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Sunday, 24 June 2018

Finding Mistakes in the Business? “We Gotta Accentuate the Positive!”

Vistage UK speaker, Marcus Child, tells of hearing the pre-match briefing by the coach of his son’s football team.  He was enthusiastic, engaging, practical and...almost entirely negative.

That does sound strange until we analyse what he was saying to the team.  The exhortations were all about “we must stop passing sideways”, “we need to stop them…”, “don’t waste your efforts on…” and so in in the same vein.

All very sensible but negative as the  use of the words such as Stop, Don’t, Can’t and so on have a subtle effect on the subconscious.

The fact is that in many situations in business meetings we do tend to emphasise the correction of errors and the sorting out the results of negative events.

There is no doubt that we need to do something about these situations but not to the exclusion of positive events.

If we concentrate on the correction of mistakes then they take on an importance that is possibly unrealistic.

It is always enlightening to check the financial impact of any error that has occurred and then to compare it to the financial value of something that has been accomplished.

More often than not there is an imbalance, in that the cost of the error is less than the value of the success.

In other words we need to get these matters into perspective.

Certainly we need to consider any errors or mistakes that occur but primarily so that we can learn from them and ensure that the systems, processes and procedures are sufficiently robust or need to be adjusted to eliminate as far as possible any repeat.

More importantly consideration of errors must never be used as a present day star chamber to allocate that dreaded word, blame.

I have posted recently about this toxic approach and it bears repetition.  There is too much enthusiasm to allocate blame for something that has gone awry and it seems that one factor is to make sure that the world knows that “it wasn’t me, guv’nor”.  It is so easy to find fault, to allocate blame, to ensure that “heads must roll” and all the other unpleasant effects of the blame culture.  Unpleasant they are and toxic because they generate an atmosphere of fear that, heaven forfend, it might happen to me so I will keep my head down.

Meetings that emphasise errors and failures psychologically have a negative effect on the participants so it is better to design the agenda of the meeting to counterbalance that effect with positive messages.

In essence it is better to reduce the emphasis on stopping errors and start boosting positive accomplishments.

In some of my one-to-one sessions with the members of my Vistage CEO peer group I tend to start the meeting by asking what problems have arisen in the business since we last met.  This must then be followed by a celebration of what has been really successful. Starting the meeting with negative issues followed by discussion of successes can really help to put problems into perspective.

Another question to ask ourselves is why do we put so much emphasis on analysing an error that was relatively minor and then almost disregard the positive effects  and the value realised of our accomplishments?

Professor Steve Peters would say that it is the chimp (emotional) brain taking over from the human (rational) brain.  The problem is that the chimp is five times more powerful than the human so we need to work on remedies to correct the imbalance.

Simply said, in the words of the war-time song:

“Man, they said, you gotta accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, don’t mess with mister in-between”.

What else do we need say.


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Sunday, 17 June 2018

Need to TaKe Action When Times Are Tough? Be Prepared and do it Now!

One of the alumni of my Vistage CEO peer group used to say that your average CEO/MD is confident, outgoing, decisive, energetic, far-sighted among many other desirable personal attributes and underneath they are a bubbling mass of insecurity.

Rather over the top perhaps but it does illustrate the exigencies of the responsibility for a business and its people.

Above all is the feeling of impending problems perhaps when the economy shows a reluctance to improve and a marked tendency to decline with all the consequent implications for the business.

For example, the effects of the weakness in sterling, the uncertainties of the Brexit process, increased costs due to business rates and pay legislation, have all contributed to a slowdown in retail activity  and in the consequent loss of many high street outlets and jobs.

There is a good deal of hand wringing going on with businesses, unions and, of course, the media about how dreadful is the situation but few cogent ideas as to a solution. The cry goes up:  “The government needs to do something about it”.

Not so. We need to understand and accept that, at best, government can do little to achieve anything more than some tinkering around the edges of the economy.  Global influences are far more relevant these days in their effect on the domestic economy.

I was struck last week during a one-to-one with one of my members when he asked  a very thoughtful question.
Why is it” he said, “if it is the right decision to make in response to a downturn, that we do’t do it now?”  

I did mention the wise advice of Mark Twain who said: “I am old and have known many troubles but most of them never happened”.

Of course part of the answer is that we go into defensive mode when these external influences result in problems not of our making and when we are then forced into remedial action.

The problems arise from that group of external influences under the acronym PESTLE (political, economic, sociological, technological, legal and environmental) over none of which we have any significant influence.

Indeed, the only action we can take is reactive as the event hits home and by then it is often too late.  Or is it?

Back to my member’s question. Agreed if we wait for  events to arise we can only react to mitigate any harmful effects but how often do try to anticipate events?

It has been said wisely that nothing happens suddenly. There is always a progression of smaller events leading up to the major one, even happenings like road accidents, weather and Heaven forfend, wars.

If that is truly the case (and check it out for yourself) then we ought to be able to do something about it now rather than wait for the cataclysm.

UK Vistage speaker, the wonderful Jo Haigh, says that Health and Safety needs to be a constantly recurring item on the agenda of any company board meeting.   Why not extend that philosophy to items under the PESTLE headings that maybe significant to the business?

Indeed, it seems to make sense for every member of the management team to take responsibility for investigating the potential impact of a particular and potential PESTLE event that could have a bearing on the business.

You won’t be right all the time but it may just save you from a last minute reaction to save a situation. Time spent in preparation is seldom wasted.


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Sunday, 10 June 2018

In Decision Making Mode? Try This Ancient Technique!

It has become a cliche to say that there is nothing new under the sun.  Kabbalah, the ancient Jewish religious mysticism holds ten emanations as central to the ethos. A group of three of them are totally relevant today and have great resonance for me.

The acronym for this group in transliterated Hebrew is Chabad signifying Chochma (wisdom), Binah (understanding) and Dat (knowledge)

This group covers three of the most significant tenets of modern leadership and deserve some further discussion.

Some years ago my Vistage CEO peer group had the pleasure of hearing US speaker Herb Meyer, who had been the senior counsellor at the CIA, give a paper on the difference between data and intelligence.

In the extraordinary growth of data availability that we now enjoy, to a large extent there is far too much data quickly available out there than we know how to handle.

We can ask any question that we like on Google and within a nano-second be given access to a range of sites with all the information that we need.

I heard a great story recently. A hermit who had been holed up in a cave for fifty years decided to rejoin the world. In conversation with the first person he met he suggested that things will have changed somewhat.

They certainly have” said his new friend, “For example, I have in my pocket a device that gives me access to all the knowledge in the world!”

Gracious me” said the hermit, “What do you use it for?

Mainly for looking at pictures of dogs, cats and other people’s dinner and having arguments with total strangers” was the reply.

It is almost embarrassing to confess that we all understand that one.

Another problem lies in the fact that we are now data-rich and time-poor so the question is, how can we be more usefully selective in the vast opportunities now open to us?

Kabbalah demonstrates the route from knowledge, through understanding to the ultimate objective of wisdom. It encourages us to seek genuine knowledge, to work with others to develop understanding and thus to reach the ultimate goal of wisdom.

This was thought in those early days to be so powerful an insight that only men over the age of forty were considered to have sufficient experience to be allowed to study Kabbalah.

Herb Meyer put it into modern context defining the route as data leading to information resulting in intelligence.

With almost limitless access to data the need for filtering and contextual research is evident in order to make it manageable, usable and relevant.

The next move is to analyse this information to develop intelligence that will allow us to strengthen our understanding and most importantly  to make relevant decisions.

It is all very logical.  Good desk research can be of enormous importance in moving a business forward.

At one stage in my career I produced multi-client market research projects for a US company, using both field and desk research methods.

To my surprise, even then, I realised that there was a vast amount of published data out there that often was of more value than that resulting from interviews in the field.

It is remarkable that an ancient religious and mystical philosophy not only has relevance today but can also give us an insight into the effectiveness of our  current decision making processes.


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Sunday, 3 June 2018

You Want it Yesterday? Beware the Tyranny of the Urgent!

A very long time ago when I was very young some kind soul gave me a little book explaining simply some common scientific facts and I found it fascinating

I remember two items particularly, one explaining why blood has both red and white corpuscles and another that said that “the world is getting smaller”’ a concept I found both mysterious and exciting.

How, I asked myself, could the planet actually be shrinking?  It took some more reading to understand what it meant, of course, and that was eighty years ago.

I was born a mere 27 years after the first flight in 1903 in a heavier-than-air machine and only 11 years after the first non-stop crossing of the Atlantic by air.

Metaphorically the world is getting smaller by the day and it all derives from the incredible advances in transport and communication technology.

For example, news of the 1853 Indian Army uprising (the Indian Mutiny) took a month to reach London and events had moved on apace in the meantime. How on earth could sensible long range decisions be made given a two month time gap?

Last week a young immigrant saved the life of a child in Paris and within twelve hours 1.5 million people has viewed the video of his remarkable feat.

Sure, the astonishing technological advances in communications and transport have made the world much smaller but at what cost?

We marvel that we can buy something online and have it delivered in under 2 hours, often more quickly that actually going to the store to buy it. The problem is, as a consequence, that we have come to expect that this urgency should apply to just about everything in our daily lives.  

I call it the tyranny of the urgent and urgent is NOT synonymous with important.

Just think about it.  How often is the urgency imposed on us by someone else?  Almost always I hear you say.

If we construct one of those four- box quadrants so beloved of consultants, the vertical axis denoted Important and the horizontal, Urgent, we can start to get a sensible view of how a leader should deal with supposed urgency issues.

If a matter is in the “not important, not urgent” box I leave it to my readers to decide where it should be filed. Much the same applies to the “urgent, not important” box.  That is a matter for delegation rather than actuation by the leader.

The “important and urgent” box needs some thought although delegation with some monitoring is probably the answer. It would need to be an exceptional occurrence for the leader to have to dive in to rescue the ship.

That leaves the box that is absolutely the province of the leader, the “Important, not Urgent”.  Who is the one individual who actually thinks about the business holistically without being trammelled by the exigencies of day-to-day urgent operations?

Vistage speaker Walt Sutton encourages every leader to take a metaphorical and better still, an actual, walk on the beach twice a year to think about the business, no notebooks, no smart phones, just thinking.

Two years, five years ahead has to be the focus, not some specious urgent matter to satisfy the whims of someone else.

Setting those long term objectives, knowing where you are going, and designing the route to take is not urgent  but it is highly important and is the central tenet of leadership.

The great golfer, Sam Snead, said “Take time out to smell the roses”. He could have added “to think and plan for the future".


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