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Sunday, 10 December 2017

Thinking Seriously About The Business? It’s Really Worth Taking The Time!

One of the most important factors in the life of the leader is simply thinking about his/her organisation.   Easily said but how often do we actually take time out to reflect on the business and our part in it?  We may think ABOUT it, yes, but do we also think INTO it?

It may be a subtle difference but it is well worth the consideration.  We can almost substitute “worry” for “think” in so many instances when we really ought to be quietly cogitating on the business and its future outside the day to day detail. In that wonderful film, Bridge of Spies, the defence attorney asks the spy “Aren’t you worried about your possible fate?” and the spy replies “Why, would it help?:
One of the most significant parts of the Vistage experience is the annual retreat for the whole group where we go away to a pleasant venue and spend time together.   Some groups in the UK have been overseas and my group had a memorable (for many reasons) retreat in a castle in Scotland which was next door (about four miles away in fact) to the legendary Castle of Dunsinane.
That sort of retreat is in a group context and on the other hand, Vistage speaker, Walt Sutton, reminds us of the saying of golfer Sam Snead who said “Take time out to smell the roses”.  Walt encourages leaders to take time out for a solitary retreat which he describes as taking a metaphorical walk on the beach. No smart phones or notebooks.  Just a quiet walk and perhaps work on an issue that is taking up too much time right now.
It is vital for the leader to realise that he/she is generally the only person in the business who actually thinks about it holistically, about its present and its future, about its vision and about its potential.
Yes, everyone in the business will give some thought to their job and its manifestations, but only the leader thinks about the business in a holistic sense.  That thinking time is vital for the future of the business and it is usually the last thing in which the leader indulges.
There seems to be an inherent sense of guilt at apparently not doing anything visibly tangible but just sitting quietly and thinking.   One member of my group did just that for a full day (after a lot of encouragement) to think about a relatively difficult issue in the business. When I asked him what had happened he said:
“At the end of the thinking day, nothing at all, but a couple of days later, ideas started to pop out and I was able to attack the problem”.
It is known that if we consider a problem, then close down and forget it, the brain continues to work on it subconsciously.  Even if there doesn’t seem to be an immediate answer (our brain is not a smart phone) the answer can pop up seemingly out of the blue a day or two later.
Remember that if the leader doesn’t apply serious thinking to the business and its future, no-one else will and the future will just happen for good or bad.  

Go smell those roses.

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Sunday, 3 December 2017

What Do You Mean, You Forget Things? Write Them Down!

I am now of an age that when I go upstairs I frequently forget why I did so.  Not so unusual I am given to understand and it is probably a function of too many distractions in our lives.
Some years ago we went to a marvellous Festival of Music and Wine in the south of France and on one occasion were treated to an extraordinary recital of Schubert’s piano sonatas by the redoubtable and remarkable Moura Lympany.   She played the whole evening entirely from memory, without any written music in sight, and we were entranced.
At the cocktail party afterwards she revealed (unwittingly perhaps) that memory can be very selective as she wandered round introducing people to each other by the simple expedient of:
“Darling, have you met darling?”  
By the way, she was well into pensionable age at the time.
It is said that as we age or better, become more mature, our memory starts to fail.  Apart from the sad impact of dementia and other similar conditions, I don’t believe that this is necessarily the case. Perhaps it is because as we age we generate more and more experiences against a limited ability to recall.
The crux of the matter is, of course, that ability to recall.  The information is there all right, however old we may be, but recall sometimes can be a problem.  In addition we also tend to remember things in a selective way so that, for instance, two people from the same family can have vastly differing recollections of events in their joint past.
It is possible to train ourselves to improve recall and Vistage speaker, the very entertaining David Thomas, tells how he managed to remember and recall Pi to well over 23,000 decimal places (we did suggest when he did a limited demonstration for my Group that perhaps he needed to get out more).  Of course, David has trained himself to be able to do that and some more equally amazing feats by using relatively simple and centuries old techniques.
There are so many distractions in the world in which we live that even though we may start the day knowing precisely what is needed to be done, as time progresses through the day we forget some things and start to remember others which may or may not be of comparable significance.
The “to do” list does help, of course.  I went to see a client once who said that he had a “to do” list on which he worked every day.  Impressed, I asked to see it and was slightly surprised to find that he had 72 items on it.  I suggested that it was more a “things that I hope I may get round to doing” rather than a “to do” list as such but he said that unless he wrote them all down, he wouldn’t remember them anyway.
That is a fair point; writing down something that you feel a need to remember immediately enhances the ability to recall even without looking at the list.
Keeping a daily journal is a great way to assist in recall; noting down the things to do and the things that you have done, as well as other useful bits and pieces on a daily basis, can be invaluable.
The key to it all is to accept that memory is selective.  We recall things that are significant and tuck the rest away.  The trick is to decide what we need to recall and put a system in place to help it happen.  Now all you need to do is to remember to do it.

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Sunday, 26 November 2017

What Do Your People Want? It’s Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose!

Many years ago I went to a presentation in London by the renowned Professor of Marketing at Harvard, Theodore Levitt.  One of his maxims has lived with me ever since:

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”

I thought this to be brilliant until I recently fell across the following:

“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable.”

This was said by the Roman philosopher Lucius Amaeus Seneca (4 BCE - 65 CE) so there isn’t much that is new under the sun.

It is perhaps self evident that if we start on a journey either physically or metaphorically, to a geographical destination or an objective of any sort it at least makes sense to have an idea of the final outcome.

I am in the process of listening to the audio version of an amazing book, Drive by Dan Pink (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Drive-Daniel-H-Pink/dp/184767769X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1511438548&sr=8-1&keywords=drive+by+dan+pink)

He demolishes the long held methodology that makes sense to encourage and reward good performance and punish poor performance.  On the face of it, it is better to motivate people by offering some sort of reward, be it monetary, other tangible or intangibles to make them work harder or more effectively, right?

Wrong.  A myriad of experiments have been conducted to show that this is just not the case.  Actually it is the case only if the task to be undertaken is purely mechanical and needs an algorithm to determine the rules for accomplishing the task.

In that case financial incentives can work and again this has been demonstrated in many psychological tests.

However, and it is a very big however, if there is only a small need for some sort of cognitive input to accomplishing a task then the science shows that not only do financial incentives not work but they can actually have a negative response.

This is counter-intuitive.  We can live with the idea that people are coin-operated because it seems to be logical but in fact, it isn’t true.

Dan Pink offers the theory, repeated by many eminent psychologists worldwide, that while we conventionally think that there are only two motivational drive both of which are extrinsic, that is, they operate from the outside inwards like financial reward, there is another far more significant driver that is intrinsic, that is, within all of us.

We all want and need three outcomes to give us satisfaction in work, play and indeed life itself:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

Autonomy says that we much prefer and operate more effectively if we have control over what we are doing with the freedom to check and perhaps ask for assistance as necessary.  It has been said very sagely that it is demeaning to expect people to accomplish other people’s objectives.

Mastery means that we all want inherently to become expert at something whether in work or play, whether it is relevant or not.  Typical is the person who is learning to play the piano.  They don’t normally expect to become a virtuoso but are doing it for pleasure and for another step on the road to mastery.

Purpose  results from the achievement of autonomy and mastery.  We all need some purpose in our lives and not necessarily through the adoption of pure objectives.

In any case it has been found that short term objectives tend to subsume purpose.  They distract us from the greater good in the race to demonstrate achievement.

Leaders can take great lessons from this book.  Instead of using the sterile old fashioned methods that intensify the need for “management” of people we need to give our people the respect that they deserve by offering them autonomy in their working practices, the ability to achieve further steps to mastery and to encourage them to have purpose in their lives.

Take a look at the YouTube video, “RSA Animation Dan Pink” and start to change your life for the better.

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Sunday, 19 November 2017

Planning Your Succession? Don’t Leave It Too Late!

During this last week I came across an example of leadership that was both unusual and reassuring.

So many times I have experienced situations where the leader, mostly an owner manager, is ploughing on, running the business, getting older and not considering what needs to be done or even what might happen.

In one instance I asked the owner of a medium sized engineering company employing around 50 souls what his plans were for exiting the business.

He was over 65 years old, currently fit and in full command of his faculties.  He looked at me as if I had just asked when he thought that he might die.

“I haven’t the slightest idea,” he said.  “I have no intention of giving up.  If I did, I would have nothing to do and I couldn’t live like that/”

I sympathised with his attitude.  I certainly don’t intend to retire until my faculties really do pack in and for the same reason.

However, I don’t own a business that employs people and as long as I am able and my mind holds out then I can reasonably keep going.

My old colleague in the US, Pat Hyndman, used to say before he died still in harness at the age of 95 that he intended to keep going until they had to carry him out on the flip chart and I feel much the same.

Not so the business owner.  As we age the potential for sudden inability to continue gets closer and unless there is some plan, in the mind at least if not exactly specified, then it can cause real problems.

I was asked during my consultancy days, to help out with a business in which the owner/manager had died suddenly leaving his wife, who knew nothing about the business, the new sole owner.  It was too late; the accountants had got their hands on it and were planning to  extract the assets while the business was still viable.  A sad experience.

On the other hand, I had a member of my Vistage CEO peer group whose husband had succumbed to a dread wasting disease and was unable to continue to run the business.  Very bravely she, with no experience of this technically complex operation, dived in and by dint of great determination, saved the company and ran it successfully until such time as she eventually sold it.

There are no hard and fast rules other than sensible planning at a stage when the owner begins to realise that he/she is not immortal.

Back to the beginning.  This week’s leadership lesson involves two partners in a successful business, both aged in the late 50s and desirous a beginning to take it rather more easy.  Very sensibly they discussed the matter and though they had been in sole charge of the business they decided to build a management team that could take the business forward without their constant input.

This included assessing the existing talent in the  company, determining what functions needed to be strengthened, promoting good people into the top team and then, crucially, giving them training to help develop them as leaders.

That, to my mind, is a forward looking, eminently pragmatic approach to what can be an intractable problem if left to fester.  All too often I have known people who ostensibly hand over the reins of a business to the next generation only to keep on as a looming presence without power except that of being a parent.  It is called interference and it doesn’t help and it doesn’t work.

Succession planning for a sensibly organised exit from a business is the right thing to do.  It can be very painful but if the business is to continue to thrive then it is essential.  The clever thing is to start before you realise that it is necessary.

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Sunday, 12 November 2017

Can You Identify The Real Issue? Cut Through The Stuff And Focus!

One of the most important features of any meeting of a Vistage CEO peer group is the executive session where members’ issues are discussed, analysed and receive opinions as to a possible solution.

The real crux of the presentation of an issue to the group is that of focus; the ability to explain the significance of the issue in as few well chosen words as possible without resorting to an overabundance of evidence.

I recall that a very good friend of mine decamped from his accountancy career, pleading justifiable sanity, and set up a business offering advice and consultancy in the dark art of networking at which he was (and is) very proficient.

Nowadays if you haven’t been “Kintished” (www.kintish.co.uk) then you are missing a trick.

When he decided to break out on his own we discussed the matter and he made it clear that he would not be doing his own financial accounting, he would not be doing any administration, he would be hiring very competent people to do all that for him.

He referred to those tasks as “stuff”, all of which he recognised were essential but at which he was not proficient.  Better that he should exploit what he considered his expertise and that was training people to network effectively.

That was more than ten years ago and he has been very successful without having to resort to doing “stuff.”

I had a new member of my Key Executive group who called me a couple of days before the meeting to ask if he could bring up an issue.  I, of course, agreed and asked for a resume of his problem. However, rather than discuss it on the telephone he sent me an email.

It was pages long, full of explanations and evidence and it took real effort to decide on the precise issue.

At the meeting he continued in this vein until I stopped him in full flow and asked if the issue was that the attitude and behaviour of a good member of his staff had suddenly and seriously deteriorated.

He thought for a minute and then said:

“Well yes, but that is very simplistic.”

Too right it was simplistic but isn’t that what we need to achieve if we are to focus on what is the real issue?

So many decisions in business are made while being cluttered with vast amounts of evidence that may well be relevant but are not significant when making the decision.

We can know too much about everything in the business and often seem to need the reassurance of every bit of information before making a considered decision.  Indeed a past member of my Vistage CEO group told me that while his Operations Director was highly competent he was unable to make a decision because he could never have enough information.

Business these days is a mass of complexities and the great leaders have the, perhaps inborn, ability to cut through all the “stuff’ and get to the crux of the matter.  It is called focus and those who have mastered it are really ahead of the game.

My business hero, the late Jim Slater, who incidentally was an accountant, would never allow more than twenty minutes for discussion of the accounts at a board meeting.   What was likely to happen and affect the business going forward was more important.

The accounts were an expression of the past and the more important attention must be given to what objectives we intended to achieve.

That is a great example of focus and a great lesson that we can all learn.

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Sunday, 5 November 2017

Change Is Inevitable! Are You An Early Adopter?

Two very interesting statistics came to my notice this week:

·   Cities and towns cover 2.7% of the surface of the planet, over 50% of the world population live there, they use 75% of all the energy produced and in turn, they produce 80% of all emissions.

·   Of a total world population of 7billion, 5billion have mobile (cell) phones and there are more than 7 billion in use.  Moreover the estimate is that smart phone usage itself will exceed 5.1 billion by 2019.

Both of these stats emphasise the dramatic changes that have taken place on this planet over the past fifty or so years.  Dramatic isn’t really a strong enough word; extraordinary is probably nearer the truth.

The fact is that the rate of change in the last fifty years has been exponential and this has taken with it the rate of change in the availability of data that is readily available to us via Google and other search engines.

As usual, the gloom mongers and naysayers tell us that the web is a repository of incorrect, dangerous and misleading information and we should therefore treat it with great care and suspicion.  For goodness sake, we have been saying that about newspapers for years so what is so different?

One of the most compelling effects of these changes has been the compression of time; not actually but apparently.  We now expect a response to our communication, probably through text or email, in hours and preferably minutes, whereas even twenty years ago, we had to wait for a snail mail response which could take days if not weeks.

Urgency has shortened, we are constantly distracted by that ping which tells us that another text message or email has arrived and we must read it and reply instantly.

We can see the demise of email, possibly in the next ten years as the use of messaging on social networking sites takes over.  And how long will those social networking platforms last before something else arrives out of left field to improve our lives?

None of this is right or wrong, good or bad.  It is simply the reality of the way in which our lives have been changed and it is up to us as to whether is for the better.

Sure, we can contract out if we wish; it is always a matter of choice.  For example, we can change the cities and the environment by moving out and living a simpler, less compressed existence in the country.

The fact is that aspirations and expectations among those currently living outside the cities will inevitably draw them there to live a more fulfilled existence in an urban environment, as they see it (mostly on TV).  The movement of population from the countryside to the cities especially in China has been and continues to be, a growing trend.

Change is inevitable and while we can always decide not to join that club, change will still happen around us and by definition affect the way we live.  Saying that we are not interested in modern technology is a very King Canute-like approach and just as effective.

By far the best way is to embrace these exciting changes and use them for our benefit.

A hermit who had been in a cave for the last fifty years emerged to find these dramatic changes.  He mentioned it to the first person he met who said: 

“I have in my pocket a device that can access all the knowledge in the world”

“That is amazing” said the hermit: “What do you use it for?”

“Mainly for looking at pictures of dogs and cats and having bitter arguments with total strangers”

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