Popular Posts

Sunday, 27 June 2010

What Makes an Enterpreneur Tick? It's Focus!

I was wandering (lonely as cloud, naturally) in some old files on my computer when I came across a piece which seemed to me entirely relevant in these difficult days for business people.

What makes an entrepreneur tick?   It's quite a long list and covers such criteria as drive, decisiveness, enthusiasm, passion, energy, obsession, energy, creativity, excitement, self belief, a positive approach, the thrill of the chase, spotting opportunities and taking action, and above all, FOCUS.

I remember going to see a new Vistage member who immediately told me that he didn't really have enough time to discuss the business - he was fully committed just to running it.  After a little judicious questioning, I asked him if he had a "to-do" list.

"Of course", he said: "How could I do everything that I have to do without one?"

I asked how he organised the list and he said that he tended to bunch items into functions such as finance, production, sales and so on.  This sounded worrying so I asked to see that latest version which turned out to comprise 72 items - things to do, all of which he said were of equal importance.

To be fair, his background and training was that of a computer programmer so his default mode was micro-management.

This is an obvious example of what not to do, of course, but if it happens with one executive, how many others run their businesses in much the same way?

I am a great believer in the need to focus on those issues in a business which either are of such importance that they genuinely need the attention of the top person, or alternatively, it should only be an issue which contributes to the wealth whilst maintaining the values of the business.

If that is the ideal situation, there is a strong case for limiting the "to-do" list to no more than five items at a time, setting the priorities by the above criteria.

A simple approach is usually the best.  A company in which I was involved used what was termed the "red folder" system.   A limited number of red folders were allocated to the sales department and if they were used, then their query would be given priority.  If a red folder was not immediately available, then the query took its place in the queue.  It was a remarkably effective method and stopped all arguments about what was or was not important.  Sure, certain things got out of kilter but overall it worked well.

Setting priorities is one of the most important functions of the entrepreneur and one of the most tasking for many.  Ask yourself, whose job am I doing right now and give it to them.  Then get on with working on what is really important for the business.

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

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Does Leadership With Unbridled Power Lead to Fear?

I had insomnia last night so reverted to my usual remedy - listening to the radio on very quietly.  At around 3am it was the BBC World Service with a programme about the 65th birthday today of Aung San Suu Kyi, the remarkable de facto leader of the Democracy movement in Burma.

For me the most significant comment came from Archbishop Desmond Tutu who said that although the Burmese Generals' regime was armed to the teeth, they were virtually powerless and paralysed by fear, the fear of one extraordinary and beautiful lady whom they had kept in virtually solitary confinement for nearly two decades.

It gave me some cause to ponder on the apparent link between unbridled power and fear and how the Burma situation is a metaphor for business and, indeed, life in general.

Certainly we have had examples of unbridled political power in the past century in Europe, Africa and Asia, all of which regimes lasted only a relatively few years before collapsing.   All of these regimes maintained their power through the generation of fear while at the same time, being fearful themselves of any opposition to their methods.

Some business leaders have in the same sense used their power to engender an authoritarian "top down" regime in the organisation, generating fear and consequently an atmosphere of poor communications and a perceived need to keep bad news away from the top.

Once again, these businesses, often run by financial managers, have shown that this management style works for a while and delivers short term profitability.  However, these organisations are usually marked by their high staff turnover and generally low morale with a consequent decline in longer term performance.   Indeed, their star often declines in much the same way as the authoritarian political regimes.

So what is the answer?  Great leadership is a facet of the human condition that demands humility as well as charisma such that people follow the leader almost without conscious consideration but in the secure knowledge that it is right for them.  

It has been said in the past (and I don't know the attribution) that : "The people want me to be their leader so I must follow them".   That wonderful woman in Burma is a classic example.  May she have a happy birthday in the knowledge that she is looked upon as a supreme example of selfless dedication to a cause and leadership par excellence.

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

Sunday, 13 June 2010

It's All About Attitude Not Skills!

One of the great Vistage speakers from the USA is Ed Ryan whose emphasis is all about hiring the best people. Three of his more memorable mantras have become basic thinking in my Vistage group and I hear them repeated from time to time, realising that I have been saying them for years and now they have been passed on.

The mantras are "If you can't change the people, you'll have to change the people", "Why does it take eighteen months to get rid of someone we interviewed for an hour and half?" (that one tends to go very deep), and critically: "We hire on skills and fire on attitude".

Jim Collins in his masterly book, Good to Great, says that we should always "get the right people on the bus" and again, this has become standard thinking in my Vistage group. Whether or not it happens, of course, is another matter.

There is no doubt that the ideal solution to hiring the right people is to bring them up through the business which ensures succession at all levels and strengthens domain knowledge in the business, a vital ingredient for success. Kenneth and Will Hopper in their great book, The Puritan Gift, make the point that when a manager is parachuted into a business from outside, the shop floor can take eighteen months to teach him about the business.

However, to be realistic, we do need to recruit from outside from time to time and Ed Ryan's strictures make for uneasy reading. I well recall the former HR Director of an enormous global company with around 120,000 employees saying to me that if they got their recruitment right 50% of the time, they were doing OK. That is a frightening statistic if only for the downside costs of hiring the wrong person.

Too often in the hiring process, the demand for background skills and experience outweighs all other criteria and too often we find that the individual with great skills and experience just doesn't fit into our organisation - too late in many cases.

Ed Ryan also makes the point that the correct ranking of criteria should be firstly, chemistry or better still attitude, followed by experience followed by skills. If we recruit an accountant, the skill level should be a given and relatively easily proven. Experience may or may not count for anything but above all, the right attitude is essential and not too simple to uncover.

There are useful techniques around for determining attitude which should be at the forefront of the interview questioning process. Get the attitude issue solved and that 50% statistic will be a thing of the past.

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

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Who'sTo Blame? Anyone But Not Me!

I feel a rant coming on again. My favourite target is the Today programme on Radio 4 where the interviewers (all of them), if they are not asking their subject "Do you think......?" then they are asking "Who do you blame?". They usually take it a step further to suggest that "heads must roll", "resignation is the only way forward" and so on.

There have been two outstanding examples of the blame culture in the past week. Firstly, President Obama has spent most of the time ranting and railing against BP who undoubtedly have much to answer for, but are at least taking action to try to solve the problem. The President seems to be motivated more by the forthcoming mid-term elections than by offering some solutions to a desperately complex technical problem. His constant harping on, blaming BP for everything, without offering any solutions, does nothing to put the situation right.

The other instance is the appalling massacre in Cumbria, where that pillar of moral probity, the Daily Mirror, is blaming the Cumbian police force for "not catching the killer sooner".

The job of the armchair critic is a simple one. Find a difficult situation, criticise and blame someone for not doing something, then lean back with a self-satisfied look, having solved the problem.

An important function of good management is the ability to delegate tasks without appearing to interfere in the implementation. This demands a high level of trust to allow the task to be completed, preferably in a legal manner, conforming to the company's values, and to time. Probably it won't be done in the way that you would have done it, but does that matter as long as these criteria are maintained?

What is absolutely essential is that it must be done in a "no-blame" environment to eliminate any fear of retribution if things do not go according to plan. That demands not only trust on the part of management, but also some courage to accept that results may not go right. Blame only generates fear, resulting in a reluctance to take any responsibility with consequential upward delegation.

Rant over. I'll listen to Chrsi Evans instead of Today for a while.

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