Practical Guide: 3 Tips For First Time People Manager

Congratulations! You are promoted to lead a team. A great achievement. A big responsibility. Bad managers are the number 1 reason for people to leave companies. Managing people is not easy. When I got into this position I had little to no idea. No training or guide. From my experience, here are some tips that would have helped me managing people for the first time.

  1. Come prepared and with a plan

Nothing beats preparation. First impressions are key. You want to make sure that you are starting off right. As a first step get to know the people in your team and make sure they are set up to do their work right.

Ideally before the first team meeting get a clear idea on how your team is structured. Who is doing what and what does success looks like? If existing, study the org structure. Read role profiles. Understand how your team contributes to the company’s vision. Learn as much as you can about the members of your team. Find out about their past achievements. Talk to HR or their previous manager to get a feel for potential strengths and watch outs. When you meet your team spend time to get to know them. Ask questions about their interests, listen, and show that you care about them and their personal life. If you have new people joining your team check that they have all materials and equipment to do their work right. Set up their desk, organise IT, office supplies, etc. Also, important to prepare an induction plan to bring new joiners up to speed and introduce them to the other departments. In short:

  • Get to know the people in your team, their roles, responsibilities and interests
  • Ensure your people have all resources, tools and equipment to do their job right
  1. Take time to set expectations early

Early on, clearly articulate what needs to be accomplished and why. Set expectations. Give your team the freedom to find their own way to achieve outcomes.

Be clear on your team’s purpose. Communicate it and show how your team’s job is important to achieve the company’s vision. You want people to understand the significance of their role. Reinforcing their purpose will give them context, focus and appreciation of the work they are doing. Next, take time to go over roles and responsibilities. Recap with each person what is in scope, what is expected and define the right outcomes. Ensure that all outcomes are measurable. This way outcomes can easily be tracked. And anyone can objectively decide if the outcome has been achieved or not. By defining the right outcomes you give people the freedom to find their own way to succeed. Everyone has different talents and a different style. Let your team do what they do best to achieve their targets. If you learn something yourself its worth more than being told how to do things. And it builds trust. The opposite approach is micromanagement. I had a manager who was constantly watching over my shoulder. Demotivating as it showed me that there was a) no trust and b) very limited chances to develop. Don’t be a micro-manager. Lastly, share your preferred ways of working and the rules of the game. Be true and authentic with your team. The more you share about your values and style the easier it will be for them to adjust to your preferences. To sum up:

  • Set clear expectations, define measurable outcomes and share your ways of working
  • Demonstrate how your team’s work is important in achieving the company’s vision
  • Give your team the opportunity to succeed based on their unique talents & strengths
  1. Track outcomes, and provide feedback

Once you have connected with your team and expectations are set, the day to day job kicks in. At this stage it’s essential that you are available to your team. Regularly provide direction, feedback and recognition.

Start by setting up a fixed meeting with the members of your team. Use these meetings to check in, review work, discuss what’s coming up, required outcomes, and deadlines. Involve your team in finding solutions. Give them the opportunity to make their opinions count. People are much more invested in their work if they are given the chance to actively contribute to it. From the start. Remember your job is not to come up with solutions for every problem. Rather use your team, their strengths and talents to solve challenges. Be disciplined with team meetings. Make time when support is needed. This will show that you value and respect your team. It promotes commitment to deliver quality work. Where available provide feedback, both positive and constructive. Recognise good work frequently and celebrate success. Let your team know why you value them. On the other hand, it might be hard to provide feedback when things are not going right. However if not done timely you are denying your team an opportunity to develop and establish a transparent and clear communication. To encourage your team’s progress also set some time apart to discuss their career aspirations and define progression plans. Don’t over-promise. Provide opportunities at work to learn and grow. Then, use your regular meetings to track how everyone is going against the plan. In a nutshell:

  • Set up regular meetings to ensure quality work and be available to support when needed
  • Recognise good work frequently and provide timely feedback when things are going wrong
  • Define progression plans and encourage the development of your people
  • Request your team to actively contribute and make their opinions count

 

In the end, each of us have a unique style in managing people but a few things hold true. Communicate with your team, set clear goals, manage expectations and give your team the freedom to grow and develop and you will be off to a good start.

Have more tips on people management? Please share.

Top 7 Free Resources To Learn Spanish

…curiosity; it keeps us moving forward, exploring, experimenting, opening new doors. (Walt Disney)
Few things open more doors than speaking a different language. I have been curious to learn Spanish but not spend a fortune on apps, courses, and books. Luckily, there is a ton of material available online. Here are my top seven FREE resources that have helped me in my journey. Pick and choose what best works for you:
 

It’s fun and has lots of basic vocabulary and grammar. Especially at the beginning, this app is a fantastic way to discover Spanish. Plus, it keeps you motivated through daily challenges and targets. Who doesn’t want to reach Level 25?

This podcast is an epic resource to learn Spanish. From absolute beginner, all the way to advanced Spanish courses are full of knowledge taught by experienced teachers and just have the right length. Each lesson offers heaps of practical knowledge and tips.

Consisting of 13 episodes which will remind you of the popular TV show Friends. Extra has a 90s feeling to it, yet it is easy to follow, has subtitles and is entertaining to watch. The dialogue offers plenty of vocabulary, is clear and paced enough to understand for language learners.

There are countless blogs out there to learn Spanish. This is my favorite. Articles are well written, reveal fascinating knowledge and kick-ass facts about culture, people and life in Spanish speaking countries around the world. Also, there are lots of handy tricks that will help you to get a grip on grammar.

Ben and Maria discuss everyday topics in Spanish, giving the listener authentic, useful vocabulary and a feel for real conversations. The podcasts are well structured, and a perfect way to improve your listening skills.

Language Transfer uses a brilliant approach to language learning. By using elements of English, applying simple rules and memorable examples you ease into Spanish. The audio course comes with a complete transcript and takes you on an awesome 90 lesson journey with heaps of learning and language bridges.

One of the most recommended, informative and comprehensive resources for self- learners. In his clever series of youtube videos, Professor Jason teaches a wealth of Spanish grammar and speech. The lessons are engaging, have a classroom feel, and are completely free to watch.

8. Bonus Tips
Want more savvy tricks to learn Spanish? Why not try the following:
 
  • Flashcards: Especially at the beginning growing your vocabulary is a must. Flashcards are an efficient, structured and free way to learn. Make your lists and study on the go. There is no shortage of highly rated apps. I’m currently using Cram.
  • Meetup groups: When learning a new language nothing works better than actually using it. Get social, join a Spanish meetup group and practice your Spanish in conversations with native speakers.
  • Music in Spanish: There is a whole music genre created around Latin- American and Spanish vibes. Play radio in the background and get into the mood. Or watch your favorite music videos online. Check out CancionEle for music videos with subtitles to sing along.
  • Spanish diary: Start a journal in Spanish and spend a few minutes every day writing down what’s happening in your life. Use WordReference, SpanishDict, and Google Translate to unlock new words and phrases. Writing texts will help you to memorize key vocabulary to use on a daily base.
  • Immersion: Make your day-to-day life Spanish. Switch your phone to Spanish, follow Spanish news online, experiment with some recipes, and start watching Netflix series (some of my favorites: Club de Cuervos, El Chapo, Narcos). Maybe decorate your home with Spanish post its. Or start reading a book for beginners (for example Moby Dick). Surround yourself with the language where you can. The more you interact with Spanish the sooner you will pick it up.

Decision Making: 3 Factors That Influence Business Innovation

A few weeks ago I attended TEDx Sydney watching a talk from Tom Griffiths. In his contribution, he is addressing the concept of the explore/ exploit tradeoff. In short, the tradeoff appears whenever you make a decision between exploring new information and exploiting information already gathered. For instance, when planning your next holiday you have to make a decision. Either choose a destination you have visited before. You already know to an extent what awaits you and what you will get out of it. Or, you might try and travel to a new destination. In doing so, you are faced with uncertainty. It’s not clear yet how much you are going to enjoy this new place. At the same time, the still unknown gain of a new experience might outweigh the certainty of revisiting a familiar location. This concept of having to choose between the known and the unknown applies to a wide range of aspects in your life. And so it does to running a business.

Depending on various factors entities spend more or fewer resources on exploring new information. To develop new products and services in the hope of reaching new customers and generating incremental growth. Or exploit their current, proven, and successful offers. Some companies such as Kodak and Nokia have failed because their focus was heavy on exploiting what made them so successful in the first place. Most car manufacturers are still exploiting combustion engines while there is a demand for cleaner alternatives. Tech companies are investing huge sums to fuel innovation and new services. What is the right balance of exploring the new vs. exploiting the known? I suggest, there are three main factors determining the degree of exploration.

1. The level of maturity

A start up is more likely to explore than an established business. Reason being that an established business is operating of an existing model. It is easier to make this model more efficient. A startup needs to explore ways to turn their ideas into profit. If you go on holidays for the first time any destination will be new. You have to explore as you don’t have any existing experience to exploit.

2. The level of risk tolerance

Certain company cultures invite their employees to be creative, to take risks and seek new opportunities. Well aware that the majority of initiatives are bound to fail, they emphasise the desire to progress through exploration. Other businesses might be more risk averse with a culture that champions process and standardisation. These traditional entities are more likely to exploit existing knowledge and expertise. Like the mindset of travellers. Some are more adventurous looking for unique thrills. While others prefer the comfort, safety and convenience of the known.

3. The external environment

Sometimes exploiting is not an option any longer. Evolving customer needs, a change in legislation or a new technology. All might force a company to shift their focus towards more exploration. If your favourite holiday destination is no longer accessible or your favourite hotel is fully booked you have no choice but to explore alternatives.

When it comes to the point of the right balance between exploiting vs. exploring each business will have a different answer. In the end, it all comes down to the simple challenge of delivering against your objectives. This might be achieved by developing new solutions or capitalizing on what’s existent. Sometimes it’s more effective strengthening what already works. Ask yourself, how many resources does your company invest in exploring? How much profit/ sales stem from recent launches and new activity? Is it worth the effort? What’s your view?

How To Come Up With A Business Idea

Everything starts with an idea. The great businesses of today were at some point nothing else than a vague idea. This article summarises a number of concepts and ideas that can help you to generate a new business idea. 

What is a business idea?

A successful business requires nothing more than a few basic ingredients. It usually starts with a problem. A problem could be anything people are struggling with. Anything that is not ideal or not being run the way it should be, causing loss of time, energy and/ or money. The problem needs to be real. It can not be made up only to serve your idea. A real problem is crucial to define if there will be demand for your service/ product.

Problem + Solution + Availability/ Payment = Business Idea

In the essence, an idea is nothing more than a solution that addresses a real problem. The solution usually takes the form of a service or product that people are a) interested in and b) willing to pay for. Creating and activating your solution will of course take time. There are many steps between coming up with a business idea and actually running a successful business. Ideally, the idea would thus relate to a skill or passion, something you especially like or are particularly good at. Something that keeps you motivated. Lastly, there needs to be a way to make the solution available to your future customers. And to get paid in exchange for the product/ service you have developed.

Inspiration is all around you. A couple of tips how to generate good business ideas

The good news is you don’t need to be very creative to come up with a business idea. Anyone can come up with an idea and write their own success story. The tips in this section should help to get inspiration. As a general rule, ideas flow easier when you are relaxed. Probably, you have come up with great ideas in the past while least expecting it. If you struggle to find ideas try to relax and take a step back. Great ideas are abundant. Be present in the moment, inspiration is all around you. Start thinking about what is going on around you. The world is changing every day. With change comes opportunity in the shape of new inefficiencies, needs and problems. Problems that you may be able to solve.

To help you brainstorm think about the following:

Everyday Problem… Solved. In the end, any good business idea is nothing else than something that solves a problem. Think about what frustrates you on a day-to-day basis. Where do you struggle? What does not seem right? Chances are you are not the only one who feels this way. Try to think about ways to improve the situation or solve the problem.

Explore Something New. The combination of your upbringing, jobs, hobbies and interests all result in a unique skill set. Think about new ways to use these skills. What do you enjoy doing? How can you combine your skills to create a new offer/ product? If your idea is to build on something you especially like you will be more invested in the business.

One More Thing. Technology is changing the face of the world. New products are launched every day. Think about what might become the next big thing. What gadgets are trending right now? Is there some technology that impressed you recently? Is there an opportunity to create offers around these gadgets/ technologies?

Same Same. Existing products can be a great source of inspiration. Innovation is not equally spread. Some industries will see major change every couple of years. Others might not see changes in decades. Think about products or services that have remained the same for many years. How could change look like? Is there anything missing? What could improve the current core product/ offer?

Cheaper. It does not always have to be something new. The price of a product/ service is usually derived from the cost to produce/ create the offer plus a markup/ profit. Think about more cost-effective ways to create the same offer. How and where could you save cost? Are there better ways to create the same offer?

1 + 1 = Success. Combining two or more existing offers have led to some successful business ideas. Think about what products/ services would work well together. What products/ services complement each other? How could you add value by combing these products/ services? To be successful the new offer has to have a benefit outweighing the existing offers.

Think Small. Established companies will usually compete for the biggest or most profitable part of the pie. New products are specifically created for their defined consumer target groups. Think about people who do not yet enjoy certain products. Do you know people who would pay a lot of money for a product not available to them? Is there a way to tweak/ further develop an existing offer to make it accessible to a new group of consumers? Try to think about ways to cater for the need of profitable consumer segments not yet served by established companies.

Ask. Listen. Talk. Ever wondered what other people are struggling with? Being present can be a great source of inspiration. If you are interested in tennis racquets, for example, it might be a great idea to spend some time in a sporting goods store. Just observe, listen to shoppers and take note of the challenges they face. Ask them what they are missing in existing offers. What frustrates them? What are the most common complaints they express? You can also read reviews and blogs to get a better idea of problems surrounding existing offers/ services.

Above is just some food for thought. In the end, only you can come up with the right idea. So, grab a paper and pen and start writing. What are the first ten ideas that come to your mind?

3 Trends Towards Plain Packaging & What To Focus On Now

Look around. Consumer packaging looks good. It is the promise of reward. And the expected benefit is often bigger than reality. Now imagine change. Uniform packaging. Your favourite products all packaged in plain, white, standardised boxes. A plain packaging world. What are the trends that might take us there? And how to best prepare now?

For many years, packaging design has played a major role in the marketing mix. It is a powerful component in reaching your marketing objectives. Impacting many facets from building your brand to almost every stage of the shopper funnel.

Apart from obvious functional benefits, packaging is the key carrier of your brand’s logo. Few things serve better in anchoring a brand’s identity than a logo. It is a well-known, easy to remember representation of what your brand is about. And it lives on packaging. Hence, packaging has been key in establishing brands in the eyes of consumers. It is often the first thing consumers see. And it can make the difference between a sale or missed opportunity.

From guiding consumers through the funnel to building loyalty, packaging, if done right:

  • draws attention through eye-catching design
  • displays your product and benefit in the best light
  • conveys a sense of worth and price positioning
  • communicates promotional information
  • differentiates your brand from the competition
  • helps consumers remember your brand
  • represents your brand’s personality and values
  • forms part of consumer’s experience with your brand

In a way, packaging has been the eyes of the consumer. Yet, there are signs that this might change soon. There are trends that lead to a world with less branded packaging. Online and mobile are transforming the essential role of packaging. The growing desire for sustainability disapproves current packaging solutions. And the evolution of regulation might further prescribe how products are presented in the future.

Trend 1) From leading actor to sidekick; the new role of packaging in an online world

If packaging were an actor, the shelves of the grocery channel would be the big stage. This stage is shrinking. And with it the importance of branded packaging. Consumers are more and more shopping online. It is a journey of different paces. Consumers are more likely to buy their headphones online than their honey, eggs or cereal. But, sooner or later online will draw sales from all categories. And online channels transform the role of packaging. It becomes a functional consideration. A support of the experience. The focus moves away from the outside to the inside. In a journey from seduction to core benefit. In the past persuading and enticing consumers to buy a product used to be a role of packaging. In an online world, the consumer has evolved. With the combined knowledge of the Internet at hand, the shopper is in control. Peer reviews, social marketing, online research – all influencing the sale. Often buyers only engage with packaging after the sale. How effective is a well designed, ‘buy me’ box if a consumer only discovers it in the mailbox? Pre-boxed in a second box for shipping. Every layer of packaging adding to a product’s cost and decreasing its margin. Standardised, plain packaging, optimised for an online world reduces total cost of material and costly design features. It frees up investment locked into creative resources. And makes it easier and cheaper to ship goods through the mail. In the end, it is also less wasteful which brings us to the next trend working against branded packaging.

Trend 2) What a waste! Packaging vs. increasing landfills and conscious consumption

Society is more aware of its impact on the environment. In an attempt to minimise their footprint consumers seek accountable brands. Brands showing that they are eco-friendly, transparent and responsible. Your common, non-recyclable packaging does not meet this description. Instead of triggering a sale it might prevent one if it is associated with wastefulness. Consumers might start to reject overtly branded packaging altogether. Shoppers have already started to bring their own recyclable shopping bags. When will they start bringing their own reusable containers, nets and bottles? To fill them with products of their choosing. This idea might seem far-fetched, yet there are examples. A supermarket in Germany (Orginal Unverpackt) is already trialling unbranded packaging. Eco-awareness and minimum waste concepts are about to stay. Going green does not agree with today’s consumer packaging. Apart from sustainability, increasing regulation might be a third change factor for packaging.

Trend 3) An increasing desire for labelling and regulation leaving little room for branding

The amount of regulation and labelling is set to further increase in the future. Consumers have a desire to know as much as possible about the products they buy. They want transparency to help them choose what is best for them. This desire finds its way on packaging through labelling in various forms: Expiry dates, ingredients, nutrition information, advisory messages, country of origin, and much more. All helping to protect the public from risks associated with the use of products. Obesity, alcoholism, diabetes amongst others are all health risks. Governments have a vested interest in minimising these risks. Regulators will continue to do their best in informing and protecting consumers. This will restrict the branded space of packaging. What if regulation reaches a point where branding becomes a secondary aspect of packaging? Or disappears completely? All to help consumers to make more informed choices. Consumer packaging of the future must balance these needs.

What to focus on now

Change is in the air. How consumers shop, their expectations and needs are evolving. Marketers will adjust their strategies. Some quicker, some slower. The future might not be as vivid as most of today’s packaging. Thus, how can you prepare? What to focus on now to meet your marketing objectives and keep your brand alive?

As a consequence of the evolving marketing landscape, there will be many ways to respond. For a start, a renewed product focus and a differentiated approach to communication.

Even if the packaging is how you got consumers to buy your brand in first place, the product is what makes them come back.

Focus on the product – this is your competitive advantage and will stay it. Don’t get distracted by fancy looks. Even if the packaging is how you got consumers to buy your brand in first place, the product is what makes them come back. More importantly today, with fully informed consumers, brands continue to become transparent. And they are under constant comparison and review. As a result of this, your core product and its ratings will make the difference. Your product defines the value you provide to consumers. How is it different and better than the competition? What is your unique benefit, solution and selling point? This is the competitive advantage that you want to focus on. Exploit and emphasise it when promoting your product. Consequently, this will generate consumer loyalty and sustainable growth. Also, be ready to invest in the product. Today’s competitive advantage might fade over time. Know your consumers and constantly measure your success in meeting their needs. Track their perception of your brand and your product’s performance. Use research to understand your shoppers and how latest trends are affecting them. This will enable you to identify opportunities, new problems worth solving and investments in the right product. By continuing to provide value, you are set up for a loyal consumer base.

Use content marketing to tell stories about your uniqueness which are worth sharing.

Once you are clear on the unique value you bring to consumers put it in writing and communicate it. Consumers are better informed and have more choice than ever. Take advantage of this. Use content marketing to tell stories about your uniqueness which are worth sharing. Generate content to grab their attention and convince them to try your brand. Focus on value, quality and relevancy. Create content that consumers want to share with their friends and social circles. Based on your brand truths. Consumers appreciate authenticity. Don’t just create messages, make your content interesting through storytelling. Use online to make content interactive and personalised to keep your consumer engaged. Track their interactions with your content to gain more insights on what they value and what problems they face. To return to the subject of product development, continue providing value. Instead of the traditional funnel with ever smaller conversions, consider an expanding funnel. Use the right content to convince one consumer and benefit from ripple effects through social networks. A good start to find out more about strategic content marketing is this collection of articles on Medium.

To sum up, the landscape for traditional packaging is set to change. Above are just a few thoughts on how you can respond. There is lots to do. But in the meantime, here are two actions you can take right away:

  1. Get crystal clear on the comp advantage of your product
  2. Start sharing your unique story with consumers