Archive for July, 2009

Training Matrix Template

Staff competency is a key factor in all businesses – the ability to carry out the job in the right way and produce the right result is paramount whether your organization’s producing widgets or selling services. Skill levels of staff can have a significant impact on both your productivity and the quality of the product produced. A workforce that lacks training can contribute significant cost through excessive production practices and rework requirements.

Maintaining the appropriate skill levels within the company is therefore a key task. This is often achieved through developing and deploying a skills matrix coupled with a training matrix. The skills matrix will typically cover job roles and the associated skills. The training matrix will then provide a mechanism for analyzing the staff against the skill requirement and then tracking their training plan to achieve full competency.

Purpose of a training matrix

The main purpose of a training matrix is to plan the alignment of staff skills against the job requirements – producing a template for a training matrix isn’t complicated (check out the video below) there are a few basic steps and principles to follow (also you don’t need any special software Microsoft Excel will do fine!).

Producing a training matrix template

A training matrix template can be produced easily using Microsoft Excel –

1/ Gather a list of the employees that you’ll track (note you could choose to do this grouped by department or trade)

2/ List the requirements against the roles

3/ use the matrix to annotate against the individuals where skill levels are adequate or where training is required

4/ Establish a training plan to “fill in the gaps”.

5/ Review regularly to keep the matrix up-to-date regarding training undertaken and staff changes.

Watch the video

What is the Promotional Mix

While many marketing students and executives are familiar with the term marketing mix (often called the 4 P’s and determined as Product, price, place and Promotion) the term promotional mix is less well known but is nonetheless a powerful toolset to facilitate sales and market awareness.

The promotional mix refers to the communication methods used to provide information to your customers and the market. Communication to your customers is vital if you want them to know about you. A failure to communicate about your product could result in low sales and an underperforming organization.

Difference between the promotional mix and the marketing mix.

While similar these two business terms relate to different aspects of marketing. The marketing mix takes a holistic view of your marketing opportunities and methods. The Promotional mix looks at what one of those elements in detail – promotion. Similar to the marketing mix the elements of the Promotions mix can all be used in various degrees.

Like the marketing mix the promotional mix is made up of a number of parts:

Advertising
Personal Selling
Promotions
Public Relations

Advertising

There is a vast array of advertising opportunities from online, newspaper, TV and radio to name but a few. While advertising has become more of an art form over the last 50 years its premise is still the same using a medium to get your message across. Your message could be the launch of a new product, brand awareness, special offers – the key is your communicating about your organization to the market.

Personal Selling

This is direct selling to potential buyers. Examples of personal selling include cold calling or door to door selling through to the example of a cosmetics counter in a department store. All involve building a relationship up with the customer (usually a short one!) and making the sale.

Promotions

As we discussed in our article on Pricing strategies for business promotions can be a vital sales tool – and can in particular be extremely useful in highly competitive markets where price is a determining factor. These promotions could include such things as two for one offers, cost discounts or introductory offers.

Drawbacks of Benchmarking with other organizations

While Benchmarking is undoubtedly an important tool in facilitating “best practice” into your organization (for more information on the background to the process check out our article on Introduction to Benchmarking) there are plenty of pitfalls which if your not careful can result in your benchmarking activity being unsuccessful.

In this article we’ll look at 5 common problems with benchmarking with other organizations.

1 – Comparing like for like

One of the major problems for benchmarking across multiple organizations is ensuring that you compare like for like. It’s important that you remove any subjectivity and look to compare processes and metrics that are easily measurable and with quantifiable data and results at both ends.

2 – Open book review

Unsurprisingly benchmarking organizations within your own business sector can be complex due to the unwillingness to share data for fear of impacting competitiveness. This is a very real issue and can often lead to benchmarking activities underperforming as there is an unwillingness to share best practice. This is one of the prime reasons why many organizations opt to either utilize industry organizations/associations or benchmark outside of the industry.

3 – How best practice is best practice

Remembering the primary reason for benchmarking is to facilitate the movement of best practice into your organization it goes without saying that you need to be really sure that best practice is best practice – a smaller sample group, incorrect measures, an inability to capture the process enabler can all result in a failure to either incorrectly establish best practice

4 – Single Business or industrial sector Benchmarking

Too many companies fail to establish the correct organization to benchmark with – remember it’s all about best practice – selecting any old company simply wont do – one consideration is whether to benchmarking against a single business or an industrial association or group. The latter may offer a better approach as they are more likely to provide an industry sector understanding of best practice and most likely have established benchmarking initiatives.

5 – Finding the “best practice driver”

Finding the activity that results in best practice can be difficult – from initially establishing – through use of metrics – better performance the next step is to find out (through a process/system etc) what is causing it. This can be more difficult than it sounds and can require thorough analysis of the process – getting it wrong can lead to two specific problems – the cause of the best practice is incorrectly established and secondly if transferred into the organization will fail to deliver the expected improvements.

Pricing Strategies for business

One of the fundamental concepts for any business is the selling of its products or services – this will in most cases involve the customer exchanging money in return for the product. The level at which this money is set is termed the price. Prices are not fixed and can be subjected to strategies and influenced by market conditions.

Pricing Strategies

Pricing strategies usually fall into two camps –

Firstly New Product Pricing strategies exist to support the introduction of products into the marketplace – these strategies usually support marketing from a market awareness perspective and also to get a foothold with consumers – examples of these pricing strategies include introductory discounts or where the product offers some unique qualities which can exert a premium – the price may be set to represent this.

Existing product pricing strategies – Pricing strategies for existing products will typically mitigate market conditions – this could include tracking the market rate for a given product (e.g. suppliers of fuel for example follow the market) – price reductions to secure market share.

Once a strategy is established – a business may deploy short term tactics to react to the market – this could be in the form of promotional offers (buy one get one free) to discounts.

Introduction to Business pricing

First time manager – taking the stress out of managing people

Becoming a manager or team leader can be a daunting experience. For many they’ve reached their position through promotion and can find themselves in their new role without experience and tools and in particular when it comes to managing people they are often ill equipped to cope with the pressures that comes with looking after teams or individuals.

Part of the problem is that many simply don’t know what to expect and what tasks are required of them. This is especially true of smaller companies which may lack formal training and support for promoted individuals. In this article we’ll take a look at the common themes associated with Management.

There are some common tasks associated with management:

1/ Setting goals and objectives

Goal setting refers to setting objectives that are to be met by either and individual or team (or company)– through carrying out their companies processes. These can be both short term and long term objectives. For example – in a manufacturing environment a line manager may set his team an objective of producing a certain volume of widgets per day – there may be certain longer term efficiency targets that are to be met (for example over a given month) there may also be strategic targets that are met over the course of a year – sales targets for example.

Goal setting can be both formal and informal – formal goal setting might take the guise of an appraisal or assessment where structured objectives are laid out usually over a period of 12 months with periodic reviews. Informal goals may be certain tasks that are delegated out during the course of a given period.

2/ Resource management

Where a line manager has functional responsibility for a team they will need to co-ordinate resources to ensure the right mix of skills and resources are available to carry out the task at hand. Commonly this will be managing vacation requests or staff coverage for sickness. There maybe formal processes to follow within the company and it is incumbent on the line manager to execute them appropriately.

They might also be called upon to support recruitment activity and attend candidate interviews – they may be asked to produce skills profiles and review CV’s as part of the recruitment task.

3/ Discipline

One of the less well liked processes associated with line management is the discipline of staff. This can take a number of forms

a) Informal/Ad hoc – where staff performance is below what is required line managers are expected to communicate this to staff and

b) Formal – companies often have processes and procedures to cater for formal disciplinary issues. Formal problems can take a variety of forms – from prolonged periods of under-performance – bullying in the work place – theft etc.

Staff discipline can be a complex and stressful part of management – it requires delicate but assured action and the first time manager may need appropriate and close support from his peers.

4 Communication

Team leaders and managers act as a conduit for information to be passed around the organization. Commonly this could be in the form of regular team meetings, company briefs or one to one communication. This activity should not be underestimated – it’s a vital tool in ensuring that the workforce are aware of the goals and objectives and that senior management are aware of issues or risks affecting the business.

Managers should consider both the periodicity and mechanism for communicating to their teams and act appropriately. Also remember that communication is a two way street and that you should welcome and encourage feedback from your own team.

5 Management Information and reporting

Another common duty for managers is the reporting of departmental or organizational performance. Typically this will be in the guise of a standard and regular report (often a monthly report) which will be in a standard template throughout the company. This will usually include departmental performance, performance against company goals, issues and activities and business risks. You’ll likely need some data analysis to help report on performance and it’s vital that you understand where the numbers come from and what they mean.

New managers need to seek the appropriate training and support to enable them to carry out their new role to the best of their ability – if your going into management – above all don’t be daunted – management brings responsibility and a fair bit of stress but it can also be exceedingly enjoyable and rewarding at the same time.

Example SWOT analysis and follow up action sheet built using Word & Excel

As we said in our article on SWOT analysis – The SWOT is a great tool for capturing information and issues relating to your business (in particular it can be used during strategic planning) – we also think it makes a great addition to a standard monthly management reporting pack.

Luckily you don’t need any special tools or software to produce a SWOT and the simple 4 box template is easy to setup in MS Word.

Due to the nature of a SWOT analysis capturing pieces of information that often require follow up actions we like to pair our SWOT with a simple action list which you can build in Excel – this takes the items captured within your SWOT and turns them into a simple plan with owners and review dates. Why do this? Well all too often you’ll construct a SWOT analysis and use it in a presentation or report but there is a tendency to forget all about it and move on to the next business issue – this simple action plan allows you to record those issues you need to follow up on in a simple straightforward way.

The SWOT

SWOTS can be easily constructed using MS Word – go for a 4 box (one for each element) or as we like to do a 3 x 3 this enables you to articulate which elements are internal/external and which are positive/negative attributes – this may not mean much to you but if your going to be communicating your SWOT to anyone unfamiliar with the tool it can be really helpful. The other thing to remember is when you add your inputs into the SWOT remember to number them so that you can refer to the numbers in your action tracker.

The Action Plan

We like to couple our SWOT tool with a simple action plan tracker that captures the inputs from the SWOT and turns them into a list that can be used to track activity and attribute owners. We’ve chosen to do this in Excel (but you could easily create a list in MS Word to do it).

Example SWOT video

Leadership Development? Translating Management into Leadership

For many management comes through a promotion, being given a project to run or some other “happy accident” – those that show promise at work through either performance or by having the right attributes (e.g. whether that’s through capability or by just getting seen by playing the politics – working the hours). The important thing is that for many – management comes with little to no “management training” this can have a dramatic effect in the ability for this new breed of management to be either successful or to make the important transition of manager to leader.

But what is management? At its heart management is an organizational function – it can encompass a variety of tasks from managing people to carrying out a set of tasks (e.g. strategic planning). It’s been said that management has two key functions – firstly to deliver profit and second to develop an environment where the business can flourish in the future. Management is seen as a formal influence that sets rules and guidelines on how to work – while management is strategic it’s a primarily a role that focus’s on decision making.

Difference between Leadership and Management

In today’s business – management is not enough – at the heart of most businesses is a culture of change allowing businesses to compensate for an ever changing market – in this environment management is not enough and business rely on leadership to act as a catalyst for reaching business targets and goals

Leadership on the other hand is a little more ephemeral – Leadership is informal – and characterised by persuasion – Leaders set direction and encourage communication to ensure strategy and goals are promulgated through the organization and achieved – but what are the characteristics of leaders? Check out our list below.

Characteristics of leadership

1/ Leaders set clear goals
2/ Relate to the team through the communication of shared experience
3/ Build a team environment
4/ Focus on relationships between stakeholders
5/ Are a catalyst for change
6/ Relish the use of feedback

Management analysis PEST tools & techniques

There are a number of tools available for business managers when undertaking either
strategic planning or analyzing performance. Tools such as SWOT Analysis, SOFT reports and standard financial reports such as Profit & Loss reports all offer some standard best practice that are easy to deploy and don’t require specialist tools.

Another common tool which can be used as a reporting mechanism is the PEST report. PEST analysis stands for “Political, Economic, Social, and Technological analysis”. When completed the PEST analysis communicates a series of environmental factors which can also be used when strategic planning.

When carrying out any strategic planning its vital to review external factors. For example government policy in the form of tax and
environmental policy could each play a factor in the success of your business.

However, you can also use PEST reports outside of strategic planning as in the guise of a monthly reporting tool it provides a standardized mechanism of regularly reviewing external factors on your business or department.

Breaking down the PEST analysis tool

When constructing your PEST analysis there are various attributes to consider:

Political factors

Political factors can include a range of issues that government can impact. They notably include obvious spheres of influence such as tax and employment law but also include areas such as trade policies (especially international law) including trade restrictions and tariffs.

Governments can also promote trade in certain sectors (consider the recent promotion of environmentally sound products as opposed to those that may be thought of as contributing to global warming.)

Economic factors

There is a range of economic factors to consider in your pest report – these tend to articulate financial constraints or opportunities for the organization and range from Exchange rates, Tax, Economic growth, Interest rates.

Financial issues can impact a number of things from export and import opportunities through to how capital is invested.

Social factors

Social factors can have a big part to play on the market appetite for a product. They can also influence how an organization functions: for example the demographics of the population can influence a range of functions not the least recruitment policy.

Social factors are built up from a variety of elements such as ethnicity, age, social attitudes (from career planning through to thoughts on trends and social causes)

Social factors are important as they reflect the barriers organizations might face into selling and producing their products and these factors often require mitigation strategies.