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Sunday, 27 April 2014

Why Do I Need To Go On Learning? I Am Successful Anyway!

Isaac Newton, the great scientist said in 1672:

·      “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”

That phrase encapsulates my contention that the most important facets of leadership are a measure of humility and of the need constantly to learn.

This may seem somewhat at odds with the conventional view of a leader; strong, confident, assertive, dedicated and far-sighted.  That indeed they generally are but underneath there is invariably a level of uncertainty.  In fact I have frequently said that under that confident exterior there lies a bubbling mass of insecurity.

Perhaps this is overstating the position but the generality is valid.

On the other hand I recall going to see a client who said to me:

“I am concerned – I am beginning to have certainties”

Again this might seem the normal attitude of a confident leader but he was genuinely concerned simply because he felt that he had so much more to learn in his role.

And that confirms the assertion that humility is a necessary facet of great leadership.  The tyrants last for a while but eventually meet their just end whereas those who understand that they still need to learn will always win in the end.

A wise sage once said:

·      “The people want me to be their leader.  I must follow them”

In my role as a Chairman of Chief Executive groups in Vistage International, I have had the experience on several occasions of a potential member saying that he/she just needs to run the idea past the Chairman pr even the Board.

In so many cases the answer is “No, we appointed you because you have the skills to do it so why and what do you need to learn?”

The bald fact is that we don’t know everything, we need constantly to be learning, we need to acquire new skills and we need to understand that all of that is a vital part of the role.

When we are speaking we are transmitting our knowledge but when we are silent we are or should be learning. 

The acceptance of that need demands humility because it says that we are not infallible, we don’t know everything and we need constantly be learning from everyone we meet, because everyone has something to offer which is new to us.

In the long list of requirements for leadership, among all the tough qualities needed, I believe that humility should be well represented and understood. 

We all have certainties from time to time, some more than others.  It will be those who question them, take note of others opinions and change are the ones who will prosper.

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Monday, 21 April 2014

What Best Motivates the Team? Ask the Team What Does It For Them and Trust Them!

I have noticed on LinkedIn recently an abundance of contributors calling themselves Motivational Speakers and it is a description which concerns me somewhat.

It is arrogant to assume that we can motivate anyone; the best we can do it to provide an environment in which people can motivate themselves, should they so desire.

That having been said, the question then is what sort of environment is optimally conducive to self-motivation?

I have said in previous posts that there is always a significant amount of untapped talent in any organisation and it is to the advantage of both the business and the individual to identify it and then do something about how to nurture and develop t.

In the end the responsibility is with the leadership because it invariably ends up with a culture change and change can be traumatic for some people.

I recall when I was running a small engineering company that we had a shop floor which was cramped, noisy, radio constantly on Radio 1, shouting, general banter and so on.  The result was a shortage of efficiency with an abundance of effectiveness and enthusiasm.

Growth brought with it a realisation that the available space was just insufficient so we moved to larger more spacious premises which in our naivety we thought would be more acceptable to the workforce.


Productivity actually suffered initially until the team began to bed into the new environment which was quieter, more spacious and generally conducive, we thought, to improved efficiency.

In fact, the psychologist, Frederick Herzberg says that the working environment is what he terms a negative motivational factor. This means that if it is right then the motivational effect wears off pretty quickly and becomes the accepted norm; in other words it has a neutral effect.

On the other hand a general environment in which people can grow their abilities ands skills, where they are given the freedom to make decisions, where they feel that they own any situation and above all they are trusted, will always be the winner.

One of the rules of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Group model is that if a customer asks any staff member a question or needs some help or advice, then that member of staff implements the solution irrespective of their position in the hierarchy.

In essence, people want to know two things; how am I doing and where are we going?

Simple questions perhaps but the answers need to be comprehensive, accurate and transparent so that everyone knows what they need to do individually to grow and at the same time, they are given the necessary information to enable them to contribute to the overall success of the business.

It all, as usual, boils down to trust.  The leadership has the responsibility of building success but not specifically delivering it.  That is the responsibility of the team and because of that, they must be given freedom to do the necessary as they think fit.

That demands a no-blame culture which says that should anyone make a mistake then we learn from it, we don’t use it as a stick with which to beat them to make them behave better in the future.

The leader of a business needs consciously to release the energy and enthusiasm in the team and to offer some more of Herzberg’s positive motivational factors; personal growth, encouragement, reward (not necessarily financial) and above all praise for task well done.

One of the best ideas I have come across is that of a vast retail business which, when someone notices that an individual has gone the extra mile to make sure that things go right, they are give a framed ABCD (Above and Beyond the Call of Duty) Certificate which goes on the wall with an accompanying photograph for all to see.

One of the greatest questions that a leader can ask of the people is

·      “What help do you need from me?”

Try saying “Thank You” more often for a job well done. The result can be startling.

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Sunday, 13 April 2014

Over the past few weeks I have been more and more concerned that while the UK economy is manifestly improving (the latest IMF forecast is for 2.9% growth by the end of t 2014, the highest in Eurozone and the US) many companies with which I have come into contact are having serious problems recruiting great people.

I suppose that logically this should not be a surprise.  When the economy is booming there is likely to be a run on finding good people and certainly several of the members of my Vistage group have said that some of their good people are already receiving telephone calls.

All of this puts uncertainty into the system and when your people get offers which are considerably more than you are paying them there is likely to be some interest.

In one particular case the company interviewed a potential candidate for a senior technical position and mentioned the salary range.

The candidate was asked to come back for a second interview and he asked for a salary £10k higher than the one mentioned.  The company said that they would negotiate and the candidate said that it was £10k more or he wouldn’t be coming back for another interview.

Whether this is the sort of person you want in the business anyway is a moot point but the fact is that as time goes on there will be far more demand for great people and as a consequence your business will be vulnerable.

By far the best situation is to keep and grow your own virtuosi and that will take a significant amount of time and effort, which will be well spent without doubt.

A couple of weeks ago I found a listing on LinkedI which read, in essence: 
  • “The mark of great leaders is that they look for great talent and then get out of their way” 

In any reasonably sized business there will be several people who stand out from the crowd, who have ambition, who want to progress and for one reason or another are being held back.

This is the time to throw convention out of the window.  One of the issues mentioned in exit interviews is the problem of “dead man’s shoes” and this must be tackled in one way or another.

By far the best approach is to institute a formal and comprehensive talent spotting regime, looking for the talented people, taking note of their desires and ambitions and then doing something about it.

A good idea is to institute a “fast track” group who are being groomed for promotion and who will be promoted over people in post if this is necessary.

The cream must be allowed to come to the top because the cost of importing great people will rapidly become prohibitive even if it possible.

People in the business know the business, know the people, know the products and services and all in all, have domain knowledge which will take a new comer months to absorb.

Find the great people who you are already employing, make sure that they know that you are watching them and design a regime which will make them want to stay in the business.  It could be the most worthwhile thing that you can do for the future of the business.

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Sunday, 6 April 2014

Do You Know How to Grow Your Business Effectively? You Need to Analyse the Products and the Markets!

A super presentation by Vistage speaker Lars Tewes recently who spoke about great Sales Habits which we need to develop and emphasise reminded me of one of those quadrants, so beloved of consultants, which encapsulates the positioning and hence the strategic roles of products, services and markets.

It is well known in the consultancy business as the Ansoff Matrix and assesses the risk factors in marketing products and changing markets. 

In essence it says: 

The lowest risk activity is existing products into existing markets.  The business is known to the markets, it has a reputation, hopefully for good service and quality and represents and the products are accepted and well known. 

This is allocated a notional effort factor of 10 

The next level is that of marketing new products into existing markets.  The advantage of this method is that the company is known in the market place and hence has credibility when promoting new products to its existing customers. 

Although the company and its activities are known in the market, even so there will be extra effort required in order to maximise the activity with the new product range and it is estimated that this will require four times the effort demanded in section 1, or an effort factor of 40. 

An even more difficult exercise is the marketing of existing products into new markets.  The problem here is that the company, being generally unknown, does not have any credibility in the market place.  The company has wide experience of its own product or service range and can hope to encourage new markets to do business but in this case, the effort required to match section 1 would be estimated at 80, or eight times the effort. 

Finally it is new products into new markets which is, in effect, starting a new business and that would need en effort factor of around 140 or fourteen times section 1. 

This is not to say that none of these should be attempted even though significant effort will be needed in order to maximise the results. 

What will be needed and must be understood is that any diversification of either product/service or markets will need extra effort on the part of someone in the company and crucially, not at the expense of the core business. 

Any decision to implement growth through innovation is to be welcomed but it is essential that it should be done in a carefully considered and thoughtful way so that the implementation of the process is seamless. 

Members of my Vistage groups use several techniques to make sure that this happens and one of the most effective is to set up a diversification or innovation group within the company with members drawn from all parts. 

In true brainstorming manner, no idea is knocked back; everything is given equal consideration and only at that stage would selection of the most valid of the new ideas be developed. 

Another great idea is to allow all the members of the team to have a day away from the business every quarter so that they can simply think about new innovative ideas.  Again everything is considered by the innovation group right up to the final selection of what they feel to be the best. 

All of this demands effort and considered effort at that.  However ensuring that care is devoted to ensuring that every possible factor has been taken into account will make eventual success much more likely. 

The key is to make your innovation process as exciting as possible so that it will enthuse the people and demonstrate that the business can be made to grow to the benefit of everyone.  

If you would like to learn more about the Ansoff Matrix try this link

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Email ivan.goldberg@vistagechair.co.uk
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