How to set up your finance for non-finance managers training course

One of my most popular courses is finance for non-finance managers and it’s really no surprise.

After all, now more than ever managers are expected to be able to understand the finances behind their activities and in many cases manage their budget.

But often companies expect this without giving people the training they need which means that people find themselves feeling cut adrift.

Finance for non-finance manager training gives people the skills they need to understand what the company accountants are telling them.

How does finance training help?

A good training course can help both the company and the individuals as it helps to align the work of the managers with the aims of the company.

A good course will give managers more confidence when looking at their numbers and will give them the ability to ask searching questions of their finance team.

It allows people to understand what is driving performance and how to compare it to budgets and of course how those budgets were made.

For the company any good training course helps with staff retention as people can see that they are valued and the company is willing to invest in them.

When the budget setting process is going on, managers are able to provide more insight which leads to more accurate and realistic budgeting.

And as soon as people understand the finances and their area’s performance they start to look at ways to improve. They can even get quite competitive!

So how do you set up finance for non-finance managers training?

Well naturally I am going to say call me, aren’t i?

But seriously I reckon there are 7 steps to organising your training.

#1 – Decide what you want out of it

The absolute number one thing you need to do before anything else is to understand what you want to achieve as a result of the training.

What issues are you trying to solve?

Do you have to provide a certain number of hours of CPD for your staff?

Is this part of a wider training scheme?

Once you know what you want the outcome to be it makes life much more simple when you think about the other steps.

#2 Decide who you need to train

Once you know what you want to achieve then you’ll probably have a good idea who needs to go on the training course.

But you do need to be careful because mixing people at different levels or with different abilities can cause issues.

If you have people with no knowledge of finance on a course then the level of teaching is set lower than if you have people who already understand some of the concepts.

People who work at a lower level in the organisation will have different responsibilities to directors.

But putting all these people into the same session means that the course will have to be so general as to be of very little help.

Focusing your training on tight groups makes it much more useful and ultimately effective.

#3 Speak with your training provider

It may seem a bit early but often your training provider can help talk you through the options.

For most good trainers their courses are never really set in stone.

For instance, I’ll often swap and change parts of a course to address a specific issue that the client wants to solve.

And if you speak with your favourite training provider (or your in house training lead if you have one) early on then you can often get a course that is specially designed to help you.

#4 Think about timing

Deciding when to do your training is really important because you want to maximise attendance.

Nothing is more depressing than going to loads of trouble setting up a great course and finding out that half of your managers can’t come along.

Don’t set up a course for half-terms, summer holiday time or near to Christmas.

And think also about your business cycles.

Courses at the end of the month is a bad time for finance staff but there may be other points that are equally difficult for operational staff such as stocktaking or when there is a big trade show on.

#5 Book your training venue

It’s natural to simply decide to use an in house room if you have one that is suitable but this is often a big mistake.

I find that using a company office means that people tend to accept interruptions more readily whereas renting a meeting room at a hotel or co-working space means that attendees understand that they are there to learn.

Funnily enough, I also find that when companies book space away from the office people tend to be much more open, more honest and are able to concentrate more.

#6 Book your trainer

Who should you use?

Well obviously me.

But if not me then who?

I am a big believer in trusting your gut.

Go with someone who you like, who seems engaging and who understands your company.

Go for someone who is professional but not boring, engaging but focused.

Often, especially if you are booking a finance trainer ( which you’ll need for your finance for non-finance managers course) you find that they can be technically competent but a bit dry.

I personally detest boring, technical courses that are full of facts but feature no interaction. They’re a bit 1950s.

And book your trainer early. After all we tend to be busy people so get in early to make sure you can have the dates you want.

#7 Make sure you follow up

So your training course is done and people have gone their separate ways.

But your work isn’t finished.

Spend some time gathering feedback.

What did people like about the course?

What didn’t they like?

What have they changed as a result?

This will allow you to understand whether your trainer was any good (and whether you would want to book them again) and it will give you ammunition to show that training is a good thing.

Also assess your own performance.

What went well and what went badly when you were setting the course up?

What would you do differently?

Training doesn’t have to be a drag.

In fact, I’d say your best bet is to lean heavily on your trainer and make use of their experience. Often they’ll do a lot of the leg work for you or be able to tell you what pitfall to avoid.

If you want to set up a Finance for Non-Finance managers course then it’s a fairly simple process that shouldn’t be a cause for stress.

If you would like to have a chat about setting up any form of finance or management training then why not give me a call now?

How do your people know that they are a ‘Team’?

Team training

It may sound like an odd question but when you are thinking about team training it is always worth asking yourself whether the individuals are ever really treated as a ‘team’.

Of course they know they are a team, after all they all sit in the same area under a sign that says ‘Finance Team’ or ‘Sales Team’ or ‘IT team’.

But really that’s just lip service.

Research shows quite clearly that people work best as part of a shared enterprise, one with shared goals and an understood view of the overall aim.

Just being told ‘you are a team’ doesn’t make people behave like one.

The art of team management is to get a group of disparate individuals to work at a level which is greater than the sum of its parts.

Why on earth does this make a difference?

All the evidence shows that bonding people together as part of something bigger than themselves actually reduces staff turnover (and we know how expensive that is).

There’s also really good evidence that when people are working together as a team rather than as individuals they actually become much more efficient.

So how can you foster a ‘team’?

I’ve seen all sort of whacky theories over the years but I’m only going to include ones that actually work.

Understand your aim

What’s the point of your team?

What are you aiming to achieve?

By when?

Have you told anyone?

If you don’t know what you are supposed to be achieving then your team won’t either.

If you do know, but you haven’t told people then that’s worse than useless as you’ll have people working to all sorts of agendas

Sit down, work out what your eventual aim is for the team and then introduce it at your next team meeting.

Tell people where they fit into the whole

Engagement is increased massively if people know what their individual role is.

Letting people know how important they are to the team boosts morale and more importantly lets them know that they can’t let the side down.

Make time to get together as a team

Seriously, what’s the point of being a team if you never sit together and discuss the issues that are facing you?

How do you formulate a shared understanding of the upcoming workload, performance and future direction?

I like to have weekly 1-hour team meetings where we go through how we’ve done and what we can expect to happen shortly.

What’s interesting is that although these start out in a really stilted manner, after about three or four meetings they start to be really productive in unexpected ways.

Invest and train individuals but also invest in the team

A great way to foster team cohesion is to have shared learning opportunities.

This can be as simple as one person from somewhere else in the company coming in to speak about what they do and what issues they face.

This works super well for getting your team more integrated into the company as a whole too.

Praise your team in public

Make sure that if your team has done something really well then you tell people about it

and make sure your team see you telling someone about it.

Stick up for your team

Now I’m not suggesting that you go around picking fights but if something comes up that is contentious and you are absolutely in the right then I say fight your corner

and again make sure your team see you sticking up for them

Take any excuse to have a bit of a social

It’s so difficult today to make time to get together outside work but if you want to develop a team with a really strong bond then you need to get them to like (or at least respect) each other as individuals.

I like to take random opportunities to take my team out for lunch.

So maybe we finish an audit successfully. I’ll take them off down the pub and buy them lunch.

It’s not going to break the bank and a couple of hours out of the business won’t make much difference to the company but it means the world to people who rarely get thanked for doing their job.

Make sure you invest in team training

So I would say this right? After all, I’m selling team training!

But don’t take my word for it there’s plenty of academic and anecdotal evidence that investing a small amount of money into team training makes people more effective and reduces the dreaded turnover.

Oh, and while we’re about it, don’t just get some team training, start off with some proper, effective management training too!

The overall message is…

Team management is actually a job.

So if you were a decorator you wouldn’t expect that a wall would just suddenly paint itself without you putting in any effort, so why should you expect a team to manage itself without you actually doing any ‘management’?

Management isn’t hard but you do need to put some effort in and you need to think about it.

And you also need to take my first-time manager course!

How to run a 1-2-1

One of the bedrocks of team management is putting aside time for each of your people to talk about their performance.

My favourite method is to institute a 1-2-1 regime where you get together with your staff for an hour a month and just speak about how things have gone and where you see them going.

Now you may decide to have different time frames, for instance, you may decide that in a fast moving company you want to do them more frequently for a shorter period of time, or you may decide that you want to do weekly 1-2-1s with your new staff whilst they are on probation.

But either way if you want to be an awesome manager then you need to speak with your team.

What’s the point

Motivating your team is all about getting engagement, being part of a shared goal and letting people understand where they fit in and what is expected of them.

If you are the sort of manager who doesn’t bother discussing this sort of stuff with your reports then you are probably operating at slightly below average and no-one likes that.

What outcomes do you want from the meeting?

One of the best methods of making sure your meetings are ultra productive is to understand what you want from the meeting before you go in.

When I run 1-2-1s I look for several outcomes;

1 I want to develop a shared view of how the last month went

2 I want to develop a shared view of what needs to be achieved in the next month

3 I want to let the employee know how they are doing overall, especially if the company has some form of annual appraisal or bonus scheme.

4 I want my direct reports to have a confidential forum where they can raise things that are troubling them and where we can work on a solution

5 I want a formal method of saying thank you for their hard work during the month

6 I want to reinforce to them where they fit into my plans and how I see their career developing.

So how do you actually run the 1-2-1?

For my formal ones, such as the annual appraisal then there will probably be a specific form to fill in but for my monthly meetings I generally prefer a more relaxed style.

I take notes, and I refer to them in future meetings, I’ll also use the goals we set at the start of the year as a kind of touchstone to measure their current performance against.

In general though the meeting starts with me simply saying ‘how do you think this month has gone?’.

This does a couple of things; it gives me an understanding of how each of my reports sees the last month in term of workload and their performance but also as an open question (one without a yes/no answer) it allows them to speak about what is concerning them.

At points I will bring it back to my three main themes, how has it gone, what will we do in the future and how is this aligning with the team and company goals.

Overall though you need to find your own style.

Beware of people telling you that one way is better than another, you need to match the style of your 1-2-1s with your style of management.

Overall though you need to remember that this is a forum for the employee, it’s not for you to spend an hour moaning at them and telling them about your cat.

Do’s and Don’ts


  • Don’t use it as a semi-disciplinary- that’s not what a 1-2-1 is for
  • Don’t cancel or rearrange unless you absolutely have to
  • Don’t expect instant results – people need time to get used to the format
  • Don’t try and do some form of group 1-2-1, it never works


  • Explain the format of the meeting and what the aim is
  • let things flow and if they go slightly off tangent then that’s fine, you want your reports to feel comfortable. You can bring them back on point after a reasonable time
  • Be positive – OK so not everyone is going to be a superstar but you can find some positive stuff from everyone’s month
  • Ask what people are looking for from their work. What do they want to achieve? Where do they want to go? What help do they need?

And finally

Don’t forget to say thank you.

Even if things have gone badly, you need to find some method of ending the meeting on a positive.

Why I left my job and what my manager could have done about it

Quite early on in my interim career I took a gig for three months as a management accountant.

It was a very big company, going through a lot of change and I thought I was doing a pretty good job- at first.

But there were some odd things.

Like my manager never said well done for any piece of work I submitted.

Now as an interim it doesn’t surprise me that I am not treated like a close family member but the odd ‘thank you wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Then there was the weekly report

Every week one of my jobs was to submit a weekly report to a fairly anonymous email address.

Nobody knew who it belonged to. I asked around but came up blank.

I asked my manager if it was important – after all if no-one was reading the report why were we doing it?

He said as long as we were being paid we shouldn’t complain.

So I put in a couple of tiny errors to see if someone noticed.


Then I put a great big error in to see what happened. (It was in bold and underlined too).


Finally I stopped sending the report and guess what happened?


I had no idea what my work meant

So it turned out that I was doing all this work and it wasn’t being read.

It seemed like my job was just make-work so that the department could keep its numbers up.

I asked my manager about this and he just shrugged his shoulders.

And then my contract came up for renewal

So here I was doing a job that wasn’t important and that nobody was bothered about.

I didn’t even know if I was doing it well

And nobody mentioned extending my contract so I assumed that they were just going to let it lapse ( I later learned that this is what normally happens)

To protect myself I put some calls in and found myself some work and gave my manager notice for my expected contract end date.

And then something odd happened

He called me into the office and told me what an amazing job I had been doing, how much he valued my work and how much my being with the company had helped.

But it was too late. Although having gushing praise is lovely, I’d already committed to my new workplace.

So what should he have done

This is the important lesson – you should always give people a sense of where they fit in

Let them know how much their work means

How much they are helping you

Give them a vision of where the company would be without them and you’ll see their engagement rocket.

And don’t wait until your staff are heading out of the exit door. Make sure you value them publicly, little and often.

Oh and of course you should use the cheapest and easiest form of morale boosting you can – saying thank you – regularly.

SMART targets aren’t so bad after all

I’ve recently seen a couple of articles that have heaped opprobrium on SMART targets.

Apparently they are old fashioned and not at all fit for purpose for the 21st century.

Then the pieces go on to say how targets should, in fact, be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.

Not in those words though.

A Rose by any other name…

I remember years ago having a chat with a potential client about project management methods.

He really wanted to use Six Sigma to run his project (I know).

My point was that there are lots of different names for management tools, but the important point is not that we are using the cool and trendy names, it’s that we are actually DOING the thing that it says on the tin.

I didn’t get the gig.

So we can run our project using AGILE or PRINCE but at the end of the day we still have to find a way to communicate with one another about the project whether you call it a scrum or a Colin or a banana.

So are SMART targets bad?

I don’t think so.

The fact of the matter is that SMART is still around because the concept is fundamentally good.

In concept a smart target is simply understanding exactly what you are going to do, when you are going to do it and making sure you’re not running off into the long grass.

If you don’t want to use SMART then why not think up a cool and trendy name like TRAMS.

If you are so desperate to look like one of the cool kids on the bus then put on your dungarees, grow a big moustache and use your TRAMS goals setting.

Promoting someone? Don’t make this common mistake

I want you to imagine taking on a new person.

They’ve never done the job before but they seem like they have the right attitude and you like them so you decide to invest.

On their first day on the job you get them a chair and a computer and tell them to get on with it.

“Isn’t there any training?” they ask.

“Nah, you were great at the last place you worked so you’ll be fine at this job” you say.

“But I explained I’ve never done this work before so it’s all new to me”

“You’ll be fine” You reply. “anyway I’ve got a meeting now so must dash”.

Of course you’d never do this would you?

That would be crazy.

Why would you go through all that effort of recruiting them and then not give them the skills to do the job?

But oddly, most companies seem to think that this approach is fine when the promote someone.

It happened to me…

My first ever management job came at the age of nineteen.

The regional manager had just fired my boss “because he was rubbish” and now I was next in line.

The training course involved two terrible pieces of advice and a book thrown across a desk at me.

It’s no surprise that I bombed but I probably received more training than most people.

Why management is different

Being a manager is totally different and we’re deluding ourselves if we think someone who is a great call centre operator will automatically be an amazing manager.

You have to get used to telling people what to do, you have to get used to understanding the mission for your team, you have to deal with difficult people and any number of other issues.

And worst of all you have to manage the people who were your friends.

As a front line worker you turn up for work, do a good job and then go home. Your performance is dependent upon yourself.

As a new manager, your performance is down to the people in your team, and that’s a lot of stress.

Don’t lose a great worker and a potentially brilliant manager

So what happened to me in my first line management job?

I’d like to say I turned it all around and things were amazing – but they weren’t.

I didn’t do very well, didn’t know how to change it, received no help then got discouraged and left.

So the business lost someone who was good at his job, and they were still looking for a new manager!

Often, businesses promote someone to a job they have never done, give them little back up and then don’t allow them to step back into the role they were great at.

So what should you do?

There are some simple things you can do to make sure that your potential star lives up to their billing.

First of all remove all the pressure by telling them that if things don’t go well or they don’t enjoy it then they can step back into their old job, no hard feelings.

Secondly explain exactly what the focus of the job is and set performance levels so that they know exactly what is expected of them.

Third, be prepared to give up some of your time. The more effort you put in at the front end then the better it will go for all concerned.

But what if I don’t have the time?

Not every manager has the time to sit down with their staff and give quality training so what can you do?

Well obviously I’m going to say management training right?

I’d like to think that our training is brilliant because it comes from the lived experience of over two decades of front line management.

We help companies train their management cohort so that they have the grounding in the techniques that allows them to begin adding real value right away.

Give me a call and we can talk over the different options for supercharging your managers.

Also if you like free stuff then scroll down and sign up for my free tip of the month.

3 great tips for a new manager

If you are about to be promoted or have taken up a new role as a manager then you may well be feeling a little daunted – after all managing people is a scary thing right?

Well it’s not that bad. It’s just different and as you’ll find out it requires a different set of skills.

So here’s three tips to set you on your way.

Management tip 1

Be clear what your success metrics are.

Have a serious chat with your boss around what they will be measuring your effectiveness on.

Expecting to be successful without understanding how that success will actually be measured is like setting out on a journey without knowing what your destination is.

You may get there but more likely you’ll just drive around using up fuel.

Make sure your boss spells out exactly how they are measuring you and then repeat it back to them to make sure you are both hearing the same thing.

And don’t put up with the old “we’ll discuss it later” routine because you never will.

Management tip 2

Take a second to think about what you want your team to look like.

By now you’ll have your measures of success from your manager so you need to translate that into what that actually looks like on the ground.

What resources do you need?

What behaviours do you need your team to be exhibiting?

What is the gap between where things are now and where you want them to be?

Make sure you’re realistic though.

you have to be brutally honest about the capabilities of your team and yourself.

If you are going to need help and support then ask for it in good time.

Management tip 3

Open your eyes and shut your mouth.

You probably don’t have the experience and skills to start gobbing off about how brilliant you are yet. You will one day but bide your time.

Instead watch your peers.

Who are the good managers and who are the awful ones?

What things do the really great managers do that you can emulate or adapt to your situation.

And don’t be shy about asking their advice or why they do certain things.

If you start off by saying “I’ve noticed you’re an outstanding manager and I’d like to learn more about…” then who is going to complain?

And the best tip

A great line from one of my favourite books


You’ll be fine.

Just keep learning, accept that there will be some false starts along the way and you’ll end up being an awesome manager.

If you like this then you’ll love my Tip of the Month! It’s free and might just be amazing but you’ll never know unless you sign up.

OOH and why not check out my ‘The New Manager’ course. It gives you everything you need to be awesome. Show it to your boss because I bet there’s a load of people in your organisation that could benefit.

Why your job ad puts people off

So I have looked at a lot of job ads

I’ve applied for a lot and I have recruited a lot and I’ve come to a conclusion – most job ads stink.

It’s not that they are inherently wrong, it’s just that they don’t really do what you want them to do.

Job ads are the David Cameron/Tony Blair/Nick Clegg of the recruitment world.

They are designed to appeal to as many people as possible without offending anyone.

Now you may say that this is exactly what you want. After all, you want as many people as possible to be interested in your job ad don’t you?

Pah! I say.

Let me give you a choice.

You can have 500 CVs through the door of roughly similar candidates who are all probably pretty good at what they do and could all probably do your job and would probably work for the money your paying.

Or you could have one CV from an awesome candidate who gets exactly what you are trying to achieve and is ready to buy into the mission even though you’re not paying as much as Goldman Sachs.

Which would you take?

In the first instance, you have to sift through 500 CVs, interview loads of candidates that you probably like a bit and you think could probably perform.

You take them on, they do a decent job, then nine months down the line they get a better offer and leave.

They never bought into you and they never bought into your mission.

In the second you get a committed, engaged and enthusiastic person right from the start.

So here’s a couple of job ads

Job ad 1

A prestigious client based in the area is in the market for a new Head of Finance. Reporting directly into the MD, you will be fully responsible for the production of all the accounts and for the hiring, training and development of its team … currently standing at 9 but with potential for growth.
The principal functions of the role will include: –
– Developing business strategies
– Implementing proper controls
– Preparing the annual budgetary plan
– Identify potential financial risks
The ideal candidate will be an ACA/ACCA Qualified candidate with at least 3 years experience within a Service environment at least at the Finance Manager level.
Please apply in the first instance to and I’ll consider your application accordingly.

Inspired? Interested?

What I found remarkable about this is that it’s all about what the candidate is going to give TO THE COMPANY.

There’s nothing about the company mission, nothing about the culture, nothing about what the candidate will get back and nothing about where they fit in.

Oh and by the way. If you are recruiting someone to run a team of 9 then you need a leader not someone who’s good at budgeting.

Compare it to this one

Job ad 2

5 years ago my best friend Luke and I had a dream to set up our own brewery.
We wanted to brew amazing beers and we wanted to do it in our home town.
We had no money, no premises and no staff but we did have this dream
5 years on and things are going really well but we’re scared.
We are so big now that we need someone to handle the finances for us. We know so little about accounting that we don’t even know what interview questions to ask.
Can you help?

The difference is that the second ad is the one that acts as a filter.

It removes all the people that would have applied but they don’t like the idea of working for a small company, a brewery or somewhere that is a bit in chaos.

It enthuses people who love the idea of making a difference, who love to be challenged and who love chaos.

The first job ad gets mercenaries the second gets disciples.

The problem is that as a society we would see the first ad as a success because more people would apply.

But they’d be the wrong people.

Why you need to onboard properly (unless you like recruiting like an idiot)

Onboarding is really really important. Really really really important.

Let me give you a great example.

I was once hired by a company to run their finance systems refresh. This was a million dollar project that had been mandated by their US parent so it was pretty important.

I got the gig and turned up at 8:50 on the Monday morning ready to start work.

When I spoke to the receptionist she looked at me with a mixture of confusion, derision and disdain.

It turned out that the guy who had hired me hadn’t told anyone (he was a blue but then that’s another story).

He hadn’t arranged any resources. I didn’t even have anywhere to sit.

And best of all he’d gone off on two weeks holiday.

So guess how that made me feel.

And guess how I felt towards the company.

Now as an interim I am used to these types of situation but if it was a permanent hire then I can imagine how they would have felt.

Why it’s important

It’s a fact that the key to motivating staff is showing them that they belong, that they are wanted and that they have a place in the organisation.

Employees that feel that they have a valued contribution to make are much more likely to do awesome work and are much more likely to stick around.

So ask yourself the question – would your business be more profitable with highly motivated, committed and keen employees from day one, or by having a high turnover of bored and unengaged people that turn up just for the paycheck?

That’s why it is important.

The first 90 days thing

It’s an established fact that an employee has 90 days to set the tone of their employment.

If they start off being a keen, go-getter who achieves great things then that’s how people will view them for years afterwards.

But the same is true of the business.

If the employee feels valued from day one, if they feel that they are needed and wanted and that they have an important place in your organisation they that’s how they will feel about your company in the future.

You have 90 days to convince your new hires that they belong.

Maybe less.

So what should you do then?

The best onboarding experience I ever had was with a company that didn’t have a lot in the way of resources.

I turned up again at 8:50 and sat in the reception with another new start.

Five minutes later a guy walks in and says hello and shakes our hands.

Turns out he’s the CEO and he spent five minutes telling us each how glad he was we’d arrived and how important we were to the future of the company.

How do you think we felt after that?

Just 5 minutes.

A few weeks later I found out it wasn’t a chance meeting. He does it with all his new hires.

Reckons that it’s the human thing to do.

Funnily enough, his company was full of people who were committed, engaged and loyal.

So my first tip is to start an employees’ tenure by telling them how important they are to the future of the business and how they fit in with the mission (oh yeah and what the mission is).

Make sure you do the housekeeping thing.

Tell them where to turn up and when (I normally start my new hires at 10am to allow me time to make sure any urgent issues are dealt with).

Make sure someone is there to greet them

And if you ever start a new person and they don’t have a chair, a desk, an email account and a login to the main system then you aren’t worth the money you are being paid.

Have a first two weeks plan and go through it with them.

Introduce them to the most important people in their job universe and make sure you’ve done all the HR things so they don’t distract somewhere down the line.

A word about mentors

You need to appoint one.

Some companies call them ‘buddies’ but whatever you do you need to provide one.

The mentor needs to be someone who has been with the company long enough to understand the culture and unwritten rules but they also need to be new enough to remember what it was like on their first day.

The mentor needs to be local enough to the newbie to be approachable but not so close that they are the only person your new hire speaks to during the day.

And they need to be positive.

We’re too small, we don’t have the resources

Cop out frankly.

In fact if you are a small company you are in a better place to make sure that your new hire has an awesome onboarding experience than if you are a large corporate.

Even if you are a one-person company and this is your first ever hire then you can still take the time to tell the person how important they are and where they fit in.

Onboarding is a pain.

If you think this then there’s no hope for you.

Bringing new people into your organisation is the best thing ever.

Just imagine what awesome people could do for your business.

It doesn’t take long to work out a standard process for bringing new people in and making their joining experience epic.

Recruiting? – Start before you start

It’s always surprising to me that when a manager needs to recruit, they don’t start with where they want to get to.

It seems that when there’s a gap in the team then that’s the perfect moment to have a think about how you want the team to look, operate, be.

Just like a project because this IS a project.

You need to know what the company mission is, what the teams part in that mission is and what each of the component parts needs to do.

So what does your team look like in the end?

Is it a project team?

Is it a temporary turnaround or integration team?

Or is it a permanent team.

When you have that then you’ll know the people you need and more importantly the attitudes, aptitudes and skills you need to build your team.

Value diversity

Value diversity, but not just man/woman straight/gay type diversity. This is about diversity of thought.

Interestingly research has shown that companies that have just one woman on the board are more profitable than ones that don’t.

The reason that diversity works so well is that it brings in so many different points of view.

The most diverse teams are also the most innovative.

But you also need to bring in a diversity of ability, aims, enjoyment.

Imagine a finance team. You need the people who are stars, who are going somewhere, who have something about them but you also need the footsoldiers.

You need people who are going to be happy just sitting there processing invoices every day.

You need people who love financial accounts but don’t want to talk to people

You need business partners that have no interest in producing a P&L but love taking it out to their operational managers and explaining it.

Value outcomes, not numbers

So a professional manager will look at where they want to get to, analyse the resources they have, then look to recruit.

A good place to start is Belbin’s team roles. This describes the kinds of behaviours that really effective teams exhibit such as completer finisher, co-ordinator and shaper.

When you are recruiting it is also an ideal spur to look at your current team members and see if they are in the right place, or if moving them to the open slot could be an ideal development opportunity.

As a professional manager, you would also be remiss if you didn’t take a look at the whole situation and decide whether you actually need the extra person or if you could actually do things more efficiently.

Now this doesn’t always happen in this neat way. Often you are given a team and told to get on with it. But that doesn’t mean you have no options.

You can still go through the process of assessing what roles you need to fill and then putting all of your square pegs into square holes.

Again it’s always a good time to think about extending people’s experience and giving them development opportunities by swapping job roles or redesigning them altogether.

Above all don’t just automatically recruit someone exactly the same as the last person to keep your headcount the same. You are better than that.

I genuinely believe that a top class manager wouldn’t even put a call into a recruiter or ad site before they’ve gone through a rigorous process of understanding what they, and more importantly their company actually needs.

Recruiting right is the bedrock of forming an awesome team, taking some time to think about what you and your company wants and needs is the starting point and if you do this then  I know you’ll build an epic group.

Recruit right

Often it seems to me that recruiting staff tends to be a bit hit and miss.

So often we tend to fall back on tired old ways because ‘we’ve always done it like that’ but it doesn’t have to be so.

If you’ve read my blog on starting before you start then you’ll already have an idea of who you want, so now you need to think about how to go about recruiting the right person.

As I write this we are at a rare time in the UK economy where there is pretty much full employment and so it’s what recruiters call a ‘candidates market’.

This means that companies have to work a bit harder to get people through the door but it’s my view that they should be working hard all the time to make sure they get the right people.

Attracting the right people

Take a look at the job ads on your favourite board.

Have you noticed that they are all the same?

I call it the old white male politician effect.

You see to get the most votes politicians have to appeal to the widest possible cross-section they can, so they dress, act and talk in as bland a way as possible.

But you don’t want that, because if you behave in this way you will get the same people applying as anyone else and you will get bland grey people sending their CVs.

Think about your job description

Think about your job ad

Does it enthuse the right people?

Does it put off people who wouldn’t thrive in your business?

Concentrate on attitude and behaviours rather than skills, explain how exciting the job is, why it’s a great company to work for and more importantly why you need people.

Because your really great candidates want to know how they will fit in and what contribution they can make.

A job ad full of character is also really efficient because if you are a whacky startup then it will put people off who really don’t want to work in a whacky startup.

Your great job description works as a filter to make sure that the people who apply are your kind of people.

BTW don’t let your recruiter write it. One of the measures of success for many recruiters is how many CVs they get in for a job, not how great a fit they are.

You want someone who has a great personality, not someone that can stuff a CV full of keywords.

Think about sources too.

A job board is an obvious place but you may well find you get a better quality of person by leveraging your staff network and getting them to recommend people.

And if you are in your local coffee shop one day and the barista shows stunning customer service, enthusiasm and talent then why wouldn’t you headhunt them and train them for the job?


Remember that the interview process is actually a sales opportunity. You have to sell you, your business and the role to the person.

The worst thing in the world is if you have a recruiting manager who says ‘I’m not sure that they are going to take the job’.

By the time the candidate leaves the office, they need to be in the state of wanting to bite your hand off for the opportunity.

I’m not saying that you don’t want to understand their capabilities, but you need to know about their personality and attitude much more than their skills.

And if you use psychometric tests then you need your legs slapping.

Have the courage of your convictions, act like the professional manager you are and hire the person you want, not the one a paper test tells you to hire.

Oh and you need to be physically punished if you use one of those interview question generator apps.


An interview is for you to find out if you get on with the person applying, not to see how well they regurgitate pre practised answers to pre practised questions (unless of course they are applying for a job as a politician).

And always, always take the opportunity to go off at a tangent and talk about random stuff. You’ll find this puts you both at your ease and will give you a far better insight than asking them where they see themselves in five years time!

See this as fun

I’m always amazed that most managers seem to see recruitment as a chore.

I love recruiting people.

I love finding out about new people, enthusing them about my company and getting an insight into their lives and talents.

For me, that new person is like a rough diamond that I and my fellow team members are going to polish up until they are epic.

Some people see it as spending hours and hours in interviews but what could be more important than making sure you have awesome people desperate to join your awesome team?

As someone smarter than me once said – recruit attitude and not skills.

How to handle conflict

If you’re like me then you probably hate conflict.

It’s nasty, messy and leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

From a management point of view if there’s conflict in the workplace then I feel I have failed (because I probably have)

But it happens, and sometimes, despite your best intentions it can’t be avoided.

So what should you do?

It’s not conflict – it’s communication

Number one has to be to talk with the other person

So often conflict is just a matter of miscommunication.

A misunderstood email

A misunderstood intention

Speak with the person and I’d say 70% of the time it can be cleared up really quickly.

Understand the other persons’ POV

Sometimes conflict arises simply because two people have a different point of view on a particular event.

I remember a row that started because a fellow manager had moved someone’s desk.

The person involved thought they were being pushed further away from the manager because they were being ‘eased out’

The manager thought they’d like a desk closer to the window!

In this case it was important to understand why the person involved thought the company would possibly want to get rid of them.

(this is genuinely a management failure)

Find common ground

It’s important to build bridges, so discuss areas where your thoughts overlap.

You’ll probably find that actually you agree about most things but it is just a couple of points that might cause issues.

Agree on a priority list

Look at the areas of disagreement and decide which things are the most important to solve.

Agree between you what things are actually important to deal with and what things don’t matter in the cold light of day.

Apply the 12 month test – ask yourself “Will this matter in a year’s time?”

(note this isn’t the same as ignoring it, see below)

Then prioritise which things you absolutely need to get done and…

Work on a joint action plan

Agree ways in which you will make things better.

This is the tricky bit mind you.

It will involve compromise and swallowing your pride.

But you can do it, and your life will be better as a result

Remember – keep your eyes on the prize

Things not to do

Don’t interrupt

Don’t belittle their opinion or feelings

Don’t generalise (“you always do this”)

If you’ve setup a meeting to discuss the issue the DON’T cancel or rearrange

And most importantly


Things to do

Maintain a collaborative approach

Focus on the future

Listen carefully to what the other person is saying then

repeat back what you think you have heard and check that your understanding is true

Make sure you jointly celebrate successes along the way

Why bother?

Isn’t life too short to spend time arguing?

Wouldn’t things be much better if you could just get on with it?

If you are a manager then sorting this out will be to your credit

If you are managed then I can promise you’ll be more respected for the mature way you handled the situation

And one final thought.

There have been people who I have worked with that I have loathed initially but actually, after working with them in this way we have become firm friends.

Everyone can use more friends.

10 tips for great employee engagement

Would you like your business to have that all elusive competitive advantage?

Want to steal a march on your rivals?

The biggest weapon in the armoury of the best businesses are the talents of their employees. Having workers who are totally engaged in the ethos and aims of the organisation is imperative.

Of course, the theory is all well and good but how do you actually foster this elusive engagement?

Here’s my top ten tips for how you can increase your own businesses employee engagement.

Tip1 – Communicate the vision.

History has shown that people will rally around a cause and if you are in an organisation that has a clear purpose then you should work out a way of encapsulating this and communicate it at each and every opportunity.

Tip 2 – listen to what people are saying.

There is nothing that increases buy-in more than actually giving people a voice…

…and nothing destroys it quicker than just paying lip-service to what they have actually told you.

Work out a process of getting good quality feedback, make sure you’ve understood what you’ve been told and report back what action you’ve taken as a result.

Tip 3 – Give people constructive feedback.

One of the worst mistakes companies make is to have a kind of ‘letterbox’ culture where someone does work and sends it off and then never hears any feedback, be it good or bad.

Take time to let people know how the piece of work they stayed late to finish has made a valuable difference to the company.

Tip 4 – Walk the walk

Employees don’t suddenly become engaged because people tell them to be.

They have to see the directors and senior management team buying into the ethos of the company and exhibiting the behaviours that they themselves are expected to show.  

Almost ‘management by osmosis’, it’s both the easiest to do and the hardest to fake.

Tip 5 – Hire attitudes and behaviours

…and not qualifications or background.

There’s an old saying that a woman marries a man thinking that she’ll be able to change him and a man marries a woman hoping that she won’t change at all!

Don’t expect that you’re going to take on someone who is dull and negative and then they will magically become dynamic and positive just because they are exposed to your culture.

Instead take on people with a compatible attitude then train them to do the job.

Do what football teams do and hire people who are already better than you and then look to improve them further.

Tip 6 – Invest, invest, invest

If you’ve ever been in the position where someone has gone out of their way to help with your career then you’ll know just how much loyalty that can engender.

Employees that see their managers going out of their way to invest in training and development opportunities for them are always going to be much more engaged than those that are left to stagnate.

Tip 7 – Be transparent and honest

Telling people what they want to hear works for a very short time and then quickly destroys credibility.

Most people behave like adults and if you have bad news but can give them good reasons why they can’t have what they want and you’re totally transparent about the decision process then people will really appreciate your honesty.

Tip 8 – Take time to do something good as a team

a sponsored walk, volunteering at a local food kitchen, raising money for your local hospital, whatever it is then spending a little bit of time to help a good cause can really help with team bonding.

Tip 9 – Take time to have a little fun

Some companies have ‘beer Friday’ as a social calm down after the working week, some play games in the office but all good companies know that having fun together increases engagement from their colleagues and builds a much better supportive environment.

Tip 10 – and my best tip? Say ‘Thank you’

Nothing makes people feel valued and that their contribution is worthwhile more than their boss saying a heartfelt thank you. Make it a habit and make sure you mean it.

And one final word…

Notice that none of my tips really involve paying people more money.

In fact, they are pretty much all about attitude and what’s come to be called ‘emotional intelligence’.

Just simply thinking about your colleagues and being considerate goes such a long way in terms of employee engagement and doesn’t cost the earth.

Nobody cares what you say – they care what you do

Years ago I had a manager who always used to say that we’d get together every Friday to have a 1-2-1 and discuss how the week went.

We’d have a chat about what was coming up, any development opportunities for me and any issues I had that week.

Sounds great eh?

Except it never happened.

Not once.

The poor guy was really busy, so I didn’t blame him.

And you could see that he was uncomfortable in personal situations.

And there was always something that came up that was much more important than me.

So it was understandable really.


The problem was that I pretty soon learned to disregard most of what he promised to do because he was always busy

Always uncomfortable.

Always reactive.

So did the rest of the team.

People notice when you don’t live up to your promises

If you say you’ll be having a 1-2-1 on the Friday then have it.

Or don’t say it.

But don’t say you will and then don’t.

Because people value actions more than words, and if you constantly break your promises then frankly your worlds mean nothing.

Dealing with the finger of blame

Many years ago I was sent to a management training meeting with the top guy in our company and he told me about the ‘finger of blame’.

At the time I thought he’d invented it but as I’ve seen it all over the place since I suspect that was merely naivety on the part of a very young manager!

Put simply the theory is that when the finger of blame points outwards, three fingers point back.

This is very useful because it shows the ratio that you should use when not only apportioning blame but thinking about remedies.

So look, as far as I am concerned blaming someone else for something that has gone wrong is largely counterproductive*. In fact there’s very little (if anything) positive that can come of it.

Blaming someone else for a problem just means that you can absolve yourself of all responsibility for making sure it doesn’t happen again in the future.

Blaming someone else for a problem just means that you can absolve yourself of all responsibility for making sure it doesn’t happen again

A little story

This is a true story although I’ve changed the name to protect the not so innocent.

I saw Dave in town and asked him how it was going.

“Terrible” he said, “I’ve just been flooded out at the factory and the water has destroyed loads of stock.”

“It’s all the council’s fault” he continued “they should have made the banks higher round the river”

“Oh” I said

“and British Waterways, they should have dredged the river so that it flowed faster and didn’t break its banks”

“Oh” I said

“And as for that manager of mine, Steve, he didn’t even bother to lift all the stuff off the floor. And don’t get me started on the weather forecasters, they said there wouldn’t be any more rain!”

So by the time he’d took a breath he’d blamed Steve, BBC Weather, British Waterways and his local council. It certainly did sound like everyone was against him.

I tried to find a positive “At least you’ll have the insurance money to fall back on” I said.

“Oh I don’t believe in insurance” said Dave.

Taking something positive

So Dave was in a really bad position.

Now he COULD have made alterations to the building he was in to avoid being flooded.

or he could have asked Steve to raise the stock off the floor or he could even have insured his business but none of that would help now.

The only positive thing that Dave could take from this situation is to learn something.

But whilst he was blaming everyone else he wasn’t thinking about how he could do things differently in the future. So he wasn’t learning.

And the whole situation was negative.

So what should you do?

Whenever something bad happens you should resist the temptation to blame anyone else.

I know it’s hard, we all struggle with this but you need to get something positive out of your very own flood.

The technique I use is to simply ask myself “What could I have done differently that would have affected the outcome”?

Caveat here: you can’t always predict or avoid bad things happening. Sometimes you have to give yourself a break.

Bad things happen to everyone and you’ll never be able to avoid them.

So next time something bad happens to you, resist temptation and just ask yourself what you could have done differently and get something positive out of a bad situation.

*So here’s some of the bad things that happen when you blame someone else; They get defensive, They bear a grudge against you, you look petty, it fills the air with negativity, your team think that’s the way to behave, you look like a really crappy manager and a really crappy person, nothing actually gets fixed.

Please comment below if you can think of any others.

Incidentally if you’d like tips like this straight to your inbox then why not sign up for our ‘Tip of The Month!’ It’s free!

8 tips to revive your HR department

When companies grow, and as people move on, the Human Resource department can often be left behind as the business concentrates on operational excellence.  Refreshing your HR department will not only make it more efficient it will also make sure that your people processes are adding value to the organisation as a whole.

As a way of helping you on this journey we’re presenting a few tips to assist you with revitalising your HR crew and getting them on the road to being world class.

Tip 1 – decide what you want great to look like.  It seems simple but it’s surprising how few people have really decided what a world class HR department looks like. You need to sit down and sketch out how things should operate in the new world. Make sure you take in the thoughts of your senior managers as the ‘customers’ of HR.

Tip 2 – communicate your vision. It’s no good having a vision of how you want your department to look without telling anyone about it.  Communicating your vision of how you want things to be will do two things. It will instil confidence in staff that they are not forgotten after all and when they understand the plan and their part in it you may be happy to find that they begin to take action themselves to make it happen.

Tip 3 – Put the right person in charge. HR is a difficult discipline to master and too often people in charge are simply the people who understand it best. It is a fact that a top class department needs a top class manager. Putting a livewire, motivated HR professional in charge who has experience in business partnering for example will encourage the staff to think a little wider and start to add value to the business.

Tip 4 – Make sure you have the right staff and the right skills in place. As businesses grow they find that they outstrip the skills that were once perfectly adequate. Take a look at what skills you need for the future and the skills that are currently in place. Then assess whether you can invest in training your staff to increase capability or whether you need to bring in specialists from outside. A small investment in some training for staff will also help motivation. You also need to be fairly realistic about the potential of the people in place; are they square pegs in round holes? Do they have the capability of rising to the challenge?

Tip 5 – Get the basics right. Make sure that you have a sound footing for your department by having a comprehensive and legal set of policies in place. If you have to then spend money on a top class consultant to get them in and sort out your policies and procedures as a great foundation for the future.

Tip 6 – Include your HR staff. When meetings are set that don’t necessarily involve personnel then it’s natural not to include them but inviting a member of the team, whilst it may not add anything directly to the meeting (although often it does) adds intelligence back into the department. HR staff not only feel included but also gain valuable background information for when they are recruiting and setting up training for instance.

Tip 7 –  Think about your systems. This is another area that tends to get forgotten when a company expands but that can often end up being more of a hindrance than a help. Get a specialist in to look at the systems you use and advise whether you need to change and what the benefits will be. The best HR departments run the simple functions of the role automatically, leaving staff to concentrate on the areas where they add the most value.

Tip 8 – Put HR at the centre of the business. People make businesses and relegating your HR department to being simply a functional area that processes staff is to miss the most valuable aspect of the profession. HR is the first part of the company that many staff see and having successful committed people in place simply sets your employees off on the right course for a great career with your business.

This is not an exhaustive list but it will give you a start on the road to having a great HR team which can add massively to the management of the business. A little time spent understanding and communicating how you would like things to be can pay terrific dividends to the firm.

5 Employee perks which don’t cost the earth

Team training

If the experts are to be believed then we are due for another period of slow down in the economy.

That being the case it is likely to become all the more important for employers to be able to give their staff valuable perks that don’t eat up the cash.

Here are 5 ideas for perks that we love and that you might like to try in your company.

Perk #1 – Fruit

As office dwellers it’s very easy to fall into the bad habit of an afternoon chocolate bar so employers that keep a few enticing bowls of fresh fruit about the place are not only looking after their employees health but also telling them that they are valued through the medium of food.

Ok so the odd cake is allowed and an occasional bottle of beer but in the main try and go for some generous bowls of fruit to pique people’s interest. And make sure they are available for visitors too.

The great thing is that it costs very little to do, especially if you find yourself a really good independent greengrocer.

We love food!

Perk #2 – Be flexible

More than ever it seems that the world is awake 24/7 so it seems silly that in the Western world we tend to enforce strict 9-5 hours.

Allowing your employees the flexibility to vary their hours is a win-win situation for both employer and workers.

We’ve all worked with people who are useless before 10am in the morning. Similarly there can’t be many people who haven’t met the early riser. Allowing people to vary their working hours around a central core means that the office can be manned during the all important middle of the day but lets people have a bit more of a work-life balance.

Think also about letting people bank hours to use for a duvet day, have their birthday off or have a weekly or monthly ‘work from home’ day.

Apart from the obvious advantage of much more engaged and awake employees the business will also benefit from the office being manned for a longer stretch of time. You’ll find that people are much more receptive to the 2am call to Thailand if they know that they can bank some hours to use later on.

Set some core hours – say 10 – 3 then allow people to vary around these. It doesn’t need to be monitored too closely either, most people act like adults and end up doing longer than their contracted hours anyway!

Perk #3 – Pets at work

Research has shown that offices are happier when dogs are allowed in so think about allowing your staff to bring in their pets.

Maybe not every day, but a weekly or monthly ‘bring your dog to work day’, is something that people really value and costs the employer nothing.

There needs to be rules of course, so angry dogs or disruptive iguanas may need to be banned. You’ll also need to have a system in place for making sure that half of the office doesn’t bring cats and the other half doesn’t bring in dogs otherwise you may have your own version of Tom and Jerry going on!

Perk #4 – music

If you are looking to create a lively and vibrant workspace then having great music playing in the background certainly helps.

Think about getting a Spotify or Deezer account and making up a shared playlist that everyone can contribute to and watch the office debates begin about Beyonce and Mahler!

It costs the grand sum of £9.99 per month and in the UK employers will need to buy a PRS licence but it’s small beer compared to the extra engagement that it produces.

You may also become a fan of Taylor Swift.

Perk #5 – shared experiences

If you want to increase employee engagement then getting people together regularly is a great way to produce team spirit.

Think about getting in a yoga teacher to do an hour session once a week so that everyone can have a go, or look for a masseur who will ease those tired shoulders and necks.

We’ve seen companies who invite potential suppliers in to do a talk about their area of expertise such as a wine and cheese night and a fantastic book club.

One surprising by product of this sort of thing is that it gets talked about outside of work. You’ll find that people will be posting on social media and talking about it in the pub. Before long your Google page ranking will increase and people will already have heard of you when you mention the company name.

These are just a few ideas for ways to add a little bit of spice to your employee’s day but don’t let it end there.

Be creative and come up with ways to liven up the day without it costing megabucks. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much fun it is.