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Sunday, 18 December 2011

Do You Know Where Your Business is Going? Do Your People Know?

Some years ago I was fortunate enough to be at a presentation in London by the legendary Theodore (Ted) Levitt, Professor of Marketing at Harvard Business School and one of his sayings has stayed with me ever since.

He said: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there”.  There was some resonance of Alice in Wonderland there.

Now I discover that the Roman philosopher, Seneca (4BC-65AD) said:

“If a man knows not what harbour he seeks, any wind is the right wind”.
So, there is nothing new under the sun and both (or all) of them, of course, were right.  Again for years I have used another little saying which I like very much and which is so relevant:
“People want to know two things; how am I doing and where are WE going”.
It is all a matter of good communication and it is the function of the leader to ensure that the team are kept well aware of both criteria.  By far the best way is to have regular one-to-ones with everyone on the team.  Timings and dates should be diaried and the time allocated must be sacrosanct.
It is a matter of respect for each team member and nothing should get in the way.  The agenda, by the way, belongs to the team member not the leader.  Length of time for each one-to-one?  Anything from one to two hours is best and they should be scheduled at least monthly.
The leader needs to ask questions and above all to listen.  Regular one-to-ones like this almost obviate the need for annual appraisals because feedback monthly will solve the issue of “how am I doing?”.
The “where are we going” question is another matter.  Setting the values, the vision and the goals for the future of the business should be largely a matter for the leader because they define the culture which the leader sees as appropriate for the business.
From then on, setting the objectives and defining the strategy and the action, short term and longer term, is a matter of discussion with the team on a regular basis.  It is, however, vital that when the objectives and the strategy have been set, some form of accountability needs to be established so that action can be monitored.
Too many strategic plans are beautifully prepared and presented and then languish in a filing cabinet until someone remembers and gets it out to see if it had worked.
Good planning with action and accountability answers both Ted Levitt and Seneca who might have said:
“When you DO know where you are going, your people will go with you, as long as they are constantly involved”. 
Remember, no-one ever feels committed to achieving other peoples’ objectives.
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Sunday, 11 December 2011

What Don’t You Know About Your People? Ask Them the Story of Their Life!

During the summer we (my wife Hilary and I with Bailey, our Cavalier King Charles spaniel) took a day out in the Cheshire countryside finishing up in Chester.  While Hilary went into a well known store to buy something to eat that evening, I stood outside with Bailey and did some people watching.

We were accosted (in the nicest possible way) by a charming African American lady who insisted on showing us pictures of her Cavalier back home in the US and then took several photographs of Bailey.

I wished her well for her trip to England and she said:

“Oh, I come here often.  This time I’m here to speak at a conference”.

Interested, I asked her what the conference was about and she said:

“It’s an Anglican conference – I’m a Bishop” and went smilingly on her way.

I hadn’t even considered her occupation during our chat.  Looking back I suppose that I could have imagined her being a senior administrator in a business or a head teacher, but it wasn’t relevant in the context of our meeting.

The fact is that unless we ask our people or at least give them the opportunity, we frequently don’t know anything about them other than their interaction in the business and their performance.

Too often our people are allowed to come in to work, take off their coats, take off their brains, hang them both up and then do their allotted time until they go home again having put on  their coats and their brains.  What a waste of talent.

I have fond in my one- to-ones, particularly at the first meeting, that it can be disarming to say to someone: “So, tell me story of your life” and it can be remarkable. if the leader then keeps quiet and listens, how easily people can talk about themselves.

It is always a matter of giving people the respect that they deserve and of showing genuine interest in them and their lives.  Of course, confidentiality is vital and it needs to be stressed.

Even more importantly, we can learn so much more about our people, their interests, their hobbies, their families. There is the constant surprise when we find out that someone does something remarkable in their spare time.

And why shouldn’t those hidden talents be brought to bear in the business to the advantage of the company and, more importantly, to the advantage of the member of the team?

Most of them aren’t Bishops, of course, but they are all individuals with feeling, interests and aspirations, and they deserve to be respected as such.

Visit www.vistage.co.uk and www.vistage.co.uk/chairs/ivan.goldberg
Email ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk
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Sunday, 4 December 2011

What Can Be Done in a Nightmare Scenario? Use PEST Analysis!

I have so far scrupulously avoided any religious or political discussion in Ivan’s Blog but events have overtaken me and I feel that I must state a case for the leaders of SMEs in the UK (possibly everywhere).

The number of column inches devoted to the eurozone crisis is limitless.  TV and radio cover the whole process with enthusiasm and drag “experts” out of any closet they can find to pontificate on the dreadful scenario.

Words like, “cataclysmic”, “unprecedented”, "catastrophe", “nightmare”, “desperate”, and many others are being bandied about and everyone in the media seems to be saying that the end is nigh.

The cold facts are that as leaders of SMEs, there is virtually nothing that we can do about the situation which comes well into the PEST analysis (political, economic, sociological and technological) all of which are external influences over which we have no control.
Who really knows what will happen in Europe?  Summit meeting follows summit meeting within a few days and the markets react, positively or negatively as is their wont.  The fact is that the concept of the euro was faulty in the first place – one size DOESN’T fit all and it certainly doesn’t fit a lot of very differing cultures in the hotch-potch of cultures which make up Europe.

In 2008 I suggested that we were in an L-shaped recession and were subsequently in a New Normality.  This has been repeated and we are back into a Newer Normality again.  

Leaders of SMEs particularly need to understand that the world hasn’t stopped.  There is still a vast amount of business out there provided that we go for it in a competitive way, not by discounting prices but by offering a service second to none.

Boom times may return but it is certain that it will not happen for some years.  New Normality means that what is out there isn’t going to change significantly so redesign your business and your activities according to what IS out there.

So what to do right now?  Ask yourself questions for each criterion such as "What political/economic/social/technological events could affect the business?", then discuss with your people what you could do to ameliorate the potential effects.

Do your PEST analysis and see where you can be as prepared as possible for an uncertain future, take immediate action and then go for it,  Good luck!

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