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Sunday, 27 January 2013

Working Really Long Hours and Proud of it? Do Yourself a Favour and Give it a Rest!

“All work and no play etc.” is one of those old adages which have become almost unnoticed as they sweep by.  Like most of these old sayings, there is a great deal of truth and common sense in it.

The world in which we live seems to be going faster and faster; perhaps it becomes even harder to catch up with what is happening around us. 

It constantly surprises me that leaders seem to look upon long hours as something macho; something to be proud of but without thinking about the reasons for working like that or the possible unforeseen implications.

I have had people say to me, proudly, that “I am first in the office on the morning and last out every night”.  So what?  If that is you, ask yourself what you have achieved in that very long day.

What has happened through the day which, frankly, you should not have been doing, and what have you been doing which other members of the team should have done?

It is not a bad idea to keep a journal for a week or so during which you work in your normal way, logging exactly what you have been doing and for how long.

Then go through the log with a large red pen and strike out all of those tasks which other people should have been doing or worse, didn’t contribute in any meaningful way to the success of the business.  It is a shock to see how we waste time, effort and emotions on something that is irrelevant or useless to us and/or the business.

This can be a salutary exercise but it really does demand scrupulous honesty or it will be pointless.  In any case, keep it to yourself – the idea is to adjust your working lifestyle to achieve optimum performance. 

We demand that of our people; why not of ourselves?

It is fair to say that a time log will throw up a range of anomalies in the way that we operate and can lead to a truly dramatic change in our working lifestyle.

Of course, it will demand action on your part to make sure that you change so another log will help after a short period just to monitor how you are doing.

I recall the story of a Vistage member who was doing the obligatory 70+ hours a week with virtually no time off for holidays or even short breaks.

His family life was beginning to show strains, as it would, and, worse, he was beginning to have health problems.  Fortunately his doctor laid down the law and told him frankly that unless he slowed down, the end was predictably nigh.

He took it on board, did the logging exercise, reduced his hours to little more that 20 a week and, lo and behold, he discovered that he was more productive, did everything that a leader should do, was happier and a better person at home.

Long hours do not make for great performance; get over the macho image and work smarter.  Work on that log for a start and surprise yourself.

As Vistage speaker Walt Sutton says, “One of the most important factors in the working life of a leader is “get a life”. 
Take time out to smell the roses.
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Sunday, 20 January 2013

Why Are Shops on the High Street Closing? Its’ About Resistance to Change!

Recent developments on the high street have brought to mind the problem of entrenched attitudes which always look upon change as a threat instead of an opportunity.

The demise of old established and reputable names like Comet, Jessop’s, HMV and now, heaven help us, Blockbuster emphasises this problem and commentators have just confirmed it.  Always we hear that they went out of business "because of competition from the internet".

It is probably more the case they went out of business because of resistance to change and a reluctance to take on and absorb new ideas.  They are sclerotic in their retailing philosophy. They all sell or sold products which are ideal for online marketing and yet they allowed others to do it.

And it doesn’t just apply to business in the United Kingdom.  It has been truly said that Amazon should have been started by Barnes and Noble, at the time the largest and most successful retailer of books in the USA.

Once again when Amazon made its appearance, it was immediately labelled as a threat instead of realising that this is the way that the majority of retailing is likely to go and accordingly setting themselves up in the same mode.  Even better, they should have been the instigators of the concept in the first place.

Town and city councils moan and groan about the demise of the high street and the town centres with shops closed and boarded up and with very little likelihood of any improvement.

The question is, why has this happened?  It is probably a combination of difficulty in parking, local rates, high rents and service charges which render the businesses no longer viable, crucially because footfall and consequently turnover have decreased.

In addition there is little doubt that the growth of the out of town shopping malls with their all encompassing “one stop shop” ethos has had an effect. 

However, just take a look around some of the major outlets and lo and behold, closed shops are beginning to make an appearance on the malls as well.

There is little doubt that we are at the start of a retail revolution which is gathering pace.  Retail figures for the recent Christmas trade show that while over the counter sales decreased by around 2%, online sales increased by 18% and this trend will continue and grow even more.

Sure, the overall proportion of online sales to over the counter sales is still relatively minor but the trend is inexorably upwards.  For the first time in the USA, sales of e-books have exceeded those of printed books.

We could finish up, and in the relatively short term, with the high street becoming physical catalogues where products can be shown and demonstrated leaving customers to buy online.

There will still be a place for the small shop, specialising in a  product range and offering exemplary service at commercially viable prices and probably in off-high street locations where there are parking facilities.

However, whether we like it or not, major change is inevitable and there is no way that the old days will return.  Retail is changing and will continue to change and only the brave will survive and prosper.

It promises to be a very exciting time in retailing, online of course, just as long as some brave characters grab hold of the situation and change the way in which they sell and we but things.
Death of the high street?  Possibly, at least in the format that we know today.
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Sunday, 13 January 2013

Dealing With Your People Too Harshly? Try a Touch of Kindness!

I was recently taking a look, without much pleasure it must be said, at my bank statement when I realised that I had been contributing to a charity on a monthly basis.  The charity was the Total Fitness gym to which I had been paying some £30 a month without using the facilities very much.

Accordingly and in the vein of economic austerity I wrote a letter closing my membership on the score of advancing maturity and explaining the other reasons.

A couple of days later I had a telephone call from my local gym to say, in effect, “what’s all this about, giving up your membership?” and suggesting that I go in to see her.   As she was both persuasive and charming I went.

She said: “I understand that £30 a month is a lot so how does £5 sound?”

“That sounds very good” I said, “£5 a month is very fair

“No, no” she said: “It’s £5 a YERA as you have reached the magic age!”

Slightly shocked I filled in the required form and as I was leaving she said: “I’m not sure that I can stop the draw down on the Direct Debit for this month but I’ll see what we can do”

Two days later Holly called again

“Good news” she said, “I have managed to stop the DD for this month, oh and by the way, as you passed the magic age in December 2010, we are refunding all the fees that you have paid since then, £590, and that will be in your bank account tomorrow”  And it was.

What an extraordinary example of customer service and more so of customer care.  It could even be construed as an act of considerable kindness and I told them of my gratitude and admiration.

Cynics might say that they did it for publicity reasons but really – would they do it on the assumption that I would tell the world about it to their advantage?  I think not.

As it happens I am telling as many people as I can anyway because I am still amazed by what happened.

It was brought to mind again recently by the excellent “In Business” programme on BBC Radio 4 when presenter Peter Day interviewed several people who had experienced kindness being shown to them in their businesses for apparently altruistic reasons.

For example a well known author had written some advertising copy for a woman who was in a start-up business of marketing unusual and rare teas, and there was a taxi driver who had shown kindness to several deserving people without thought of reward.

Classic examples of old fashioned leadership invariably include plenty of loud shouting and a hard man approach to personal relationships.  There is little doubt that more sensible and intelligent methods are taking the place of that authoritarianism.

The fact is that modern thinking leaders accept that everyone deserves the courtesy of being treated as human beings, that people are not just numbers or cannon fodder, but rather that they all have something of value to offer.

To show kindness without the thought of reward may be rare in business but if we are to grow away from the authoritarian neo- bullying approach to a more inclusive and sensitive form of leadership, then voluntary and indeed involuntary acts of kindness will and indeed should become a major part of the canon.

J M Barrie wrote:

“Always be a little kinder than necessary” and that encapsulates it for me.
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Sunday, 6 January 2013

What Do You Mean, We Don’t Communicate? I Tell Them, Don’t I?

A review of internal staff satisfaction surveys inevitably finds that the primary moan from people in the business is that communication needs to be improved.

Why is this?  We send out a newsletter, we have an intranet open to all our people and we constantly talk to them.  We are bemused by the complaint.

The old saying that “perceptions are reality” was never more true than in this case.  If the people perceive that communications are poor then they are poor and we need to do something about it.

The problem is that too often we think as leaders that communication consists of passing information downwards without understanding how that information is being received or is it even being received at all.

It must be stressed that communication is a two way street; until both sides of the discussion are thinking together then they build a wall between each other and simply hope that what is being said is being received and understood.

The worst that can happen is that information is passed down and then the killer question is asked; “Do you understand?” or even “Is that OK with you?” and similar.

The reaction is invariably a “yes” or a nod of the head and both sides are satisfied.  Oh, yes?  The team member leavers the meeting and wonders what on earth that was all about and then probably moans about it to colleagues.

Do we make sure that the communication is two way? No, we tell them.  Do we involve our people?  No, we tell them.  Do we engage our people?  No, we tell them.  Do we discuss with our people?   No, we tell them and we go on telling them and still wonder why they don’t understand.

When I first started in business, I worked in a large engineering company where the management abdicated responsibility for communication to the union shop convenor and the shop stewards.  They spoke the same language as the shop floor and accordingly they could and did adjust the information which came from management to suit themselves.  It was a totally useless exercise in communication.

In the past few years, communication on a personal level has changed dramatically.  Individuals can communicate with each other on Facebook or in 140 characters Twitter and more and more use them as their primary means of communication.  Even email as a consequence is now considered old hat with younger people and we need to catch up with that fact.

Remember however that email and Twitter are unforgiving and should you make an inadvertent comment which is wrongly interpreted, it can lead to a breakdown in both communication and relationships.  Moral; use with great care!

What we think of as standard methods of communication, like newsletters, are not only out of date; they are simply not being used and, crucially, not even being read.

We need to have a radical rethink of the ways in which we communicate with our people so that they can be involved, engaged and trusting of the leadership.

Nothing can beat the face-to-face interaction between people with honest feedback and open discussion.  That way, the communication gap can be closed.

It is not a matter of communicating TO them; we need to communicate WITH them and in their frame of reference.
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