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Monday, 30 May 2016

Do You Want Your Business to be Different? Then You Need to be Different!

In my youth my (pre-girls) passion was cricket and particularly Lancashire League cricket.  As a very ordinary off spin bowler, my role model was an extraordinary leg spin bowler called Tom.

He managed to deliver sumptuous leg breaks and gigantic googlies while bowling like a demented octopus, arms and legs flailing in all directions.  To say that batsmen had difficulty in picking his googly is an understatement.  In fact they seemed to have just as much difficulty in deciding which of his wildly gyrating extremities would be delivering the ball.

The consequence was, of course, that he developed a reputation for invincibility in the League and he went on to bigger and better things in his career.  Sadly it was cut short by physical problems but the memory remains.

So what is the point of this tale?  The point is that even though he had talent, enthusiasm, drive and commitment to the cause, his greatest attribute was that he was different.

I don’t mean different for the sake of it, or to make an impression.  I mean rather be different so as to impact on other people’s thinking, to help them to change in a positive sense and to stand out from the crowd which is becoming bigger and bigger.

Our education system from GSCE through A-levels, University and then post graduate studies, can lead to a standardisation of the eventual outcomes with an emphasis on conventionality.

Will and Kenneth Hopper in their wonderful book, The Puritan Gift, quote Professor Russell L Ackhoff formerly of the Wharton Business School in the USA as saying that there are three principal achievements of a business school education which are “to equip students with a vocabulary that enables them to talk about subjects they didn’t understand, to give students principles that would demonstrate their ability to withstand any amount of disconfirming evidence, and finally, to give students a ticket of admission to a job where they could learn something about management”.

These are very sage comments and comes from someone who knows what they are talking about.  I should point out that he waited until he had retired before voicing them at least in print.

In my long years as a CEO group Chairman in Vistage International I have come to realise that the people who are attracted to membership are those who are inherently different in attitude and behaviour.  Certainly it isn’t for everyone and some people find the experience daunting whereas those who take to it do so with vast enthusiasm and commitment.

It is no surprise to me that quite a few Managing Directors and CEO members of Vistage, at least in the UK, did not go to University but found their success through being different, through a burning desire to succeed, through humility and a voracious appetite for continuous learning.

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Sunday, 22 May 2016

Look After Your Top Performers or Someone Else Will Do It Instead!

Some time ago I had a consultancy assignment with a company running a large door to door sales force and this involved discussions with virtually all 50 of the sales personnel.

It soon became evident that the sales force could be roughly divided into three main sections; high performers (15%), medium performers (70%) and indifferent or poor performers (15%)

The analysis was carried out based on both turnover and the rate of improvement in building their contacts.

It became even more evident that there was an enormous difference in the performance of the top and bottom teams so we initiated some interviews to see if we could isolate the reasons.

In the end, not really to my surprise, it all came down to drive, passion, enthusiasm, dedication, commitment and an overwhelming desire for success or, sadly, the lack of all those desirables.

A learned business speaker once said that the leader should put more effort into working with and encouraging the top performers rather than taking a vast amount of time in trying to improve the poor performers.  It does make sense because probably the best that one can achieve is to move them from poor to mediocre and even that with a great deal of effort.

In the end, we need to accept that we can’t change other people.  The best that we can achieve is to create an environment in which people can change if they so desire.  The worst of all worlds is to accept poor performance and then tip toe round the problem while making excuses for not biting the bullet.

It all comes down to the strictures of people like Lee Thayer, Ed Ryan, Jim Collins and many other leadership sages who have been saying for years that we need virtuosi, top people the best that we can find rather than trying to improve poor or even mediocre performers.  We should, in short, recruit people who are manifestly better than we are.

Not at all easy, and it starts with the recruitment process.  I have said it before and I guess that I will say it again, that we need to recruit on attitude not skills.  Only by doing that all the time will we build businesses that are both successful and sustainable.

It is your top people who will take you there.  Look after them and make sure that it is you that they take there, not someone else.

You can download my book "Leading to Success" from Amazon
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Sunday, 15 May 2016

Need To Reduce Tension in Your Life? Take Advice From The Saint!

A recent broadcaster on BBC Radio 4 mentioned a saying by St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274, now there’s name dropping for you) that life is like a bow – if the bowstring is left on so that the bow is permanently in tension then eventually it will break.  The tension needs to be released from time to time to allow the bow to relax.

That is some metaphor for modern life.  The impact of smart phones, laptops, tablets and so on has made communication so much easier but frankly now to the point that it intrudes into every facet of our existence.

Have you noticed whenever you are in a group of people in the pub, a restaurant, queueing in the Post Office or just walking about how many of them are peeing at their smart phones in, heaven forfend, the dreadful chance that they might miss something?

Not only do we check our emails, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn at the office or workplace, but we can (and do) check them while we watch TV, sit round the dining table, go to the cinema, play golf; in other words anywhere we feel it necessary to see who has been in touch.

Does that imply that we are bored or indifferent to what is actually happening around us, that something more exciting is happening somewhere else and we are missing it?

It is worth asking the question: when did you last get a message out of normal working hours that was so vitally important that something needed to be done instantly?

The follow up question is: how important are the messages that you normally get after normal working hours that they can’t wait until the next day to be actioned?

The trouble is that all this communication (if that is what it is) can be very addictive or even compulsive.  Simply because our smart phone “pings” we deem it essential to take a look to see what has come in irrespective of where we are or with whom we are.

Interestingly, the French have recently noticed the growth of burnout and, being the French, have decided to legislate to make it an offence to go into business mode outside normal working hours.  Laudable but who will monitor it and how?  It is a personal thing and we all need to do something about it.

So, back to the saintly Thomas.  Unsurprisingly he got it absolutely right.  Unless we release the tension in our lives, (and that is something well within our control), then eventually we can break.  It’s all a matter of balance between the day-to-day needs of the business and leadership, and the equally pressing needs of life outside business (and believe it or not, there is one).  One of the nine fundamentals of the leader as propounded by Vistage speaker Walt Sutton is “Get a Life”.

There IS life outside business, believe it or not, and there are so many things that we can do which contribute to a fuller and less compressed existence.

One of them it to switch off that smart phone, laptop, tablet from time to time and do something else.  The mission statement of Vistage is that we are “dedicated to increasing the effectiveness and enhancing the lives of leaders”, and that can only be achieved by making a determined effort to get some balance into our lives.

Vistage US speaker Walt Sutton exhorts us to take out at least a day every few months just metaphorically (or actually) to walk on the beach and just think.  No smart phones, no writing pad, nothing apart from the natural thinking process.

That is one way to unfasten that bow string and let the bow relax a little.  Thank you, St Thomas Aquinas and whoever it was on BBC Radio 4 who mentioned him.

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