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Sunday, 19 December 2010

New Ideas About Leadership? They're Nearly 2,500 Years Old!

Many of the social media gurus 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 wth 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, in the event, 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/chaiman, 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 entrepreurial, are run on the 'rule of one' basis and the 'rule of the many' applies only in unusual cases like the John Lews Partnership.   Most 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 without any 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.

An anonymous sage once said "The people wnat me to be their leader: I must follow them".  Now that calls for humility.

There won't be a Sunday post next week as we are away (weather permitting) so may I take this opportunity to wish everyone a very happy Christmas and a successful, healthy and peaceful New Year.

For further information, visit www.vistage.co.uk and www.maa-uk.co.uk
To contact us, email to ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Captaincy? I Want Eleven Captains on my Team!

The relative gloom engendered by the choice of Russia and Qatar as Football World Cup venues was, for me at least, very quickly dispelled by the excellent showing of the England cricket team in the Second Test at Adelaide.
It was a triumph of teamwork and for the first time for many years, they even outfielded the Australians.  Every member of the team contributed and there is an evident will to win.

I heard Andrew Strauss being interviewed and one of the things he said had a great resonance for me.  He said, when asked about his concept of captaincy:

"I want eleven captains on my team".

He went on to say that, in the end, he makes the final decision but what he is looking for is full input from all members of the team, with almost a requirement that they contribute to the running of the side.

This is a great metaphor for management in general.   Strauss's style echoes that of the companies known as the great engines of growth in Kenneth and Will Hopper's book, The Puritan Gift, (www.puritangift.com) where they emphasise their culture of "bottom up" management as distinct from "top down", which by definition, implies the opinions of one person.

I recall an instance in a previous company which manufactured, among other things, fabrics coated with rubber, both natural and synthetic.  The technical people had designed a product for use in divers wet suits and a small prototype run was being prepared.   One of the machine operatives asked what the product was being used for and on being told, said it wasn't suitable.

Somewhat surprised, the techies asked what evidence did he have to make such a contentious statement and were somewhat taken aback to be told that he was the Secretary of a national sub-aqua organisation, and was probably rated as a world expert in these matters.

The company,very sensibly, accepted his opinion and asked him to act as an internal consultant to the project.

A VIstage speaker once told us that one of the problems in business is that we allow people to turn up at work, hang up their coats, hang up their brains and then go home again at 5.00pm to take up their hobbies, run a youth club, learn a language or generally use their minds to some effect.  The problem is, that in the main, we don't know anything about them other than what they do during working hours.

It is a waste of intellect and exploiting the opportunities, in the most positive way, can materially contribute to the success of the business to the benefit of everyone.

It is more important to develop upwards communication than it is to shout down instructions from the isolation at the top.  Isolation?  Certainly: the people on the shop floor, either actually or metaphorically, know more about what is happening than does the management, and until there is an ethos of openness, there will always be a communication gap.

It isn't about incentives either: it's a matter of encouragement and visibly demonstrating that peoples' opinions are sought, desired and, above all, are valued.

How many captains do you have on your team?

For further information, visit www.vistage.co.uk and www.maa-uk.co.uk
To contact us, email to ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Negotiation! Does That Mean the Demise of the Price List?

An inspiring session with Vistage UK speaker, Malcolm Smith, this week on Negotiation Skills was a timely reminder that we are generally pretty inadequate when it comes to serious negotiation.

Malcolm gave a detailed and incisive view of the whole subject  with many great ideas and techniques including several on the subject of pricing.  Fairly obvious, of course, because price is such an integral part of what we do in business.  Moreover, it is a very contentious subject eliciting some odd views of what is the right approach.

In the end, there are three main methods of determining the price for a product or service.  Firstly the time honoured (and that is about all) cost-plus.  This implies that we are able to calculate accurately the total cost of making or purchasing a product (or service) and then to add what we consider to be a fair mark up.

There so many variables in that simple statement that put the whole idea of cost-plus into doubt, and many companies have foundered on the premise that they thought that knew the true cost of sales.

The next popular method is to match or go slightly below the prices generally charged in the market place.   This leads to the dreadful habit of discounting to "beat the competition" when in actual fact, all it does is drive down prices and hence gross margins usually without having any impact on sales.

Finally, there is the "let's see what we can get for it" method.  This requires a skin as thick as a brick wall and a certain amount of blind faith.  I recall one client who when asked if his prices were reasonable replied, "Well, we like them".

So what is the answer?   Malcolm is strongly of the opinion, it seems to me, that everything is up for negotiation and this implies that, for most occasions, the "let's see what we can get" method is probably the best.   I understand, let it be said, that when you have to tender for a project, then blind faith does come into the reckoning and realistically only method No. 1 above is anywhere near appropriate.

If all prices are to be negotiated, then where does that leave the published price list?   I have yet to see a B2B price list that isn't decimated by vast numbers of various discounts applied according to the status of the customer, and also which will allow sales personnel to adjust prices so as to get the order at any cost.

If the best way to get the best prices is by negotiation, why should we be hamstrung by a published price list, even with a range of variables built in?

Agreed, it does mean that even small deals would need to be negotiated so there may be a case for retention of fixed prices for those while, in general, all other deals should be negotiated by the sales people within certain stated parameters and after having been properly trained in the skills required.

In the end, the idea is to increase prices while delivering the highest quality of product and service and a price list, per se, can only inhibit that objective.  I have offered the wonderful price/margin matrix before and if you would like a copy please email your request.  It shows how much more business you have to generate if you discount and how much you can afford to lose if you increase your prices.  Very illuminating!

For further information visit www.vistage.co.uk and www.maa-uk.co.uk
To contact us, email to ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Prosperity With Morality? Of Course It's Feasible!

I attended a fascinating lecture this week on a long forgotten Victorian industrialist and philanthropist, one William Romaine Callender (1825-1876), mill owner, cotton trader, Conservative Member of Parliament and a dedicated supporter of his local community.

Cynics in this modern world would probably decry his type as patronising, condescending and paternalistic as well as other adjectives; typical, it would be said of the rich Victorians who looked upon philanthropy as a way to social acceptance.

It was a statement of his that struck me as being very significant.  He said, in essence, that prosperity was good provided it was tempered by morality.  At a time when many industrialists were driven by making money at the expense of those they employed, he stood out among his peers by, for example, encouraging the Trade Unions to be active in his businesses

Once again, Kenneth and Will Hopper's great book, The Puritan Gift, http://www.puritangift.com/ makes the point that the "great engines of growth", those companies in the USA which absorbed the values and ethos of the early settlers were the ones which were successful in every way.

Please note that with this ethos of "Prosperity with Morality" these great companies were successful, profitable, ethical and stable.   What changed in the USA and, by default here in the UK, was as the Hoppers say, the "cult of the so-called experts" who were parachuted into many of these great companies without any domain knowledge but with an insatiable lust for making money.

The usual list of failed (and often fraudulent) companies like Enron, Worldcom and so on can also include great names such as General Motors and General Electric both of which have been materially changed, and not necessarily for the better, by having been managed by "financial engineers" rather than by people who knew what they were doing and what these companies stood for in the great scheme of things.

In the end it's all a matter of culture and this is one area which has to start at the top and then be driven down into the business.  I recall an instance of a public company here in the UK which appointed a new Chairman, who after some investigation, decided that some expenses claims seemed to be excessive.  It transpired that the CEO, through the company, had rented four apartments, had a helicopter and private jet, and had employed his wife and nanny in the company though they never set foot in it.

No-one can tell me that the whole company didn't know of these antics and consequently took the view that if it's OK for him, then it's OK for me too.

So what's the answer?   It is perfectly feasible to achieve prosperity with morality and, in the end, far better for the well being of all the company's employees.  Remember that morality is an absolute.   There is no escape; like pregnancy, it can't be just a little bit moral or immoral.

The values must be set at the top, they must be visible and they must be driven so deep into the company that it is the only way that things are done by everyone without even thinking about it.  Easy?  Certainly not, but very satisfying and fulfilling, I would suggest.  Callender's attitude to business has much to commend it.

For further information visit www.maa-uk.co.uk and www.vistage.co.uk
To contact us, email to ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk

Sunday, 21 November 2010

From Experience to Expertise? Mentoring is the Answer!

I had the honour on Friday last of being booked to speak to a group of PhD students and staff at Salford University Method - Philosophy Friday in fact.  The subject was Turning Experience into Expertise and it sparked a great deal of interesting and scholarly debate.

The overall premise asked the question of what is needed to ensure that any accumulated experience is transformed into some form of expertise whether it be a child riding a bicycle after discarding the stabilisers and falling off a few times, or the expertise of highly trained specialists developed over a period of years of experience.

The point was made that experience without learning is a waste, and also that twenty years' experience isn't always what it seems.  It may, in fact, be one year's experience replicated twenty times. 

The general consensus was that unless the period of experience was accompanied by an auto-didactic approach plus a level of humility which allowed learning from others, then it is unlikely that true expertise would develop.

There were one or two really excellent questions.  One asked what is it that encourages the process of developing expertise out of the accumulated experience and the answer seemed to be that it must be accompanied by a genuine desire to learn.  That is, of course, almost self evident, but is it a formal process or an instinctive one?

Being clever after the event, I have realised that one of the processes which assists enormously is mentoring.   If developing expertise is a learning process then any help in encouraging and uncovering the gems of learning is to be welcomed.

The job of the mentor is not to advise or to criticise or to suggest: those are consultancy functions.   The mentor has to ask pertinent (and sometimes impertinent) questions to uncover what has been learned of value and to encourage the individual to develop and enhance the experience.  In conducting more than 3,000 mentoring sessions in the past few years, I have long ago realised that the client has all the answers: it needs careful questioning to bring them out.

It is also necessary to decide why the expertise has been acquired and developed.  In an academic environment, expertise can be developed for its own sake with no apparent purpose in mind.  In the environment which we in business ,expertise is usually specifically directed to bringing the greater good to the business, the individual and the community in which the business operates.

We didn't really discuss this on Friday: perhaps the subject should have been Turning Experience into Expertise and then Taking Action.  With that title I think we would still be there!

For further information visit www.maa-uk.co.uk and www.vistage.co.uk
To contact us, email to ivan.goldberg@maa-uk.co.uk

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Revolution or Evolution? It's Your Choice!

The (relatively) new Chief Executive of Marks and Spencer, Marc Bolland, in announcing their excellent six months results last week, made the point that he intends to develop the business by evolution, not revolution.

An interesting point and one which seems to escape us from time to time.  There is a place for everything and certainly a place for a considered process where change is concerned.

In the case of a very large retailer, the decision must take into account the needs and wishes of its customers and particularly in an iconic business such as M&S.  There is always a need on the part of the business to decide on which sector of the market it wishes to go for and with a regular and devoted core of customers any change must be incremental. 

However, there are occasions when there is a need to take drastic action.  I recall a client telling me that some years ago, when he was promoted from Finance Director to Chief Executive, he decided to change the culture of the business from authoritarian to inclusive.  The former CEO was very much a "top down" manager and all decisions stemmed from the top.

Indeed, everyone in the business knew that if a member of staff went into his office, it was for chastisement, not praise or reward.

The new CEO was determined to change all that.  He shipped everyone out for a couple of weeks into temporary accommodation, had the place redecorated and made into open plan, and had a series of meetings with the staff to tell them that from now on, things were changing.

In general it was extremely well received but as he said: "In some cases, there was blood on the carpet".  Some staff members just couldn't cope with the change simply because they had been so steeped in the former culture that they just couldn't cope with the new freedom.

So, it's horses for courses.   Evolution or revolution?   Change always has an effect on a business and it needs some very careful thought beforehand.  Lee Thayer says that the big bang approach is necessary ion some cases, but there is no doubt that it requires a lot of careful thinking and planning.

The kai-zen or incremental approach is easier but slower.   An advantage is that you can spot how the changes  are being received and make amendments as necessary, an approach which is much more problematical in the case of a revolution.

So watch out for the evolution in M&S.  It could be an interesting time for this great retailer and the next six months results will give the clue.

For further information visit www.maa-uk.co.uk
To contact us, email to ivan.goldberg@maa-uk.co.uk

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Recession? It's Time to Diversify!

With all the doom and gloom mongers, especially in the media, telling us that we are in the worst recession since the dawn of time, and the only way forward is to cut costs and sack people and so on, it could be that some potential entrepreneurs may be feeling just a little uncertain about the future.

Consider the actual position.   Sure, the economy has contracted and the dreaded cuts are coming from the public sector, but in actual fact, the contraction is no more that around 8% which to a simple soul like me says that there is still 92% of the economy to go for.

More's the point, the cuts are not going to be immediate and the majority will be coming in the next two to  three years during which time, it is more than likely that the private sector will start to expand again and take up the slack.

As far as the SME sector is concerned, frankly what difference does it make that the available market is, for example, £500million or £460million when your turnover is just £2 or £3 million?   Market penetration for most SMEs is minuscule and realistically can almost be ignored.

It all comes down to an attitude of mind.   If we believe all the naysayers on the Today programme (have you enjoyed the freedom from that this week?) then it will be all about retrenchment.   By far, the best approach is to take a good look at what your business is doing and ask yourself whether there is a case for diversification to achieve growth in some other direction.  Walt Sutton calls it "discovering the rivers of cash" and that is one of the most important functions of the leader.

Ideally, of course, we should go for expansion in existing products into existing markets but that may not be easy in the current environment.  The next best approach is to introduce new products into your existing market where you are known and have credibility.   Innovation is the key here.

More difficult is expanding your business with your existing products into new markets and that is more difficult where you are unknown and have to create an image and a presence.  Finally, of course, there is the new products into new markets and that is in effect, starting a new business.

None of these are impossible but each new approach will require a concerted and concentrated effort to achieve success.   In the end, attitude will be the decider.

Finally one or two positive examples.  If you are looking for a good idea, consider what everyone wants and is consumable, that is, is a regular purchase.  A young woman recently started a new business selling tights (regular purchase) on the web and is now turning over in excess of £1million.

In the recession of the 1970s, two business started and are still in business.  One was called Microsoft and the other was called Apple.

It's all about attitude, remember.  As Henry Ford said: "If you say you can or you say you can't, you're always right"

For more information visit www.maa-uk.co.uk
To contact us, email to ivan.goldberg@maa-uk.co.uk

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Where Are You on Your Company's Life Cycle? Try the PAEI Code!

Every company has its life cycle and sadly during the recession quite a few have come to the end of theirs.   Some businesses seem to go on for ever and some shine brightly for a while and then the light goes out just as quickly.

The trick is to estimate where you are on the life cycle of the business and there are quite a few points to consider, all of which can indicate not only where you are but also where you are heading.

A neat technique is the PAEI code.   This is used to give a subjective assessment of the business at various stages of its development and while it is obviously not definitive, it can help the leader to see how the business is changing and hopefully progressing.

It works like this.   P stands for productivity, the amount of effort which is put into the business across the board and by everyone concerned.   A stands for administration, the way in which the business is administered, how effective it is and also how unobtrusive it is to the outside world.  

E stands for entrepreneurship, the ability of the business at all levels to develop their markets, their product range and to look for new and profitable "rivers of cash"; those new ventures to diversify the activities of the business.   Finally I means integration, the manner in which the people in the business feel and indeed are engaged and empowered to make decisions, to do the right things rather than to do things right, and generally act and operate as a genuine team.

So how does it work?   If we assess a typical start-up business and score each of the PAEI components on a one-to-five basis, P (productivity) will almost certainly be a five because a vast amount of effort has to be put into all the activities of a business in its early days.   On the other hand, A (administration) will probably be rated at one or two simply because of the need to "do the job and sort the paperwork out later".   Not ideal of course but inevitable.

The level of E (entrepreneurship) is also likely to be at level five for perhaps obvious reasons, but I (integration) will tend to be at a lower level, probably two or three again because of the high level of time and effort being put into developing the business rather than the people.

Now move forward a couple of years.   The P level will probably remain high, the A will have started to increase to keep pace with the way in which the business is growing, the E level may start to diminish somewhat in the face of the need for patient trading, and the I level will also have increased as more people come on board with the consequent need to develop them and their abilities.

Fast forward to perhaps ten years after the start up when the business is beginning to shows signs of adulthood.   P has diminished significantly because A has increased dramatically.  E has almost disappeared and I either rates highly or in some cases, very low.

It is at that stage that the business needs a kick to drag it back into the start-up phase and to ensure that it doesn't just plateau and then go into the inevitable decline.

So, take a look at where you are right now.  If your assessment is that there is still entrepreneurship in the business, that the administration is at an acceptable level and is not leading to ossification, that your people are working hard and effectively and are well engaged, then that's fine.

If, on the other hand, all the signs are of premature ageing of the business, then now is the time for new thinking, innovation and a measure of risk taking.

For further information visit www.maa-uk.co.uk 
To contact us, email to ivan.goldberg@maa-uk.co.uk

Sunday, 24 October 2010

A Top Performer? Yes, and a Terrorist!

How many times have we heard the story of a top performer in the business in sales or operations, finance or technical, et al, who is consistently successful - and hates everyone and everyone hates him/her?

If we consider the quadrant matrix so beloved of consultants and plot performance vertically and attitude horizontally, it will give an idea of how performance and attitude interact.

For example, if someone in the business is in the bottom left quadrant and is perceived as having poor performance and a bad attitude perhaps you should be asking the question - why are we still employing them?

Conversely, if someone's results show up in the top right quadrant, that is, high performance and great attitude, perhaps we should be considering what we need to do to ensure that they stay with the business.   As Lee Thayer, noted Vistage speaker and author says: "We need to protect and nurture the virtuosi and make sure that they continue to thrive and contribute to the business".  Ask youself another question; what are we doing to encourage them to stay and to grow with the business?

In that exceptional book on management, Good to Great, the authors make the point that we need to get the right people on the bus and if you have a virtuoso, that is the right person.

Now consider the person who finishes in the bottom right quadrant.  This is an individual who has good attitude but low performance and it is worth while then making an effort to help them to improve their performance possibly to move into the top right quadrant.

The real problem is that individual whom you assess as having great performance and bad attitude.   It is a perennial issue and causes the leader no end of anguish.
"How can we get rid of him?" I hear you say. "He is our top salesman/technical expert/financial expert etc. etc."

Perhaps so, but their bad attitude and their inability to relate to others in the business is even more important.   We try to change these people, fearful that their loss would impinge negatively on the success of the business and we plough on, hoping and against hope, that they will change.  Of course, they don't.

Another Vistage speaker, Ed Ryan, says: "We hire on skills and fire on attitude" which is a very enlightening statement.  The answer, of course, is to interview in such a way as to uncover attitude and behaviour patterns and not to concentrate on experience and technical ability which should be a given.

So many times I have heard people say that after they terminated a terrorist, other members of the team asked why it had taken them so long.

A team should ideally consist of dedicated virtuosi, working together, knowing how they are doing and where they are going, and driving for success as a team.  The odd individual who goes against that ethos is corrosive and has no place in the scheme of things.

Ed Ryan also asks: "Why does it take us eighteen months to get rid of someone we interviewed for an hour?".  Now there's a question.

For further information visit www.vistage.co.uk
To contact us, email to ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk

Sunday, 17 October 2010

5% Growth Next Year? Go For a B-HAG Instead!

Renowned author and Vistage speaker, Lee Thayer, tells the story of the time he asked a client what he was planning for next year in terms of growth of the business and was told "around 10%" which Lee said was the expected answer as he (the client) could do that in his head.

"Not at all" said Lee: "I think you should go for doubling your turnover"

The client went pale and there came a flood of the usual negative reasons; "We don't have the people", "The market isn't there", "We don't have the finance" etc. etc etc.

"I guess so" replied Lee, "But if you were to do it, what would you need to do in order to make sure that you achieved it?"

Now that is an entirely different question from "How can you do it?" because it presupposes that there will be a measure of analysis of the situation.   A useful method is the Ishikawa technique which uses the format of a fish skeleton (visualise a cat emerging from a cartoon dustbin with a fish skeleton in its mouth).

The head of the fish is the objective.  By the way, the word objective can be defined as "something that we INTEND to achieve" rather than a target or even a goal.   The ribs of the fish are the business functions such as finance, sales, marketing, operations and so on, as appropriate to the the business.

Preferably using an outside facilitator, the team then brainstorms ideas of what each function needs to do in order to achieve the main objective, often using Stick-It notes applied to each function.

When the process is complete, the team will know pretty well what actions will be needed in order to achieve the objective.

Ask yourself the question; is it worth your while going through all that activity for a 10% growth objective?  Far better, as Lee did, to go for a B-HAG, a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (the words have been changed to protect the innocent) and then go through the Ishikawa procedure.  Even if the team doesn't achieve the objective, their minds will have been opened to greater possibilities and that can only be of value in difficult times.

The brainstorm may well throw up some great ideas as to how the business can develop new opportunities for products, markets, technologies and so on, all of which may be necessary for the projected growth.

Essentially, this is NOT a forecasting exercise.  It is a statement of where you want the business to go and then to develop a process by which the objective can be achieved.  Forecasting is best done by licking the finger to see which way the wind is blowing and is about as accurate.

So what happened to Lee's client?  He took the idea on board, sold it to his team, and they went for it and didn't succeed.  They went from $20m turnover to $35m in the year.

If you don't ask and you don't plan, you won't get, so go for that B-HAG.
Have a great week.

For further information visit the all-new www.vistage.co.uk website
To contact us, email to ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Motivation? I Pay Them, Don't I?

It's curious how subjects for this blog seem to pop up out of the blue each week, mostly from mentoring sessions.   Motivation of the troops is a perennial theme, especially on the basis of "I don't seem to be able to motivate them - I pay them enough!"

The problem is, of course, that motivation is a frail flower and depends absolutely on the individual.  In essence, it isn't feasible to offer a "one size fits all" solution.

Alright, it does work in, for example, investment banking where vast profits generate vast bonuses which apparently motivate a very small number of people to work long hours to make large mounts of money.   However, the proportion of those people in comparison to the rest of the working population is minute, and really shouldn't be used as a tool for motivating others.

The fact is that we make surprising assumptions about motivation mostly concerning rewards for performance.   Noted US speaker, Dan Pink, has an excellent short (11 minutes) video on YouTube at  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc which debunks the whole concept of payment by results for cerebral work while noting that it seems to work for more physical activities.

To reiterate, the problem is that different things motivate different people which is much more of as problem in large organisations which invariably fall back on the pay/reward solution.

The American psychologist Herzberg postulated the concept of the positive and negative motivational factors and, perhaps surprisingly, salary is not a positive factor.   In essence, if the salary paid is broadly acceptable to the recipient, the result is neutral while if it is lower than perceived as acceptable by the individual, then it de-motivates.

On the other hand, reward is seen as being positive in all senses, but it must be pointed out that reward can be defined in a multiplicity of ways, and not necessarily in monetary terms.

For example, a bunch of flowers to the right person at the right time, a simple "thank you for a job well done" email, cream cakes all round on a Friday and so on, can and are just as effective in showing the team that their work is appreciated.

In the end, however, the only real solution is to discover the trigger that says for each individual that this is the company for which I want to work, where I am appreciated, and where I can see a way to progress.

While I am not an enthusiast for annual appraisals and 360 degree assessments, they can be of value in uncovering the aspirations of the individual.  Far better, however, is the regular (and I mean, regular) at least one hour one-to-one conversation, on the diary once a month and inviolate, and at the agenda of the individual.  These should start off by "what do you want to discuss today" so that the individual can discuss and explain his/her issues without fear or favour.

This demand, and I mean demands, an absolutely no-blame culture which engenders an environment of trust and an elimination of anxiety.   Kenneth and Will Hopper in their wonderful book, The Puritan Gift, say that: "Upward communication is an essential part of the effective functioning of an organisation" and that can only be based on trust.

The one-to-one then can uncover the motivational trigger which must not then be exploited but can be used judiciously to help the individual grow and progress in the organisation to the advantage of both.

There are other ways, of course.  The great coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi used to say: "I want you guys to be fired with enthusiasm.  Because if you aren't, then you will be fired - with enthusiasm!".  Now that's motivation.

And me?  I'm motivated to go get a cup of coffee.  Have a great week.

For further information visit www.vistage.co.uk and www.vistageblog.co.uk
To contact us, email to ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk

Sunday, 3 October 2010

E + R = O? Event Plus Response Equals Outcome!

Attending the Vistage Speakers Reception at Ashdown Park this week, reminded me of the many tips and ideas which we take away from our speakers, all of which can make a difference to the ways in which we operate.  Sometimes, the change can be dramatic indeed.

One such tip, donated at a recent Vistage session to my group by motivational speaker, consultant and author, Nigel Risner (www.nigelrisner.com) is remarkably simple and quite remarkably effective.

It is a simple equation of E + R = O which means Event plus Response equals Outcome.  So how does it work?

It works on two levels.   If we accept that an event is something that has already happened and consequently can't be changed, and the eventual outcome is perhaps not what we would wish for, then we need to examine how we reacted to the event to generate the outcome.

That is of course "after the event" and can lead to recriminations if things do not go the way we wanted.   It is, of course, possible and indeed necessary to learn from the way in which we responded to the event and that can lead to better understanding and improved reactions in the future.

The other and more positive use of the equation is again to accept the event as one which cannot in itself be changed, and then to decide on what outcome we want.  Having made that decision, we can then adjust our response to generate the desired outcome.  Easy, yes?

No, of course it isn't easy because it requires a moment or two of mature reflection instead of shooting from the hip in an immediate reaction. 

It has been suggested that we need time to reflect on how to respond and that is true in some situations, perhaps in personnel or serious commercial matters, but the equation still stands.  Keep asking the question: "What outcome do I want?".

In other situations, perhaps in personal relations, the time for reflection can be as long as two or three seconds and that is enough to change from being an aggressive reactor to someone who can see his/her way through a situation and come to the right conclusion.

It is no exaggeration to say that in many cases it has entirely changed the way in which I react to circumstances and has allowed me to behave in a more thoughtful and mature way.

Thank you Nigel - I owe you one!

For more information visit our all new website www.vistage.co.uk and www.vistageblog.co.uk
To contact us, email to ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Restructuring? Only If It Means Better Service for The Customer!

This week sees the annual Vistage UK Speaker Reception and it reminds me of the wonderful resource that we have in Vistage.

Looking back over many speaker sessions, I now realise how many of them have had a direct influence on the way that I look at business and, even in some cases, how I look at life.

One of my members recently discussed how he would like to restructure his business and that brought back a remark from a speaker that "the only rationale for restructuring the business is to give better service to the customer"".

That is a very powerful statement and brings into play many consequential thoughts.  A great deal of restructuring is done for internal reasons - we lose a key member of staff, the market changes in some way, suppliers change and so on.   Very infrequently do we assess how we deliver good service and then restructure to give even better service.

I recall a member of one of my groups who was a manufacturer of flavours and essences for the food industry.  He was experiencing Chinese Wall problems with his organisation which was, as is so common, structured on functional lines - vertical functions such as sales, exports, finance, technical, operations and so on.

Each of the functions seemed to be in conflict with another rather than acting as collaborators to satisfy the market needs.  Protectionism was the order of the day.  That meant that departments made sure that they were never at fault and a blame culture ensued with functions competing against each other instead of with each other.

He decided on a really radical approach to solve the problem.  Because the company supplied effectively four markets - savouries, desserts, soft drinks and exports, he decided to restructure on market rather than functional lines.

As a consequence, each team, dedicated to their own market sector, had sales, technical and operations people with finance and IT acting in a floating role with all the teams.

This matrix organisation had several benefits.   Firstly it served the needs of the customer in that there was a dedicated team for each market sector, who became more expert in the particular requirements of that sector, secondly, the teams started to work together because the blame culture dissipated and thirdly, the teams retained their competitiveness but in a smart way to the advantage of themselves and the business.

All in all it was a resounding success with dramatic improvements in performance and morale.

Its success is, of course, dependent on the business having a range of markets in which it operates although it is also feasible to analyse the current customer base to see if there is any way in which that can be divided into realistic semi-sectors.

Perhaps the big learning comes from the general need to get away from the standard functional organisation structure which by definition almost, contributes to introspection and protectionism.  In the end, it must be to the advantage of the customer and hence the business to root that out.

For more information visit www.vistage.co.uk and www.vistageblog.co.uk
To contact us, email to ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk

Sunday, 19 September 2010

There Is a Better Way To Do It - Find It!

That relentless inventor and producer of numerous quotable sayings, Thomas A Edison said: "There is a better way to do it - find it!"   The equally articulate great physicist, Albert Einstein, put it another way.  He said: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result".

I said in an earlier posting that there is no such thing as the status quo.  True, but there are many who devote all their energies to trying to maintain the impossible. On a purely personal note, I love traditions and rituals but accept that as time passes, subtle changes occur which do not in any way diminish them, but rather enhance them.

Once again it is that acceptance of the inevitability of change that many find so difficult, and change can be effected in many ways both subtle and dramatic.

Lee Thayer, one of our great Vistage speakers from the USA, says that dramatic change is necessary in many instances in order to achieve dramatic results.   The concept of the BHAG (big hairy audacious goals - slightly modified) can deliver a shock to the system which can materially change thinking both in an individual and also a business.

There is a need to get over the "it will never work" syndrome and once that is achieved, the world opens up and things start to happen.

On the other hand, the Japanese concept of kai-zen, incremental change, has been shown to be of great value and certainly, most people find it far more acceptable.  In some cases they don't even notice that it is happening.

Combine that with a relentless search for the better way to do it and great results can be achieved.   It is the leader's responsibility to demonstrate to the team that this is the desired and achievable reality, at the same time eliminating the fear of failure.

Edison said that he hadn't failed; he had just found 10,000 ways that won't work.  If we take on the idea that failure is merely a step on the road to success and sell that to the team, then we won't go far wrong.

For further information visit www.vistage.co.uk and www.vistageblog.co.uk
To contact us, email to ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Want To Know What You Are Selling? Ask Your Customers!

It has been said that the best way to discover what you are selling is to ask your customers because they certainly know.  This may seem a little strange but when we dig a little deeper, we often find that our view of our offerings differ widely from that of the market.

The problem is that we know our products or services so well that they become second nature whereas the customers only know them on an occasional basis, and then in a generally more perfunctory way.

I had a large accountancy firm as a client and they were continually banging on about the need for cross selling.  There were many audit clients, for example, who went to other firms for other services which irritated my client enormously.  So what did they do about it?  Very little except complain, mainly because there were different departments involved and hence some entrenched thinking and certainly some vested interests.

Research in the past has shown that it takes around seven times the effort to generate a new customer and build them to the level of existing customers.  Similarly, that four box matrix beloved of consultants, the Ansoff Matrix, says that he best way to build a business is to sell more existing products to existing customers.  Pretty obvious, of course, and the next best approach is to offer new products or service to your existing market.

The advantage is that you are known and presumably accepted as a supplier but even then it will take four times the effort to make it successful.

Offering your existing products to new markets is more problematic because here you are not known and so you will need to get over that hurdle first before you can start to sell your products.  In this case it is said to take up to eight times the effort.

None of this says don't do it - it just emphasises the need to understand that ploughing new furrows needs time and effort to make it successful.

We can become very inward looking with our product range if we are not careful.  I once telephoned a potential supplier for some long forgotten technical product and was greeted with "Is it the XR200 you want or would you prefer the XR205?"

Another client once held a suppliers' conference (an excellent idea, by the way) and during his presentation he said that he needed the suppliers to mark the packaging of components with his part number, either as well as or instead of their own.  A fair requirement, it must be said.

One supplier stood up and said that he would find that difficult because their computer program wouldn't be able to do it.   The client said: "Don't worry, it isn't a problem, another supplier has told me that they will be happy to do it for us".

There ensued the fastest piece of computer programming ever.

The customer knows what we are selling because they buy it and they use it which makes them even more expert in our products than we are.  They know how to apply it and we know how to buy it or make it and sell it.

Alright, that is a big generalisation, but the point remains, if you want to know what you are selling, ask your customers - they certainly know.

For further information, visit www.vistage.co.uk and www.vistageblog.co.uk
To contact us, email to ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Change? Change? What's All This About Change?

"The only constant in the business is change" has become both a mantra and a cliche for many leaders and the achievement of change has become, in many cases, almost a holy grail.

A little thought on the concept of change in a business and indeed, how a business runs dynamically, brings one to the inevitable conclusion that there is no such thing as the "status quo".

The only way in which a business could be run without any change whatsoever (the status quo) is by a computer programmed to operate an inviolable system.  To put real people into any system automatically ensures that change, of some sort, will happen.

Conventional wisdom says that if people are in comfort zone, which seems to imply, with the minimum of significant change in their lives, and some action is taken to alter the system, the process, the management, the working conditions or anything which impinges on the individual psyche, then the first automatic reaction is generally denial and/or denigration.

This usually takes the form of "it won't work", "we tried it before and it was a disaster", "They don't realise what it means to us" and similar negative messages.

After some time to let the change take effect, the normal reaction tends to develop into a level of organised chaos and confusion until the whole system has settled down.  This period is also, more often than not, more positive with people trying to make the new system work.

The next phase is the aforesaid holy grail, that of renewal and regeneration when the system and the people are in harmony and are achieving the objectives of the change.

Of course, this being an iterative process, the next phase is back into comfort and complacency until once again change is imposed.

What does all of this imply for the leader?   If we accept that there is no such thing as the status quo and change is both constant and inevitable, then the acceptance of a system which is innovative and dynamic is far easier to achieve.

Yes, there are different levels of change; some change is dramatic and life changing, some is inevitable, some is radical or reactionary and some creeps up on us almost unnoticed.

Whichever it is, it can be for good or for evil and it is up to us all to make it work positively whenever possible.  How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a light bulb?  None - she says "You're too busy, don't worry about me, darling, I like sitting in the dark".

Have a great week!

For further information, visit www.vistage.co.uk and www.vistageblog.co.uk
To contact us, email to ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk

Monday, 30 August 2010

Keep Going, The Next One Might Be The Next Sale!

My old sales mentor, the sage of Wythenshawe, Phil Copp, was an inveterate and committed cold caller in the days when sales forces could afford to swan off into the wide world and see if they could generate some business, anywhere and anyhow.

Phil would just call in on a company if he was passing and it looked interesting, go to reception, demand to see the Chief Engineer and then wait.   On occasions he was lucky and the Chief would come to see him, but generally, he had the usual rebuffs of "nothing today, thank you" (irrespective of the fact that nobody knew what he was selling) or "he's in a meeting" or "just leave your brochure and he will call you".  Oh yes?

I asked him once how many cold calls he made and didn't see anyone and he said, "Probably hundreds".  In something of a state of shock I asked him how many times he made a sale and he said: "Probably once in a hundred".

In even more shock I questioned: "How on earth can you accept all that rejection and keep on cold calling?"

His answer has stuck with me ever since.  He said, quite simply: "Because the next call might be the next sale".

Sales methods have changed radically since those times.  Vistage speaker Grant Leboff exhorts us to "stop shouting at the customers"; to organise your approach so that the customer comes to you.

Even so, Phil's message still holds good because selling is an art not a science, however much the sales gurus want make it so.   However we manage the interaction between ourselves and a potential customer or client, in the end, we have to put over a message that will entice the customer to make a decision, and hopefully a positive one.

It is obviously far better to generate qualified leads than to cold call although that message doesn't seem to have got through to the many unwanted telephone calls that I seem to get these days.

Even with qualified leads, however, if conversion rates are generally low, Phil's philosophy holds good.  The next discussion might be the one which is successful - even better, the next discussion WILL be the one which is successful.

Yes, it is most important to understand that what we say to potential customers and how we say it, is key to success as well but the overwhelming aspect is complete self-confidence that we will succeed.  It is only by that self-confidence that we can overcome the fear of rejection and move on to the next opportunity.

As long ago as 1952, Dr Norman Vincent Peale wrote "The Power of Positive Thinking" and that concept is still valid, perhaps even more so in these extremely competitive times.

"The next sales meeting WILL be successful" is a mantra that many people in business could well take on as a way of life.

For further information visit www.vistage.co.uk and www.vistageblog.co.uk
To contact us, email to ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk

Sunday, 22 August 2010

If You Want To Make God Laugh, Show Him Your Plans!

That supreme cynic, Woody Allen, said: "If you want to make God laugh, show him your plans" and Vistage speaker and former top CIA executive, Herb Meyer, would say: "No plan can survive its collision with reality".

Cynical or pragmatic?   Possibly both, but to counter them, Jim Slater, who was a great name in the 1970s when building his Slater Walker business empire, opined that he was more successful than others simply because he knew where he was going and had a very precise vision of the future.

I believe that Herb's view is essentially pragmatic in that there is no sense in stubbornly going for an objective when circumstances have changed to the extent that the objective is no longer viable.  Plans are there to assist the leader to achieve and can never be set in concrete.

It often surprises me however, when in mentoring mode, that many of my clients have at best only a vague idea of what they want and where they and their companies are going.  Even more curious, there are cases where the business owner is reaching, to be kind, maturity and has no idea of what he/she will need to do in order to exit the business.

Most really successful athletes have an absolute vision of where they are going.  They can visualise success, how it looks, how it feels, and what it will mean to them when it has been achieved.   If only more business leaders could have the same, almost blinkered, vision there is no doubt that there would be much more visible success.

If people in business need to know "how am I doing and where are WE going?", how much more does kit apply to the leader if only to be able to answer these questions with absolute certainty and confidence.

A final quote, this time from Theodore Levitt, formerly Professor of Marketing at Harvard who said: "If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there".   Now there's a thought.

For more information visit www.vistage.co.uk and www.vistageblog.co.uk
To contact us, email to ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Short Span of Attention? Who, Me? What Did You Say?

The first time I lectured at a Business School, we were in a first floor room with a window overlooking the main road.  I was standing with my back to the window and in full flow, when I suddenly realised that I had lost them.  They were all looking either through me or past me and whatever I was saying was wasting my sweetness on the desert air.

I looked round and, lo and behold, outside the window was the sight of the top deck of a bus - with people on it!  Far more exciting than my apparently rather turgid presentation.

Taking the theme a stage further, I visited my son in San Diego to find that he had a new TV with a vast number of channels which was a fascinating innovation, coming as I did from four or five free channels in the UK.  However, he spent a great deal of time zapping from channel to channel on the remote and just about every one was showing either advertisements or a cowboy film.

No wonder it has been said that when men have a remote control in their hands, they are not looking to see what is on TV, they are looking to see what ELSE is on TV.

So what has this to do with business?  A great deal, because it is all about how we communicate and that means how we pass on information and, more importantly, how it is received, or whether is it received at all.

I remember being told, in my youth to "look at me when I'm talking to you" and "Do you understand?" and "look at the blackboard, lad, not out of the window".

Our span of attention is said to be no more than 7 seconds by which time something else has intruded into our thought processes.  Many TV films, for example, cut each scene into very short pieces so as to keep the attention at a higher level.

In business we need to realise that attention spans are very short in general and unless we can encapsulate what we need to say in a very few words, the message will not get through.  Asking if the recipient understands will generally elicit a nod or a "yes" but is unlikely to be true.   Feedback needs to be gained on the basis more of "what have you heard?" or "what will you do now?" and that should discover whether the message has been absorbed.

Even more importantly, the rise of the use of websites and the all encompassing search engines means that we now have the opportunity to cover a vast amount of information.  Again, it is said that the average visit to a website is no more than 7 seconds if the information being sought is not immediately apparent.  Equally, very few people will look further than the first screen and very few scroll down to see what else is available. 

Have you ever tried to tell people what you and/or your company does?  Try to tell them in no more than 40 words in no more than 15 seconds.  A difficult task for those of us who are steeped in the lives of our companies but remember what Mark Twain said, "I would have written you a shorter letter but I didn't have the time".

If the attention span of the listener is short, make sure that the message is equally short which will give it a better chance of being heard and understood.

For further information visit www.vistage.co.uk and www.vistageblog.co.uk
To contact us, email to ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk

Sunday, 8 August 2010

It's Not What It Is, It's What It Does That Matters!

My telephone (iPhone of course) rang in a mentoring meeting this week and I hastened to turn the thing off, having forgotten to do so, as I consider that answering the telephone in a meeting is, at the very least, discourteous.

However, my client, having helpfully told me how turn it silent, said "I have an iPhone4 - have you seen one?"

I enthusiastically took a look and was slightly disappointed to find that while it is smaller and thinner (though heavier) than mine, the screen looked much the same and on the face of it, I couldn't see why it cost so much more than mine.

This caused me think about the differences between the purchasing rationales of the ultimate consumer and what might be called, business to business (B2B).

The UK Managing Director of a global consumer electronics brand once told me that somewhere in the south of England, they had a house in the country where several PhDs and MBAs were ensconced ostensibly to think about the future of the company's product range.

On the basis that the life cycle of a typical electronics product (he said) was about six months and it took an average of three years to bring it to market, the need for a pipeline of innovation was manifest.

It seems to me that the balance between "want" and "need" is changing rapidly even in these straitened economic times, and that is evinced by the sale of more than 1.4 million iPhone4s in no time flat following its launch.

If the "need" criterion is much higher in the B2B transaction, we should remember that most manufactured products finish up as a part of the "wants" of the ultimate consumer.   Accordingly, any thoughts of innovation should build on a plan which starts with the end in mind - what is likely to move the consumer next?

That is a tough call and I wonder whether innovative companies do that or just innovate and then use brilliant marketing to persuade the consumer that this is what is the next great "want".

My sales mentor, the Sage of Wythenshawe, the great Phil Copp, used to say "It's not what it is, it's what it does that matters" and that is quite true in most cases.   The iPhone4 is a telephone with a lot of very interesting and powerful extras but if it is a telephone, so is the £15 pay-as-you-go from the local supermarket.

The fact that there is now a raft of smart phones from several manufacturers' all with new and different extras just emphasises the fact that the consumers "wants" are paramount.

Anyway, I'm just waiting for the next big thing which I am quite certain to want like mad (iPad with a telephone and camera perhaps?)

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To contact us email to ivan.goldberg@maa-uk.co.uk

Sunday, 1 August 2010

How Can A Defeatist Leader Lead? With Great Difficulty!

It's strange how a theme for this blog seems to pop up during the week and is reinforced several times in meetings with clients.

In a meeting with a consultancy client this week, we were discussing the performance of his team, and he mentioned that he was concerned that his Sales Manager "is a very good opener but a poor closer".   He went on to say that he can open the door to new clients, build a relationship, put over a good story but in end, he fails to close the deal.   It seemed to stem from a period when competition was fierce and he lost a couple of significant orders which had made him either defeatist or defensive or both.
I have been listening to the radio commentaries on the European Games this week and was fascinated to hear Darren Campbell, a former European sprint gold medal winner, say that to be a great champion, it has to be understood that the physical aspect of the athlete's preparation had to be a "given"; that the coaches, the physios, the doctors and nutritionists would all have done their jobs and the athlete would go into the competition fully prepared - physically.

Campbell made the point that the aspect that differentiates the good from the great is purely mental; that the great athlete had complete self-belief and knew precisely what the objective was - to win.   It was interesting to hear the reaction of  a silver medallist who said to the interviewer that "he hadn't come to Barcelona to come second - he had come to win" so the most important thing for him was the next competition, the Commonwealth Games.

The great coach (or leader for that matter) had the ability to enthuse his/he charges with that total self-belief that they can only win, not at all costs, but in competition with others of equal or sometimes greater talent.   A deep knowledge or even experience of the technicalities or details of the sport is less important that this rare facility to deliver that feeling of invulnerability.

The great Mark Spitz, a swimmer who won eight gold medals at one Olympic Games, had a coach who not only couldn't swim but had a morbid fear of water.  What he could do supremely well was to build Mark Spitz's self-belief to a level which enabled him to win and go on winning.

So what has this to do with a Sales Manager who is defeatist because at some
time in the past he lost a couple of orders?   The main function of the leader at any level and in any environment is to be coach to his/her team, to enthuse them with a feeling of wanting to win, to build their trust and hence their self-belief and to give constant encouragement.  It is not to be the best technician; others are employed to be that. 

Ed Ryan, a noted US HR specialist, says that "we hire on skills and fire on attitude".   Turn that on its head and ask ourselves the question - do we hire or promote on attitude rather than skills?  What, in the final analysis, is more important, skills or attitude, especially in a leader?

The primary function of the leader is to be the coach to the team, to build that feeling of invincibility and that is the how, as Jim Collins says in his book, Good to Great, we can get the right people on the bus.

For more information visit www.maa-uk.co.uk
To contact us, email to ivan.goldberg@maa-uk.co.uk

Sunday, 25 July 2010

It's Expensive - Can You Afford It?

My wife took an old friend out this week to afternoon tea to celebrate her special birthday in a large and very prestigious department store restaurant in Manchester.  As the first glass of champagne went fairly quickly, she called the waitress over to order another one.

"You do know that it costs £8.00 a glass, don't you?" said the waitress.

The answer to that is, of course, "Why, can't I afford it?" but we don't always think immediately of the perfect riposte.

It reminded me of the time that I took time off, dressed in casual clothes, to go to buy some black shoes , again in a large and well know shop in the city.  I spotted a pair in the window which looked right, went in and tried them on.  They weren't right for me and I saw some more on a nearby shelf.

"What about those?"  I said

"Ah" said the assistant:  "Those are more expensive"

Once again the timely answer came some time afterwards but I have been thinking about the number of times that this has happened to me and, somewhat to my surprise, it is legion.

What is it that makes people think that they know better than the customer what is "expensive"?   I make no apologies for reverting to the question of pricing because it is at the heart of good business.  The true revenue of a business is the gross profit, not the sales turnover, and the right pricing policy is the major contributor.

Prices can be decided in many ways but generally, there are three standard methods; cost plus an uplift, following the price structure in the market, and, crucially, what the customer will pay for it.

This last method is far and away the best but it demands the inevitable quid pro quo, that the purchase must demonstrate value to the customer such that the apparently higher initial price is mitigated by the totality of the offer   Service, quality and guarantees are essential "extras" to reduce the dependence on price alone.

In the end, it is the WIIFM or What's In It For Me? question that must be answered.   The customer is the ONLY person who can decide what is and what is not expensive.  Certainly the seller can't make that judgement and if we do, then the danger is always that we under price in order to ensure that we make the sale.

Gross profit is more important than sales turnover and good pricing policy is the key.

For more information visit www.maa-uk.co.uk
To contact us, email to ivan.goldberg@maa-uk.co.uk

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Frankly My Dear, I Don't Give Damn!

On Thursday last, we held our Vistage Open Day at the Theatre of Dreams (that's the Manchester United ground at Old Trafford for the uninitiated) when we had over 80 people there to hear a great Vistage speaker, Peter Knight, expound on his HEMP system, the Highly Effective Marketing Plan. (read the book, it's excellent and very usable)

Peter made the point that we, the customers, don't really care that the product has been made in a state of the art, air-conditioned factory.  It could have been made in a cramped underground facility by trained primates for all that it matters to us.

Alright, we don't expect it to have been made in a way that exploits vulnerable people and that is a valid moral stance, but you get what I mean.

Many pieces of marketing "stuff", be it print, digital or even audio-visual, can be very self-indulgent when viewed with a discerning eye.   How many leaflets have you seen with a photograph of the company's office block or "the team" or, heaven forfend, the Chief Executive, in a prominent position? 

Ask yourself, would that encourage a customer to buy from you?   Ask yourself another disturbing question - what is the purpose of this piece of marketing?

The answer is, usually, that I want it to tell people what we do and how well we do it, but is that what the customer wants to know?   The days are long gone when we can merely say that this is our product range and then expect the world to beat the proverbial path to our door.

The Swiss engineer, Hans Renold, who in the late 19th century in Manchester invented the roller chain which has become a world standard of mechanical engineering power transmission, said that he would decide which companies were worthy of buying and using his chain.

Such lordly statements would carry little weight in these more competitive times but in the early days of his business, it genuinely worked and he built the foundations of an exceptionally successful business.

Naturally, following the expiry of the patent, the rest of the world decided to make roller chains, and far less expensively than its creator.

In the end, the customer wants to know one thing and one thing only and that is, the answer to the WIIFM question; if that is what you are selling, What's In It For Me?

Selfish?  Of course it is!  But I don't want to know how it's been made, where it's been made, who made it, who invented it, what sort of an office block you have or any other peripheral and not too interesting bits of information, so keep them off your marketing literature.  They get in the way of what I want to know.

What I want to know is, will it solve my problem, will it fit into my strategy, will it be economically viable; in other words, What's In It For Me?

All the other factors, the office block, the "team", even the Chief Executive; "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn".

By the way, anyone know the next (and last) line of the film?

For more information about Vistage UK, visit www.vistage.co.uk and www.vistageblog.co.uk.
To contact us, email to ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk

Sunday, 11 July 2010

What Do You Mean, I'm Not Working? I'm Thinking!

One of the great things about my involvement with Vistage over the last eighteen or so years has been the opportunity to hear some wonderful speakers from all over the world.  One I remember with pleasure is Walt Sutton, a Canadian who had much business success in the USA and became a greatly lauded speaker on the Vistage circuit.

Walt's session was essentially about what makes an entrepreneur and, more's the point, what makes an entrepreneur successful.

One of the methods that he proposed was to take time out ,perhaps twice a year, to "take a day to walk on a beach" and to think about the business; no mobile phones, no notebooks, just quiet contemplation away from the day to day activity, and most importantly, on your own.

The clue to this bi-annual retreat is the fact that the leader, be he/she Chief Executive, Managing Director, Owner or whatever, is really the only person in the business who genuinely thinks about the business.   That is not to say that the other members of the management team don't think about it; rather they think more about their own functional responsibilities  such as sales, operations, finance and so on, whereas the leader needs to think about the business holistically.

It is all part of the development of a vision for the business which must be done holistically taking all aspects of the operations of the company into account, and there is really only one person in the business who can do that; the leader.

I recall one of my members having heard Walt's exposition, decided to have a day's contemplation of a particularly thorny issue which had been troubling him for some time.   He also decided to take his retreat at home overlooking some attractive trees which seemed a good idea to me.  I asked him how the day had been for him.

"Alright" he said: "I fell asleep a couple of times, and spent a lot of time thinking about the issue".

"So what happened?"

"Well, nothing immediate really" he said: "but a couple of days later - all sorts of ideas came popping out and I think that I have seen a way through the problem".

He brought the issue to the table at the next Vistage meeting and the group helped him tune and tweak it until it was in a condition to be implemented and, in the event, successfully.

The point about this story is that the leader needs thinking time about the business away from the hustle and bustle and demands of the working day, and that time spent just thinking can and should be very productive.  Immediate results are rare but just let the mind go into sub-conscious mode and it will continue working on the problem.

Sam Snead, the golfer, used to say "You gotta take time out to smell the roses".  Perhaps that should be rewritten for the leader: "You gotta take time out to work ON the business, not IN the business".

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To contact, email ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk