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Monday, 26 August 2019

Prefer Living In The Past? There’s No Future In It!

                             Ivan's Blog update

Being an avid collector of pithy sayings I was pleased to hear one last week which tickled me somewhat.  It was during a rather bizarre interview with Len Goodman, former judge on Strictly Come Dancing during the lunch interval of the Ashes Test at Lords and he casually dropped into the conversation:

·      “The older we get, the better it used to be”

I thought it gently amusing until I got serious and began to look at it in rather more detail.  What is says, of course, is that the old days were better and everything has gone downwards ever since.  What is more, as we age, the pull of the old days becomes even more appealing.

That has been a recurring theme probably since the beginnings of time and it is about as useful as anything relating to the “good old days”.

I suppose that one of the problems of ageing is that in many cases the outlook becomes limited and encompassed by reduced mobility and lack of normal contact with the outside world plus an increasing resistance and dislike of change.

I know that if I am in the company of people of my generation it is fatal to ask anyone “How are you?” because one is likely to have a full recital of the current medical condition with a complete listing of the medication involved including all the side effects.

As we age, by definition our experience increases and really ought to be transformed into expertise in some manner so that it can be used and exploited (n the nicest possible way).

Older people have great opportunities to use and give of their experience (without being dogmatic or laying down the law) and to offer it to any community that would value it.

Volunteering is a great way to give something back to any community such as a charity and retired business people have a lot to offer in this respect.

The fact is, of course, that the old days were not necessarily good but it is pleasant to look back and remember, albeit inaccurately, that all the summers were sunny and hot, and that the winters gave us enough snow for perpetual sledging.

If we are truly honest about the past we would accept that our standard of living was far lower than it is today even if the way we lived then was simpler and less complex.

Naturally as we age there is likely to be more to look back at than there is to look forward to, but heaven preserve us from those who march bravely backwards into the future with their eyes fixed firmly on the past while wearing rose-coloured spectacles.

The fact that we are becoming more mature should never prevent us from looking forward positively into the future because that is where we are all going.  The past is immutable, unchangeable and we can and should learn from it.  The present is where we are we should give thanks for being there, and for the ability to plan for the future irrespective of how long that will be.

Things were not necessarily better in the past but they were certainly different and the way in which we live these days is dramatically different from the time “when I were a lad”. 

I reckon times are pretty good these days irrespective of the nonsense being spread about Brexit and other imponderables.  We should be constantly grateful for the chance to experience all the advantages of life in the 21st century.  Whatever - it’s a lot better than the alternative.

Ivan J Goldberg
Author, professional writer, content producer and leadership specialist.      
Contact me for a discussion via ivan.goldberg@maa-uk.co.uk


Sunday, 18 August 2019

Are You Focused on Your Customers? If Not, Why Not?

Most organisations forget, or worse, don't even realise, that the customer is always thinking “what’s in it for me” and then go on to measure "what's in it for them" using lagging key indicators such as profit, sales and debtor days when looking at their numbers.

These measure what has happened in the past rather than what is going to happen in the future. 

Managing the business by focusing on past performance is much the same as driving a car by looking into the rear-view mirror. The challenge is to create value for the customer and find ways to measure "what's in it for the customer."

Remember also that performance is not necessarily linked to financial results.  An unsolicited telephone call before a delivery or a small something extra means far more and is more likely to be remembered.  That is the ultimate objective; to be remembered when orders are being placed and the unusual signifies more than the obvious.

There is a tale, possibly apocryphal, of a UK business that ordered some components from a Japanese supplier and for the first time.  When the delivery arrived there was a mysterious bag of components included and when this was investigated turned out to be a small number of rejected items.

On further investigation the supplier said that the specification had laid down an accuracy level of 98% so “we sent them to you in the bag.  We had to make them specially as we never send items that are outside accuracy limits.”  That is the way to be remembered.

Future customer-focused key indicators are by far the best means for determining the direction in which your company is going and there are many which can come under that heading. 

A typical example is on-time delivery that is an excellent indicator of how well your company is currently functioning. If all of the operations are running smoothly, there's a good chance that on-time delivery is within acceptable parameters. 

The key here is under promise and over deliver. In other words give a realistic and rather conservative estimate of delivery time, and then beat it. A neat point is to call the customer to say that you’re sorry but you plan to deliver a day or two early – will that be alright?

Another key indicator is the time you take to answer an enquiry. Customers and clients will take your speed of response as an indication of your interest in their enquiry and after all, their enquiry is what matters to them.

Professional firms can be noticeably lax in their response to clients’ enquiries and actually delivering on the “I’ll call you back in a couple of hours” is often a vain hope.

Remember that the client or customer assesses everything on the WIIFM basis – that is, What’s In It For Me? How will I benefit from this, not how will YOU benefit. Accordingly make sure that your Key Performance Indicators are not lagging but leading, that is, are customer focused not past performance focused.

It is, of course, essential that you measure everything and keep records of what happens. It will mean the collection of new forms of data as well as the normal monitoring of the financial numbers but the effort is well worthwhile. Do it well, and the financials will demonstrate the value of what you are doing.

Ivan J Goldberg, author, professional writer, content producer
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Sunday, 11 August 2019

Just Made a Dodgy Decision? Beware Cognitive Dissonance!

Life in business is largely a matter of how we cope with decision making situations, good, bad, difficult, simple no-thought and a very wide range of others. 

Whatever the rationale the process is essentially the same even though we don’t notice any variance mostly because so many of the decisions we make are inconsequential. 

Astonishingly research shows that, on average we make around 35,000 decisions a day so who says you are indecisive?   Of course a vast proportion of those decisions are made without much or indeed any deep consideration. You have stopped having sugar in coffee for long enough for it to become normal. 

What matters, of course, is the perceived importance (and sometimes the urgency) level of the need for a considered decision

Recently there seems to have been a spate of U-turns, changes of mind, “alternative facts” and even some downright falsehoods from a number of politicians all over the world.

Perhaps this isn’t unusual but it does bring to mind a problem of communication that can be very damaging in a business.

It is that situation where someone makes a decision or a statement, finds that it is incorrect or misleading but then decides to defend it to the death.

Psychologists call it cognitive dissonance that is the mental stress (discomfort) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values; when performing an action that contradicts one of those beliefs, ideas, or values; or when confronted with new information that contradicts one of those beliefs, ideas or values.

Got it?  That is the broad picture but it needs a little more depth.  It indicates a level of uncertainty in making a decision and this is compounded when subsequent to making a decision more evidence comes to light that changes the picture.

Normally one would expect to consider the evidence and then come to a conclusion; either change the original decision or maintain and justify it.

Changing the decision can be a very tough call.  It can bring on the fear of being regarded as indecisive, or vacillating, or worst of all, if you happen to be a politician, of committing the original sin of making a U-turn.

A leader needs to have and to exhibit humility and demonstrating that one can adjust one’s thinking and change one’s mind demands a good measure of it.

To accept that one has made an incorrect judgement and to change it and visibly needs strength of character and a lack of fear of the possible consequences.

It is all about how we care about what other people apparently may think about us.  If that is a dominant feature in your psyche then the likelihood is that you could descend into rigidly maintaining the status quo whatever the consequences.  In other words, cognitive dissonance kicks in and the decision is defended to all and sundry irrespective of the potential outcome. 

On the other hand, a leader who feels secure,  is comfortable and isn’t concerned with what people may think about him/her, will be able to change a decision and justify it logically.

It seems to me that cognitive dissonance is a potential blight on leadership and consequently on the activity in the whole organisation.  It implies rigidity of thinking and attitude when flexibility and agility are far more desirable and appropriate.

Fear not what others think or say about you.  In the end it is your true self-confidence, your attitude, behaviour and values as a leader that matters above all.  

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Ivan J Goldberg, author, content provider and leadership specialist
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