Engineering, to try the coaching scheme as a way of changing overall behaviour.

Mr Bruch, in turn, believed the approach could yield a wider benefit. “For me, [the PCI training] was a pilot not only related to safety but more of a pilot around leadership . . . The question was: if we can’t manage safety, how the heck are we going to manage our company.”

Such thinking is not new. Paul O’Neill famously transformed the culture of Alcoa, the aluminium manufacturer, when he took over in 1987, by focusing on a target of zero injuries. Beyond the safety area, companies increasingly encourage a “coaching” style of management that delegates more decision-making to front-line workers.

In September 2017, Mr Gransee started to put the 14 managers at the Gulf Coast plant through a two-day course, run by PCI’s Jon Williams. At the time, safety at Linde, “was being managed and not led”, Mr Williams says. The programme was, essentially, a customised version of its general coaching method, built on insights developed by PCI’s co-founder, the late Sir John Whitmore

Using the technique, participants pose “powerful”, non-judgmental, open questions, listen to the answers, and nudge team members to take their own decisions about next steps. The 14 in turn acted as ambassadors, passing the skills down the chain to direct reports.

Real impact

The new approach led the team to question some of the fundamental ways they had worked. Abhinav Singhal, who had worked on the design of new plants, found it hard to shed his conviction that it was enough to incorporate safety measures in the blueprint. “I always was of the mindset that everything that we do is intrinsically safe, that nothing can go wrong [but after the training] I started realising that if you really talk to people, if you really understand what they’re doing, how they can improve upon themselves . . . that, yes, we have room for improvement.”

The real impact was felt as they applied Linde’s “Lead Safe” programme. Sigi Schönhuber, another straight-talking site manager, recalls challenging a contractor working in a trench on the Texas site to show his work permit. Instead of using the old “rod and staff” approach and issuing a directive, Mr Schönhuber persuaded the worker to commit personally to carry his documents in future. “Whenever I met that guy in the field, he asked me to check on his work permit, because he was so proud that he had all the documents in place,” he says. 

For many of the team members and contractors it was the first time that managers had actively discussed their work with them. “A lot of these workers were never engaged by management and never had an opportunity to prove to management that they knew what they were doing,” says Mr Parnell. “[One guy] said he’d been out there in that business for 24 years and nobody ever asked him his opinion.”

The number of monthly interactions between managers and workers using the new approach has nearly tripled from 11 per month to 30. In 2018, for the first time, Linde Engineering lost no time for injuries on any of its construction sites. The safety coaching is now being rolled out to other parts of the Linde group and Linde and PCI are offering it to third-party companies. 

Mr Bruch says the success of the programme will also inform how Linde measures the cultural integration of its merger with Praxair, completed last year. 

It is hard, though, to sustain such an initiative in an industry in constant change, where turnover of staff in the field runs at 5 to 10 per cent a month. In fact, in 2019, while the overall injury rate at Linde Engineering continued to fall, there were three lost-time injuries. “You have every day to go out and demonstrate that [safety] behaviour,” Mr Bruch says. 

Rebecca Jones of Henley Business School, who evaluated a separate PCI assignment for staff at Sellafield, the UK’s nuclear reprocessing plant, says managers should use coaching techniques to improve their “long-term effective performance”. She cautions, however, that sometimes when leaders are coaching their own staff — people whose performance they may also have to assess — they “have to work much harder” to maintain a non-judgmental attitude.

Linde’s involvement in the Texas assignment finished in May 2018 and the 14 have dispersed to other Linde sites from Germany to India, or even to other companies. But they have retained a tight group culture and commitment to encourage changes in behaviour. “We’re always on a mission,” says Mr Schönhuber, who now works to spread the approach at a facility in Kazakhstan, despite the language barrier. They style themselves “The Group of 14” and keep in their on-site offices torch-shaped trophies as a symbol of the need to be coaches rather than commanders. Some describe the approach now as a “way of life” that they apply not only at work but at home.

Even the hard-bitten Mr Parnell is ready to admit his doubts about Michael Kostyshyn were ill-founded. “That guy was an absolute miracle and proved me wrong in every sense,” he says. “And I was extremely proud of that.”

Coaching tips

The Performance Consultants International approach develops coaching skills based on active listening, powerful questions, and a G-R-O-W model:

GOAL: What do you want?

REALITY: Where are you now?

OPTIONS: What could you do?

WILL: What will you do?

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‘Please, I Don’t Have Insurance’: Businesses Plead With Protesters




In downtown Chicago, people crawled through the partially shattered exterior window of a Nike store and ran out carrying brightly colored athletic gear and sneakers.

On Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, they ignited garbage cans and broke locks on luxury stores, sweeping up armfuls of designer handbags and jeans.

And as night fell on Minneapolis, the heart of widening protests set off by the death of an African-American man in police custody there, business owners stood outside their doors and pleaded with agitators to spare the enterprises that many said they had spent their life savings to build.

“I was outside saying, ‘Please, I don’t have insurance!’” said Hussein Aloshani, an immigrant from Iraq, waving his arms in frustration as he recounted the scene Friday night outside the deli his family owns.

Businesses across the country suffered destruction over the weekend as protesters unleashed their anger over the death of George Floyd on commercial enterprises — from the offices of major multinational corporations and banks to family-owned restaurants and bars.

In some places, demonstrators scrawled graffiti on storefronts decrying police brutality against African-Americans, or echoing some of Mr. Floyd’s final words: “I can’t breathe.”

In others, they hurled crowbars and hammers at windows, and used gasoline to burn buildings to the ground.

Public officials said they were investigating whether political agitators posing as protesters may have led some of the looting. In some cities, peaceful protesters marching against police violence were outnumbered by others, such as white anarchists, who seemed more bent on destruction than messaging.

Regardless of who the perpetrators were, many store owners said they felt like the victims of misplaced aggression. They said their businesses, already ailing from an outbreak of the coronavirus that has been particularly devastating to small and minority-owned businesses, may not recover.

“A lot of people don’t know the blood, sweat and tears that go into being a business owner and the type of sacrifices we had to go through to be where we’re at right now,” said Kris Shelby, who woke around 1 a.m. Saturday to the sound of gunfire outside his North Atlanta apartment, which overlooks the luxury clothing store he manages.

Mr. Shelby and his business partner opened Attom in 2016 with the goal of bringing luxury brands more widely available in New York and Los Angeles to their city. They have drawn in celebrity clients such as the musicians Migos and Justin Bieber and supplied clothing for the movie “Black Panther.” The store has also been a welcoming space for a diverse group of Atlanta residents, Mr. Shelby said.

But when he returned to the store at around 5 a.m. Saturday, Mr. Shelby found that all of his merchandise was gone. He watched videos posted on social media of masked young people of all races swarming through the smashed front windows and leaving with pieces of clothing and accessories worth hundreds of dollars each.

Mr. Shelby said he shared the pain of people protesting Mr. Floyd’s death but did not believe that stealing would stop such incidents from happening in the future.

“It hurt. It seriously hurt,” Mr. Shelby said of Mr. Floyd’s death. “But as a black man, and this is a black-owned business, it’s just sad. It really leaves a bad taste in our mouths, to be honest.”

Ricardo Hernandez spent the weekend sleeping in a van outside the Mexican ice cream shop he runs with his wife in South Minneapolis. He negotiated with protesters by handing over ice cream and Popsicles so they would leave the shop intact.

“Just looking at this is terrible,” he said of the rubble and broken glass strewn across the neighborhood. “It’s unreal.”

On Saturday afternoon, Latino business owners in Minneapolis met in a parking lot to prepare for another night of unrest. Most owned commercial enterprises on Lake Street, where dozens of buildings had been vandalized the previous two nights.

They established shifts to ensure that the neighborhood would be monitored throughout the night. Organizers advised proprietors against brandishing weapons, and said they planned to order T-shirts with the logo “Lake Street Latino Security” to avoid being confused for looters by the National Guard troops and police officers responding to the unrest.

Maya Santamaria was at the gathering but said she planned to stay home that night because she had nothing left to protect. The building she previously owned — where she had once employed Mr. Floyd as a nightclub security guard, and where her new business venture, a Spanish language radio station, was also housed — had burned down Friday night.

Ms. Santamaria blamed the police for Mr. Floyd’s death and said they had not done enough to protect businesses in the aftermath.

“We were calling 911 and we were calling the Police Department and there was no response,” she said. She did not want officers to resort to violence against protesters, she said, but “they can’t just not come and leave us to burn, either.”

Kester Wubben’s new mail and printing business in Minneapolis had just been getting off the ground when the pandemic hit. Then over the weekend, it was looted. Televisions, an iPad and a U-Haul truck were stolen.

He had sacrificed greatly — pulling money out of his retirement savings account and working overnight shifts seven days a week at a lead factory — in order to start his Mailboxes Plus outlet.

In less than a year of business, he had developed regular customers. Miss Diggins stopped at the store a few times a month to ship packages to her daughter at college, and the pastor from Mr. Wubben’s church strolled in with a smile almost daily to check his mailbox and catch up.

Mr. Wubben, who is black, said he grew up five blocks from the site where Mr. Floyd was detained. He let out a weary sigh when asked whether his business would be able to recover from the damage, responding, “We might just have to let it go and try again another time.”

At the same time, he said, he understood the frustration over what had happened to Mr. Floyd. “That could easily be me. And so that’s how I look at it. That could easily be me. And it’s sad that there’s no humanity.”

He said he thought about the loss he had faced as a business owner compared with the loss of the Floyd family. “So when you equate the life to the money, which one is greater?” he said. “I can make some money again, I can start another business, but you can’t start George Floyd’s life back over. It’s ended.”

The protests in Seattle were an opportunity for Jordan Davis-Miller to demand a better future for black Americans. But it disturbed him to watch some of the thousands of people gathered downtown seize a different opportunity: to smash windows and loot retail stores. Many of them, he pointed out, were white.

“Looting Nordstrom’s and small stores is not going to do anything for us,” Mr. Davis-Miller said as he watched two white people inside the flagship Nordstrom store throw items out a shattered window. “It’s going to cause more flame to the fire and it’s going to give black people and people of color bad names. It’s not what we are here for.”

At the same time, Mr. Davis-Miller said, “It makes sense to be angry. It makes sense to want to destroy things and take things, because that’s all that’s ever been happening with any people of color. Our land, our homes, our livelihoods have been taken from us. It makes complete sense that we’d want to take that all back.”

Some business owners said they have tried to signal support for the protest movement in the hope that it would also help protect their establishments.

Derrick Hayes put up signs Friday night in the windows of his restaurant in downtown Atlanta that identified Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks as a black-owned business.

Mr. Hayes opened the restaurant after his father died, naming it in his memory. His “Dave’s Way” cheesesteaks and beef egg rolls often draw lines down the block and are favorites of black and white Atlanta residents alike.

He came in Saturday morning to find that the windows had been smashed, despite the signs he had displayed.

“Honestly, I was in disbelief,” Mr. Hayes said. “If we’re all in this together, let’s show that we’re all in this together.”

Mike Baker and Eric Killelea contributed reporting.

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N.S. small businesses hopeful for regional travel bubble to help with loss of cruise season – Halifax




The recent announcement that the 2020 cruise ship season for the Port of Halifax will be suspended due to the pandemic means millions of dollars in revenue will be lost, not only for the provincial economy but small businesses that rely on international visitors for a large proportion of their sales.

“International visitors would represent roughly about $15 million in revenue,” Dennis Campbell said, the CEO of the Ambassatours Gray Line tour company in Halifax.

The 2020 season was expected to be a record-setting year for the largest number of vessels on the schedule to visit Halifax.

“We were looking at 203 vessel calls, carrying 350,000 cruise guests,” Lane Farguson said, spokesperson for the Halifax Port Authority.

READ MORE: Halifax cruise season suspended due to coronavirus pandemic

The impact of cruise ship tourism is wide reaching for the provincial economy as a whole. Most guests depart in the early morning hours when their vessels dock and head out on excursions within a 1.5-hour range of the city, spending money as they go.

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“Places like Peggy’s Cove are very popular. Lunenburg as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Annapolis Valley has been really growing in popularity for wine tours. Plus, a lot of other guests will just take their own self-guided tours through Halifax,” Farguson said.

For visitors that opt to wander throughout the downtown core, small businesses reap the benefits.

One of those businesses is Garrison Brewing Company, directly across from the cruise ship terminals.

“They don’t show up, then that money’s not spent and that beer is not sold and that doesn’t come back,” Brian Titus said, the founder and president of Garrison Brewing. “So really what we have to do is kind of look at this as a year that’s not going to be a record year.

“We’re going to make money but we’re not going to make a lot. We’re going to be able to keep people employed, as we have been to this point.”

READ MORE: Large cruise ships banned from Canadian waters until Oct. 31

The loss of the cruise ship season has many small businesses now focused on the local community for support. The ultimate hope is that a regional travel bubble will be created with the Atlantic provinces, but that is all contingent on how effectively the spread of the COVID-19 virus is contained.

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“We’re hoping people will travel within that region and so we’ll meet some new friends, some Atlantic Canadians and that will be great. We’ll share a beer and it will be wonderful,” Titus said.

Regardless of whether Nova Scotia opens its borders to out of province guests, Campbell is confident the season will still be a success for local staycationers.

“This is still going to be something that we can have a half-decent season with our vessels on the water, and our Harbour Hopper and restaurants, and patios, and so on,” he said.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Is It An Answer To Prayer Or Too Good To Be True?




The coronavirus shutdowns have decimated small and midsized businesses (SMB). One-third of SMBs in the U.S. never expect to reopen, according to an April State of Small Business report that surveyed nearly 40,000 small business owners and managers conducted in part by the World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED), and the Small Business Roundtable.

To the recuse comes the lead partner in the State of Small Business survey, Facebook, which just announced the launch of Facebook Shops to allow businesses to sell products not only advertise on its platform.

“Right now many small businesses are struggling, and with stores closing, more are looking to bring their business online. Our goal is to make shopping seamless and empower anyone from a small business owner to a global brand to use our apps to connect with customers. That’s why we’re launching Facebook Shops and investing in features across our apps that inspire people to shop and make buying and selling online easier,” the company said in a statement.

It will complete shoppers’ journey who already use Facebook and Instagram for discovery and enable them to buy on the platform too.

“People have used social media as an upper-level funnel to discover products they might eventually buy,” says eMarketer’s Andrew Lipsman, principal analyst focused on retail and e-commerce. “This will flatten the funnel to give consumers the ability to purchase within the platform.”

Or in Facebook’s terms, “We want to give people a place to experience the joy of shopping versus the chore of buying.”   

Facebook has a lot riding on the success of their SMB partners, with a reported 90 million small businesses using its offerings. SMBs also make up the vast majority of Facebook’s more than 8 million advertisers.

Through March 2020, Facebook’s advertising revenue remained strong, growing 17% year-over-year, but in the first three weeks of April, when the full effect of the retail shutdown were felt, ad revenues flatten to levels seen in the same period last year.

E-commerce made easy

Facebook promises SMBs an easy onboarding process. After retailers create a catalog of products they want to sell, they can customize the look and feel of their Facebook Shop. If they have a Shopify website, for example, their website catalog can be seamless integrated into a unified Facebook channel.

Creating a Facebook Shop is free, but with a catch. Facebook charges no fee for transactions, if retailers process sales through their existing platforms, such as Shopify, WooCommerce, or others. For retailers without these capabilities, they can use Facebook’s Checkout feature and pay a 5% processing fee, which is lower than what Amazon
or eBay charges.

However, it’s likely that many specialty independent retailers will opt for the Checkout service, since in Unity Marketing’s most recent survey among specialty independent retailers, only about one-third had an e-commerce-enabled website. A ShopKeep survey found even fewer (23%) identifying e-commerce as a channel they needed to pursue.

However, eMarketer’s Lipsman doesn’t see Facebook Shops’ strategy so much to derive revenue from sales as it is to bolster advertising revenue from SMBs that already depend upon it for advertising and marketing.

“Clearly, this is an effort for Facebook to build their advertising revenue, to keep speciality retailers advertising,” he says.

“These small and midsized businesses are already running their organic and sometimes paid marketing efforts through Facebook. They’ve got a level of comfort there. So, the more transactions they can also derive there, the more important Facebook will be to their business,” Lipsman continues.  

Ready, Set, Sell

“What have you got to lose?” asks Bob Phibbs, CEO of The Retail Doctor, a New York-based consultancy. “For retailers that haven’t come up with an e-commerce strategy, this is great. It will probably have a lot of training wheels on it so people can easily adopt it. I think the adoption will be great.”

Reinforcing that point, nearly one-quarter of a million people have visited the Facebook Business Help page that explains how to set up a Facebook Page Shop.

But as good as Facebook Shops can potentially be for small businesses, it will be even better for Facebook.

“Make no mistake, this is a data ploy,” Phibbs stresses. “All the big e-commerce platforms are trying to get to that ‘one basket’ that the consumer can carry wherever they go, like WeChat and Alibaba
in China. Amazon is the closest, but China is far ahead of us in the concept of ‘one basket’ that feels seamless for the user.”

Information is power and the information Facebook will gain about its 1.7 million daily users will be powerful indeed.

“Facebook is trying to keep people within its ecosystem and not let them leave, so they can connect the dots from their political activities, their restaurant recommendations, the ads they click, the products they buy,” Phibbs says.

“Yes, that will enable Facebook to serve up more customers for a retailers’ ads, but more importantly, it will reveal trends a lot quicker to Facebook than anybody else. After all, people are on Facebook a lot more than they are on Amazon,” he continues.

That information can also be weaponized, perhaps to the detriment of retailers on the platform.

“Look at what Amazon did with its marketplace. Brands made a deal with the devil to have their products on Amazon, then six months later, they see the exact same products knocked off at a third of the price. Amazon used all that information to boost its private label,” Phibbs shares.

Not only that, but Facebook Shops puts one more degree of separation between small businesses and their customers. Specialty retailers thrive on the personal connections they make with customers.

While customers will be able to message the retailers through WhatsApp and Messenger, Facebook Shops still effectively fences customers within its platform.  

Digital advertising and commerce collide

In closing, eMarketers’ Lipsman provides a boarder context for the meaning of Facebook Shops in the digital era.

“We are at the tail end of the digital-advertising era, which was dominated by Facebook and Google
and transitioning to the digital-commerce era. Digital advertising and commerce are colliding,” he believes.

Describing the digital business as a three-legged stool – advertising, media content, and commerce – Lipsman sees the battle lines between the digital giants, Google, Facebook, and Amazon.

“Facebook and Google have always been really strong on advertising and media, but light on commerce. Now, they are moving in that direction,” he says. “Amazon was strong on commerce, light on advertising and media. But in the last couple of years, Amazon has become a major player in advertising and media.”

“Facebook looked at what was happening and said it needs to race into commerce faster so that Amazon and Google don’t take a bigger bite out of its advertising and media,” Lipsman continues.  

Facebook Shops represents the natural evolution of Facebook to shore up its leadership in digital advertising by bringing e-commerce capability onto its platform, a strategy it has tried in the past, but not as successfully as expected now after the COVID-19 retail shutdowns.

It provides an opportunity for SMBs to participate in e-commerce and make sales online, but they may pay an unexpected cost down the line by making their business too dependent upon Facebook.

“Facebook or any other platform can either extract a bigger toll by increasing the CPM [cost-per-thousand] or pull the rug out from under them entirely, exactly the way Amazon seems to have done for so many of their marketplace partners. They make the rules,” Lipsman concludes.

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