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Saturday, 30 January 2010

Be Driven by Your Customers

It is curious, when talking to business leaders, how infrequently the customer is mentioned. Many are the other issues – finance, production, suppliers, people (oh yes, people!) but not often the most important person, the customer. A wonderful friend of mine was the late Ray Wiltshire and his favourite target audience was Mrs Wiltshire. If he got it right for Mrs Wiltshire, then it was right.

In the end, the only real and sustainable advantage that the business can derive is the way in which we service the market.

For example, the only valid reason for restructuring the business is to improve the service to the customer. So often restructuring is justified on internal and frequently specious grounds which have no relevance to the customer or the market.

We need to ensure that in every decision, the level of service given to the customers is at the forefront of the decision making process, and on the basis of continuous improvement. It needs to be checked out by deciding on the level of service which you are currently giving, defining the level of service you would like to provide and then determine, with your team, what you need to do to achieve it - what resources are needed, what changes in people and/or systems are needed, and, most importantly, what changes in attitudes are needed.

Don’t make a judgement based on your opinion. Use your team to decide on how best to ensure that the level of service to the customer is the best that you and the business can possibly achieve. It starts with the way the telephone is answered and it never ends!

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Saturday, 23 January 2010

Invictus - a Bleak Poem?

A couple of weeks ago, one of my colleagues in the USA posted a poem called Invictus on a business forum. For some reason it has followed me around and at every touch and turn I seem to hear or read about it, especially the last couple of lines. It is by William Ernest Henley (1849-1902) a Gloucestershire poet, critic and author and this is it:

Out of the night that covers me
Black as the pit from pole to pole
I thank whatever gods there may be
For my unconquerable soul

In the fell clucth of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed

It matters not how strait the gate
How charged with punishments the scroll
I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul

One of my colleagues in the USA said that when he showed it to his girl friend she said “That is a very bleak poem” so he ditched the poem and married the girl.

It is pretty bleak in places but I must say that it does have some resonance for me, especially in the last two lines. We live in a world where the perpetual cry is “Someone should do something about it” or “Why doesn’t the Government sort it out?” or worst of all, “I’m entitled”.

Yes, someone SHOULD do something about it, whatever that may be, and that person is the individual him or herself to take on the responsibility

Until we realise that we are the master of our own fate and the captain of our own soul, then this perpetual harping on wanting other people to sort out our problems will never go away.

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Monday, 18 January 2010

The Late Great Professor Russell Lincoln Ackoff

I had already prepared today’s blog but last evening I listened to “In Business” on BBC Radio 4 and changed my mind. Peter Day, the presenter, had interviewed Professor Ackoff in 2007 and following the Professor’s recent death at the age of 90, parts of the interview were repeated.

Russell Ackoff was an articulate and contentious individual with very strong views, especially on the role of business schools and on education in general. Kenneth and Will Hopper, in their brilliant book, The Puritan Gift, for which Professor Ackoff wrote the foreword, relate his reply to a question posed as to his opinion of the principal achievements of a business school education.

His reply was:

The first was to equip students with a vocabulary that enabled them to talk authoritatively about subjects they did not understand.
The second was to give students principles that would demonstrate their ability to withstand any amount of disconfirming evidence.
And the third was to give students a ticket of admission to a job where they could learn something about management.

To say the least, these answers did not endear him to the Wharton School faculty where he was Emeritus Professor of Management Science.

In the excellent interview, Ackoff mentions the route from information, through knowledge to intelligence (see my last posting). However, he expands the process to make it data, through knowledge to understanding and then to wisdom. If we can achieve that, then our travels through the maze of management will be made far smoother.

You can get the programme on a podcast (in the UK at least) from
www.bbc.co.uk/radio4 and it is a fascinating insight into a brilliant mind The thoughts of the late Russell Lincoln Ackoff, Professor Emeritus Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, deserve to be far better known.

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Sunday, 10 January 2010

Don't Let Your Sales Team Get A Layby Tan!

My sales mentor, the great Phil Copp, used to relate how, when driving down the East Lancashire Road between Manchester and Liverpool, on a nice summer’s day, he used to see the laybys occupied by Fords, Vauxhalls and similar, windows and sunroofs open.

This was known by the occupants (if they were of that great tribe – salesmen or women) as “doing the paperwork”.

Phil called it “getting a layby tan” and was pretty scathing about the lack of commitment of these types.

In essence, if you employ a sales team, then the only time that they are productive is when they are face to face with the prospect so ideally this time needs to be maximised.

Route planning, Pareto analysis of the prospects and existing customers, and a careful and cultured decision making process as to the regularity of calling are all vital ingredients of optimum productivity.

Add to that all the various aspects of new technology and sales productivity can be massively improved. It certainly isn’t by sitting in a layby enjoying the sunshine and “doing the paperwork”!

Happy New Year!

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