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Sunday, 27 May 2012

Do You Have an Anniversary? Celebrate, Enjoy and Move On!

This has been a busy couple of Vistage weeks for me.  First there was my Vistage CE group two day retreat at the wonderful and faultless Nunsmere Hall Hotel near Northwich, then administration afterwards and some one-to-one mentoring sessions.   

Then on Thursday night, my colleague, Edward Clifford and I were given a dinner at the Lowry Hotel in Salford to celebrate our 20 years of chairing Chief Executive groups in North West England.

It was a splendid and most enjoyable occasion and I thank Vistage and particularly CEO Steve Gilroy most sincerely for their kindness in giving us this accolade.

The evening was enhanced in no small measure by the presence of Phil and Helen Meddings who, after a successful launch in Australia, started TEC (now called Vistage) in the UK around 23 years ago.

I don’t normally march bravely backwards into the future with my eyes firmly fixed on the past - I much prefer to look forward but perhaps on this occasion I might be forgiven for a little hoary reminiscence.

It all started when my wife Hilary called me at the office which I had at the time and asked me to bring home a Manchester Evening News which we used to read at least twice a year.

After finding what was needed for her son (something about Manchester City as usual) she skimmed through and found an advertisement looking for “Chairman for Groups of Chief Executives” which seemed interesting so I applied.  Thank you Hilary, MEN and Manchester City.

After two or three interviews with Phil and the incumbent CEO,  Ken Saltrese, I had a call in February 1992 to say that I had been successful. 

The first breakfast recruiting event in April resulted in a total of 54 CEOs and MDs congregating in a curious L-shaped room at the Four Seasons Hotel (now the Airport Marriott) and Edward and I both started groups with attendees from that day.  How things have changed!

The first meeting of the group was held at a golf club near Warrington and one of the first members, David Adams, was at the 20th dinner,  Rightly so, as following his membership of the group he moved to London where he became a chairman and the Poet Laureate of Vistage.

After the dinner, the following day it was back to normality with a great Vistage Open Day at the Etihad Stadium, home of the aforesaid Manchester City, where around 80 members, colleagues and guests heard a masterly presentation on Leadership by Glen Daley.  I now am interviewing some potential members for the group.

It was great fun to celebrate the 20th anniversary but it was just a short stop on the journey.  Vistage UK goes from strength to strength, adding to the lives of so many people in business and, in some cases, changing them radically.  It certainly did for me and for that I am truly grateful. 

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Sunday, 20 May 2012

Do You Want to Learn? Then Be a Great Teacher!

There is an ancient Kabbalistic and also Zen Buddhist maxim which has great resonance today:

“When the student is ready, the teacher appears”

These days, without even realising it, we are all in a constant learning mode and the impact of the availability of information through online search engines has had truly dramatic results.

However, the question must be asked: when does the generation of information and hence knowledge transform into a learning experience?  For example, does it just add to our immediate stock of knowledge that goes into our internal database to be recalled (hopefully) at a later stage?

There is a difference between that and a genuine learning experience which is broader, deeper and requires significant thought and input rather than merely absorption.

It has been said that no-one can teach but everyone can learn.  That is possibly an overstatement to emphasise the point, but there is a good deal of truth in the saying.

I have said before that one of the major functions of the leader is that of coach to the team; to be able to add value to the learning experience of the individual and so enhance it.

Any business which has any level of dynamism must, almost by definition, be a learning business and that learning process is a constant.  Please note, it is not finite but is a process which is continuous.

I recall the story, perhaps apocryphal but useful nonetheless, of the individual who committed such a major error that the company lost something of the order of $500m.  He decided to offer his resignation which was immediately refused by his CEO who said:

“This has just cost us $500m and you know everything about it.  You are the only person who can put it right and learn why it happened and how we can prevent it happening again in the future”

If it is true then it is a remarkable example of positive leadership; coaching someone to expand their learning experience and so to bring greater value to the business and to the individual.

And that is the key in the end.  Learning is very personal and needs to be encouraged and developed by an understanding “teacher”.  Given the right environment and the right student, the whole learning experience can be enhanced.  It cannot be achieved by a top down, “this is how to do it”, approach.

The great leaders are great teachers and great team members want to learn.   And remember that the process of teaching is the best way to learn.

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Sunday, 13 May 2012

Experiencing Lousy Service? It’s Not About the Price!

On a recent visit to a “well known High Street Supermarket” I experienced three examples of appalling service which, frankly, shook me.

The details don’t warrant repetition; suffice it to say that they broadly covered most aspects of poor service including staff chatting and ignoring me at the Information Desk, offhand replies to requests for assistance plus indifference and rudeness at the checkout.
What is sad is that everywhere in the store were comparisons of price levels with other local competitors which are within a few hundred metres and just as easily reached.
Even worse, the business in question has not had particularly good results recently and has announced a country-wide refurbishing of the stores to see if that will have the effect of increasing footfall.
When the total emphasis is on price something else must suffer and it would seem that it has been service to the customer.
Several years ago I used to walk through my local village to a greengrocer, passing as I did at least two other similar shops,  When I questioned myself as to why this was happening I decided that I actually liked going to the particular shop.
We deal with people that we like and conversely, we are far less likely to deal with people who we do not like or where we experience  poor and indifferent service.
Indeed, how genuinely price sensitive are the supermarkets?  Sure, there are some which offer really lower prices with the big four (Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda and Morrison) slugging it out and all claiming to be the lowest.
However I really can’t see that someone on a “big shop” would buy cereals at Tesco and then go to buy their baked beans at Asda simply for a couple of pence.  The whole idea of the supermarket is the “one-stop shop” else why would they be offering a range of goods other than food?
The upshot of this rant is that I have voted with my feet and have started to use another local supermarket where the price may or may not be lower but where the staff are mature, sensible and very helpful when assistance is needed.
By the way this particular company reported better than ever results recently with significantly increased sales.
Need I say more other than, as Vistage speaker Malcolm Smith would say “It’s not about the price”.

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Monday, 7 May 2012

Keeping Informed or Just Interfering? Once Again, it is All About Performance!

All of the great speakers we have in the Vistage portfolio will emphasise the need to have only top performers in the business.  The great leader will deliberately recruit people who are better than they are simply because it adds to the business and the relationship.

Importantly, the great leader does not see as a threat someone who is better than they are; in fact it energises them to learn and to expand while accepting that specific expertise has its value and needs an expert to bring it to the table.

Naturally, the “expert” is not always the easiest person to manage.  Prima donnas never are, but their contribution, given the freedom to exercise it, can be exceptional.

Crucially the limiting word is “freedom”.  How foolish is it to recruit an expert or specialist in some discipline and then direct them or tell them what to do or how to produce answers.

Motivational speaker, Steve Head puts forward a simple equation which goes like this:

P = p - i

where P = performance, p = potential and i = interference.

In other words, potential can best be exploited and will produce  great performance where interference is at a minimum.

The implications are significant and often difficult for many leaders to take on board.  Do we have to give people their head and just hope for success?

Of course, it’s not like that in real life. There are three basic parameters which need to be considered:

·       The objectives of the task – what outcome do we want?
·       When will the task be completed?
·       What effect will that task have on the business?

If the leader has the inner strength to give the expert free rein to deliver a result, then the leader is entitled to expect the quid pro quo of accountability.

Again, there are three criteria which will enable the leader to find out what is happening but crucially without it being overt (or even covet) interference:

·       Monitor what is going on preferably by the expert producing simple progress reports with both good and bad news if necessary
·       Measure the results and report
·       Evaluate the results together

If all that can be achieved in a “no-blame” environment when things don’t go as well as they might, then the leader can reasonably expect great results from people who value the freedom they have been given to deliver those results.

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