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Sunday, 23 July 2017

Experiencing Indifferent Behaviour? Maybe It’s Time For Tough Love!

There comes a time in the life of every leader when we come to an “if all else fails” decision and that is usually when we have exhausted every possible route to bring an incalcitrant member of the team back on board.

It isn’t necessarily an attitude issue, it isn’t necessarily a performance issue.

It is often a product of enthusiasm linked to a lack of organisational abilities and it can cause lots of confusion and even havoc in the team.

Given that the member has been and continues to be a valuable contributor with somewhat of a behaviour problem, there comes a time when action needs to be taken.

Please note, bad attitude is totally unacceptable.  Bad behaviour can be corrected given that the individual has enough honesty to realise the shortcomings.

Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, was equally legendary for his quotes, one of which was:

“I want you to be fired with enthusiasm, because if you aren’t, then you will be fired – with enthusiasm”.

He took a failing team and during his tenure they won five out of eight Super-Bowls.

Another of his quotes was

“The only place where success comes before work, is in the dictionary”.

Question – did he love his teams and did they love him? You bet they did even if they were probably terrified of him.

There is a vital difference between authoritarianism and assertiveness.  The true leader understands the need to accept and even tolerate some people because of their abilities without accepting disruption and without taking an aggressive stance.

Here in the UK possibly the most successful football manager ever is Sir Alex Ferguson and no-one could ever say about him that he is a gentle soul. The stories about him are legion and the dressing room echoed many times to the sound of his fury, not to mention the notorious hair dryer.

Again, how do his people see him? Manchester United, love them or hate them, have always had a culture of togetherness and if anyone bucks that trend then their time with the club tends to be  limited. The departure of some high profile players over the years is testament to that fact.

On the other hand ask anyone who has experienced Sir Alec in the background.  They will tell you that he knows everyone’s name, speaks to everyone and is always approachable.

The easy way out, of course, is to go with the flow and hope that people will conform. Generally they don’t and it is the leader who gives firm direction with respect who succeeds.

The tough leaders engender respect while giving honest, fair and consistent feedback to their people and the most significant of those talents is probably consistency.

Most importantly, not only do they earn the respect of their people, they GIVE respect back to them and that can be the most motivating criterion of all.

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Sunday, 16 July 2017

Living In The Past? Live Now And Go Bravely Into The Future!

June 2017 was an emotional time for me as, somewhat to my surprise, I reached my 25th anniversary as a Vistage group chair.  

It was a very heartwarming time and perhaps I may be excused a little personal reflection.

I am eternally grateful for the constant support of my wife Hilary, my wonderful Vistage groups, chair colleagues and everyone at Vistage UK not to mention the combined efforts of the National Health Service and the pharmaceutical industry.

An anniversary like this can set off an orgy of hoary reminiscence and that can be excessively boring so I have avoided it. Apart from mentioning that I have been involved in over 3,500 one-to-one mentoring sessions and heard more than 400 speaker presentations I have kept well away from looking back, as far as I can, that is.

That is not to say that we all have happy memories and why ever not recall them to give us pleasure.  

The past, good, bad or irrelevant, will always be with us and the trick is to use it as a tool, not as a comfort blanket.   We can’t change what has happened and there are too many people who live in a world of “if only…..”.

The brilliant Israeli-American psychologist, Dr Amos Tversky with his colleague Dr Daniel Kahneman evolved a theory that proposed a link between decision making and feelings of regret.  On the basis that we feel regret at a poor decision, one that could have been more adventurous or even our inability to make a decision the conjunction seems logical.

The point is that regret, if it is evident, is a product of our past and we need to harness the vast amount of knowledge and experience that we keep in the database we call memory. Regret is a useless emotion unless we use it solely as a learning experience. Otherwise it can eat us up in the certain knowledge that nothing can be done to  change the situation.

The equation E+R=O (event plus response equals outcome) encapsulates the position precisely. The event has passed and nothing can be done to change it. However the response to an event is absolutely in our own hands and we can always affect the outcome for the best given some careful thought.

I believe that instinct or gut-feeling is actually our rational brain searching out memory bank for previous experience that can colour our response to any event and that says, trust your feelings.

We all know the mantra that says we learn from the past, we live in the present and we plan for the future (or at least, should in all cases) but how often do we get them out of kilter.  The worst alternative is to live in the past and hope for either more of it or some way that it can be altered for the better..

What can be changed is our reaction and response to the past so that the path to the future will be, if not exactly flower strewn, at least one that we have planned positively.

We shouldn’t  live our lives by walking bravely backwards into the future with our eyes firmly fixed on the past.

Live life forwards.  My next anniversary, G-d willing,  will be my Vistage CEO group’s 25th birthday in June 2018 and I am starting the planning right now.

Thank you to everyone who have been so kind in their comments, messages and calls.  I never realised that I had so many great friends.

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Sunday, 9 July 2017

If It Looks Right It Will Fly!

In my technical consulting days I was appointed to an assignment with a large engineering company. Their problem was that they manufactured straddle carriers for stacking dockside containers and they were rather concerned that they kept failing resulting in some flat dock workers.

In the approved manner I did all the static and dynamic loading checks and came to the conclusion that the suspension chains were under-engineered and hence kept failing especially under dynamic loading.

To make sure I took my friend George to have a look at a straddle carrier in action locally. George, balding, hunched as usual in his gabardine raincoat and inevitably smoking his pipe took a look, shook his head, took another look and said:

“You're right Ivan, it doesn't look right to me".

That was enough for me. While the calculations had given me the answer, the real answer came from a lifetime of experience and knowledge. This was true experience and George was able to give an opinion simply by drawing on that experience and knowing deep down that something just wasn't right.

On another occasion I was working with some executives who had been made redundant during an earlier recession and one of them claimed to be an accountant. It soon transpired that he was floundering so I dug a little into his background.

He had qualified all right and then had been made head of Purchase Ledger department in a large company.  His experience over 25 years was actually one year's experience replicated 25 times.

Kenneth and Will Hopper, in their brilliant book The Puritan Gift, talk about "domain knowledge", that vital component that can only be developed in a company that typically promotes from within and, among other criteria, treats promotion as a reward for great performance. The "science" of management has to be learned and the best place to learn it is as one moves up through the levels of the business.

Under certain circumstances it is inevitable that a vacancy can only be filled from outside the business for example in the case of a new function where there is no experience internally or when there is no-one in the organisation ready for promotion.

Nevertheless taking what may seem to be a risk and promoting someone who may still be short of some experience can often result in a surprising and  happy outcome.

The key is that if they have the right attitude and importantly that domain knowledge that says they know how the business works, its culture and how they do things, then it can be surprisingly successful.

In my early apprentice days in the aircraft industry we had a Chief Designer whose constant mantra was:

"If it looks right, it'll fly!"

Whether it is aircraft or people, that is  a classic example of confident "domain knowledge”.

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Sunday, 2 July 2017

You’re Entitled To What? Take Some Personal Responsibility!

The turmoil and tumult of the past couple of weeks have led me to the deeper realisation that in the majority of cases immigration has much to offer this country and indeed has brought great benefits over many years.  We are beginning to understand slowly that we need willing hands to assist in so many areas of the economy and pre-Brexit concerns are apparently slowing the flow of people wanting to come here to work.

I heard an economist saying recently that in order to continue to maintain the growth in GDP we will need at least 160,00 more people to be employed and most of that will have to come from immigration.  Significantly there seems to be the start of a slowdown.

It brought to mind the experiences of my grandfather who, in the 1870s, was sent by his parents to England from Poland, at the age of 15, to escape the prevailing persecution.

Unescorted and unable to speak English, he travelled by horse and cart, train and eventually a ship, with a label attached to his coat bearing an address in Manchester where some relations lived having come to England a few years before.

Miraculously he arrived safely, survived and made a new life in this country which he adored.  When I knew him he was a voracious reader, had taught himself English as well as Hebrew, Latin and Greek and was making a somewhat tenuous living as a tailor.

In all his 80-odd years he paid his taxes, never asked the state for anything and, indeed, never expected anything.  He was an intensely fulfilled individual who had survived through his own efforts and had made a happy life in this country having married and raised a family of five children.

A recent broadcast by a “community” leader complained that the state was not helping them and that they needed more assistance.  My grandfather would have been totally bemused by this; what can the state do to help people if they don’t make an effort to help themselves first?  Unquestionably there will always be a proportion of the population that through disability or sickness need assistance and it is right that the state is always there as a helping backstop.

If we consider the situation in business, much the same criteria apply.  To employ people who spend their time whingeing and moaning, constantly complaining and in “something needs to be done about it” mode, is depressing and corrosive for other members of the team.

We need to give our people the freedom to express themselves, to encourage initiative and decision making and to ensure that if anything goes awry, then it is looked upon as a learning challenge not a case for reprimand.

We need to get away from the “it’s my right” syndrome and encourage the “it’s my responsibility” attitude.

That way we can start to make headway into a new positive post- Brexit start for the country and for business in general.

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Saturday, 24 June 2017

Lowest Price? Not From Us – We Sell Excellence!

He sat at the front of the class of Managing Directors that I was taking at a Business School, arms folded and a belligerent look on his face as he said: “We won’t stay in business if we don’t quote the lowest prices in the industry”.

There were two fallacies there.  Firstly some research uncovered the fact that his prices were about mid-way in comparison to the rest of the industry, and secondly, in the end he increased his prices and didn’t go out of business.

It all came to mind as I listened recently to a radio programme when a Managing Director of a German engineering company was being interviewed.  As is usual with radio interviewers, he was asked how difficult it must be to remain “competitive” in a world market.

The response was illuminating and demonstrated a totally different attitude and possibly even culture.  Slightly surprised by the suggestion, the MD said: “We are extremely competitive because we manufacture to very high quality.  

Our customers know that they can buy cheaper in the Far East but they prefer quality and reliability so they come to us.  Because of this we can charge higher prices and we are very busy”.

Slightly shocked, the interviewer went banging on about “being competitive” without realising or even accepting that being competitive does not necessarily imply low prices.  In fact, research has shown that when considering a purchase, price can come about fourth or even fifth on the list of purchasing priorities.

The fact is that lowering prices by, say, 10% can mean that you need to sell nearly 50% more just to stay the same and there is no value in that exercise.  On the other hand, Vistage speaker, Malcolm Smith, demonstrates that only a 5% increase in prices and a 5% decrease in costs can double the bottom line.

The problem is a deep seated one and is cultural.  Very few items are truly price sensitive although conventional thinking says that we must reduce our offer to obtain the business.  In fact we often think, as did my student, that this is the only way to generate business.

In my consultancy days I had a client who manufactured testing machines for concrete and was also responsible for the maintenance and calibration of them machines.

He was losing money on all these peripheral activities and I suggested that he should double the fees for the service.

When he recovered from the shock and after some discussion he said that he would try it out.  In the end the only customer to contact him asked if he would postpone the fee increase for a couple of months so that they could include it in the next budget.

Take a leaf out of the German MD’s book.  Purchasers demand great service, quality and reliability right across the board from a supplier and we need to be brave and charge a price that reflects that fact.  That way leads to success.

If you would like a digital copy of the price/margin matrix just make contact and I will send it on to you.

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Sunday, 18 June 2017

Are Your Systems Fit For Purpose? Are YOU Fit For Purpose?

I am fortunate to have some regular readers and followers of Ivan’s Blog and even some who are kind enough to comment (mostly kindly) for which I am truly grateful.  We all know how feedback can be welcome and valuable.

This week I heard from a dear friend who told me that, on a regular basis, he carefully checks his security settings, firewall, anti-virus software and all the associated settings to make sure that his device is “fit for purpose”.  In view of the growth in cyber crime that is an eminently pragmatic approach.

I am not sure how seriously we take this potential problem.  Certainly I back up on a regular basis and make sure that all the necessary software is up to date but is this all that I need to do?  Probably not and because of the prompt I intend to take action to make sure that the Mac is well up to date.

That having been said my friend went on to say that he also takes time out to review himself and to make sure that he is also, fit for purpose.

That really caused me to think.  As my maturity advances inexorably it becomes even more important to keep all the bits and pieces in working order as effectively as possible especially in mental terms. Writing this blog is  a good exercise in that respect.

However the idea of a personal “fit for purpose” should apply far more widely for all of us and certainly for me.  For example, do I really know my values and more to the point do I live them at all times?  Sadly the answer has to be no.  I think that I know my values but perhaps more in the breach rather than in the observation.

It is so easy to slip without thought.  The “chimp” in us escapes when, for example, I don’t give the respect to someone who deserves it.

My late father taught me the importance of good manners, to say “please” and “thank you” and that, I am glad to say, is now automatic. Simple courtesies like not interrupting someone are easy to achieve and they are just as easy to forget.  

Note to self: must try harder.

We are living these days in times of sadness and turmoil whether it is political or terrorist inspired and with a dreadful regression into blame culture. However that does not preclude our living a life that respects other people’s views and even foibles without judgement.  I don’t want people to judge me so why should I feel free to judge others?

My friend says “I am also reminded that each day I need to carry out a quick scan on myself : to make sure that I am fully aware of what is happening around me and what I seek to achieve.  Am I ‘fit for purpose’ and am I on the right road?

That is a very wise comment and it has made me think about my own behaviour and attitude.  We constantly go on about people in business with bad attitudes but when do we take stock of our own attitude and behaviour?

Maybe it’s time for a little introspection.
Great leadership leads by example.  A poor example can be just as easily passed on and copied as a good one so I aim to make sure from now on that I know my values, write them down and then constantly check that I am living them.

Thank you, Harold, for the wake-up call.

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Sunday, 11 June 2017

What Happens When Reality Hits Your Plans? You Need To Be Ready!

Over the years I have heard and read ad nauseam that it is essential to plan, to know where your business is going. It is the bedrock on which the successful growing business rests.

The cleverest leader I have ever encountered was the late Jim Slater, possibly the first and certainly initially the most successful of what became known as the “asset strippers” of the 1970s.

When he was asked why he was so successful in comparison with the competition he said simply “because we plan, we know where we are going”.

At the same time I heard a little quote from another source that said: “People want to know two things, how am I doing and where are WE going?” with the implication that only with constant planning can this be communicated satisfactorily.

It strengthens the concept that all great businesses plan their future assiduously, know where they are going and communicate their plans to everyone in the business.

Some do (plan) and some don’t (communicate) but overall planning for the future is generally accepted as best practice.

And there it would have stayed in the ideal to-do list of the leader until one day I happened to have as speaker to my Vistage CEO Peer group, Herb Meyer, who had been a noted journalists in the USA and subsequently served as vice-chairman of the CIA’s National Intelligence Council in the Reagan White House.

Clearly a voice to be reckoned with and his presentation was both fascinating and very far sighted.  However at one fell swoop he almost demolished all my cherished  certainties about the validity of planning with one little, apparently cynical, aphorism:

“No plan can survive its collision with reality”

When I had recovered from the shock (which was pretty quickly if truth be told) I asked if he really meant it.

He said that, of course, he did and pointed out that plans are laid on relatively shifting sands simply because we don’t know what is going to happen in the future.

Joke: If you want to make G-d laugh, show him your strategic plans.

Vistage economics guru, the great Roger Martin-Fagg, always says that if you are making predictions, you will be either wrong or lucky, and that says it all.

Or does it?  In fact good planning relies on  the ability to set objectives that are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-based) with the caveat that they also need to stretch people out of their comfort zone.

If the objectives are set in this way, the question to ask then is NOT how can we do this but rather What will be need to do in order to achieve the objectives and in specific terms.

The Japanese ishikawa technique for brainstorming the issue is a good way to define the route forward.  Imagine a cartoon fishbone with a spine, ribs and a head.  The objective is the head and the ribs are the various departments that have input to the plan.  We then use stick-it notes and brainstorm all the factors that will be needed to achieve the plan and place them on the appropriate rib.

From there a reasonable plan can be developed but what happens when reality kicks in?  There will always be the unknown lurking in the undergrowth to trip us up and it will usually be from a source that we can do nothing to influence, generally described as PESTLE (political, economic, sociological, technological, legal and environmental).

So what should we do?  Certainly it is far better to plan rather than not while accepting that reality may well change everything.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that our objectives need to change; it could be that the way forward needs to be reassessed to counter the outside influences.  

Whatever is the outcome, we will be better enabled to keep going, keep growing and keep our corporate eyes on an exciting future.

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