Author: Nicole Green

Product Management, Teams

A Good De-Clutter


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This week I set myself the task of sorting out some areas of the office that aren’t used as often as others. We can try to avoid it as much as we like but whether personal or professional, somewhere in the building there is always that ‘Monica cupboard’. It’s what I discovered whilst doing it that gave me food for thought. I’m not talking about dead bodies or lost employees; but more the information that is kept ‘just in case we ever need it’. I found the notebooks of previous colleagues, project plans and strategy roadmaps from the last 9 years of  Magic Milestones. It made me feel quite nostalgic.

I spent more time than planned working my way through the paperwork identifying what should be kept and what can be recycled and I couldn’t help but think about all those who have moved on and smile fondly at the challenges (successes and failures) that have lead us to become the business we are today. Those lessons have been what have helped to shape us and I think we ought to be proud of the companies history. I know I am lucky to have been part of the Magic Milestones story for almost 3 years now. Its a great people focused company that makes me feel appreciated and also offers me (and all its employees) great flexibility ensuring an excellent work life balance. The last three years have raced by, time really does fly when you’re having fun!

The most positive result in this exercise, apart from a lovely clean work space, is reflecting on how we have grown and progressed over the years with help from all of those good and bad experiences, and of course our current and past employees. It made me realise how proud I am to be member of the Magic Milestones team. I’m already looking forward to having another de-clutter and reminiscing over our ‘yet to be written’ story in another few years.

By Rachel Wheeler

Consultancy & Training, Lean PMO, Product Management

Having the Courage to Take Risks


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A refreshing change

I had a refreshing meeting with a client last week, when my client talked about how she wanted to encourage the leadership team in her organisation to start taking more risks.   Not in the dangerous sense such as taking up cycling in central London, or investing their departmental budgets with the local bookies. She was discussing how to foster a more innovative culture within the organisation. This particular organisation isn’t funded on a purely commercial model and as such, is under a great deal of pressure, both regulatory and morally, to justify how it invests its money.  As you can imagine, this doesn’t necessarily lend itself to creating an innovative, risk taking culture. 

When looking to become more innovative as an organisation, its vital to understand that innovation necessitates some risk taking. You can’t get away from this, as the very nature of doing something new means its hard to predict how its going to turn out.  Its a big deal to ask your organisation to invest a significant budget into commissioning a new product or service when you don’t have hard and fast facts about how its going to be received by the intended customer base. However, it’s a lot less scary and indeed sensible, to take a small educated risk, rather than a giant leap in the dark.  Here is my advice on how to take the right kind of risks.

Use a technique that repurposes the language of risk into something more positive and turns a risk into a hypothesis that can be tested and learned from. Take for example Lean Start Up http://theleanstartup.com/principles and Google Sprint http://www.gv.com/sprint/. Rather than invest significant budget into creating that all singing and all dancing product, these techniques encourage you to work out what the smallest thing is that you can deliver to provide customer insight and feedback.  While a few brave leaders might be willing to gamble a 6 month investment in a vision for a product that is based largely on matter of opinion; many more will be much more comfortable to take a risk with a week’s worth of budget that will provide valuable customer insight and data that can be used to inform strategy and therefore, budgets going forwards. In turn, the organisation becomes more comfortable with taking risks within the structure of selecting a hypothesis to test, collecting the data and then using fact based decision making to deliver a strategy.

How does your typical Project Management Office view risk?

In the context of traditional Project Management Offices, the language of risk normally comes with a lot of negative connotations, those which are typically addressed by ensuring that RAID (Risk, Actions, Issues and Decision) Logs are up to date.  Project Management Offices tend to be very concerned with documenting how risks will be mitigated and managed, monitoring when risks need to be escalated to senior management and creating governance systems of gates and approvals that manage those risks. While its very sensible to protect your delivery from the risks that could knock it off course, it would also be good to use some of that PMO effort and energy to support the good kind of risks.

Project Management Offices usually operate within a governance structure that requires detailed business cases, which are often based on shaky or assumptive data and information.  Typically, these business cases require large chunks of a budget to be allocated for the year ahead.  As a result, project sponsors and stakeholders, will sometimes manipulate the data, or simply be overly optimistic in their projections, in order to get their business case signed off and their project initiated. In more risk averse cultures, the project won’t get put forward at all and never sees the light of day, leaving the business exposed to a risk that could ultimately be avoided.

Using the PMO to drive risks and innovation

From my experience the solution is to facilitate a sensible risk taking culture, by putting in place a governance structure that supports the concept of testing hypothesis; such as a Lean Project Management Office (Lean PMO).  In this instance, the Lean Project Management Office should support management decision making by implementing a business case model to support governance, that can demonstrate the delivery of value.  The decision making “gates” in this process will be used to demonstrate that a product based hypothesis has been tested, together with the results and a summary.  The decision on whether or not continued investment should go ahead will be dependent upon whether or not the results of the test or experiment, show that progress is aligned to the organisational strategy.

The Lean PMO

At the beginning it’s difficult for organisations to take risks.  It’s a challenge, not least in changing ingrained behaviours; though taking risks is critical to any businesses growth. Of course risk comes with dangers, but executed and planned properly, using the right methods and empowering your team with the right training, can bring successes. The traditional PMO needs to evolve into a Lean PMO https://magicmilestones.com/lean-pmo/

Its a lot easier for us all to take risks if some one is there to provide some structure and boundaries to stop us from making really big mistakes. Is your organisation the kind that encourages you to take risks or do they deter you from it?

By Ann McPherson

Leadership, Product Management, Teams

Kerching! Money as a Motivator


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Now I’m sure that by now you are all sat on the edge of your seats waiting to see how motivation levels are going at Magic Milestones, so here goes the last instalment of my motivational blog trilogy. 

I’ve been working with the Senior Management Team to help bolster everyone’s self-confidence throughout the company and get the whole team really believing in their ability. Everyone seems to be really motivated and giving things their all. The Sales Team particularly are already starting to see the fruits of their labour and the buzz they are generating in the office is great to see. As we have seen such great motivation levels within the Sales Team, we have now thrown out our motivational experiment to all teams across the company. So it is with great optimism that I turn to look at the third topic on motivation – money and rewards.

Rewarding staff for their hard work and success is something every employer knows is important. Making staff feel valued and appreciated goes a long way to helping create a motivated team as well as having an impact on staff retention.

So once again putting my MBA head on, what do the theorists have to say on this matter? J. Stacy Adams, a workplace and behavioural psychologist, developed his Equity Theory in 1965. It focuses on the need for a fair balance between what employees put in and what they get out and suggests that when the feeling of fairness is not achieved, employees become dissatisfied and create lower levels of motivation (Adams 1965). The idea of there actually being ‘demoralisation costs’ for companies when this fairness failed to be achieved was first put forward by Michelman in 1967.

So how is a sense of fairness achieved within a company? The most obvious answer is remuneration. If employees feel that the money received for their hard work is not a fair amount when compared to the effort expected in doing the job, then they won’t feel particularly happy or motivated in their role. If they feel they are being paid fairly then they are much more likely to put a fair amount of effort into doing the job they are paid for. I know from experience (as I’m sure most of you reading this also do) that simply paying a fair level of salary is not a magic key to having a highly motivated team. So how are we meant to interpret this theory?

Money as a motivator has been discussed from many view points over the years.

Pepper et al’s study (2013), based on the motivation of senior Executives; shows a clear linear improvement between the amount being paid and the effort placed into performance (Pepper et al 2013). Akerlof (1982) falls very much in line with Adam’s Equity theory and Pepper et all’s research, holding fast to the argument that if earnings are less than the perceived fair wage then the level of effort input into the work will fall to reflect this, while being paid a higher amount will increase the level of effort being input. (Pepper at al 2013). However, Herzberg and his Dual Factor Theory argues the contrary stating that money and pay are ‘hygiene factors’ (Job dissatisfaction causes) rather than ‘motivators’. He argued that eliminating issues that fall into the hygiene factor category would stop dissatisfaction at work, but would not be able to improve motivation. Motivation, he argued could only be addressed by looking at ‘motivators’, and as such money should not be used as a reward due to its basic inability to motivate (Hertzberg et al 1959).

To me this sounds like paying a ‘fair’ wage is only enough to stop dissatisfaction. To actually achieve an increase in motivation, there must be seen to be some form of ‘extra’ reward above and beyond basic salary to act as a true motivator. Does it really matter though if this extra reward comes in a money form or in some other guise? I decided to take this question to the Magic Milestones Team and see what they thought. I was also interested to see if there was any difference of opinion between the Sales and the Operations Teams.

Everyone agreed that some kind of bonus/ reward scheme is indeed motivating for them. The Sales Team was quick to voice their opinion that they preferred the cash based bonus scheme that has been in place for a while, rather than receiving vouchers or prizes. However various other staff put forward ideas such as being able to earn extra holiday days due to good performance, or shopping vouchers that could be saved up and awarded for Christmas time. The idea was also suggested of a ‘friendly’ competition between members of the team or even between departments with alcohol or chocolates being awarded on a monthly basis to the team/ individual who wins. I came out of the discussion thinking that yes, money can play an important part in improving motivation but it isn’t the be all and end all. The team atmosphere and recognition of effort being put in also goes a long way.

The experiment we have been conducting over the last few weeks at Magic Milestones has shown me that by involving the team in target setting, supporting their work performance with regular feedback and helping them to gain a real ‘can do’ attitude, the level of motivation has continued and in many areas even increased. To keep the existing buzz going I think ensuring there is some form of ‘extra reward’ system in place is a definite win/ win situation. As well as motivating the team to go the extra mile it also helps to make sure they feel valued and appreciated. I think the decision on whether the reward should be money or an alternative, is something that needs to be decided upon for each individual team, as people don’t all value things the same way. Although money will be a powerful motivator for some, for others the opportunity to ‘earn’ extra days’ annual leave and a bottle of champagne may well be the perfect motivator.

Cheers everyone, and here’s to all of our highly motivated teams. Long may it continue!!!

By Helen Milanes Tidmarsh

Product Management, Teams

The Power of Believing in Yourself as a Motivator


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We’re now into September and the evenings are noticeably beginning to draw in. Me and the Magic Milestones Sales Team are busy with new potential clients, catching up with existing or old contacts and developing a new sales target list to focus on for the next 3 months. Everyone has come back off annual leave excited and focused, and it’s my goal to make sure they stay that way!

As I mentioned in my last blog, getting the team involved in target setting and ensuring that while those targets stretch the team they are still realistic and achievable has made a real difference. Enabling them to have input and be able to discuss their goals with managers, really seems to have helped achieve more team buy in and higher levels of motivation.

So what now – how can I (and the rest of the Senior Management Team) try and maintain these levels of energy and enthusiasm? The next step is to keep our team motivated and get them into a positive upward sales cycle.

Well you know I like my theories so here it goes! Self Efficacy Theory- simplistically is an individual’s belief that they are capable of performing a task. Bandura (1997) states that ‘Self-efficacy beliefs regulate human functioning through cognitive, motivational, affective, and decisional processes’ (Bandura & Locke 2003 pg 87). In essence, the higher the self-efficacy of an individual, the more confidence they have in their ability to succeed and in turn the more likely they become to achieve success. They are also more likely to respond positively to negative feedback.

It’s critical to note, Managers and Team Leaders can have an important role to play in achieving high levels of self-efficacy which coupled with the Pygmalion effect (a form of self-fulfilling prophecy) could start to make a big difference to a team’s results, especially those in sales. If a Manager shows they believe in their staff or their team’s ability this can lead to self-belief, and therefore creating the right mindset for them to achieve their set goals. Coupled with ongoing feedback and regular meetings around planning and goal strategy this theory continuously gives great results.

Similarly to the self-efficacy theory, Victor Vrooms’ Expectancy Theory (1964),‘argues that the strength of our tendency to act in certain ways depends on our strength of our expectation of a given outcome and attractiveness focusing on three relationships’: (Robbins & Judge 2015 pg 237)

    1. Effort – performance relationship
    2. Performance – reward relationship
    3. Rewards – personal goals relationship

Although there are many theorists that have criticised Vroom arguing that not many individuals see direct links between effort, performance and rewards, many organisations reward individuals for seniority and skill level rather than performance.

This could well make it an invalid motivational theory for many teams, but in the case of Sales Teams it might just be worth some consideration. If a Sales Team earns commission as part of their package, then the level of commission will almost always be related to their achievements. So here we can see the direct link between effort, performance and rewards. What we must consider for the expectancy theory to really have an impact on a team as a motivator, is that the team must see the rewards as desired and at an appropriate level. If targets are being hit but the reward is perceived to be too low for the effort invested in achieving it, motivation will be more likely to reduce than increase.

The Magic Milestones Sales Team seem happy and bought into their agreed targets, and they are really working hard to hit and even exceed them! I now need to make sure that they really believe in themselves and their abilities. So this week I am discussing with the rest of the Senior Management Team how we can implement ongoing feedback and support to help them believe in themselves and their ability.

The mention of rewards as a motivator brings us nicely onto the theme for next week’s blog. I hope to be able to report that our Sales Teams motivation is still high and they are full of self-belief! 😉

By Helen Milanes Tidmarsh

Product Management, Teams

Post Holiday Blues, How do you Re-motivate your Team?


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Step aside summer…

With the summer holiday period coming to an end I’ve been looking back over our KPI’s for July and August. With the majority of the team on annual leave at some point over the summer, this time of year always tends to be relatively quiet for the Magic Milestones team and September always feels a bit of a fresh start for us. This led me to thinking about the best way to get everyone fully motivated as the long sunny days begin to become a distant memory.

As anyone who knows me will have heard about, I am currently halfway through studying an MBA. Work motivation is one of the subjects we covered early on so I decided to look back at some of the theories and see if there is anything there that could be useful in motivating the team and be worth sharing with you guys. It has turned into a slightly bigger exercise than I planned, so over the next three weeks I’m going to be sharing some of traditional methods and how we have been trying to adopt them. I also cover those we rejected.  My Blog Schedule is:

  1. Post Holiday Blues, How Do You Re-Motivate Your Team?
  2. The Power of Believing  in Yourself as a Motivator
  3. Kerching! Money as a Motivator

This week we’ve been looking at KPI’s for the sales team so I began discussing motivation with them. Interestingly everyone had slightly different interpretations of exactly what motivation meant to them. As we continued our chat the discussion led me to share some academic views on motivation.

Dr Craig C. Pinder, Professor of Organisational Behaviour within the Faculty of Business, University of Victoria, British Columbia describes it as ‘a set of energetic forces that originate both within as well as beyond an individual’s being, to initiate work-related behaviour and to determine its form, direction, intensity, and duration’ (Pinder (1998, p.11) cited in Latham and Pinder 2004)

We came to the conclusion that one of the most challenging aspects in any business is not only how to initially motivate employees but also how to maintain that level of motivation long term. How can managers get employees to work hard and achieve the best results that they can on a monthly basis? Businesses need continually motivated teams to be able to achieve ongoing success within their markets. All these are questions, and more, we ask ourselves at Magic Milestones on a regular basis.

Goal setting is seen as the norm within most companies today, but the idea was first put forward by Edwin Locke in the 1960’s. The concept of goals being used as motivators was then developed further by the suggestion that goals needed to be specific. Locke and Latham (2002) both claimed that by setting specific goals an employee would know exactly what is expected of them and how much effort is required. This would be much more likely to increase an individual’s level of motivation that being given vague goals with nothing to measure against, and being left to interpret them in their own way. We tried this theory and it seems to be working really well.

Other ideas about how targets can affect motivation are around how achievable the targets are seen as by the individual. Vroom’s Expectancy Theory (1964) argues that ‘the strength of our tendency to act in certain ways depends on the strength of our expectation of a given outcome.’ (Robbins & Judge 2015 pg 237)

So workplace goals need to be realistic otherwise they can have the opposite effect. For example in a sales environment, if the targets are viewed as too high, realising that achieving the targets is unrealistic can change an individual’s behaviour and reduce motivation levels significantly. This can then lead to a self-fulfilling cycle where goals are rarely hit and the individual finds it increasingly harder to recover.

However, used correctly goals do give direction and structure to a team allowing them to work more cohesively to hit given targets. The buzz the team get from achieving the targets will then help them keep momentum and stay motivated.

With this in mind, our sales team then started discussing whether the boss should set individual and team targets alone or if working together to agree targets following feedback given, would lead to happy and more motivated team. We agreed that often this would depend on the individual, but that some level of discussion or explanation around target levels would go a long way to getting people more bought in to achieving them. Locke and Latham (2002) show that most theorists agree with this.

So how can feedback help improve motivation? Ashford & Black state that active feedback seeking by employees (especially new ones) is related to high performance achievement. (Latham and Pinder, 2005 ).

Of course, feedback needs to be given at the correct moment; when something has happened or there has been a result (negative or positive), so that it will have the right impact on employees. Frese & Zapf (1994) stated that it is feedback that gives employees the understanding that enables them to achieve their targets. This shows that it is just as important to give feedback when successes happen as this helps re-inforce to employees where they should focus their energy and effort.

Over the summer break we expected things to be quieter in the sales department and the reduction in target reflected this. Of course we all know that the targets then jump back up in September and the team fully understands the reasons why. Hopefully discussing the September sales targets together and making sure we agree that although they are aimed to stretch us, they are achievable, coupled with giving constructive feedback (positive and negative) to the team about the summer performance will help ensure our team are all set with a can do attitude and high levels of motivation.  I’ll let you know next week how motivated we are all still feeling! 😉

By Helen Milanes Tidmarsh