Category Archives: Communication

Getting things done: 8 rules for effective delegation

Getting things done: 8 rules for effective delegation

Many years ago I shared an assistant with three of the other managers in the department. Sally was enthusiastic and very pleasant but she made a lot of mistakes (and I mean a lot). Because of the mistakes I tended not to give her anything too complicated to do, it was quicker and easier just to get on and do it myself. It meant I had more to do but at least things got done the way I wanted them done and to my standards. The fact that I had to stay late sometimes and do Sally’s job for her used to really annoy me but it was easier to say nothing. One day I asked Sally to do something and as I walked away I heard her tell a colleague that she hated working for me, I asked her to do nothing but ‘crap’, I never gave her anything interesting to work on and was never clear about what I needed or when I needed it. She wondered how she was supposed to learn anything working for me. I was furious! I didn’t give her stuff to do because she messed it up! And of course I was clear about what I needed and when. Wasn’t I? I thought I was a good manager but overhearing Sally’s comments shocked but ultmately helped me (although I would have preferred it if she had spoken to me directly of course). The fact is that many of us find delegating really, really tricky. If that includes you here are my 8 rules for effective delegation:

1. Be direct and clear about what you want people to do.

2. Know the answers to any questions they might ask before you go to them with the task. Questions might include: Why do you want it doing? By when? To what standard? Who’s it for? What’s it for? What happens if I get it wrong? Is it a standalone task or part of something bigger? What’s the context or background? What are the stages I have to go through with it? Who else should I involve? If they don’t ask relevant questions themselves make sure that you cover the answers in your briefing anyway.

3. If you want things doing in a particular way, style or sequence tell them how you want it doing and explain why you want it doing that way.

4. Accept that they’re unlikely to do it exactly the way you would do it. Does that matter? If the end result is OK, how important is the way they got there? If how they do it does matter tell them, perhaps even provide a checklist, flowchart or crib-sheet they can follow.Lady_using_a_checklist

Lady_using_a_checklist5. Provide the right resources to do the job well. This might be time, it might be information or equipment or tools or money. It might be additional training or help, or an introduction to someone who can help in some way.

6. Use good management. Let them get on with it but check in to see how things are going. Never, ever micro-manage or hover. Ask for updates and feedback, see if they need any help, guidance or support but be sure to use open questions here. Examples might be:

  • What are you finding hard or challenging?
  • What do you need?
  • How can I help you?
  • What can I do to support you?

7. Give your team work that is challenging but not totally beyond their capabilities and experience.

8. Remember that time spent training someone is never wasted: you’re developing a team member and freeing up your time in the end.

If delegation is something you find difficult why not have a coaching session on us to find out why you’re struggling and look at what you can do about it?

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Alchemy A-Z of being in business: N is for networking

Alchemy A-Z of being in business: N is for networking

I got to my first ever networking session early and headed to the bar. I really didn’t want to be there but I was the boss so it was expected of me. As the barman made my drink someone marched up, shook my hand and introduced himself.  I froze. I didn’t want to talk to this guy, I didn’t know him and certainly didn’t like the look of him so I grabbed my drink and, while he was placing his order, headed off to the opposite side of the room where I could see someone I knew.

The thing is, I wasn’t at a singles night; it didn’t matter whether I liked the look of people or not. I was there to represent my company and make new business contacts, not chat to old ones.  I missed a big opportunity because the guy turned out to be head of procurement at a target client and I never got the chance to talk to him informally again. I was rude to him and disrespectful and he never did become a customer.

That was my first experience of ‘proper’ networking. Like many people I really didn’t enjoy it at first but the good news is that networking is a skill you can develop; it really does get easier and more enjoyable with practice.  I would go so far as to say that if you’re in business networking is something you simply must learn how to do. It’s a great way of getting yourself and what you do known in the local business community but it can help you do so much more: make new contacts, find new clients and opportunities, develop relationships with trusted suppliers and advisers, find people who can support you and even make friends. Here are my top tips for successful networking:

exchanging_cards1. Choose the networking event wisely. If you’re not at your best first thing in the morning try a lunchtime or evening meeting rather than an early breakfast. Next, look at the type of people who go along. Free events are often busy but they tend to attract micro businesses, freelancers and sole traders who may not need or want your services.  If they’re not the right sort of customers and clients for you then look for a different event.

2. Think about what will work best for you. Regular meetings of a small group will help you really get to know your fellow members and build great relationships but they can take up a lot of time. Formal meetings with a commitment to give referrals can really get you moving and bring discipline to your networking although you may find the pressure to identify opportunities for other members a bit too much.  Informal, large events can be fun and energizing but also a bit random, sometimes they’re just too big.  Women new to running their own businesses may find all-female meetings good for building confidence and keeping motivation high.

3.  Make sure you have a great elevator pitch or 60 seconds speech: a short description of what you do and the benefits to your clients. Tell a story, be entertaining but please don’t bang on about how long you’ve been in business, get very technical or try to cram in everything you do. The point of the elevator pitch is to pique interest and lead to a longer conversation, you’re not selling anything at this stage. Make sure you keep it short, always stay within the allotted time. Practice and time new pitches.

4. Go into it with a positive attitude. If you think an event will be rubbish and a waste of time you’ll be absolutely right.

5. Talk to, not at, people. A networking event can be the start of a mutually beneficial relationship but there’s a long way to go before you get to that point. So chat to people, find out about them, have a conversation, start to build that relationship. If you bombard them with all there is to know about you then you’ll never see them again.

6. Follow up. Soon after the meeting send an email or text saying how much you enjoyed chatting and maybe suggest a coffee if appropriate and you want to find out more about them. Connect on LinkedIn with a personalized message reminding them where and when you met. Don’t send them all your promotional material unless they’ve specifically asked for it.

7. Learn from the experience. After a networking event think about what went well, what you could have done differently and what you would do better next time.

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I’m a professional, not in sales. How do I do business development?

I’m a professional, not in sales. How do I do business development?

A client called me a couple of weeks ago lamenting the fact that he had just been promoted and was now expected to ‘do’ business development in addition to all of his other tasks. First off, he just didn’t know how but more fundamentally he felt as though ‘sales’ was a sleazy activity, unbecoming to a highly qualified, highly trained professional like himself.

Sleazy_salesmanInterestingly, it’s not just professionals who feel this way, the fact that you have to go out and generate leads and convert them into paying customers seems to shock many small business owners (including me when I first started out). If this is you read on for some help on how to get your head around business development.

We often have a knee jerk reaction to the words ‘sales’ or ‘salesman’. Just think about what words and images you associate with ‘sales’.  I’ll bet most of them aren’t very complimentary and a picture of someone with a shiny suit and a false smile just popped into your head.  But business development is more than just selling.  It’s really about raising awareness of you, your firm and the products and services you offer. It involves providing information to allow potential customers to evaluate options and make the right choice for them and then closing the deal but only when they have decided that they’re ready to buy from you.   It’s not about forcing someone to pay for stuff they don’t want, it’s about helping potential clients to make the right choices for them.  Hmm – doesn’t that sound much more palatable than selling?


The fact is that many senior positions, or running your own business, will involve building relationships with potential customers and maintaining relationships with existing and past customers. So start by changing how you think about sales: forget the selling bit and focus on developing great relationships and providing great service then, guess what, you’ll also be great at business development.

I’ll be adding some more on business development, networking, building relationships and, yes, selling over the coming weeks so watch out for future blogs, helpsheets and e-books.   In the meantime why not have a free coaching session on me?

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Alchemy A-Z of being in business: M is for management

Alchemy A-Z of being in business: M is for management

i_stock_managementA lot of people make a distinction between leadership and management. You’ll often hear that leadership is about setting the vision, the big picture stuff, inspiring and motivating people while management is about getting things done. I am not so sure that you can separate them so cleanly. Leadership isn’t always glamorous, management isn’t always drudgery. In fact the best managers are able to get things done by inspiring and motivating people; the best leaders of course deliver on what they have promised.

For me the distinction lies in the focus, leaders are looking further ahead; managers are closer to the action and make sure that things get done on time. If a leader is thinking strategically, managers tend to think operationally: how will we actually execute those grand plans?

I have read hundreds of management books and very few deal with getting things done well, on time and on budget so here are my 6 top tips for being a good manager.

  1. Understand the requirements. What is the purpose of the activity or project? What are the timescales and budget you’re working to? What sort of quality is expected? What are the consequences of it going wrong? What are the benefits of getting it right?
  2. Be clear in communicating all of the above to whoever is involved in the activity or project. As I said in my last post, set the overall context as well as the specific requirement so that the team understands where what they’re working on fits in. Make sure people know why they’re being asked to do something. If there isn’t a good reason think about whether you really do need them to do it.
  3. Get buy-in early on in the project. This is closely linked to item 2. If people don’t see the point of what they’re being asked to do, don’t understand it or think it’s a waste of time then guess what? It won’t get done. A good way to get buy-in is to involve people as early as you can, give them a reasonable say in how things will be done and get their advice on the best way of proceeding. It’s those at the sharp end who can quickly identify the flaws in the grand strategy and come up with ways of addressing them.
  4. Have a clear, shared plan. Identify everything that needs to be done, assign the appropriate people to perform the given tasks, make sure they have all of the tools and resources they need and set a clear, realistic deadline by when the given tasks are to be achieved. Everyone involved should come together at key project milestones to review progress, revisit the plan and make sure that everything is still on track. If not, the plan can and should be altered to bring everything back in line.
  5. Leave people to get on with it. Never, ever micro-manage BUT make sure you check in from time to time to make sure that everything is OK. Use open questions when you check in. ‘Is everything OK?’ will usually get a yes, ‘How are you doing?’ or ‘What problems are you having?’ will usually lead to a useful discussion about the issues.
  6. Acknowledge achievement and celebrate success. Completing a project, winning a piece of business, hitting targets, finding the perfect person to fill a vacancy and other , perhaps everyday, business milestones are worthy of note. Take the time to thank everyone involved for a job well done and mark the occasion somehow – even making the coffee or bringing in a box of cakes can make the team feel that you appreciate them.

Managing people and getting things done can be tricky, especially if you’re new to it or have never been managed well yourself.  It can be hepful to get a third-party view so why not try one of our free coaching sessions? Just  click on the link below and we’ll be in touch.

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Newly promoted and it’s all a bit weird? Here’s some help

Newly promoted and it’s all a bit weird? Here’s some help

NewbosspissedoffstaffThe first time I got promoted I was clueless; I had a team of four and no management training whatsoever. My predecessor was widely held to have been a good manager so I decided that I would do exactly what she used to do.
One of her quirks was that at about 5pm she would go round the team, ask what they were working on and tell them they could go as soon as they had finished whatever it was they were doing. So at about 5 on my first day as supervisor I went over to the management accountant, asked what she was working on and told her she could go when she was ready. She looked at me with pure contempt, said very sarcastically, ‘Thanks Jackie, I will do’ and turned her back to me. A cold wind blew through the office, our relationship was never quite the same again and I was totally baffled as to what I had done wrong.  The fact is that when you’re starting out in management people do often treat you differently and it’s very easy to make mistakes.  If you’re interested in finding out what to do, read on.

Think about it from your colleagues’ point of view. It’s a big change for you; but it’s also a big change for everyone else.  And while it’s a positive change for you (recognition, advancement, more money and so on) it may not be quite so good for everyone else.  Nobody is sure how it will pan out so there are lots of unanswered questions.  What sort of boss will you be?  Will you change towards them? How will your relationship change (because it will, inevitably)? What will it mean for them? As well as the uncertainty, everyone will be experiencing different emotions. Some people will feel a sense of loss: one of the gang has moved on and that’s sad.  Some people will be pleased for you and want to help in any way they can; others will be envious and do their best to undermine you.  In addition to the individual responses the team as a whole may well be mourning the loss of a good boss and will take time to adjust to the idea of someone else being in charge (that was one of my problems in the example above).

As for you, start by looking at yourself. How has your behaviour changed towards your friends and colleagues?  Maybe you’re being a bit distant and ‘off’, perhaps they think you’re throwing your weight around a bit too much.  (I once asked everyone out for a drink to celebrate my payrise, a well-intentioned gesture but I cringe when I think how I must have come across). If your behaviour is unhelpful ask yourself why you’re acting like that and what you can do about it. Catch yourself if you’re not behaving in any way that helps the team to adjust to the new situation. Above all, don’t try too hard or, worse, try to be someone else (another of my mistakes): you have to develop your own leadership style.

At the heart of it all, as always, is communication – be clear about what you want from the team, and what your expectations are. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. A more experienced manager should be able to mentor you and provide some good advice and support; the team will also be able to help you through those difficult first few weeks if you let them.  However this may well be a time whn you find it useful to work with someone outside your company.  Why not start with a free coaching session us?

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Alchemy A-Z of being in business: L is for leadership

Alchemy A-Z of being in business: L is for leadership

ChefOne of my clients is struggling with her team, she can’t seem to get them to do what she needs them to do and to be honest they are running rings around her, costing her clients, money, time and stressing her out. In one of our sessions I asked when she was going to step up and be a leader. She rolled her eyes and told me that leaders are born not made, and she was not born to lead. I rolled my eyes right back at her and asked her why she was bothering to run her own business then; if she was born to follow (a safe assumption if she was not born to lead) then surely she should go and get a low level job and be told what to do all day every day? There followed a really interesting conversation on who leaders are, why people want to follow them and what great leaders do and she’s now working hard on being a good leader. The truth is that anyone trying to run anything (e.g. a business, a department, a team) is by definition in a leadership role. And it’s also true that while some people are better, more natural leaders than others everyone can become a leader in some way; we can all improve our leadership skills.

I would go so far as to argue that if you’re in charge of anything you are obliged to improve your leadership skills – you owe it to yourself, your team and the project. If your team aren’t doing a good job then it’s safe to assume that you’re doing a lousy job of leading them. There are countless books and articles on becoming a better leader (my current favourite is The Servant Leader by James A. Autry) but here are my top tips:

  • Accept that not everyone will like you. They won’t all like you whether you’re in charge or not so you might as well have their respect if nothing else.
  • Remember that respect is earned through expertise, track record, reputation and the way we treat others. You might still be working on your expertise or track record but we can all treat those around us with kindness and respect.
  • Treating people well doesn’t mean you have to be a pushover. Remember some of the great teachers you had at school? They probably set clear boundaries and expectations, the class knew exactly how far they could go and what was expected of them. The best teachers at my school dealt kindly but firmly with any bad behaviour or poor performance but knew when to relax and let us have some fun.   We did well in their classes and enjoyed being taught by them. That approach works well in business too.
  • Become a great communicator. Be clear about what you want, when you want it and why you want it. Set the overall context as well as the specific requirement so that the team understands where what they’re working on fits in. Make sure people know why they’re being asked to do something. If there isn’t a good reason think about whether you do need them to do it.
  • Delegate don’t abdicate. Whatever your team is working on is still your overall responsibility so check in with them regularly and make sure that they’re on track – help them out whenever you can; give them what they need to do a great job for you.
  • Be consistent, there’s nothing worse than a leader who blows hot and cold.

How’s my client doing? Well she’s getting there and her business is reaping the benefit.

For more information on how coaching can help you be a better leader please get in touch for a no-obligation chat. You can do this by calling me on 01235 861 311 or emailing me at   I look forward to hearing from you.

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Building rapport with customers

Building rapport with customers

how bad customer service masquerades as good customer service.

We’re told that building relationships and rapport with our customers is all important, if we treat them well, give them great service they’ll be loyal to us.  I think that’s generally true, we would all rather work with people who are pleasant to us after all.  But I’ve also started to think that some businesses are getting it a bit wrong; they’re crossing a line and I for one find it very uncomfortable.    To show you what I mean here’s a few examples of slander, gossip and insincerity all experienced in major high street retailers during the past few months:

I was doing a bit of shopping in a major supermarket.  The man in front of me bought a bottle of wine, a case of beer, some burgers and sausages.  He showed no overt signs of alcoholism and I assumed he was having a barbecue.  He exchanged a few pleasant words with the checkout lady as he packed away his purchases before smiling at both of us as he said goodbye.  She greeted me and, leaning forward, commented in a knowing way that “He likes his booze”.  I was buying a few bottles of wine for a dinner party and a random few ingredients I had forgotten.  As I paid and left I wondered what she was saying about me.

In a different branch of the same supermarket chain at the weekend a younger checkout lady I had never even seen before gave me chapter and verse on her romantic entanglements, which involved a “love-rat” (her words) colleague at the same store.

I had my eyes tested and as he was firing puffs of air into my eyes the optician asked if I had taken the afternoon off.  Distracted though I was I responded politely.  He asked the same question as he was writing up my prescription 15 minutes later.  And then again as he showed me out.  He didn’t care, why should he?  But I would have preferred him to concentrate on my eyes rather than trying to make small talk.

It’s difficult, I know, because there are many people who love to chat and for some this may be the only social interaction they have all day.  Personally, I would rather exchange a few words than deal with a blank faced automaton.  But I do think the conversation needs to be appropriate and sincere and that’s where the retailers in question went wrong.    After all, you can’t force rapport, it’s either there or it isn’t and if you’re having to work hard at it then it’s probably not happening.  What’s wrong with “just” being respectful, pleasant, professional, sincere and efficient?  It’s certainly all I need.