What should we conclude from a complaint rate of 0.048%?

You serve a million customers a day in a complex and emotionally demanding business.

Each day that generates 480 complaints.

A complaint rate of 0.048%.

Surely a cause for celebration.  But not complacency.  One complaint IS one too many.

But this is a remarkably low complaints rate.  Perhaps suspiciously low.

I pinged out the following tweet:

Tweet 1

And the (almost immediate) responses I got were fascinating….

Tweet 2

Not much delight here!

Tweet 3

And this is an intuitive and perhaps constructive and appreciative response

Tweet 4

Tweet 5 (tweeted from a locked account )

So, do we use the data to conclude that our service is pretty good and capable of further significant improvement?

Or do we use it to consider whether we really understand the nature of customer experience and how we might uncover it more accurately?  I have seen previous examples of complaints and satisfaction processes used to paint a pre-ordained picture rather than to uncover valuable data from which we might all learn.

Could this be what is going on here?

I suspect the outstanding manager does both.


Management: Bottom Up and Top Down

Top down management is characterised by a small number of people recruited, promoted or hired to develop a ‘strategy’ that will hopefully lead to progress.

The ‘strategy’ is usually accompanied by a ‘plan’, where costed elements are prioritised and scheduled for delivery in the full expectation that things will, as a result of the implementation of the plan, get better.

The strategy and its associated plans are usually supported with evidence and feasibility studies showing just why this is the right course of action, and how benefits will accrue.

Top down management is also characterised by:

  • delegation down a chain of command to manage implementation
  • fierce discussions about the correct allocation of scarce resources
  • disputes about chosen methodologies and the viability of alternatives
  • piloting and subsequent rolling out of schemes and plans
  • attempts, with varying degrees of honesty and legitimacy to encourage participation in the top down planning process – phrases like consultation and engagement are used liberally.

Bottom Up Management

Bottom Up Management is characterised by people using their own power to develop their own self interest. Self interest is not selfishness but means ‘self amongst others’.  It is about establishing our role and identity in the organisation. Usually the best way to develop ones own self interest is to look after the self interests of others.  Effectively managing the polarities of looking after self and looking after others is at the heart of the healthy and successful organisation.

Sometimes bottom up management is also characterised by groups of people coming together when they have shared self interests.  In bottom up development this coming together around common cause requires little engineering. It just happens.

Bottom up management is characterised by:

  • People working in their own self interests in the way that they see fit
  • People looking for  the resources (help, money, time) that they need to make progress
  • People pondering their options and taking decisions rather than awaiting instructions from above
  • People coming together around common causes – forming associations and organising in order to increase their power to make something happen.
Bottom up is the only way to really get large numbers of people engaged in their own development and developing agency in their own lives and organisations. Bottom up is about participation and engagement.

Bottom Up AND Top Down

Both bottom up and top down processes are necessary.

Top down to plan and provide the structure and resources required and bottom up to allow individuals and groups to use it effectively.

But few organisations and managers succeed in keeping top down and bottom up in balance.

Management today is challenging because we are, I believe, in the midst of a seismic shift from top down management towards a much more bottom up approach. Very few managers are equipped with either the skill sets or the systems that they need to manage this shift.

If that sounds like something that might benefit you then please do sign up or get in touch via comments or the contact form.

Mike Chitty

The Secret Formula for Outstanding Management

The good news is that it is not that difficult to be an outstanding manager. You just have to master 5 relatively simple skill sets, and have a system that means you use them consistently.  We will talk about the system some other time.  For now let’s consider the 5 simple skill sets that get you well on the way being an outstanding manager – and that (not so) secret formula:



OM = Outstanding Management

GWR = Great Working Relationships

GGF = Giving and Getting Great Feedback

BBC = Being a Brilliant Coach

MED = Maximum Effective Delegation

TPM = Time and Priority Management

On a scale of 1-10 how do you rate your ability (and success) in developing Great Working Relationships?  How many working relationships do you have that don’t work so well?  What are you doing to improve them?  What could you do, in the next few days, that would increase your own score by 1?

On a scale of 1-10 how do you rate your ability in Getting and Giving Great Feedback?  Do you give and get feedback on daily basis?  Do people respond to it? Or are you wasting you breath?  Do you respond to feedback?  What was the last piece of feedback that changed your behaviour? What could you do, in the next few days, that would increase your own score by 1?

On a scale of 1-10 how do you rate your ability in Being a Brilliant Coach?  Do you coach every member of your team, every week to improve their performance in critical areas?  Or do you leave it to the annual performance review? What could you do, in the next few days, that would increase your own score by 1?

On a scale of 1-10 how do you rate your ability in Maximum Effective Delegation?  Do you have a scheme of delegation and a bomb proof process for making delegations that work?  Or do you just think it is quicker and easier to do it yourself? What could you do, in the next few days, that would increase your own score by 1?

On a scale of 1-10 how do you rate your ability in Time and Priority Management?  Do you get all of your work done in your contracted hours?  Or do yo work additional hours for free?  Do you spend most of your time on the most important, highest return areas?  Or do you spend a lot of time working for little apparent return? What could you do, in the next few days, that would increase your own score by 1?

So, how did you score?

If you are interested in scoring better and would like further resources to help please do take a moment to sign up using the box on the right.

Your comments too are always welcome!


Mike Chitty


Update on the Be A Better Manager Book

You may already know that for some time I have been threatening to write the book on ‘How to Be A Better Manager‘.

And I still am.

But I have been thinking a bit about what I am actually trying to achieve with writing the book, and how best to achieve that purpose.

I want to help as many people as possible to become the best managers that they can be.  To become outstanding managers in fact.

And of course I hope to make some money along the way!

Is writing a book the best way to do this?  I am not so sure.

I have also been doing a lot of research on web based learning and training delivery – and it certainly now seems affordable and practical. The last time I looked about a decade back it was still really expensive, and few people could stream high quality video.

So instead I am considering a series of videos that will build into a 6 month course designed to really accelerate your journey towards becoming an outstanding manager.  I may supplement the videos with transcripts and perhaps the occasional teleconference, webinar or good old face to face training session!

My plan is not to make the videos available all at once, but instead to release them at carefully planned intervals that will give you the chance to absorb the material from one video, try it out at work, refine it and develop your practice before the next video is released.  This way you won’t get overwhelmed with information and will be able to make a series of manageable changes to your practice over time.

Alongside the videos will be a range of supporting materials including templates, aide memoirs and links to other materials to supplement your learning.

How does that sound?  Interesting?

If so then please sign up using the form on the right hand side.  I promise not to bombard you with lots of emails!

9 Ways to Be A Better Manager

If you like what you read then please join us using the form on the right.

1  Value Your Role as a Manager

I meet so many apologetic managers.  Managers who really wish they weren’t. Managers who see entering management as a step towards the dark side.  The truth is that as a manager you can have a profound effect on how your staff experience their work, and how your clients experience your staff and your organisation.  Embrace this responsibility with creativity, imagination, courage and a systematic approach and you can deliver positive results all around.  See management as a necessary evil, and that is just what it will become….

2  Communicate clear performance expectations

Get REALLY clear about what you expect from the people you manage and then find ways to communicate those expectations clearly and consistently.  This is likely to include the results that you expect them to achieve in their work, but it is also likely to include some criteria for HOW the work is to be done.  For most of us it is not JUST about results, but also how those results are achieved.  I might argue that most managers spend too much time obsessing about results and not enough time creating the process, systems and cultures that allow the results to be produced.

3  Provide regular performance feedback

By ‘regular performance feedback’ I don’t mean an annual appraisal.  I mean daily, preferably more than daily, feedback that is based on what people are actually doing at work.  Appraising performance in real time, all the time. You see someone modelling values and behaviours that matter to your organisation, and you give them performance feedback.  You see someone modelling values and behaviours that undermine what your organisation is trying to achieve, and you give them good performance feedback.  Giving good performance feedback need not be a big exercise involving lots of emotion.  It should take just a few seconds of your time, and is perhaps the most powerful thing that great managers can do to improve performance.

4  Consider all relevant information when appraising performance

Annual appraisals are great.  Annual appraisals supported by quarterly mini-appraisals are even better.  Quarterly mini-appraisals supported by documented, weekly 121s better yet!  But how can you get the voice of the customer to inform the appraisal process?  What about the voices of other colleagues?  Develop a culture and systems that ensure that you have considered all the relevant information when you are appraising performance.

5  Observe staff at work

You can’t just manage people by monitoring performance data. At least, you can’t manage them well.  You might be able to prevent them slipping beneath minimum acceptable standards, but you certainly won’t be able to help them do their best work. Take the time to watch staff at work. Especially watch their interactions with colleagues and customers.  Observe the details, the mannerisms, the language patterns.  Understand how they do what they do, and help them to reflect and improve – mostly by giving them timely feedback on performance, but also by coaching them where appropriate.

6  Help staff develop self-improvement plans

You should not only expect people to ‘do their job‘ but to get better at doing their job too.  Self development is primarily their job, not yours.  Of course you stand by ready roll up your sleeves and help – but primarily the expectation is that they will be the architects of their own success.

7  Recognise and reward high performance

More often than not when I see where managers spend their time, effort and attention, it on the underwhelmers.  The staff that come in late, leave early and do as little as they can get away with while they are at work.  Now, of course underperformance has to be managed.  And managed effectively, robustly and quickly.  However you should be rewarding and attending to those that performing well.  Thanking them praising them, developing and encouraging them in whatever way you can.  Time spend recognising and rewarding high performance is likely to reward you with more high performance.  Leave it unrecognised and it is likely to whither over time….

8  Provide help, training, and guidance

This isn’t about the annual performance development plan.  This about building a culture of ‘just in time’ help, training and guidance. It is about providing role models and ensuring that everyone is looking to learn from their experience. It is about giving people the skill of self managed learning and an expectation they use them to improve performance

9  Build a working relationship

This should really be number 1 on the list, because without a working relationship you can’t manage people.  Take time to understand people and their motivations and aspirations.  Be curious about them. Don’t judge them too quickly and work out your role in helping them to do the very best work that they are capable of.  Build a 2 way relationship; where they respond to your management and leadership and you respond to their wants and needs too.  Recognise where relationships aren’t working and commit to either making them work or ending them.  Don’t let non working relationships drag on.

If you like what you read then please join us using the form on the right.


Can we learn to be more fully ourselves? The search for authentic…

Much of my work is about helping people to become better managers and leaders.

Sometimes this is about teaching new models, theories and skills.  This can help develop better managers and leaders.

But most of the time the real work of developing managers and leaders takes place at a different, higher level.

It is about helping people to be more, or even better versions, of who they really are.  To be more vulnerable and authentic in their work.  It is about the ‘emergence of identity’.  Helping people to be themselves with more skill, power and honesty.  This means working with managers and leaders on their:

  • sense of purpose,
  • sense of self, and
  • the values attitudes and beliefs that they hold that help or hinder their practice.

This can be especially hard for those in management and leadership positions who mistakenly believe that their job is to be the protector. The one who carries all the baggage on their backs so that others can get on with their work.

At the heart of authenticity is the courage to be judged for who we are, and what we think, rather than our willingness to conform to the pressures and norms of our peers.  To hold an opinion lightly but with confidence.  Holding the right balance between advocating a belief while holding it open to inquiry and development.  Once we can learn to find and hold a leadership position that encourages curiosity, inquiry and challenge, the we have taken a major step to improving the culture of our workplace.

If this sounds like the kind of development that you would like to experience then please do get in touch.

And in the meantime, if you are worried that you may be experiencing just a little too much conformity in your workplace take 10 minutes to watch this video.

Thinking About Writing the ‘Be A Better Manager’ Book

I have been wanting to write a book about what I have learned and teach about management for too long now!  The closest that I have got is a kind of outline/proposal which I am sharing with you here.

I’d be really interested to know:

  1. whether you might find it a useful book, useful enough to buy a copy
  2. what might make it better for you – different content perhaps
  3. what if anything I should drop…

I’d also really appreciate any advice regarding self publishing  or more traditional routes…..feel free to use the comments!

Be A Better Manager – Synopsis

Many people every year are promoted into management positions on the basis of their competence at doing the job of the people that they are being asked to manage. So good nurses become nurse managers, good salespeople become sales managers and good teachers become school administrators. This book will provide practical support to people making the transition to management , or already in management but looking to improve their own effectiveness.

Chapter Headings

What Makes an Outstanding Manager?

An outstanding manager knows how to help others to do their best work. This requires a set of skills, behaviours and attitudes that this book will teach. How to manage your own learning to become an outstanding manager. The importance of courage, experience and judgement.

Working Relationships

The difference between working relationships that work and working relationships that don’t! Working relationship as the pre-requisite for effective management. How to develop working relationships. How to repair relationships that are not working. Without a working relationship management becomes impossible. Managing overwhelmers, underwhelmers and whelmers.

Feedback and the Outstanding Manager

Feedback as information that helps to change behaviour. To get more of the behaviours that work and less of the behaviours that don’t. Feedback as a fundamental management tool and one that has to be used with power and skill. The importance of courage in sharing feedback. Contrast feedback with praise, thanks and criticism. Feedback in a hyperlinked world!

Getting Great Feedback

The focus of most managers is on improving the behaviours of others. The outstanding manager focuses on improving their own behaviours . The importance of an obsession with getting feedback. How to make it easy for people to give you feedback that you can use.

Giving Great Feedback

Understanding the behaviours that create or destroy value in your workplace. What do you need more of? Less of? Recognising labels (professional, unprofessional, caring, lazy) and how they can be used to provide feedback that will change behaviours and build working relationships rather than damage them. Using feedback to get more of the behaviours that create value. Using feedback to reduce behaviours that destroy value. How to give feedback to your boss too!

Manager as Talent Coach

Feedback is the answer to most of our performance management challenges. But sometimes it does not work because the person giving the feedback does not have the knowledge, skills or desire to change their behaviours. This is when managers have to be an effective coach. How to set up and manage a coaching contract including goals and milestones to improve performance.  How to coach every member of your team, all the time, without being overwhelmed.


Empowering others to develop their careers, take on new responsibilities and work at the leading edge of their abilities, retain talented people who might otherwise outgrow their jobs and create as much value as possible.  How to delegate successfully and avoid the trap of ‘its quicker to do it myself and I’ll do it better anyway’.

Time and Priority Management

The impossibility of managing time and the possibility and practicality of managing priorities. How to use the 168 hours in every week to achieve the things that matter most to you, your loved ones and your career.

Managing Different Personalities

This chapter will help you tailor your management behaviours to work well with a range of personality types. It will help you to recognise different types of personality and to change your approach accordingly for maximum effect.  If there were such a thing as ‘difficult people’ this chapter will give ideas about how to manage them effectively.

Putting it All Together – a month by month guide to becoming an Outstanding Manager

There is way too much information here to act on all at once. This chapter will provide an action plan spread over 12 months that will allow the reader to develop themselves in a logical progression to become and outstanding manager, making changes to their practice on a month by month basis that will allow them to learn and embed new skills before moving on to the next stage.

Possible additional chapters

Recruiting People

Managing Redundancies

Managing Innovation

Managing and Leading – not being ‘The Sticky Middle’

Managing Strategy

The heart of management – 121s

I am continually surprised by the number of organisations that I work with who are exploring the ‘higher planes’ of performance management and the pursuit of excellence (using balanced scorecards, strategy maps and so on) who do not yet practice some of the management fundamentals, such as 121s, feedback and coaching.  By getting these management basics right I believe that most organisations can make substantial improvements in performance quickly and at low cost.

What is a 121?

A 121 is a planned, structured, documented meeting between a manager and a direct report held on a weekly.

Why are they so effective in improving performance?

  1. 121s provide the foundation on which managers and their reports can build a genuine and powerful working relationship that provides the foundation for high performance.
  2. They provide the report with the opportunity to bring to their manager’s attention where they need help, support or permission to act.  Providing reports with this opportunity in a structured way will dramatically reduce the time that managers spend reacting to ad hoc requests.
  3. They give managers the chance to talk about issues that have occurred over the course of the week that may impact on the report – either because of changing priorities in the business or because of some aspect of their work.
  4. Managers have the chance to talk on a weekly basis about the medium and longer term future.  What training and development does the report need to develop their career?  What projects and opportunities might be on the horizon that the report may be interested in working on?
  5. 121s provide the foundation that allows manager’s to make the transition from fire fighting to genuinely managing and developing performance.

I manage 10 direct reports – I won’t have time to do weekly one to ones.

Lack of time is the most common objection to implementing 121s.  If the manager has a team of ten, then 121s will take about 6 hours a week – allowing a little time for note-taking and follow-up actions.

After 2-3 weeks of doing 121s the vast majority of manager’s report that they are saving time.  Because reports know that they have structured time with the manager they will hold non-critical issues until the 121, instead of raising them whenever they have the chance.  Interruptions are reduced significantly.

Regular 121s allow many minor adjustments to be made in the work of, and relationship with, the report.  This means that more problems are nipped in the bud and more opportunities are spotted and acted upon quickly – saving lots of fire-fighting time later on.

Scheduling 121s can be a problem.  But most managers’ diaries have plenty of space just 3-4 weeks ahead.  This is the time to start booking 121s.

If the number of direct reports goes much above 12 then fitting in weekly 121s can be a problem – and they can be made fortnightly instead of weekly.  If your team is made up of some full and some part-timers then you may want to schedule 121s with part-timers on a less frequent basis.  121s still work if they are not done weekly, but they do not work as well and the results take longer to show.

Why do 121s have to be documented?

Taking notes, and following up on them, is a vital part of effective 121s.  It demonstrates that you are taking the meeting seriously and that you are committing to acting on what is discussed.  The notes also provide a comprehensive record of what has been discussed with the report over the year and make annual performance reviews much easier to do.  They also allow you to keep accurate records that can be helpful when making a case for promotion or dealing with poor performance.  I recommend the use of a simple proforma, which is handwritten during the 121, and stored securely in a file for each direct report.

Making the Commitment

121s show a very real commitment from the manager to each of their direct reports.  This commitment has to be maintained so that 121s become part of the management routine.  They should hardly ever be missed.  121s have a major impact on organisational culture when they are adopted throughout the organisation as they show a real commitment to people and performance.  However if the organisation is not prepared to commit top them as a part of the culture, they work just as effectively for individual managers who chose to adopt them.  In fact these managers soon develop a reputation for excellent service delivery, as great people developers and soon stand out from the managerial crowd.

Implementing 121s

Making 121s work requires both will and skill.  Managers can be trained in how to effectively set up and maintain a system of 121s in a half day training session.

Building Relationships That Work at Work…

Lets face it. Not all of your relationships at work are working. At least, not as well as they should be.

Working relationships are essential to manage effectively.  Without them we can neither listen nor be heard.  Our influence is minimal.  Without a working relationship management becomes almost impossible.  We resort quickly to the capability and discipline procedures and watch our working relationships go from bad to worse.

But what do we mean by a working relationship?

Even great working relationships sometimes come under strain, and I am not talking about the occasional rough patch.  I am talking about the consistent failure to really connect, to bring out the best in each other.  Those relationships at work that feel difficult and are characterised by mediocrity, poor communication and personal antipathy.  It is important to recognise that these types of relationships are common, and they cost us a lot psychologically and in productivity!  We have a choice about we handle these non-working relationships.  We can put up with them and do our best in the circumstance to get the best outcomes that we can.  Or we can acknowledge that the relationship isn’t right and do what we can to change it.  To improve it.  To make it a working relationship.  One where both parties are open to feedback and willing to act on it to improve things.

What you choose to do about non-working relationships will depend on who they are with.  Non-working relationship with bosses, peers and reports all have different implications and challenges and need to be thought about carefully.  But there are some common characteristics to be considered.

It’s a personality thing…

This is perhaps the commonest reason I am offered for why relationships aren’t working, and it is rarely helpful.  It provides a usually superficial, meaningless, pseudo explanation for why we are not able to work effectively.  It does little to help the situation unless we understand the personalities involved a little and change the interactions between them to reach a more productive state.  Labelling the problem as a ‘personality clash’ usually just resigns us to acceptance.  Understanding personality is no trivial task, but I believe that there are some simple tools that can help us to diagnose the origins of a personality clash and offer us some possibilities to improve things.  Many of us have heard of, if not been profiled with,  the Myers Briggs Type Indicator or MBTI.  4 dimensions, 16 types, dominant and auxiliary functions, MBTI is a very useful tool – but can get a tad complicated for use in every day management practice.  So I prefer a simpler model based on similar Jungian psychology called DISC. 2 dimensions, 4 types and that’s pretty much it. It has worked well for me over the years, and is relatively easy to teach, learn and apply in real life situations – without having to call an occupational psychologist!  But there are lots of personality models out there and most offer useful frameworks for thinking about how we can work better together.  Choose one (or more), learn it, and use it to think about what might actually behind that personality clash that you use to explain non-working relationships.  I will be teaching and using the DISC model in the forthcoming workshops on How To Be A Better Manager.

It’s a behaviour thing…

Usually behind non-working relationships are a set of behaviours that are just not hitting the mark. It is the things people say and do that make it hard, or easy, for us to work well with them and vice versa.  These behaviours hold a real clue to turning non-working into working relationships.  If we can just get adjust our behaviours to get them working for each other.  But many managers don’t deal in behaviours, preferring instead the currency of labels, such as ‘unprofessional’, ‘hard working’ or ‘poor attitude’ for example.  Once these labels have been applied, and become the way we see our colleagues, they almost pre-ordain the nature of our working relationships.  It is hard to have a good working relationship with someone who we have already labeled as ‘unprofessional’.

So where do these labels come from?  What evidence are they based on?  Often managers struggle to answer these questions with any specifics and have to learn how to track back from a label to the specific behaviours that have ‘created’ it.  Let’s take for example the label ‘bad attitude’.  What kind of behaviours might lead that label to be created? Well, here are some common ones: arriving late for work, leaving early, missing meetings, keeping quiet in meetings, being over bearing in meetings,  responding with negative comments about ideas and proposals, checking mobiles during meetings, not making eye contact, talking loudly on the phone, tapping, clicking, sneering, shrugging, frowning…and the list goes on…

These behaviours that drive the labels are managerial gold dust.  If we can observe them, describe them and their impacts, and feed them back in a way that is fast, safe and actionable then we can start to encourage more of the behaviours that create value and less of the behaviours that destroy it.

It’s a time thing…

Building good working relationships takes time courage.  Time for high quality communication.  Talking and listening about goals, hopes, frustrations and fears.  Time to build trust and respect.  Time to explore what’s working and what’s not and to demonstrate a real commitment to building a relationship that works.  I am a big advocate of regular 121s.  Up to half an hour every week just to talk, listen, plan, provide feedback and support.  As long as you have a sensible span of control, say up to 15 direct reports, these 121s if managed well will save you a lot of time.  I will be teaching The Basics of Effective 121s in a workshop later in the year.

It’s a courage thing…

Above all to building working relationships takes courage. You have to be prepared to face up to the issue and be prepared to both work on your own behaviour and exert your influence over the behaviour of others.

Working on Relationships Top Tips

  1. Get to grips with at least one model of personality that you can use to think about the relationship dynamics that might be at play
  2. Choose to work on the non-working relationships – give them time and look for positives (be careful though, don’t let the squeaky wheels get all the grease)
  3. Focus on behaviours – what are you doing and what are they doing that leads to the problem? Use feedback – both giving and getting it – to influence behaviours.
  4. Give yourself time to build the relationship – it might not happen overnight