No.13 – Survival of the Fittest?

“Survival” seems to be an all too familiar theme for many businesses (small or large) these days, and for me the interesting thing is the different strategies people are adopting to deal with the issue.

Obviously the most natural (and sometimes necessary) thing to do in challenging times is to look at ways of reducing costs and eliminating unnecessary expenditure. However, there is also a danger of falling into a pattern of saving and cost cutting which is ultimately counter-productive.

A few days ago I was watching a programme – Undercover Boss USA. This episode followed Steve Joyce, President and CEO of Choice Hotels International one of America‟s largest franchise hotel chains. He spent some time in the largest hotel in the Choice system – a huge complex with 675 rooms. The buildings are 25 years old and until a few years ago were well maintained, and had high occupancy rates. However, in recent years a range of cost cutting measures have been introduced and many public areas have been neglected. The rooms still have the same TV‟s as in 1994, the roof leaks, the pool area needs to be re-surfaced – and they have cut personnel, meaning that there‟s now only one maintenance man to service the whole complex. Not surprisingly business has also dropped off, with customers choosing a newer and more modern alternative. Of course, some renovations would require quite a large investment, but many small, relatively low-cost things were identified, which could make a big difference, and had they have been done earlier, would most probably have reduced the high cost expenditure now needed. Two particular examples were highlighted. The first was the fact that locks on the bedroom doors were so old that guests were often unable to get into their rooms without calling maintenance (not helpful when you get back to the hotel late at night and reception is a 10 minute walk away!). The second was the simple fact that the maintenance golf cart, used to move quickly around the complex, had broken down and not been replaced – meaning that the maintenance man had to go everywhere on foot and service was therefore two or three times slower than it needed to be.

Closer to home, we hear of many organisations that are cutting jobs, meaning that remaining personnel are required to fill the gaps, taking on more responsibility and working longer hours. This may be OK in the short-term, but if it continues (or even escalates) it‟s a situation that leads to increased stress levels, decreased productivity and therefore decreased profits – potentially leading to more cost cutting. It‟s a vicious circle, which can creep up unawares until the tipping point is reached and it all starts to fall apart.

That may all sound a bit depressing, and potentially has an air of inevitability about it. However, there are things that can break the downward spiral. The question is, how can NLP, and so-called „soft-skills‟ in general, help in these situations?

As I’m sure you’re aware soft skills are often perceived as a “nice to have” when time (and money) permit. However, with the pressures of today’s business environment, our experience is that increased attention to these areas (especially those related to Emotional Intelligence), can improve motivation and productivity, and ultimately save time and money.

There are two aspects to consider – what you can do individually (either for yourself or for the people within whom you come into contact) and more broadly within an organisation as a whole.

Individual Actions

The focus here is on increased attention to people, more effective communication (making sure the message is received first time) and resolving disputes and conflicts – or avoiding them in the first place. Strategies for achieving this include…

  • Realising that people do what they do for a reason – once the real issue is defined it may be possible to help them find an alternative way of achieving their undeclared aim.
  • Asking (rather than telling) the staff most directly concerned what to do about a particular problem.
  • Linked with the previous point, being open with teams about your concerns and the possible risks they create and inviting their involvement in resolving them more creatively. This approach is sometimes thought of as being risky but this feeling is usually due to a lack of confidence in the manager him or herself.
  • Paying increased attention to the small non-verbal signals we all give off when we are not fully engaged in, or motivated by, a particular idea … For example, averted gaze, unconscious hand movements around the mouth and face, shifting in one‟s seat etc. By drawing someone‟s attention to their unconscious feedback it becomes possible to address the underlying issue while everyone is still in the room.

One cautionary note here – accurate calibration without interpretation or projection is crucial in avoiding misinterpretation and misunderstanding.

Organisational Strategies

From this perspective the key is to work towards higher levels of engagement and motivation and consider the savings available through short-term investment for longer term gain. For example…

  • Being rigorous with continually asking what purpose a particular process or procedure fulfils and removing those that add little or nothing to the outputs.
  • Where reworking occurs, check what it is that causes it to be necessary.
  • Examining any proposed budget cut within the frame of “is cutting this ultimately going to cost us more in the long term?” (As with the decision not to replace the maintenance golf cart in the example above).
    • An alternative challenge is “What other possible consequences could there be as a result of doing this?”
  • Increasing the investment in apparently unnecessary training and development programmes that focus on enhancing interpersonal and relationship skills (that‟s the sales pitch!).

I know most companies, large and small, are actively seeking ways to survive through creativity, diversification and innovation. There is also much evidence to show that businesses who expend time and energy in ensuring that staff at all levels feel valued, listened to and involved, are the ones who are most likely to emerge at the top when things improve.

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