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Monday, 28 March 2016

What Are The Hot Topics in Your Business? Try These For Size!

One of the members of my Vistage CEO peer group recently sent me an email from Leeds City Council about their excellent Business Advice Café initiative.

In essence it helps people running businesses to get advice on an informal basis from experienced people who are able to assist.

Admittedly the majority of the people seeking help are either start-ups or small business owners and the hot topics they listed reflect their needs.

However, the whole concept made me think about what would a typical Vistage member list as the most important gaps in their knowledge or behaviour and what they would need to do to correct it.

The Advice Café members listed the following:

1.  Websites and driving inward traffic
2.  Valid use of Social Media
3.  Accountancy and tax
4.  Growth and the subsequent issues
5.  Managing people
6.  Training and skills

I find that list very interesting.  Small businesses are definitely using online marketing simply because that is the way that the world is moving (or has already moved) and it is sensible to make sure that they are deriving the maximum advantage from their online presence.

That includes using social media to generate both interest and actual business.

I know of one case where an HR consultancy business used social media to such effect that in less than 12 months the business had generated both interest and actual order intake past break even.

The key in that case was not using an overt selling pitch but rather talking about current issues in HR and offering free (initially) advice as to how to cope with them.

This is great advice and the size of the business is irrelevant.   Many larger businesses are not using social media effectively and there is little doubt that there is much improvement needed.

I would suggest that a hot topic list generated by a typical Vistage CEO would possibly look more like this:

1.  Culture and values
2.  Managing and recruiting people
3.  Retaining good people
4.  Training and skills
5.  Communication
6.  Finance for non-financial managers
7.  Strategy and growth
8.  Marketing, online presence including social media

Not very different but perhaps a different emphasis.

Great leaders understand that they can’t and shouldn’t even try to do everything in the business.  The “leaven it to me, I’ll sort it” syndrome is often too prevalent and distracts the leader from doing what is needed and that is, leading rather than doing.

It is impossible to over emphasise the need to have great people in the top team because their talent has been spotted or they have been recruited on the same basis.

Remember that if we hire on skills we are likely to fire on attitude so again the need for dedicated, enthusiastic, committed people is paramount.

If they have the necessary skills and experience then so be it but always remember that skills can be taught; attitude and behaviour are, I believe, there by dint of nature rather than by nurture.  The first five items on the list of hot topics are all related to the people around the leader and it is no coincidence that great leaders always seem to acquire great people around them.

If the leader has reached to top by a non-financial route then it is always useful to acquire some financial skills and understanding via a modicum of training.

Design of the business strategy and consequent growth are leadership functions as is the definition of the culture of the business.  That is absolutely the province of the leader and having defined “how we do things around here” the leader must drive it into the business at all times.

Finally because the world has changed and is changing at an even faster pace, the whole concept of marketing, especially on-line and using social media is of primary importance.

Cover all those eight bases and leave the team to get on with the job of running the business.  That is the right route for any leader.

You can download my book "Leading to Success" from Amazon
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Sunday, 20 March 2016

Tracking Customer Service? Try These 5 Customer Focused Indicators!

Most organisations especially those with a Finance Director use KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to measure how the business is doing. Factors like invoiced sales, gross and net profit and debtors are typical.

These metrics are lagging indicators, in other words, "how did we do" and cover only actual performance. The old mantra of driving a car by looking in the rear view mirror comes to mind.

Without doubt virtually every business claims that their service to their customers is beyond reproach and many of them are, quite frankly, kidding themselves.

Because the business is being run using the aforesaid lagging indicators all the emphasis is on the metrics leading to the bottom line and usually the bottom line only.

If that is the philosophy then the drive for profitability is all encompassing and is usually to the detriment of customers and often the people in the business.

It is not just a matter of service either. Far better to devise a culture for the business that relies absolutely on focusing all activities on the needs of the customer. It is these activities that need to be measured because they are the bedrock of the business.

What then are the metrics that will enable the leader to assess the way that the business operates and what is the true level of customer focus?

There are several leading indicators as distinct from lagging indicators that can be used.  Not all of them are suitable for every business but the trick is to select those that are appropriate and change them rapidly if you find that they contribute little.

For example:

On-time Delivery

This is a classic case of under promise, over deliver rather than the opposite.   Delivery is becoming more and more a deciding factor in a purchasing decision especially where the customer expects the supplier to hold stock on their behalf.

Overnight delivery has become a given, weekend is not a problem and now companies are offering one hour delivery, all of which emphasises the need for excellent systems to ensure that promises are kept 100%.

Unfulfilled delivery promises indicate incompetence to the customer.

Lead Times

This is the time between the order being placed and delivered.  Lead times are shortening dramatically and offering and beating what the customer needs brings with it competitive advantage.

Speed of Reaction

This potentially one of the most important factors in a customer focused business. There is nothing more infuriating than to request information from a supplier and then to be left hanging on waiting for an answer.

Requests for information or quotations for example should be treated like gold dust. You give poor service here at your peril.

In the same vein ask yourself how long does it take us to answer the telephone?  If it is more than three rings then your reaction speed is too low.


Surveys can be a valuable source of information to show you what the customer thinks of your business, your service and your readiness to put things right when they go amiss.

I know of businesses that send a simple three-question questionnaire with every delivery and mentor the results to ensure that the customer gets what they want.  Don’t worry if the response is not 100%.  If you get answers from a reusable proportion of the customer base then this can still give you the information that you need.


Complaints are another valuable source of information for the business.  I have heard it said that the leader should always see all complaints coming into the business so that action can be taken at a high level.

Also remember that to solve a customer’s problems is to answer a complain with style; that is, to demonstrate to the customer that you take their issue seriously and want to make amends.

All of these metrics can help to redesign the business to be genuinely customer focused while still monitoring the results via the lagging indicators.

Make sure that you select those leading indicators that truly reflect the way that you do business and if you find that one doesn’t work, then change it for another more relevant one.

You can download my book "Leading to Success" from Amazon Kindle
Visit the Vistage UK website
You can follow me on LinkedInTwitter and Facebook

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Overworked, Too Busy? Beware of Upward Delegation!

One of the most difficult issues for any leader, especially the newly promoted, is resisting the temptation to retain some of the tasks that perhaps helped to advance them.

Most leaders come up an organisation via a functional route such as marketing, finance technology and so on. For obvious reasons if an issue arises in one of these functions then there is a temptation to dive in.

In fact it is usually looked upon as interference and can generate a good deal of annoyance and irritation in the ream.

The vital key to good leadership is to promote or hire great talent into the top team and then crucially get out of their way and let them get on with it.

The trouble is that this form of benign interference can creep up on the unsuspecting leader. There is generally no unseen agenda, just a desire to be involved and to help out.

This can then engender the dreaded upward delegation where people pass the buck upwards rather than taking the responsibility themselves.

In Vistage we used give out a bookmark with questions that leaders should ask them selves.  One of them still resonates:

       “Whose job am I doing right now?”

It is very seductive because this action can be a comfort blanket for the busy leader. It can take him/her temporally out of the complex issues of driving the business forward and propel them back into the familiar territory of their old function in the business.

I have a surprising number of leaders who worry about this problem and the impact on the business. They are well aware of how it drags them into the day-to-day issues that are the responsibility of the team.

The key is often a matter of trust in the ability of people in the top team. Any leader simply by dint of their position can offer an opinion which while valid would not necessarily add much to the situation.

It is well worth examining the role of the leader in any business.

The true role is to coach good managers in a way that helps them to make good decisions, to encourage them to take an active role in their particular function and to accept that they might just possibly make an error of judgement at some time.

The right approach is to learn from any mistake and perhaps to set up a system to take care of it in the future.

Let us understand. The very need for a leader to move away from their original functional role and into a position for which they have probably had little of no training can be almost traumatic.

There are few if any programmes that actually train leaders to be leaders. Even the MBA programmes at the Business Schools don't offer it even though they may think they do.

Transition from a functional role to overall leadership can be very difficult. Having to resist taking part and even offering an opinion can be very painful.

We all want to feel needed and realising that members of the top team are doing what the leader used to do can be very difficult to accept especially when they are performing really well.

At some, preferably an early, stage the leader must take a grip of the position, accept that the role is not a function and start to think an act strategically.

There are few if any other people in a business that actively think about the future. The leader needs to take time out to think and to resist the temptation to get involved in the day-to-day.  It will serve the business well.

You can download my book "Leading to Success" from Amazon
Visit the Vistage UK website
You can follow me on LinkedInTwitter and Facebook