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Monday, 30 May 2011

Something Gone Wrong? Heads Must Roll!

The media has been awash over the past few days about the appeal won by the sacked Director of Children Services at Haringey, not to mention the sad tale of a fallen footballer, and they are in a fine frenzy of vilification as a consequence.

The rights and wrongs of the matters are not an appropriate subject for this blog, but the underlying ethos of blame is very much at the forefront of my thinking.

It is consistent in BBC programmes like Today, PM and other news programmes that when “investigating” a perceived wrong, the interviewer always seems to want to know who is to blame and what punishment would be appropriate.
It was equally refreshing to hear a learned Professor on the radio today saying that blame followed by firing the perceived miscreant does nothing to solve the problem but merely satisfies the human need for vengeance.

If something serious happens, as it did at Haringey, sacking the Director and replacing her with a new incumbent means that the newcomer had to go through a learning process which may or may not be successful.

Far better (and braver) to keep the people in place and monitor how they address the processes and procedures which led to the problem; in other words addressing the root cause and not the effect.

It is only by those means that changes can be made effectively to minimise at least the possibility of a repeat.  By the way, if changes are not implemented and nothing improves, then at that stage it would be right and proper to start the disciplinary process.

If changes like that can happen then it might reduce the hypocritical, stomach-churning, “holier than thou” preaching of the media which latches on to subjects “in the public interest” when the real rationale is to sell more papers.

End of rant – I hope that you all had a happy Bank Holiday weekend!

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

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Trying to be Perfect? Don't Bother! Be Excellent Instead!

“The pursuit of perfection does not lead to success”.  It was said to me this week, followed by “There’s a blog subject for you!” and so it is.  (Thank you Jacqui)


It brought back to mind a consultancy assignment I had some time ago in which I was ostensibly advising two very nice, very clever your women on the marketing of some software that they had developed for small hotels – software that would    co-ordinate all the various functions and which designed a complete system.

The assignment was a total failure, not, heaven forfend, because of bad advice on my part but rather that the advice was never implemented.

Why?  Because my two clients could never decide when the software was ready to be marketed.  It was constantly being tuned, tweaked, adjusted, altered, modified and never were customers consulted to see what  they wanted and needed.

After about six months I withdrew gently from the assignment, having constantly suggested, without success, that they issue a Beta Version, possibly with some faults, and then update to Version 1 when customers opinions had been gathered in and implemented.

Just look at Apple and how they market new products.  First f all there is a constant and subtle dropping of hints and leaks about the new product followed by the announcement of a date for the launch all resulting in hordes of slavering early adopters battling to be the first to have one.  Sure, there will be and are problems but that only leads to the next upgraded version.

The hotel software never went on sale.

So many management mantras come to mind; do the right thing rather than do things right, or pursue excellence rather than perfection, and so on.

It is a truism to say that perfection cannot be achieved so why try to achieve it?  The constant pursuit of excellence in everything that we do in business should be a given; to pursue perfection can be a dead hand on what we do and leads always to frustration.

Yes, we do need people in the team who are completer/finishers, who are meticulous in all they do, who need to do things right and who make a contribution to the organisation.  They do not, however, take the business forward; only help to ensure that it doesn’t slip backwards.

I like one of the verses in Gerry Rafferty’s song:

“You need direction, yeah you need a name
When you’re standing in the crossroads every highway looks the same
After a while you can recognize the signs
So if you get it wrong you’ll get it right next time”

That’s a perfect view of the pursuit of excellence.

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


Sunday, 15 May 2011

Hiring New People? Good Enough is Not Good Enough!

Talking to one of my Vistage members this week, he said that he had decided to hire someone whom he had known for some time and who he rated as an excellent potential manager is his business.

“That’s good news” I said: “What is the job she will take on?”

“I haven’t decided yet” he said: “It’s just that she is right for the business and we will find the right place for her, or even create one.”  Brilliant!

Some time ago my Vistage group heard Dr Lee Thayer, a great speaker on leadership from the USA, talk about virtuosity and the need to hire only virtuosi.  Lee made the point that in order to become a high performing organisation, the standard of individuals within the organisation has to be of the highest standard throughout.  See http://leethayer.typepad.com/.

That concept has stuck with me since hearing Lee, and there is no doubt that his strictures have spread throughout the vast number of management theorists (and practitioners, for that matter).  Take, for instance, Jim Collins in his book Good to Great, who says that we need to “get the right people on the bus” and there are many other instances of writers extolling the need for virtuosity in your people.

The challenge is to avoid the HR Elastoplast approach which says that we replace a leaver with, effectively, a clone so that we eliminate as far as possible the need for significant change.

Nothing could be more pointless.   It is much better to look on someone leaving the business as an opportunity to improve standards, so the question to ask when recruiting is: “Can this person help us achieve the strategic objectives of the department or the business?”.  That means taking the long (and possibly the more expensive) view on hiring the right people and that is by far the best way.

Good enough is not good enough.  Never hire the second choice on your list if the first choice turns you down.  You didn’t choose them the first time so why choose them the second time?  Better to start the process all over again and find the best person for the position.

Even better, just hire exceptional people and fit the positions around them.

For more information visit www.vistage.co.uk and www.maa-uk.co.uk
To contact us, email ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk
Twitter: @ivanjgoldberg

Sunday, 8 May 2011

What's All This About Change? We Have an Internet Policy!

We had a great experience on Friday at the Manchester Vistage Open Day when the speaker, Grant Leboff shattered many illusions about the value of marketing by what has become conventional means.

By conventional means, Grant listed direct mail, cold calling by telephone and advertising on TV and printed media.  He made the point that the old blunderbus approach to selling to your customer base in total doesn’t work any more and produced statistics to show how each of these methods were in decline.

That is, of course, all well and good, but what is the answer?  Grant’s view is that we need to identify precisely what we are selling, who the customer base might be and then approach them is such a way as to encourage them to want to make contact with you.   It all sounds easy and Grant’s enthusiasm was inspiring.

However, it takes a lot of attitude change to move from “the way that we have always done it” to something radically different which requires a complete change of thinking.  Not easy, of course, but the rewards are evident if only because you will stand out from the crowd and become a leader in the market.

There is a somewhat inelegant quote which says “if you continue to do what you have always done, then you will always get what you always got” and in fact it’s worse than that.  Even that assumes no change in the commercial environment and we all know that markets are far more difficult due to the recent economic problems.

Change takes a lot of courage, foresight, risk and sometimes calumny from peers and staff, but in these straitened times, change is vital.  We can’t just go on hoping that things will improve; another great quote, in this case from Albert Einstein, says that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome”.

The world of commerce has changed and is changing irrevocably.  No longer can we impose an “Internet Policy” on our staff.  Young people coming into such a business (if they ever would come into such a business) just cannot understand how they would be banned from using social media as a normal method of communication.

One of my Vistage members told me of a new member of his staff in his IT department who when asked how they were settling in, said: “Fine but before coming here I hadn’t ever used email so it was a bit of a change for me”.   IT specialist who hadn’t used email?  Certainly, because she used Facebook, Twitter. LinkedIn and You tube to communicate and very effectively, so who needs email?

Change is inevitable; just don’t think that you can close your eyes and hope that it will soon pass and the good times will return because they won’t – they have gone forever and we need to accept it and do something about it before it is really too late.  An “Internet Policy” won’t help then.

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

Monday, 2 May 2011

Stop Talking so Much and Just Listen! You Might Hear Something Useful!

My old sales mentor, Phil Copp, the sage of Wythenshawe, once told me that one of the most important talents that a good salesman could possess was the ability to read upside down.

When I pointed out to him that upside down was a pretty unusual pose for me, he snorted and said:”Not you, you fool – his papers!”

I still looked somewhat bemused and he said: “There are three talents that a good salesman needs to achieve: the ability to listen, the ability to think about what he is going to have for his tea, and the ability to read papers upside down on the buyer’s desk”.

I suggested that this was a little cynical and he grudgingly agreed, while emphasising that he making a perfectly valid point.


Reading the papers upside down could be construed as a metaphor for research into the customer, his business and his market and certainly a good salesman should build a dossier on each of his existing and potential customers.  Perhaps reading papers on a customer’s desk (upside down of course) is going a trifle too far but the point was made.

Phil’s real emphasis was the on the ability to listen and perhaps to demonstrate to the customer that you are actually listening.  There so many old clich├ęs about listening such as “You were given one mouth and two ears so listen for twice the time that you talk”.

I well remember a person being interviewed for a sales position which went well until she said: ”I will make a good sales person – I have the gift of the gab”.  End of interview.

Good eye contact, mirroring the customer’s position, making appropriate comments and nodding occasionally in agreement, all add to the building of rapport.  In other words,  make your interest and listening skills visible.

Crucially it is the ability ask open questions (who, why, what, when, where and how?) and then to sit back and listen, waiting for that critical moment when the customer says something which uncovers the issue that you can solve.

Of course, thinking about what you going to have for tea is foolish if it gets in the way of the discussion because you need to work out and know precisely what you are going to tell the customer and how you can help them solve the problem.

If you ask the right questions, you will be given the right answers and that may offer you the luxury of thinking about that meal.  I suspect that Phil Copp always enjoyed his tea.

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