With Martin G. Moore

Episode #94

Live Mentoring Session #3: Execution excellence

Leina Broughton is an Australian fashion designer and entrepreneur who, with her business partner Fleur Richardson, has brought the Leina Broughton label to market. Leina and Fleur have kindly allowed us to share this mentoring session with the No Bullsh!t Leadership audience.

We’ve taken the two topics from this session that we think are most relevant to the current circumstances. They are applicable to everyone, regardless of your industry, the size of your business, or your position in the organization’s hierarchy.

First we take a look at our discussion on how to make accountabilities crystal clear for your people, to ensure that gaps and overlaps don’t develop. Then we talk about how to communicate with your people in times of uncertainty so that they aren’t entirely consumed by their own fear and apprehension.

Execution excellence is simple to understand, but not easy to achieve!

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Episode #94 Live Mentoring Session #3: Execution excellence

Marty: Hey there, and welcome to Episode 94 of the No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast. This week’s episode, Live Mentoring Session #3, single-point accountability. Continuing with our series of live mentoring sessions, this week’s episode covers two critical techniques for achieving execution excellence, especially when your people aren’t all in the same place at the same time. Leina Broughton is an Australian fashion designer and entrepreneur, who with her business partner, Fleur Richardson, have brought the Leina Broughton label to market. This is a fashion house with a difference. Manufacturing locally and distributing digitally, Leina Broughton focuses on the sustainability of its clothing range while releasing new products every week. It’s built a close connection with its loyal customer base through social media and online channels. And after six years of operation, it’s now a well established business. This mentoring session with Leina and Fleur went for over an hour.

So we’ve cut it down by taking the two topics that we think are the most relevant to our current circumstances. I’m sure you’ll find them highly applicable regardless of your industry, the size of your business or your position in the organization’s hierarchy. First, we take a look at our discussion on how to make accountabilities crystal clear for your people to ensure that gaps and overlaps don’t develop. Second, we talk about how to communicate with your people in times of uncertainty so that they aren’t entirely consumed by their own fear and apprehension. For context, this session was recorded on the 15th of April, 2020 when the world’s initial reaction to the coronavirus pandemic had taken root, Australia’s borders had been closed for almost a month. So let’s get into it. Over to you, Leina and Fleur.

Leina: I guess the really key part about, I think that has been the true success of our business is our partnership. We, Fleur and I look after very different parts of the business, but yet we work so beautifully together, that I think that’s ended up being the real power of what we do. And I guess our unique selling proposition is the fact that we release new product every week.

Fleur: We actually didn’t know each other at all and it was through a mutual connection that our paths crossed. And it was while I was taking a good sea change down here on the Gold Coast and I needed to sort of somehow get back into the realities of working again, that I’ve sort of went and touched base with Leina and we were working together on a consulting level and it became really apparent very quickly that there was, automatic connection, on so many levels.

Like I think when you think of people in creative roles, you just automatically box them in as being very sort of frou-frou. Leina has a very broad exposure to all aspects of business and obviously since she’d been running a business for several years on her own, had a real clear grasp and a real clear vision of what she wanted to achieve. And I’m someone who’s really drawn to dynamic people as well, and we hit the ground running and we’ve got such complimentary skillset, but we can cross over into each others fields as well and have a strong opinion as well. But we also own our own individual areas as well so I think we champion each other’s accountability through that too, which means, you know, you’re confidently going forward with your decision knowing you’ve got each other’s back.

Leina: We’ve been in partnership now, sorry, we’ve been in partnership now for coming up six years, is it now might even be coming up to seven. So and as far as our roles are concerned, so I’m Creative Director and also Chief Marketing Officer, so I’m sort of looking after the digital and the creative side and then Fleur is operations and finances and looking after all of that side of the business. So we have very clearly defined lanes. And I think we’ve always been able to, even though we didn’t even know each other at the beginning, we’ve worked with a method of trust, which has been earned of course as well. But where we go into it where we’re both able to come back together in a leadership capacity together, but we very much run our own lanes as well.

Marty: Okay. So that’s awesome right? And I’m really loving where this conversation’s going already. This is awesome because the two of you in your heads and when you work together had very clearly defined roles. Although you don’t work in silos, so you do talk to each other about what you do. How does that work for the people that Leina Broughton as employees in terms of their clarity around who’s making which decisions? Because that’s an accountability issue. It’s not meant to be a touche, but it’s one thing that the two of you have your shit together and then when you think about what it means to all the people that work for you, because you’ve got a workforce that you’ve got to keep on point, understanding who’s cooking the chook, and moving forward from there.

Leina: I think quite recently, we reworked our org structure because at some point as well, we thought that it would make more sense for Fleur to be the CEO. And we sort of worked out that title and we thought, well, that then we’ve got a single point who can actually make all the bigger decisions, but what we actually realised that in reality, that didn’t work that way. So we’ve re-worked our org structure, but there is definitely crossover. Like we have crossover within specific departments because say as an example, customer care, although it’s kind of, comes under Fleur from an operational point of view because they’re front facing and you know, we’re a digital company, it means that they’re also coming under my umbrella. So I think there’s also that, is where that becomes a little bit of confusion and, cross conversations about who to go to for a direct answer, a yes or no, from us as leaders. So that is definitely where we are coming into coming unstuck a little bit, as far as our management team in particular, knowing who has final sign off and who they come to for exact things.

Marty: Right. So you guys, you’ve both been through Leadership Beyond the Theory, right? So you would have, I’m sure, very intently studied the lesson on accountability in matrix organisations and how you need to have multiple inputs from the side to get something done, but you still need a clear accountability line. So how would you resolve, I mean, you’ve got plenty of choice about how to resolve that, what’s the, what’s the number one thing you’ve done so far to try and give clarity to those people?

Leina: One of the key things that I think that we did straight after it and I have to say about the course it was absolutely invaluable, amazing universe timing that we did the course with everything that’s been happening in particular, but I think the first thing for me with accountability for my direct reports was actually having them, having the conversation with them about we’re going to need to shift things in order so that we all understand who is accountable for things. Because we were doing that typical thing of having all of these meetings, where there was all this input, but yet we’d walk away and there wasn’t a single accountability, sort of structure there. So I feel like we opened the conversation and then all the isolation and physical and social distancing and everything has come in, that we hadn’t actually implemented the actual single accountability, we’d just opened the conversation rather than implementing.

Marty: Okay. But it sounds like you have a vision and a plan for how you might do that. Are there any complexities around that that you’re sort of working through or does it, or is it just a matter now of executing that plan?

Fleur: Oh, I think we were getting some really clear sort of, platforms for communication and then involving the right people in the discussions and so forth, and then the remote operations sort of blew that up a little bit and then it’s just, I think, and sort of trying to establish a timeframe and reporting structure to actually gather the value and come back and take action and then come back and look at the outcomes that were achieved. And therefore it’s sort of become a bit fragmented. I’m probably using excuses, us being remote, but we just sort of feel like by osmosis, you’re there hearing things in their day to day operations with where we are working from. And I’m not saying that that’s the right way, but I think in our transition to being not micromanaging as well, you still need to allow the autonomy, but it’s not going to be right, straight away. Part of that can be from what we contribute to it as well.

Marty: That’s spot on Fleur.

Leina: I was just thinking that when we were doing some work with an HR consultant, and she actually had us starting work on one of the RACI kind of spreadsheets, and at the time we didn’t really understand the context of the RACI. It was kind of like what is this? It was just all of these letters on a spreadsheet. And we did the spreadsheet as far as people’s roles, but I think now we could almost go back to that spreadsheet that we’ve got of people’s roles and start filling in the RACI as well, just even for us to become clearer about who is accountable for specific kind of areas. So that when we go back in that situation, we can be a bit more clear about who is accountable for what.

Marty: Yeah. I think a RACI is ideal, but it’s quite comprehensive. And so I’d just balance that off against your speed of delivery. So for example, you might want to get something really quickly. So the only letter of the RACI acronym that counts at the moment is the A.

Leina: Yeah. Thats what I always came back to every time I would try and do it, like, everyone’s accountable?

Marty: Yeah. So, here’s the person I’m going to hold accountable, one head to pat one ass to kick and other people will do some shit around that. Right. That’s what RACI is. Yeah, that’s good. But if you get that locked down, that’s really good. Right. And you should have, I’m sure, clarity in those roles below you, that you can actually assign those accountabilities to quite readily. If we get back to where we started, how do these people know which of you they’re taking direction from, give yourselves for every one of those, key things that you have on the RACI, so any of those core functions, make sure that there is one name next to it, it’s either Leina or Fleur, it’s never both. And make sure there’s one there and you two will need to talk to each other and there will need to be, as you said, in customer service, for example, there will need to be lots of consultation with you Leina, even though Fleur may be accountable for that function and those decisions. Yeah. That’s entirely compatible with an accountability model. So you’ve got to know who the decision maker is, but, Leina you’re the C, you have to be consulted on these things because you have specialist, expert input that’s required to do this job properly.

Leina: Okay. All right. That makes sense.

Marty: It was great to see Leina and Fleur, really trying to establish that single point accountability. In execution, this is everything. They’ll still have their work cut out, no doubt, especially as the drive to tighten their accountability culture was disrupted before it could be fully implemented. Now, we’re going to talk about how to communicate to your people with confidence when you aren’t really sure how much or how little information you should give them. This is one we all face from time to time. So I’m sure you’ll enjoy hearing Leina and Fleur’s perspective on it.

Leina: I was just going to say so I think that for me, one of the hardest thing is, you know, take even away the homeschooling element, but just the uncertainty of the whole situation. So I think for me and Fleur, we are such street fighters that we will, regardless of what happens, we will come out the other side with a strong business. We have zero doubt in our head that that will be the case. It may not be the same as what we had before and no doubt will be completely different, but we’re actually expecting that we will be stronger than we ever were on the other side of this. But as far as motivating the team to have that same vision, because, you know, on the one side you’re trying to lift their spirits and create certainty when it’s not there, but also at the same time, try and make them accountable.

Leina: You know, because what you are still kind of going, but we still need to have this done, perhaps this wasn’t done to the standard that I would have expected, and how do you do that at the same time as trying to maintain that super positive, proactive, “we’ve got this kind” of attitude.

Marty: Yeah. And that’s a just such a good question Leina. There’s a couple of things that sit behind that. The first thing is that you’re not going to be able to motivate people by saying, don’t worry, it’ll be fine. People are petrified. They’re frozen. So let me just step back and give you a couple of ideas for how you might solve this one. As I said, saying to people, don’t worry, it’ll be okay, is not enough. However, as you said, you’re going to come through this, your business is going to come through, you’re confident you know what you’re going to do and you have a plan. And so in that communication, dialogue that you have with your people, it’s really important to let them see what that plan is.

Marty: You don’t quite have the benefit of a very, very public brand like Virgin Australia, that’s in the media every single day because of the trials and tribulations, their negotiations with government, you know, how much the’ve got on their books, all that stuff is so public, and their people pick up the paper every day and look at that, which is good and bad. But they feel as though they’re being informed because there’s so much brand awareness in the media, you don’t have that. And for you two to be extraordinarily confident about coming through the other side is one thing, but how about your people? Why would they believe that that’s the case? When they read all the doom and gloom, they turn on the morning show, all that stuff going on.

Leina: So I guess on that transparency level, most of our staff, because of how we operate within the online space, they actually do have access to as far as how we are tracking, as far as, you know, the digital team is very much accountable for the traffic, the conversions, the revenue. So we’re very transparent in that aspect, but I guess, you know, when we’re looking at the whole business and how that feeds into production, who don’t have that transparency as far as seeing what the figures are and everything as well. What about that fine line though, of, you know, how much would we normally share with them as far as like, with our strategy and stuff for, because the conversations that we’re having about what we have as far as in the bank, how long we can last for all that sort of stuff, how do you navigate what that line of transparency is?

Marty: Yeah, it’s a judgement call. So you’re a private company, privately owned. You wouldn’t have any visibility of those numbers for your staff normally. And it’s a real judgement call as to how much you give people. So for example, I don’t know if you’ve ever read that book from the Brazilian CEO Ricardo Semler, called Maverick. Did you ever read that? It’s an oldie, basically, turned over the operations of his factory to his people and said, “You decide how much to pay yourselves. You decide, yeah, I’m going to give you complete visibility of the numbers so you can see what’s going on. And then you need to make decisions to make this profitable. Because at the end of the day, we want to stay in business. We want to be competitive and we need to make money so that you all have jobs, but you’ve got to work out how to actually portion the money.” Now that was a little bit brave. And I’m not sure that I believe I’d go that far, if I were you, but still here’s a couple of things that you could do for example. So everyone’s getting paid at the moment, right. Have you had any layoffs?

Fleur: Yeah, we have and it was mainly the production staff because of the, we just actually employed some new team members, so we had a few layoffs of casuals and our OPS manager, and then we sort of reduced hours because we put a holt on our in production, beyond June at that stage. Yeah. So we knew we could see that straightaway, the workload that we could manage with the numbers coming through production.

Marty: Okay. Excellent. And how did you communicate that to the rest of the workforce that remained inside the company?

Fleur: We initially had our direct, executive manager’s meeting to communicate that, just to sort of say, we are probably going to go automatically to reduced hours just to sort of handle the immediate contraction and that we would want to then speed through to…nd I think we actually did a group analysis. Did we do independent cut? Yeah, we did. We did both. We did groups and then we did individuals and then we did smaller silos as well.

Marty: Yeah. Okay. Excellent. So you’ve communicated it well at different levels with the messaging that’s pertinent to those people. Okay that’s fantastic.

Leina: We did, with that though, we did make the decision, although we’ve got management team, it wasn’t an open discussion, Fleur and I decided to make the decision about what was happening there as far as reductions today and all that sort of thing, we didn’t feel that that was something that needed to be a group.

Marty: Yeah, absolutely spot on. Spot on. It’s not a democracy. You’re not looking for people to walk in or pitch in and tell you what you should do with your business. It’s your capital at risk. One thing about communication, it’s great to communicate with your people, but you’ve got to assume that anything you communicate broadly to your staff is going to end up on the front page of the Courier Mail, right? It’s one of those, it’s just one of those things where if you make that assumption, at the beginning, you don’t get disappointed because there’s nothing out there that you would hate to see fall into the wrong hands. So that’s okay. So given that you’ve got that, the big thing about this is stitching together a story. So you can give them you know, snippets of what’s going on.

Marty: “Here’s what the minimum net sales are that we need. Here’s what our cashflow looks like. Here’s the da da da”, but it’s better putting it into a story. So I’d craft it like this. Number one, Corona virus has hit us all. Our business, like every other business, even though we’re very, very fortunate, that our distribution happens predominantly through online channels so that we don’t have the same overheads that we normally would in terms of bricks and mortar stores that we have to, that we have to service that would push us into a much worse position. So point number one, we’re lucky. Yeah. Point number two, the business is well managed. And because the business is well managed, we have the opportunity to ride through this. Point number three, if we’re going to do that, here’s what it’s going to take. And here’s what we need from you. But we can tell you that we’ve planned that up until this point in time, and you can pick the date, whatever that is, up until this point in time, the measures that we’ve already taken, they’re sufficient for us. And that sufficiency says that you don’t have to worry until this date, but let’s come back to the previous point, which is, guess what, if this is all going to work, you guys have to do your bit. And here’s what your bit looks like in the current environment. And then it comes down to actually getting the metrics that are the right metrics for each of those people. So they know what’s expected of them really clearly.

That’s probably the trickiest bit because I’m sure you probably haven’t seen the full impact of the trends on sales and so forth yet. You’ll have an idea and you’ve probably got your floor level calculated out okay, but that’s the piece that’s probably hard because then you have to think individually about people, not your job necessarily because you do have leaders underneath you who are closer to the action, who should be able to plan that out for you. But certainly getting them and the people who are individually working in different locations now in a very fragmented workforce to understand what they need to deliver to make your plan work.

And because, depending on who’s talking, because Fleur and I or because Leina and I have got such confidence in our business model and how we run this place, here are the opportunities that we see emerging during this crisis that we’re going to try and capture. We’re not just hunkering down and, you know, hoping it’ll all go away. We’re actually proactively out there, looking for the opportunities in the market, that we can take advantage of, and you guys will remember this from the finding competitive advantage in ambiguity. All your competitors are going through the same thing. How do you actually respond better, harder, faster and more intelligently, then your competitors. And so your ability to think through them, I think you alluded to that earlier Fleur, in terms of some of the things that you’re looking at that might open up a little bit for you. Cause that’s the icing on the cake. Not only shouldn’t you be worried about your jobs because we’ve run this company really well, but we’re finding ways to come out of this even stronger as you said early on.

Leina: Yeah, that’s right.

Marty: I really hope you got a lot out of that session. Now, the key points to take away just to recap are when it comes to accountability, you need one head to pat and one ass to kick. Making it clear to your people who makes decisions in any given project or work area is critical in maintaining your organization’s momentum. When deciding how much information to communicate to your people, it’s best to err on the side of more, rather than less. The acid test should be: what am I not happy to have on the front page of the newspaper? Because everything else pretty much is okay. And when you communicate, it’s not just providing information that counts, it’s about telling a story.

Alright. So that brings us to the end of Episode 94. Please drop us a line and let us know if you’re enjoying this change up in format and if you’d like to hear more from some of my live mentoring sessions. Thanks again for joining us and remember at Your CEO Mentor, our purpose is to improve the quality of leaders globally. So please take a few moments to rate and review the podcast or share it with the people in your network. I’ll look forward to next week’s episode, The Joys of Outsourcing.

Until then, I know you’ll take every opportunity you can to be a No Bullsh!t Leader.


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