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Monday, 22 April 2019

Using Too Many Wasted Words? Think Basic English!

Most of the brilliant speakers we are privileged to hear at the meetings of my Vistage CEO peer group leave behind take-away insights and processes that continue to resonate.

One of these was mentioned by one of our top speakers, Marcus Child who had been to a training session with his son at his football club. The point he made was that while the coach offered a lot of cogent and apparently positive advice, he tended to emphasise what the team needed to stop doing and indeed to stop their  opponents from doing.

All very valuable advice but almost exclusively negative. It may not seem so at first sight but it is so.

If the words we articulate are manifestations of our thoughts (which they are) then we are, in this instance, training ourselves to stop doing something and eventually this will become automatic.

Marcus also made the point that little throw-away remarks used at every touch and turn  also have this hidden negativity. Consider how we respond when someone says “thank you” to us. “No problem” we say brightly or, worse, we indulge in that antipodean “no worries” whatever that may mean.

The fact is that both of these  responses, among others, use two negative words and they are are by no means exceptional.  

Listen to yourself occasionally and see if you can use a cheerfully positive response, such as, “happy to help”, “you’re welcome” or “it’s a pleasure”.

Some years ago I was in a New York supermarket and the checkout woman went through the full gamut of the training programme, (program?) ending with the inevitable “have a nice day”.

Being a nicely brought up Englishman I said “Thank you”. She looked at me for the first time and then said, as they can only say in NYC, “Thank you for what?”  Presumably politeness wasn’t much in evidence in the training course.

Making changes in habitual nodes of speech takes a lot of care, attention and effort. How about starting by eliminating one or more of the following:

Y’know what I mean?
As they say
Sort of
At the end of the day
for starters. I am working on two of them right now.

All of them are quite redundant and just get in the way of what we are intending to say.

We all fall into the trap from time to time and it just needs a modicum of thought before we speak; to adjust what we were going to say and replace it with an inherently  positive response.

Remember that making that change over 30 days is likely to make it into a habit and that can only be a good thing.

Many of the brilliant speakers we have at the meetings of our Vistage CEO peer groups emphasise the need to use positive indicators and responses in our normal conversation.

John Cremer, as an example, demonstrates how this works by designing two forms of a role play conversation, one using the conjunction “and” then replacing it with “but”.

The results were astonishing.
The “and” pair exhibited energy, interest and collaborative insights whereas the “buts” were lethargic, disinterested and lacking energy. Their shoulders actually dropped and please remember this was role play!

But” can be a wholly destructive word in any conversation.  It has been said that when we use BUT we destroy everything that has been said before it.

During the last war and to improve communications the Government instituted a programme of Basic English using no more than 800 words.   This was considered sufficient,in terms of the number of words and using the basic rules of grammar, to become relatively proficient in English as a second language.

Would that it were more evident today in these times of super-communication.

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Sunday, 14 April 2019

Modern Thoughts About Leadership? Most of Them Are Nearly 2,500 Years Old!

Many of the social media pundits on leadership seem to think that their ideas are brand new, radical, revolutionary and innovative.

As it happens, the Greek philosopher, Aristotle (384BC-322BC) suggested that there are three forms of rule: the rule of one, the rule of the few and the rule of the many.  A student of Plato, he opined that the 'rule of one' was necessary to prevent anarchy and mob rule.  Now that is radical.

In those years and subsequently during the rise of Rome, the 'rule of one' came into prominence with emperors like Augustus, Claudius and the unlamented Caligula ruling.  So what happened to the rule of the few and the rule of the many?

It seems that even if there were a valid example of the 'rule of the many', in very short order a leader emerges to impose the 'rule of one'.   Post 1917 Russia is a classic example where the revolution of the masses spawned Stalin's 'rule of one'.

I recall a workshop weekend with a previous company where we had some six breakout groups of about ten in each, and we were asked to work on solving an insoluble problem.  Each group was allocated a minder who sat there and took notes and then reported back to the meeting after an hour's deliberation.

It turned out that we weren't actually working on problem solving, but were there to give the minders (all psychologists) a view of how groups work and how they choose their leaders.

Astonishingly, all the minders reported the same results.  In every case each group elected a notional leader/chairman, usually a Director of the company who happened to be in their group, and then proceeded to ignore him.

The more forceful and articulate seemed in each case to emerge into a leadership role with the majority of the other members of the groups deferring to them.  Seniority had no effect.

So what does this mean in terms of a modern approach to leadership?  Many businesses, especially those which are essentially entrepreneurial, are work on the 'rule of one' basis and the 'rule of the many' applies only in unusual cases like the John Lewis Partnership.   Many SMEs are run on the 'rule of the few' basis and preferably 'the virtuous few'.

However, it must be said that in the business world, Aristotle was percipient to the extent that in well run companies, all his rules apply.  Starting with an entrepreneurial leader, as the business grows and expands, an effective management team has to be built into a 'virtuous few'.

So where does the 'rule of the many' come into the calculation?   Until a business understands that 'the many' have much more to offer than merely their labour, then it will effectively be run on a 'top down' basis with minimal upwards contribution.

Perhaps this implies that one of the most important facets of great leaders is that of humility; the acceptance that they don't know everything about everything, and that everyone in the business has a place in the scheme of things.

David Marquet, lately of the US Navy and author of the best-selling book, Turn the Ship Around, says that he changed the governance of his failing command from Leader/Follower to Leader/Leader. This gave responsibility at every level of leadership rather than solely top down with all its consequent blockages.

If you would like to hear David in person he is the keynote speaker at the next Vistage Open Day on May 17th at the Hilton Hotel, Manchester.  DM me to be registered as my guest, FOC for the first three applications from executives at CEO or MD level. It could change your whole approach to leadership.

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Sunday, 7 April 2019

Are All Your Salespeople Closers? Train Them to AFTO!

I have long had an aversion to the use of synonyms for sales as if the very word ‘sales’ were objectionable. High on the list is “business development”, a tortuous way of describing possibly the most important department in any commercial enterprise.

For some unfathomable reason here in the United Kingdom, Sales have been regarded as a slightly sleazy description of an honourable and professional activity. Typical is the description “used car salesman” and that says it all.

Just as bad, I submit, is the lumping together of sales and marketing, two vastly differing activities.  Marketing, per se, is essentially an analytical activity without which sales operations are missing a trick.  Market research, media research, promotional activity and publicity all come under the generic heading of marketing.

Indeed some would argue that sales is also a marketing function.   I don’t agree simply because marketing is largely a desk activity and needs people comfortable in that environment, whereas sales demands driven, determined, self-starting loners.

It has been wisely said that the worst albeit very tempting appointment that ca be made is to promote your best sales person to be sales manager. Great sales operators by definition are loners, self starters while sales managers must have the ability to encourage, develop and coordinate a motley group of loners.

Joke: A sprtsman used to go shooting regularly and always asked for a dog called Salesman because it was quick, intelligent, obeyed commands and generally was exceptional. One day he went to book the dog for a shoot and the owner said sadly:
Sorry, but he’s been ruined.  Some idiot called him Sales Manager and now he just sits on his ass and barks”.

Since the times when I spent many happy days motoring around the UK going to see engineers and helping them make technical decisions, the methods we use to get to the market have changed significantly primarily through the astonishing growth in social media .

One of the members of my Vistage CEO peer group has exploited the medium very successfully.  Apart from the replacement of print advertising by the same methods on social media there has been a growth in using the medium as a news source.

Relatively new as it is, advertising on social media is beginning to lose its impact and one hears some irritation at its perceived intrusion”.   Far more effective is the use of social media, especially those more sector dedicated, to careful dissemination of “news” stories that are more interesting and are not seen as being intrusive.

As an example, one of the members of my Vistage CEO peer group started an initiative just a year ago that has resulted in around 8% sales growth from new customers. He uses very good photography and appends an interesting story.  Crucially he posts 3 or 4 times a day and that demands dedicated resource.

Of course that initiative started as a marketing exercise that has generated direct sales and which has opened the door to face to face contact meetings classed as warm leads

There are many mantras about sales such as “Build a relationship”, “Selling isn’t telling”, “Ask questions and shut up” and so on that emphasise techniques for that crucial eyeball to eyeball meeting.  

I was under training many years ago with one of those (useless) conventional salesmen, (trilby hat, battered briefcase etc.) who merely recited extracts from the company catalogue and waited for the prospect to bite. The interview usually ended with the buyer glazing over and the salesman threatening to “see you again next month”.

A completely valueless exercise that results in the “he’s in a meeting”  response at reception. In short, he wasn’t a “closer”.

My old sales mentor, Phil Copp, the Sage of Wythenshawe, used the “ask relevant questions then listen, listen, listen” and he was massively successful. People like to talk about their businesses and listening to them encourages a positive relationship.

Methods may have changed but in general people haven’t and a great face-to-face meeting is still the best marketing tool.

Finally, be positive, helpful and collaborative and don’t forget to AFTO! (Ask For The Order)!

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Sunday, 31 March 2019

I Used to be Indecisive, Now I’m In JFDI Mode!

Scratch your head, have a large gin and tonic, bet on a horse, cross the room, all of these are the result of making a decision and some of us are good and some bad at the exercise.

We have just had an exceptional keynote speaker presentation at my Vistage CEO Peer group delivered by "the SUMO guy", Paul McGee.   Paul made the interesting point that more than 80% of the decisions we make are made on autopilot.

Think about driving on the motorway, arriving at the destination and suddenly realising that we can’t recall anything about the journey.  We have all experienced this strange phenomenon from time to time which tends to support the 80% estimate.

What makes it more significant is an estimate by psychologists that we make on average the astonishing number of 35,000 decisions a day and more than 80% are made without our realising it.

In the last few months I have been experiencing (age related) lack of mobility and as a consequence I am consciously making decisions so as to reduce unnecessary walking about.  This, I suppose, reduced the auto-pilot proportion by a significant amount.

However, the brain is a wondrous instrument and after a few days of thinking about it, I now find that many of the decisions I need to make have gone into auto-pilot node

In past consultancy days I used a useful model, The Decision Tree, with clients especially where they were grappling with  a seemingly intractable problem.

The technique, using a very large sheet of paper or a white board, was to start with a box and a statement of the problem.

Beneath that box we drew a series of boxes each containing a potential solution and from each of these  we drew an action flow chart that eventually arrived at a series of answers with costings, time issues, people issues and any other relevant details.

From there it was possible draw comparisons to enable the making of a very considered decision as to the most appropriate solution.

All well and good but as the model needs to be very detailed it takes a lot of time and effort so its use should be restricted to major issues.

On the other hand I had a member if my Vistage `CEO Peer group who had a Technical Director, very competent and technically accomplished, but who drove him to distraction.

The problem was that the Director, being a methodical engineer, refused to make a decision until he he considered that he had all the relevant information and as this took forever, or so it seemed, his decision making process was extended to say the least.

It often takes a brave soul to accept that enough background information is available in order to make a decision, especially when importance and urgency raise demanding heads.

The ability to cut through all the “stuff” that gets in the way of good and quick decision making is the hallmark of a capable leader.  In addition there has to be an acceptance that we don’t always get it right and a decision can go awry.

However, in many cases it is better to bite the bullet and decide rather than constantly look for a better solution. Remember that even matters that seem important at the time, probably because someone else says that they are, won’t always be as significant in six month’s time.  

Perhaps a good dose of JFDI would be the best answer.

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Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Do You Take CSR seriously? If Not, Why Not!

There was an interesting debate on the BBC World Service recently about the difference between a charity and a Not for Profit company and the morality or otherwise of large businesses supporting them. 

Corporate Social Responsibility should mean just that.  While businesses employ people and so give them a living it is also good to feel a responsibility for the local community in some tangible way. 

Several of the members of my Vistage CEO peer group are actively involved in their local communities and that is admirable. 

For example, the Casey Group of Companies, a major construction company in Rochdale, helped on a BBC TV  programme which was renovating a whole street for disabled service personnel by allocating construction specialists to work on the project. 

In another instance alumnus The School Bus in  Macclesfield have instituted a charity, The School Bus Foundation devoted to assisting disadvantaged children and they raise funds through events and donations. 

The Casey Group example is typical of businesses offering resources to assist in a community project while The School Bus  have gone directly to the charity sector and both are equally laudable. 

In both cases, by the way, these are symptomatic and represent a wide range of activities by both companies. Other Vistage members like the 144 years established
Alfred Bagnall and Sons have a wide range of activities designed to benefit local communities. 

My interest was sparked by the radio programme which discussed the relationship between a Not for Profit company, Marathon Kids in Austin, Texas and sports goods manufacturer Nike. 

Marathon Kids was set up to encourage young children to take up running for good health, for a level of sport in their lives and above all for fun. 

There was some dis quiet in the programme at the thought of Nike "moving in" to what seemed to be a perfect opportunity for some heavy marketing which was looked on as being of dubious morality. However nothing could be further from the truth. 

The only mention of Nike on the Marathon Kids website is that Nike rewards are given to competitors who achieve distance milestones. 

In fact Nike do not give money to Marathon Kids and they do not give shoes at will.  

What they do is offer resources that Marathon Kids manifestly do not have such as branding and marketing advice especially when a club is being started in a new location. 

The question is at what point does a large company involvement in "good works" become self seeking, if at all?

There are after all many wealthy individuals who are extremely philanthropic and they do it because they consider it the right thing to do rather than looking for any gain. 

When a company does it and perhaps makes a fuss about it there can be a suspicion that there may just be an ulterior motive. 

I am both Jewish and a Freemason and I realise that both have charity at the heart of what they are. 

For example a core prayer at the Jewish New Year mentions Penitence, Prayer and Charity as being central to the whole ethos of the religion. 

The very basis of Freemasonry lists Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth where Relief is a synonym for charity. It should be mentioned, by the way, that Freemasonry is the second largest contributor to charity in the UK after the National Lottery. 

Nobody mentions gain after giving charity in either case so there is no question of morality whereas large companies donating noisily may be accused of doing it for gain. 

True or false, giving charity either in cash or kind is essential to keep many social organisations in business and if it does good then that is wonderful. For example, the Air Ambulance Service could not exist without donations from many individuals and organisations. 

Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah, says that the only way to give charity is anonymously so that nobody knows what you have done and the only gain is a feeling of satisfaction by doing the right thing. 

Quite a thought.  

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