Possibly the most complicated part of doing business is dealing with people simply because each one is unique and generally speaking, we d...
Attending the Vistage Speakers Reception at Ashdown Park this week, reminded me of the many tips and ideas which we take away from our speak...
There seems to have been a proliferation of rather high flown new titles in business for people who are doing jobs which have been done fo...
Sunday, 27 December 2009
For perhaps obvious reasons, Herb was a genuine specialist in the assessment of information and ran a superb session on the Information Overload.
He made the point that the availability of information is growing exponentially but our ability to absorb all this growth is extremely limited to say the least. Search engines, led of course by Google, have made it very simple to find what we are looking for and this allows us to be selective in our searching and consequent absorption of the information.
The clue is, however, when we have the information, what are we going to do with it? Google is so all-encompassing that even a simple search will bring up literally millions of web pages and then what?
Research shows that our attention span is so short that unless what we are looking for appears on the first page of the Google search and even more, in the top three, then we ignore the rest.
What is needed, then, is the ability to transform the raw information into knowledge which possibly requires more “drilling down” research.
And then what?
Herb made the point that information and knowledge is no more than interesting and the real value lies in our ability to transform the knowledge into intelligence.
In other words, what is the ADDED VALUE that we can derive from the research?
What OUTCOME are we seeking from the research?
Hence, what ACTION can we take as a result of the research?
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Saturday, 19 December 2009
Too much time is spent on the urgent rather than the important. If major effort is put into solely that which is urgent, then the consequences are, almost inevitably, fire fighting. A side issue is that emphasis on the urgent invariably begets “upwards delegation”. In other words, no decisions are taken at any level other than the top.
It seems to me that managers of businesses need to take time out to decide on what is truly important and then to ensure that all other matters are delegated. However, if that freedom is to be given to managers then the quid pro quo is that they become accountable for their performance. Top management can then assess performance and work out ways in which it can be improved, perhaps incrementally, and how they (top management) can assist.
A further quid pro quo is that there must be a “no blame” culture in the business. People must be prepared to bring the bad news as well as the good without feeling that the messenger will be shot. We learn far more from our mistakes than from our successes.
Ask the questions: What should we do more of? What should we do less of? And crucially, what should we STOP doing?
All of this takes a great leap of faith but the results can be startling. The basis is that of simplicity, elimination of complexity and emphasis on the important.
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Sunday, 13 December 2009
How many times have we heard the cry? Worse, how many times have we said it ourselves?
I recall a Vistage member some time ago, who started a business when he was very young and, perhaps not to his surprise, but certainly to everyone else’s, it was successful, to the extent that he had developed a (at the time) unique product and sales were beating £2million. Not bad for a twenty something.
However, not only was he the sole owner, he was the sole leader and consequently, everyone reported to him. In addition, sales had started to flatten out.
The inevitable happened. He started to experience “upward delegation”, that phenomenon which moves the monkey from one back to another and preferably the leader’s.
To give him his due, he had read some books on management and he decided that he would have to build a management team if he were to grow the business, so he recruited.
He told me: “I was fed up of being nagged for decisions all the time so I decided that we would have a Sales Director, an Operations Director and a Finance Director. What is more, I accepted that they wouldn’t do the job as well as I could but I had to accept that.”
“In fact, arrogant as I was,” he said, “I persuaded myself that even if they did the job only half as well as I could, then it would be worth while”.
“So what happened?” I asked him
Slightly shamefaced, he said “I soon discovered that not only did they do their job as well as I could, they were actually far better because they were dealing with their own function, in which they were expert, and I had to do it all and learn how to do it at the same time”.
The company went on to grow by about 700% and he bought a Ferrari and a boat.
And the moral is? As we say in Vistage, “No-one is as smart as all of us”.
Building a business is a matter of building a team of like minded individuals all of whom have the same objective, to make the business successful.
You might just finish up with a Ferrari and a boat.
Check the Vistage blog at www.vistageblog.co.uk
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Saturday, 5 December 2009
One of Phil’s major customers recruited a new buyer and the inevitable happened. The young upstart called Phil in and told him that unless he negotiated a significant discount, then he would lose the business.
Because Phil worked for a company that had the nerve never to negotiate its prices, he told the buyer and waited for the reaction. It came pretty quickly; Phil’s company would get no more business and it would go to the competition.
Phil’s reaction was immediate. He went in to the former customer and specifically into the drawing office (do they still have drawing offices these days?).
Going to each of the draughtsmen in turn, he asked them to give him his company’s catalogues. This they did until Phil was burdened down with a great pile of them and he turned to leave.
I should, at this point, explain that the catalogue was much more than merely a listing of the products available. It was used by virtually every engineer worth his salt to calculate the optimum product for the application as it had an invaluable technical section which applied to any make of product.
At this stage, the bemused draughtsmen began to realise that something was not quite right. The cry went up:
“What are you doing Phil?”
“I’m taking our catalogues back” was the reply
“You can’t do that; we use them all the time”
“Too bad” said Phil “I’m taking them back because you aren’t dealing with us any more so you won’t need them”
“Oh yes, we do” they said “we can’t work without them”
“You’re going to have to try” said Phil adamantly, “your buyer has dumped us for the competition” and he marched out triumphantly with his pile of catalogues.
It took about six weeks for the drawing office to register their fury at the buyer’s high handed decision and make him rethink. While he would have saved perhaps a few percentage points on the price, his company would have lost out badly in terms of service and more particularly, in the vital technical backup which Phil and his company gave.
The moral is? Where you have a strength, make sure that you know what it is and how it impacts on your customers. Ask the question – why do they buy from us if we are more expensive than the competition? In the end, it will answer the WIIFM question set by the customer – what’s in it for me? Then exploit it mercilessly!
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Sunday, 29 November 2009
Phil was, at that time some 50 years ago, a stereotypical salesman of the era. Maybe my memory plays tricks with me after so long but I seem to recall a gabardine raincoat, a trilby hat, a moustache and a pipe, all of which fitted the image perfectly.
Phil had eons of experience and he used it at every touch and turn. I well recall being with him in a Lancashire mill town when he suddenly stopped the car outside a mill, got out and started to sniff the air.
I was slightly bemused by all this and asked him, with some diffidence I must confess, what he was doing.
“They have a particular process here” he said “and we can make it run better. Come on!” We went into reception and Phil asked (demanded actually) to see the works engineer who duly emerged metaphorically wiping his hand on a filthy rag.
“Now then” said Phil, “You’re running such and such a process here, aren’t you?” (Memory failure at this stage prevents me from recalling what the process was).
“We are” said the engineer. “Right” said Phil “We can make it run far more efficiently. Come on!” (he liked the imperative)
We went down into the works, took a look at the process, and Phil told the engineer precisely how he could improve the shining hour, which he did in the fullness of time, and successfully, resulting in a nice order on the books for Phil.
The moral of the story? If you say that you have twenty years experience, be careful that it doesn’t turn out to be one year’s experience replicated twenty times.
The really clever thing is to turn your experience into expertise. Assess what you have learned over the years and exploit it (in the nicest possible way) to the benefit of others and, of course, yourself.
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Monday, 23 November 2009
How am I doing? and
Where are we going?
The “how am I doing” question is so important to people in the business as it gives them an insight into their performance, their attitude, their behaviour and, crucially for them, their prospects.
Does this mean that the dreaded annual appraisal becomes mandatory? Not really because I believe that once a year is just not enough. Your people want to know on a regular basis how they are doing so certainly, if you have a number of reports, then the regular one-to-one is best.
When I say regular, I MEAN, regular. It needs to be scheduled on a monthly basis at least, for 60-90 minutes, on the diary and NOTHING gets in the way. What is more, the agenda belongs to the staff member, not the leader. This gives opportunities to raise matters which may normally lie dormant and either not be actioned, or worse, fester.
The other question is more complex. This demands a statement of the vision or dream of the leader (or leadership) of the business and it must be stated clearly and regularly. I like the idea of a short, sharp long term objective for a business somewhat on the lines of the famous Pepsi mission statement of “Kill Coke”. They didn’t and they won’t but it gives the team a focused objective that everyone can understand.
While I certainly don’t like the idea of waging war on the competition, a short, snappy objective can focus minds and behaviour in the business, ideally to have your competitors worrying about you rather than the reverse.
Think one through and then communicate it on every possible occasion and in every possible way. Let it become the mantra of the business and watch performance improve.
Incidentally, take a look at http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/5714885/ for a slightly different take on coaching!
Thursday, 12 November 2009
First of all is the widespread use of “basically” which seems to populate virtually every interview one can hear and what is more, it is making an appearance in overseas broadcasts. Add to that the incessant “at the end of the day” and perhaps you can understand the irritation.
Then there is the hyperbole. Why does everything need to be over-emphasised? Why, for example, does it seem necessary to use “absolutely” in answer to a question when “yes” is perfectly sufficient? Why is everything “fantastic” or “amazing” and, worst of all, “incredible”?
Just listen to any broadcast nowadays and count the number of clichés that you hear. It may just take your mind off the recession!
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Tuesday, 10 November 2009
What is so good about these events? Firstly it gives members of several Vistage groups the opportunity to meet each other and even perhaps do a little networking. Secondly, members are encouraged to bring colleagues from their businesses to experience a top class speaker and to meet other colleagues, and finally, it gives us the opportunity to demonstrate the advantages of Vistage membership to guests and potential members,
Malcolm Smith was the speaker, a most energetic and enthusiastic presenter of a session on Negotiation Skills, and everyone went away with take away tools, especially “go back to your businesses and put your prices up!!”.
Watch out for the announcement of the next Vistage Open Day in the New Year and be sure to book as soon as details are available.
Vistage is the world’s leading CEO and MD membership organisation and is very active here in the North West of the UK.
Membership of Vistage leads to better leaders, better decisions, better results.
If you would like further information give me a call – I will be pleased to discuss it with you.
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Monday, 2 November 2009
There is no doubt that, as managers, we can only react to the situation so it seems pretty sensible to have a view as to which way it is likely to go.
Whatever the shape of the recession, (and I favour the “L” shape), we are now in the New Normality where the economy fell of the cliff around August 2008 and since then has gradually flattened out with very slight signs of an upward movement.
That means that, if this is now a normal situation, then we need to shape (or re-shape) our businesses on that basis. If we can achieve that, then when the economy really does start to improve, we will be in a strong position to exploit the improvement.
Check out the “five line” P&L. Start with sales, minus cost of sales (usually materials and labour costs) equals gross profit, minus fixed costs equals net profit.
On that basis you can see which of the criteria you can affect. Sales can be predicted with some accuracy but not materially affected. Labour and materials can be directly affected so that the gross margin is maintained, and finally the fixed costs can be controlled. If you can get all these criteria in balance showing a net profit, then you will see the new shape that the business needs to take.
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Monday, 3 August 2009
Conventional wisdom has it that we have discretion over no more than 20% of our time in a working day. Telephone calls, people "popping in", the coffee arrives, the dreaded ping from the email, the desperate need to check on text messages on the mobile and so on, all contribute to the 80% of the day over which we have little or no control.
A great story was told about President Reagan when he said that he intended to achieve two great objectives during an eight year period in office; he was going to take out the Russians and give America its pride back. Everything else he would delegate, always taking responsibility if anything went wrong. And what happened? He achieved his two great objectives through absolute focus.
One of the Williams sisters said that she always used to visualise holding up the trophy at Wimbledon. It was not, you notice, about playing tennis which was merely a route by which she could achieve her objective.
It is said that the availability of knowledge is doubling every two years so is it any wonder that we can become submerged in information, coming at us from every conceivable direction.
An answer to the conundrum is FOCUS - make sure that you know precisely what you are going to achieve on a short (hour, day) term, medium (week, month) term and longer term and do not let anything get in the way. It takes some courage to delegate the "stuff" but in the end it is vital that you do, even if in your own mind it will never be done as well or as quickly as you would do it!
Wednesday, 27 May 2009
This is called “outside-in” thinking. It enables us to make sense of change, and seize the best insights and ideas to drive innovation and profitable growth.
Here are the ten “outside-in” principles that will help you to thrive in the new business world normality.
1. Find the best markets for growth. Growth is no longer about selling more of what you have, or making your existing assets work harder. It is about finding the markets with most potential. Look across continents and sectors. Don’t be limited by what is comfortable or close.
2. Explore the new business landscape. Business can no longer be parochial. We all operate in global inter-connected and inter-dependent markets. Power has shifted from West to East, from big to small, from business to customer. New priorities like social and environmental issues drive out agendas too.
3. Live in the customer’s world. Thinking like a customer is liberating. Take off your business blinkers and see what matters to customers. Talk to them about their dreams and priorities, rather than products and prices. They will be more engaged too.
4. Treat customers as individuals not averages. We often seek to create average solutions for average customers. No wonder nobody is really delighted. Think about your customer as a real person. Learn about what drives him or her deeply.
5. Don’t sell products, deliver experiences! We see the sales transaction as the culmination of our efforts; for the customer it’s just the beginning. Go beyond that little bit of after-sales support to deliver experiences that are personal in solutions and style, that will endure over time.
6. Do business on their terms, not yours. Why should I want to read a random piece of irrelevant mail from you? Why should I come to you? Learn to engage and interact on customers terms – what, when, where and how they want – to make their life easier, not just yours.
7. Enable customers to achieve their dreams. Customers have ambitions, or at least problems to solve. That’s what they’re really interested in. Your products and even your services are just a means to address these. Enable them to do things faster, better and bigger than they ever thought possible.
8. Embrace networks and partners. Physical and virtual networks are prime opportunities to connect with customers, embrace and build communities, connect with partners who have difference capabilities and relationships, and reach new places.
9. Be more emotional and energising. Business is about people engaging with others. People are inspired by those who have a vision, those who can make sense of complexity and those who understand them best. Find ways as a leader and as a business to engage your staff and customers in more emotional and energising ways.
10. Don’t be the biggest - be the best. In a changing business world, the emphasis has shifted from scale and volume to relevance and difference. The profits are to be found in niches. Loyalty lies in personalisation. Embrace new opportunities first, new marketing techniques and new technologies. Leverage the power of the web.
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Wednesday, 22 April 2009
Perhaps the question to ask is - what is a coach? My view is that a coach should be a support system, a point for accountability, a facilitator, a challenger, an honest commentator and a totally confidential advocate.
There are other aspects but perhaps the most important factor is what a coach is NOT and that is an advisor, a consultant or a crutch.
In more than 3,000 coaching sessions over the past sixteen or so years, I have learnt that there can be no prescriptive format or a formal process which takes the coach and the coachee (if that is the right word!) to the Promised Land.
Rather the coach must remain open minded and trawl very carefully to discover the real issue in the mind of the client. Too often, the initial statement of issue is one which masks the real issue and this can only be uncovered by sensitive questioning.
In order to “peel the onion”, the use of the “what else” question can be valuable but essentially, the coach must ask the question and then, vitally, listen to the answer. Remember that an anagram of “listen” is “SILENT” and silence will help the client to marshal their resources and thoughts so as to come to an eventual conclusion.
Stay silent after the client finishes and continue to stay silent until they start again. That restart will take them to deeper thoughts and feelings which may well start to help them uncover the issue. Don’t be tempted to break the silence - the client is more important than your opinions!
There are one or two useful questions to ask - the use of “how does that make you feel?” as a supplementary is a great opener with someone who is prepared to dig into their subconscious, and never allow anyone to say “I don’t know”. That usually masks a reluctance to vocalise their feelings so go on digging deeper until the real answer starts to emerge.
As the client goes deeper into their thoughts and feelings, the true reason for help can emerge. Notice that I said “can” emerge. Because this is a free ranging process, unless the coach stays very alert for some indication in the client’s answers about the real issue, then the point can be lost. This requires great sensitivity and some sort of instinct for the right thing which comes perhaps with experience.
Consequently, a prescriptive approach can almost always be counter-productive. If a formalised approach is used there is a danger that important points can be missed in the perceived need to follow the prescribed format of questioning.
Most essentially, the coach is NOT a consultant so never dive in with prescriptive answers and opinions. That is not what the client needs (it may be what they want, of course) but until he/she comes to their own conclusion, then the session needs to continue.
Always try to use “open” questions (who, why, what, where, when and how) as they can’t be answered with a yes/no. Be careful with “why” as it can sometimes be seen to be aggressive but if it is used with sensitivity, it can be a most valuable tool in the coach’s armoury.
Remember to use the “what else?” question to enable your client to dig deeper each time.
Always summarise at the end of the session. A short paraphrase on the basis of “I have heard that you ……………” or “You said that……….” is best, together with a summary of what you will discuss at the next meeting. Give them something to take away and think about and always make yourself available, by telephone or email, between sessions. It can be a demand on your time but if your client needs it then you should always be there to give help and support.
Ivan J Goldberg is Managing Director of Michael Adam Associates Limited, a management consultancy specialising in strategic planning, marketing strategies and assisting companies through a process of change. He facilitates the management of companies in the strategic planning process and also acts as mentor to Chief Executives of many businesses. Besides running the Consultancy, he also operates as a Chairman of Vistage International (UK) in the North West UK and lectures widely on the process of change in organisations, behavioural and organisational modelling and strategic planning.
For further information, contact Ivan at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org and websites www.maa-uk.co.uk and www.vistage.co.uk
Thursday, 9 April 2009
You can subscribe to Rick's newsletter at www.SoarWithEagles.com and the heading of this particular edition (no 0306) is "The Two Most Essential, Urgent, and High-Priority Activities of Your Business".
Rick says if you are asking "What can we do to survive this horrific global economic crisis and recession?" then you are asking the wrong question..
You should be asking " What can we do to THRIVE in this horrific global economic crisis and recession?"
What a difference! It takes your thinking on to a wholly different plane, from purely survival to genuine exploitation of opportunity and hence success. There is no reason why a business shouldn't be successful in a recession given the right opportunities and, essentially, the right and positive approach.
Rick says that he writes for leaders who say "I hear there's a recession going on, but I choose not to participate." I love it!
Take a look at the newsletter - it could change the whole way in which you look at your business and the current environment.
Friday, 3 April 2009
For starters, times of economic downturn are also times of opportunity for those who are courageous enough to grasp them. Potential business acquisitions appear, good people come on the market and your good people stay with you. Although the banks are still rather picky about lending they are also keen to be involved in interesting opportunities.
They will need sensible, prudent, well argued and do-able business plans with sensible downside assessments so that they can see what the risks are (and risks there will be). In the end, it is a trade off - risk against reward and they have very good ways of making that assessment.
Don't do the usual in a recession which is to cut costs, with training and marketing the first to go. Your marketing spend should increase because it is now that you need to make sure that your market penetration is kept up and, if possible, on the increase. And watch your pricing - try to INCREASE not decrease your prices while giving exceptional value, quality and service. stand out from the crowd!
If you have to worry, try worrying about the rate at which your business will increase when things start to improve and how on earth will you be able to cope!
Just to revert for a moment to my previous mode, if the IMF is to be given $1 trillion, where is it to come from and who is lending it?
Tuesday, 24 March 2009
Then from the media there is "disaster scenario" or "things will get worse next year" or "negative equity" and so many more, all linked to the media's need for doom and gloom.
Cynical? You're damn right I am! We are locked into an economic situation brought on by reckless and frankly buccaneering forays into an investment market which was essentially a house of cards and which fell dramatically late last year. However, no-one, much less our politicians, has had the basic courtesy to apologise for their errors. Then again, like producers at the BBC, they don't make mistakes - it's just that we don't understand.
At long last and after a great deal of anger from the people, we hear today that some of the executives at AIG are giving back their unearned bonuses, without, as far as I can see, any apology.
Read The Puritan Gift (see my earlier blog) and realise how far we have come from the days when most companies had values and an ethos which would never have allowed this attitude from their staff. Let's hope that the New Normality will bring with it a new approach to integrity in business.
Monday, 16 March 2009
Nobody is arguing that the economic situation is difficult to say the least but do we have to endure the constant harping about the "disaster" as seen by our worthy fourth estate.
It really came to a head recently when at the Davos conference, Robert Peston was heard, well nigh screaming, about the atmosphere being "unspeakably dire" and all that he wanted to do was to go and lie down somewhere. We should be so lucky!
It would be a great relief, to me anyway, if the media could just go with some positive news for a change. I know that bad news sells but we need some light in our lives and the press could certainly help. It reminds me of the story of the man who said that he was constantly reading about the dangers of smoking so he stopped - reading.
Henry Ford said "If you say you can or you say you can't, you're always right" and it's about time that we started to say, in the words of President Obama "YES, WE CAN!"
Thursday, 19 February 2009
The Hopper brothers forecast the current economic situation and mention in some detail the problems which Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac were exhibiting as long ago as 2006 when it seems a congressional Committee knew about their situation and nothing was done about it.
Maybe that is the problem with what we are now experiencing. Analysis is a fine thing but in the end the only thing that matters is the action that is taken as a consequence of the analysis.
Read the book and learn from a master. You won't regret it! It is currently in hardback and a soft back edition is due out soon.
Wednesday, 21 January 2009
Typically (and this was this morning) the interviewer asked "Do you think that even though he (Barack Obama) is coming in bringing with him lots of hope, after three or four years he won't have fulfilled expectations etc" (This is a precis of a long question but the gist is there)
I was taught years ago that the best way to ask a question is by the "Who, Why, What, Where, When and How" method, none of which can be answered by a simple yes or no. Just notice when an interviewer asks a child a closed question starting with a verb (Do, did, have, will etc.) the child will almost always answer yes or no which usually leaves the interviewer flummoxed and wondering what to say next.
And by the way, the "do you think...." question is almost always negative just building up the gloom and doom for which Today is justly famous. Rant over - tune in to Terry Wogan instead.
Thursday, 8 January 2009
We have gone through many phases of fashion - marketing came and went, HR held its own for a while and Organisational Theory - now that is a big one.
They are all still there, of course, because they each form a part of the whole but in the end, they really must be brought together into a consistent whole so that the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts. That takes leadership and it's about time that the need for genuine leaders in business is given maximum consideration.
So how do we find them and what characteristics must they show? I believe that it all starts with values. Any leader must know precisely his/her values and more importantly, articulate them on a regular basis. He/she must have vision, must have a dream and know where they are going. People need to know two things, How and I doing and Where Are WE Going? A leader must be able to tell everyone the answers. Above all he must be a listener rather than a speaker. Remember, LISTEN is an anagram of SILENT and keeping quiet can be the hardest thing in the world. However, if you do listen then you are more than likely to hear something to your advantage and in the final analysis, to the advantage of everyone.
For more information check out www.maa-uk.co.uk and www.vistage.co.uk.
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