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Monday, 25 April 2011

What You Know or Who You Know? Actually It's Both!

I have said in a previous post that this blog is avowedly non-political but once again, the Prime Minister David Cameron has sparked my interest through one of his statements.  At the same time, it was suggested by a friend that I should use networking as the subject at some time.  Serendipity!

On the one hand, the Prime Minister has sparked a row (according to the media) by suggesting that he is “relaxed” about using contacts to obtain internships.  He has been castigated for going against the concept of social mobility.

When will the press get real?   This is not a political matter; it is rather a matter of human nature.  We all use contacts in almost every way to make further contacts and that is both reasonable and sensible.

To allege (as do the media) that the Prime Minister suggests only using his public school contacts is both insulting and naive. Do they really want us to believe that no-one uses their contacts for a range of reasons?

A recent survey suggested that by far the most effective way of finding a professional (from tradesman through to lawyer) is to ask either a friend or a business contact.   Certainly we at Vistage have found that new members who have been referred by an existing member tend to contribute more to the group and stay longer than others.

It’s equally stupid to imply that the only route for exploiting contacts is through a public school education. What about the golf club, the rugby club, the Women’s Institute, the Parent Teachers Association (at any school from local primary through to public boarding) or church, synagogue or mosque? Do they really want us to believe that there is something immoral in making contacts and then using them for mutual gain?

By the way, many networking groups are there merely for pleasure and for being with like minded people.  Sports clubs, arts clubs, gyms, special interest groups all have a part to play in the evolution of a community where we can meet and get to know people.
Networking as such has become professionalised over the past few years and indeed, my friend, Will Kintish formed a very successful consultancy and training company to help people to network more effectively.  Ask anyone who has been “Kintished” whether it works or not!

The electronic versions like LinkedIn which build contact databases have also taken their place in the networking pantheon although face to face contact is far more effective and indeed more memorable.
“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know that matters” as the old saying goes.  In fact it is both.  That is why personal experience of people and organisations is so valuable.

It is not a “toff’s” prerogative – we can all do it and, frankly, should do it. because there will be mutual gain.

For more information visit www.vistage.co.uk and www.maa-uk.co.uk
To contact us, email to ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk

Sunday, 17 April 2011

How Are You Doing? Visit Your Custiomers and Ask Them!

In a previous post I discussed the need to build relationships in a business; not merely internally with the people in the business,  but also and, perhaps even more importantly, externally with customers, suppliers, advisors and others in the community.

It is remarkable how much we can learn from discussions with customers when not in selling mode, but rather in research mode; in an atmosphere of trying to discover from them how their market is shaping up and what does the future hold for them.

This was brought home forcibly to me this week by one of my members who has taken the bold step of going to see all her clients, not to sell to them, but to start to build a different relationship; a move from merely transactional to relational.

Customers were surprised and very pleased to meet the leader and the visits were received with pleasure and enthusiasm.  Naturally some took the opportunity of mentioning issues and that was also useful, while in one case, and much to her surprise, a serious problem came to light.

Without going into detail, the discussions brought to the light a situation which would have stayed unnoticed had the client visits not been made.

Feedback from customers, suppliers, advisors, the community in general is essential and merely sending out a general questionnaire to discover customer satisfaction is a step ahead but is not the best way forward.

It is said that the Chairman of a global Japanese consumer electronics manufacturer spends six weeks or so over Christmas working on the sales counter of a major New York department store, just to find out what the paying customers think of his products.

The only real way to have feedback from the market is to ask them personally and that says that the leader needs to take time out to visit his top 20% of customers to ask them “how are we doing and what else do we need to do”.   I recall a Vistage speaker who said “build a wall round your customers so that they won’t want to go anywhere else” and that is by moving from the transactional to a relational interaction with them.

If you want to know what business you are in, ask your customers – they know the answer better than you do and it is a primary function of any leader to make thoses visits; to make time to see the major customers and to develop a real and lasting relationship.  It is time very well spent.

For more information visit www.vistage.co.uk and www.maa-uk.co.uk
To contact us, email to ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Total Quality Management? Better the Pursuit of Excellence!

Business management practices go through phases, many of them merely fashions and they are frequently linked to names of gurus like Taylor, Deming, Drucker, Peters, Covey and many others.

The fact is that many of these fashions are older ones recycled in a new a ostensibly more exciting form but, in the end, the results are much the same.

How many of us recall the rush to “quality” a few years ago led by the fearsomely efficient Japanese automotive manufacturers. We started quality circles, and TQM (remember Total Quality Management?) and added three-sigma analysis, all in a sometimes vain attempt to emulate the success of Japanese industry.

At that time, one of my Vistage members, a manufacturer of scientific products, decided that he would go down that route but changed the focus, so that he called it “The Pursuit of Excellence”.

The point about “quality” was that most people regarded it as applying to the manufacture of products and while they put all their efforts into achieving zero defects, there seemed to be a disregard of all the other facets of the business.

The fact is that quality of the product is essential but even more so is the quality of the relationship with the customer.  I well recall going to visit a large supplier of electronic components in a very modern, minimalist building with a smart receptionist who welcomed me with a smile, coffee and something to read while I waited.  Everything was most impressive and I knew that their product line was equally desirable.

After a while, the coffee had its usual effect (on me, anyway) and I went to visit the toilets. Surprise, surprise! They were uncared for and generally unpleasant, and my overall memory of that company, good as they were in the supply of high quality products, was one of distaste at the state of their toilets.

Illogical or a normal reaction?  The whole point of “high quality” means that everything in the business must be directed towards excellence in all that we do, be it in product quality, delivery service, invoicing, telephone manner and a host of other things which impact on the customer at some time and in some way.

Perhaps we should revert to the old concept of quality circles; ask your people how they can constantly improve on everything that they do, and, most importantly, what help do they need from you in order to achieve that improvement.

For further information visit www.vistage.co.uk and www.maa-uk.co.uk
To contact us, email to ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Transactional or Relational Interaction? Dump the Jargon!

This blog never has been, and never intends to be, political but Prime Minister David Cameron in a speech recently referred to the difference between transactional and relational interaction between people, and that struck a chord.

Firstly, for some inconceivable reason, some people seem to think that if they use more and more jargon, the result will be that everyone will think that they are clever.  Not true - more often than not they are thought of as being pompous, patronising and unable to communicate in ways which have any meaning.

The great Professor Russell Ayckhoff, late Dean of the Business School at Princeton, said (after he retired, I would emphasise) that the primary function of a Business School is to equip students with jargon that will enable them to talk learnedly on subjects about which they have absolutely no comprehension.  Ouch!

However, occasionally, a drill down into some jargon can be rewarding, as is the case with the PM's message.  It is worthwhile analysing the differences.

A transactional interaction is typically one where there is no contact other than to achieve an outcome of some sort.  For example, you go into a shop, perhaps even smile at the counter hand, offer some money and are given a newspaper.  There is nothing in the interaction other than the result.

On the other hand, virtually all of our interactions with, for example, our families are relational; that is, not only is there an outcome but there will be explanation, discussion, argument, and a range of other emotional inputs which can change the whole aspect of the relationship.

So what has this to do with leadership in business?   Just think about how many of your interactions with your team members are transactional; whether your contacts with your people are limited to strict business criteria without any building of a relationship.

By the way, this applies not only to internal interactions; it can apply even more significantly to external with suppliers, customers and professional advisers among others.

I happened to be in a supermarket recently and was surprised to hear the check out operator say "Here's my favourite customer!"   Taken aback, I said: "Pardon?"

She replied "We all have our favourite customers and you're mine".  Still somewhat surprised, I asked her why and she said "Because you treat me like a human being and not like just a machine".

In a situation which was really transactional, it had become relational for her and consequently more rewarding.  It was a great learning experience for me.
Forget the jargon; try to remember that we deal with real people every day and they all have something of value to offer us.

Visit www.vistage.co.uk and www.vistageblog.co.uk
To contact us, email to ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk