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Sunday, 29 July 2018

Finding Life Too Complex? Harness the Power of Simplicity!

In the past few weeks I have had discussions with several members of my Vistage CEO peer group and listened to them bemoaning the complexity of running a business these days.

Information is so readily available that we can call upon it to substantiate any ideas that we might have or, on the other hand, use it to act in exactly the opposite way.

It is very tempting to collect as much information as we possibly can in order to justify a decision that we might make. The problem is that the very act of justification can take far too much time and not be all that productive in the end.

For example, I recall a previous member of the group who was very frustrated by his technical director, a committed engineer, who always seemed to need more information before making a decision. The consequence was that he very seldom made a decision.

We are surrounded by “stuff” that may be relevant but is frequently only peripheral in the decision making process.  Because of this urge to cut down the risk element in any decision, there is the danger that we can overdo the search for justification.

It is worthwhile asking a few questions such as:

  • What  is the likelihood of my being completely wrong?
  • What is the very worst that can happen if I do get this decision wrong?
  • What do I consider the odds to be that the decision will be correct?

The point is that even if we make a decision that goes belly up the possibility of the outcome being terminal for the business is probably negligible.  Certainly it could impact on the financial results or on the people in some way but what is the real level of importance?

My Key Executive group recently heard to our great delight a speaker from the US, Ark Rozental, who expatiated on the need to simplify the way that we design and run websites in order to increase traffic to the site.

It was a singularly enlightening session and because Ark analysed everyone’s site in detail using published Analytics he was able to show precisely how and where changes could be made.

This was substantiated by examples of other businesses who had done just that and had shown dramatic improvements.

The word is, of course, simplify.  In the end business is a simple exercise.  We either possess some knowledge or we make something, we add value and then sell it at a profit.  

That’s it, no more.  Everything other than that is merely devoted to specify details and that is precisely where if we are not careful complexity can take over. This can be to the detriment of the business and very often, the people.

Remember that a leader is NOT (or at least never should be) a doer.  The primary function of any leader is to be able to take time out to think about the business.

Ask yourself, who in the business actually spends time thinking about it?  Other members of the management team are fully engaged in the activities of the business, be it finance, operations, sales, marketing, IT and so on, in none of which should the leader be involved at least in detail.

The pity of it is that many leaders feel almost ashamed just to be thinking about the business which seems visibly to be doing nothing whereas it is probably the most productive effort that can be made for the future of the organisation.

I have recently written about using the One Topic Meeting and that can be the ultimate in simplification.  Have such a meeting, define the purpose of the meeting, what outcome is desired and head for it. Fifteen minutes or so can make sure that the meeting will be productive.

Life can be severely complex.  Harness the power of simplicity and watch positive things start to happen.

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Sunday, 22 July 2018

Is It In the Public Interest or Just to Interest the Public?

The recent implementation of GDPR has brought in its train a rash of strap lines on many corporate emails proclaiming the sender’s commitment to the privacy of the recipient, and rightly so.

The problem is partly due to the apparent need for many individuals to download vast amounts of background on a range of social media sites without a thought as to the potential consequences.

The point is that this information is now, almost by default, in the public domain and we have heard recently about companies specialising in analysis how this information can be harvested and used, hopefully, merely for marketing and promotional purposes.  Or is it?

We need to ask ourselves precisely what and how much information do we want the world at large to know about us and whether we should now take a long and searching look at what is published about us on the web.

Have you, for instance, ever googled your name?  It can be an enlightening experience to see just where we are mentioned and in what context.  This has been an interesting experience for me through the publication of Ivan’s Blog and that has sparked a few discussions here and there.  It also revealed that I seem to have an alter ego who is a noted psychiatrist so do please be careful which of the two of us you contact.

The recent an appalling case of Sir Cliff Richard has revived the debate.  The court found that his privacy had been invaded when the police raided his home without apparently informing him but making sure that the  BBC who hired a helicopter to film the event were told what was happening.

Yes, Sir Cliff was awarded significant damages and the BBC says that they are considering an appeal, paid for presumably from the licence fees that a grateful and interested public generates.

Like many of the media outlets the defence was that the programme was “in the public interest”.  I question this absolutely.  There is a significant distinction between “in the public interest” and “what is likely to interest the public?” and there is a line to be drawn between the two.

There is no doubt that in certain instances the public has a right to know the facts and there have been some excellent cases of investigative journalism that have uncovered misdemeanours that had remained hidden.

However, the slide into using the public interest as a valid reason for door stepping people who have been accused by someone sometimes wrongly, of harrying and bullying innocent people and of printing falsehoods and half truths cannot be countenanced.

Even if there is a tenuous link to the public interest, someone can be found completely innocent and will have to suffer years of loss of reputation and general suffering for nothing.

Yes, it might sell papers but where do morals and ethics come into the picture?  

The explosive growth of media other than the printed press in the last few years has made an extraordinary change to the whole practice of news gathering and fulfilment and not always in an admirable way.  We have all heard about “fake news” and that can now be used as another rationale for publication or otherwise.

The moral as I see it is to take scrupulous care when we  publish personal information. The ways in which this can be harvested and used or abused is well beyond the ability of normal people to understand but sadly there can be consequences for any of us that can be both unpleasant and long lasting.

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Sunday, 15 July 2018

Are Your Salespeople Hunters or Farmers? You Need Both!

My old sales mentor, the famed Phil Copp, Sage of Wythenshawe, was the embodiment of the classic salesman, unwilling to accept defeat and always ready to look at another innovative approach to solving a problem for his customer.

Phil was meticulous in his planning and knew every week precisely where he was going, who he was visiting and why.

I know that the world has changed significantly since those days and the dramatic developments in communication online have led to equally dramatic changes in marketing and sales methodology. 

There is no doubt that email, websites, LinkedIn, Twitter et al are fine and frankly have become essential components of business development today.  However it is still vital, perhaps more than ever, to meet your customers face to face, eyeball to eyeball, and build a relationship that cannot be done electronically.

Indeed, wise online marketers emphasise that every touch we make online should be looked upon as a conversation and designed as such.

Phil Copp would have loved today’s world and would have exploited it mercilessly to his advantage.  He would have been equally certain that he needed to make a specific number of calls at regular intervals to ensure that the personal relationships were kept warm and productive.

The key to his success was that he understood the difference between the sales hunter and the sales farmer, and most unusually, he combined the two because he understood that the world doesn’t stand still and like it or not, customers move on for many reasons.

He knew that, on average, he would make around 30 valid sales calls a week and that meant not just putting his head round the door and saying (metaphorically) “Owt today?”

On that basis he then divided his annual total of calls into 70% existing customers and 30% prospecting.  He would then plan the calling schedule for each week based on those ratios.

All very simple and nothing new, but he stuck to it religiously and consequently grew his part of the business significantly.

It was a combination of great relationships built on trust, and vast experience which led to his unsurpassed expertise and domain knowledge.

The problem in many cases is that often people in sales have been classified as either hunters or farmers and never the twain shall meet except to complain about each other’s activities,

The very title of Business Development implies searching for new outlets  and then presumably handing them over to someone else who will develop the relationship without any thought as to whether this can be done effectively.

Great sales people realise that it is far better to research the market, identify the potential, go to see them and open the door to building a relationship.  It’s not easy but it is the most satisfying part of any sales person’s business life.

Hunter or farmer?  You need to be both!    

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Sunday, 8 July 2018

How Trustworthy is Your Business? Are You Living Your Values!

One of the most overused and under achieved words is that of trust.  Indeed, it forms the essential basis of good relationships and lack of it can ruin them.

A quick look at the various definitions of trust in Wikipedia shows how difficult it is to define an emotion because that is what trust is.

Rather than define trust it is perhaps more useful to look at some of the various components particularly appertaining to relationships that demonstrate that a business is trustworthy:

  • Honesty
  • Competence
  • Reliability

Take a look at pretty well every website, mission statement, catalogue and leaflet describing the ethos of a company and we can guarantee that they will all stress the honesty and integrity that underpins the way that they do business.

It is patently obvious that no-one in their right minds would mention that their business dealings can be dishonest so the claim of honesty and integrity becomes pointless.

Honesty in business has to be demonstrated and proven.  For example when something goes awry do you contact the client or customer to tell them what has happened and what you are doing to correct it?

That is the sort of visible honesty that we all admire and moreover consider to be above and beyond normal run of business life.

Far too often we quietly omit to mention the problem in the frequently vain hope that it will go away which, of course, it usually doesn’t.

Competence again has to be demonstrated. It is all very well to claim that we have the best and most competent people in the organisation but until that is proven by the way that we interact with clients and customers then it becomes just another empty claim.

Problem solution, because that is what we are in business to achieve, becomes mandatory.

How often have we heard, for example, of great new software being installed into a company and the long  term problems that occur. That is not to take exception at the way that all IT companies do business nor are they the only ones at fault.

Competence covers a very wide spectrum and everything that we do must demonstrate that we know what we are doing, are in control of the situation and are honest in our dealings with our marketplace.

Reliability is possibly the most difficult to define and achieve.  Once again claims can be viewed as hollow until they are proven and that means that there must be a level of trust (or even hope) on both sides in order to prove the claim.

It has been wisely said that the first order is not the most important.  It is the second and subsequent order that demonstrates that claims have been justified and there is a beginning of trust on both sides.

Trust is not often an instant emotion.  Some people can take a great deal of time and effort to engender a level of trust that enables them to do business.

Equally there are some who are willing to take the risk to see whether the claims are justified or not.  In the end we have to decide whether we believe a person or a business to be trustworthy.

It bears some risk of course but as long as we maintain a culture that under no circumstances will we ignore our own ethos then the overall claim of being trustworthy will be substantiated.

Like communications, trust is a two way exercise and should always be treated as such. Like many emotional transactions trust is a delicate flower and it needs to be cared for and proven without exception.

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Sunday, 1 July 2018

Meetings, Bloody Meetings? Try The Single Topic Method!

For some reason productivity in the UK stays stubbornly on the low side and it is worth taking a look at possible reasons and solutions.

The Office for National Statistics list the measures of productivity as follows:

Economic productivity measures, including output per hour, output per job and output per worker for the whole economy and a range of industries; productivity in the public sector; and international comparisons of productivity across the G7 nations.

If we consider the measure of the value of output per hour there are has hidden anomalies (thank you Roger Martin-Fagg).

For example a barman in London serves 100 pints of beer per hour at £5.00 per pint so his output is  £500 per hour. At the same time a barman in Salford also serves 100 pints of beer but this time at £3.50 a pint  resulting in £350 produced.

Presumably the geniuses at the Office for National Statistics have covered all the bases or have they?  For example, if we look at measures covering an industry does that include everyone employed in the industry or only the “productive” workforce?  If it covers everyone as seems likely then the measures can mask any over-staffing at management level.

Some credence has been given to this thought recently with an announcement that a major UK business is intent on shedding some 6,000 jobs from a total of around 45,000 mainly from “middle management and administrative” jobs.

This, to me, suggests that in the good time businesses have tended to increase their head counts by the creation of positions that in some cases could be construed as vanity appointments.  The public sector is not above reproach by any means.

The question is, how, if at all, can this be rectified?

Merely scrapping the livelihoods of thousands of people does something to alleviate the position but it is dramatic and in personal terms, traumatic and must be handled sensitively.  Remember, it is management who created these jobs in the first place.

If we want to improve productivity just take a clear and honest look at some of the meetings that we have attended recently and ask ourselves these questions:

  • What was the purpose of the meeting?
  • Was everyone there aware of the purpose?
  • What actions resulted from the meeting?
  • Who was accountable for the action/s, to whom and by when?

Simple stuff but we have all been to meetings that last two or three hours and we come away wondering what was that all about.

In a very exciting period of my career I worked in the Slater Walker Group, one of the businesses in the 1970s that cleared out a great deal of dead wood from British industry by the simple expedient of acquiring under priced companies with fat balance sheets and then using a 100 day project to slim them down and release assets

Jim Slater, the Chairman and CEO (pre-Cadbury of course) ran board meetings with a rod of iron.  Finance was discussed for no more than twenty minutes followed by a rigid adherence to a short agenda covering points for action.

The minutes were exclusively a list of actions to be taken, by whom and by when with accountability to the the next board meeting, and it worked.

Meetings can be the bane of our lives if we are not careful so why not reduce them to the very minimum?  Why not have a meeting with just one single topic. Exclusively?

The people attending should have direct interest or responsibility for outcomes and the timing needs to be absolutely strict.  Agreed actions are then reported as usual with no excuses for lateness.

We expect the shop floor and the wealth creators in the business to produce their output with the greatest possible expediency and attention to purpose so why not transmit that ethos to the overall management of the business?

We can’t create more time but we can allocate it more sensibly and certainly we can implement methods to reduce the wastage of management time.  

That should have a salutary effect on productivity in the end.

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