Here’s What You Don’t Know…And It’s Serious

Firstly…I do have an axe to grind but it’s one that is entirely focused on your success.

I’ve had two spells living and working in this amazing city. Its people are wonderful and kind. It sits in a great big valley surrounded by nature. It really is like a big village nestled in the foothills of God’s own country.

I’ve been lucky enough to sit at a few top tables around the world where big things are planned and great (and not so great) ideas hatched. Sadly, many of these truly great intentions are reviewed unkindly through hindsight…despite one or two of us being at pains to point out why they would be.

I was once told of a Sheffield man standing in the rain at a bus stop as a Rolls Royce glided silently past…he could never imagine ever being in a position to own one of these great cars but he worked tirelessly to ensure that its owner joined him in the bus queue.

And here is what you don’t know about you and your business. Sheffield is a tough place to conduct business. Its people are uncompromising and have a bit of a chip on their shoulders. They are dour and tight fisted. They make do and mend. They voice their strong opinions and fight over seemingly insignificant things. They come from a city that has developed a ‘might-do’ attitude and it’s had several non-descript leaders all of whom became embittered by fruitless years of dogged but poor performance. We set our sights as low as we possibly can and often fail to get there.

Over the past few months, I’ve committed to buying everything that I can locally and from independent businesses. I want to continue doing this if I can. If I can…

But to be honest, I’ve been forced to endure some of the worst possible customer experiences of my life by taking this stance. From auto garages to upholsterers, food shops to clothing retailers, hair salons to hardware stores…I would not give the combined customer experience more than 4/10 with one or two brighter exceptions.

I’ve lived in many places around the world and in these places I would score them a pretty healthy 8/10 for their attitude towards success. Every business has its SALES PREVENTION OFFICERS…and these range from initial customer engagement, with what appear to be real live people, to online sales platforms that are clumsy, slow and inefficient.

So Sheffield, if you really do want to play with the grown ups…have really good people review your business from top to bottom. Use people that know what they are looking for and know what is needed to succeed. People that have run exceptional businesses themselves.

I’ll have a New Year £100 bet with any of you (and I never gamble) that I can find at least THREE of these SPOs in your business…but to find everything that really stifles growth and success, that may take us a little while longer…but we will get there…

We truly wish you a prosperous 2021 and one where you set aside the things that prevent it.

Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

The Stranger In The Workplace

“When we return to normal…”

With gentle pressure on the old handle, I push and the door swings open. It’s silent in here and a little eerie. The tables and chairs look like any other office. The window blinds are a little bit crooked. That kind of thing used to really bother me but it doesn’t today. The desks are tidy, the in-trays are empty, the printer switched off and then I see it, a ghostly shadow on the wall. A stranger standing just out of sight. As the door closes it surprises them a little. Wearing a distant look of quiet menace across his face, enhanced by the piercing threat in his eyes and look of dangerous certainty etched across his forehead, he steps into the half light.

I look at him before his eyes adjust to the clawing darkness and know that I don’t fear him. I know that whatever happens next, I am in control, I have the upper hand and there is nothing he can do about it. I was at the top of my game and it felt good.

I used to live in fear. I feared losing everything. I feared for my existence and I feared what could happen to me. I feared the subtle threats. I feared being unfairly called out. But my world has changed and that fear has gone. No matter what, he can’t hurt me any longer.

Before this virus took hold and before everything changed, I used to work for someone I feared in a job that I didn’t want to lose. I did exactly as I was told, I hated it, I hated him, I hated me. He had control over everything. He had control over what I thought, what I did and how it used to make me feel. He knew it and he used it.

Over the past weeks and months, I have seen that it doesn’t need to be that way. I’d lived through it all. I’d survived. My family has spent time together. We’ve had time to reassess our values. We know what is important and what isn’t. We knew that time was precious and stuff wasn’t. We knew that relationships mattered and working all hours didn’t. We knew that it was the small things that we cared about. We’ve enjoyed being family and spending time together. We feel free.

“ok, the party’s over, we’ve got a lot of catching up to do. We need to hit the ground running from day one and we need to work over and above to make up the ground we have lost. Don’t just stand there looking lost, get the lights while I fire everything back up. There are fewer of us now and it’s going to be tougher. We will have to do what we need to in order to……..”

“In a minute,” I heard myself interrupting him, “I just want to spend a little time settling myself back in and get my head around being here again. I want to see how it feels”

He looked at me differently. He looked a little lost. He knew things had changed. The power had shifted. He no longer held a gun to my head. I was here because I chose to be. If I’m not here tomorrow it’s because I choose to be somewhere else.

If you are the boss and your people are returning back to work, know that you are the stranger in the workplace if you think things will get back to how it was. Everything has changed. Everyone has changed. Be ready to create a workspace where people want to be and choose to be. Look at your values. Look at whether your aims are aims that people can buy into. Look at becoming more flexible and treat your employees like customers…see what will attract them to you and keep them with you. Don’t be that stranger anymore.

And remember, it’s always the best and most talented people that leave first…because they can.

Photo by Mitchell Griest on Unsplash

Knowing Everything But Understanding Nothing

Running a business is simply managing a series of events, linked to the resources it has available to it, in order to achieve a series of desired outcomes. Inputs manipulated and ordered to change their current state into a new state of outputs (or outcomes).

The reason most businesses exist is to add value to the inputs, in order to create desirable outcomes where the sum of the value of this outcome is greater than the initial cost of the input added to the cost of changing their state into an outcome. we term this difference as profit. People who invest in their business hope for a better return on that investment than they would by leaving it deposited in a less risky vehicle such as a bank or building society.

Businesses go through several stages and in many cases, several iterations. The first great idea should lead onto the second, third, fourth etc. Start up finance is often low but as the business grows, mezzanine finance (bank loans/family loans/friends loans etc) and even onto angel investment through selling a share of the potential in exchange for cash to grow.

People that start business are very often not the best people to run their businesses. They are the ideas people, the passion people and the main shareholders (usually). They have the vision for the business. They can see all of the parts, they can see the marketability, they usually understand their target audience. But the art is to get everything in place to manage the resources effectively and grow through the steps. Steps are when a business has to fund the increase in resources whilst driving the sales income to cover the cost of this increase (growth).

Funding growth is the hardest thing for any business to manage well. Businesses rarely ever run out of ides, they hardly ever run out of markets, but 90% of the time they fail because they run out of cash. Real cash, not the transactional notional cash we see in the P&L account, cash that they own.

Business leaders often see everything, they see the components of success, they know that if they can organise them well they will reap the rewards…very few truly know the order in which things must happen or where the steps are that will drain them of cash.

Managing a business is managing cash…it’s the only thing that I guarantee you will run out of from time to time…don’t let it close you down.

Becoming Really Attractive

attraction (noun) a quality or force of someone or something that tends to pull others in or create interest in something

When we think of ourselves and how others see us we have an internal image, an internal sense of who we are. We imagine ourselves in a certain way and we believe that this is how others will see us too…well, they don’t. We lie to ourselves, we just do.

The same applies to how we sell. We have created a story about our stuff and we just don’t get why everyone else doesn’t see it the way we do. We just don’t get why they aren’t rushing in to buy our stuff.

The reason is quite simple…you aren’t attractive enough.

The first mistake is to think that people want your stuff…they don’t. The want to feel how they feel about your stuff. They want to buy things that add or remove feelings. Humans are a bundle of complex feelings split between attraction to good things and repelling bad things.

My sales teams used to take me into meetings as they couldn’t get the ‘big one’ over the line, it just wasn’t landing. I’d show them how to listen to the customer and hear their feelings. I’d show them where the ‘hook’ lies and how to add or remove the feelings around that hook. We’d close the deal, they’d get their big sale and they’d learn how to really sell.

I’ve worked with many companies around the world, big and small, that insist on ‘selling the benefits’ without really knowing that faster, longer, stronger, bigger, better didn’t really cut it when the buyer is scared of making a mistake or when they want to experience the joy of their next big purchase…often the sale contained both of these feelings.

Take a good look around you. Nature will show you the way…what tools does nature use to stand out? To be attractive? To draw in the life-giving attraction to keep on keeping on?

Whenever I go, to companies with truly great products and services, they tend to be doing the wrong things really well. They believe that they are getting it right and in some cases, they kind of are…but to really fly they need to understand what makes them even more attractive than they are right now.

Sell feelings…people love to buy good feelings, we all do…

WHERE TO FIX THE BULLET HOLES

Returning aircrews inspected their damaged machines to see where bullet holes were clustered and then asked the ground crew to strengthen the very places where they were hit.

Managers do this time and time again. They repeat this kind of thinking over and over in their organisations. They see the bullet holes and fix where they hit. They have the data and the evidence is clear for all to see. Their debriefing is full of impact drawings and hole cluster charts. They know what to do. They instruct their teams to do the fix. Yet still, there are more losses, fewer returning to base.

Hiring an experienced consultant brings with it a different way of thinking. A different perspective on the same issues. A perspective that leads to change and growth. A perspective that when seen from the edge of the battlefield, can bring solutions based on their wide array of experiences drawn from other conflicts.

A consultant would show that the place you really should strengthen is where the bullet hole didn’t hit…why?

Because that aircraft that didn’t return were more likely to have been hit there.

Those that were hit in less destructive areas all returned safely…if a little bit worse for wear.

“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” ― Arthur Conan Doyle

Photo by Lawrence Hookham on Unsplash

Strategy – Often Confused With Tactics

I’ve worked with hundreds of our oft named captains of industry, savvy business owners and budding entrepreneurs and without fail they all have great minds full of brilliant ideas.

True leaders have surprisingly little in their heads. Don’t get me wrong, they have an enormous capacity for thinking but they develop a hierarchy of thought and clarity of vision. And it is this that translates into action. The rest of it is just noise and this, they relegate to a secondary brain space. It’s just background noise to them.

All leaders want to be successful. Many are scared of the unknown and some are terrified of failure. Yet on their shoulders, many will depend and from their actions, businesses will succeed or fail. Strategy is the life-blood of any business. I hear people say that money is the lifeblood but that simply isn’t true. Money oils the wheels and is needed in various levels of supply to ensure that all of the other elements do their work.

The old saying “fail to plan and you are planning to fail” haunts many of our leaders as it did Benjamin Franklin. Simply described, strategy is no more than planning and attributing the available resources in order to achieve a goal or aim. So if it can sound this simple, why is it so hard to do for many good leaders?

Well, it’s down to two things in my experience. Firstly, many confuse tactics with strategy. Tactics are the tasks we do to work towards the strategic goal. Secondly, leaders try to serve too many masters. The first part is relatively easy to fix. Simply concentrate on the why instead of the what and the how. The second part is much more difficult. Masters are the people who have a stake in what you are doing. Time is indeed a punishing master, finances a constricting clerk. Competitors don’t stay still for long enough to shoot them and shareholders…well, they just don’t understand what you’re going through. As for family, they want what you want but they just want you home in time for dinner. And you! Well, many of our leaders work for psychopaths…themselves.

So if we think of an American football team, the goal is to win the Superbowl. They can only do this if they are consistently better than their competition, that they can consistently sustain that betterness and that they can score one more point than the third-placed team. So their first aim is to score enough points to get them to the Superbowl final.

Each area of the club will manage a prescribed range of outcomes and outputs. Physios will get them and keep them fit. Nutritionists will make sure they eat optimally to achieve their targets and ensure they have enough fuel to get them over the line. Finance will ensure that the income and expenditure flows to and through the club as and when needed. Groundkeepers will prepare an optimal playing surface including the exact dimensions of the pitch. Team managers will devise and impart to the players a whole range of tactical plays and team psychologists will ensure that they are mentally tough and resilient under any conditions. The players just get to dress up and earn most of the money…they are, after all, the dream team (and the product – the human capital). Once in the final of the Superbowl…all of these things form a microcosm of activities and events finely tuned to achieve one aim over a few hours in the game…finite details and knowing every strength and weakness both teams possess and finding those moments where the extraordinary happens.

So if we follow this model. We work out where we want to be in say five years from now. We can visualise what it looks like and how it feels. We examine where we are now and what we need to do to make the journey from here to five years away. We consider resources, the market, our products or offer and the health of the business. We know what we need to make the journey from starting point A to finishing point B. We have a plan, a strategy.

But we often disregard the most important part of the plan, the people. Imagine the Superbowl winners. They will have exactly the right person in the right role completing the right tasks at the right time. They are hired for their talent and the club then sets about developing their skills to the level at which they are expected to consistently perform. Everyone is matched exactly to the strategic needs. Most businesses fall short because they don’t recruit properly or develop their team to the optimum. Businesses simply hope that everyone will step up to the plate and do what is needed. Much of it is by chance.

The owner of the business will articulate their vision and ensure that each area of the business has the resources deployed at exactly the right time and monitor progress to ensure everything stays on track. Their sole responsibility is resources. To make sure everyone has exactly what they need to be highly successful. And as Franklin often said, “a penny saved is twopence (tuppence) dear”. By cutting corners in an attempt to serve a profit master, leaders can simply lose sight of the goal. The first thing that is cut is training…imagine setting out to win the Superbowl if you cut the training.

When I ran businesses I put myself through a system of development to learn about selecting Board Members based on their motivated abilities. When I use this tool to develop leadership teams, I can see very quickly where there are gaps and what impacts this will have on achieving the aims of the business.

Thanks for reading.

Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

It Won’t Go Back To Normal

31st May 2020

A few weeks ago the world changed and people were asked to change and make changes to the way they lived. We are social animals, we like to operate in packs and we associate with our different tribes. Some people work with and for other people, a few have people working for them. Nobody was immune from the impact os these changes.

Everyone was asked to make sacrifices and in the true human community of spirit we pretty much did what was asked and behaved in a way that was expected of us. History will pick over the bones of our actions and it will show us for good or bad the way our leaders performed in a time of crisis.

But changes were made, sacrifices given and minds were changed. We adapted and very quickly learned how to make the most of what we were given and make do with what we had. Everyone suffered financial loss and yet the government stepped in and plugged some of the gaps. Of course we will all have to pay it back in one way or another, but we are all in it together.

We have, however, discovered that a new work/life balance is possible and in the main, we are enjoying the benefit of becoming renaissance family people again and felt the value of our many relationships and the small things in our lives.

Those running businesses large and small are hoping that the workers return refreshed, enthused and reinvigorated, ready to get the job done and that their markets will be right where they left them and ready to place orders. I suspect that this hope may well be dashed as markets adjust to a reduction in consumerism and employees demand that the work/life benefits remain long after lockdown.

This week I heard a White House spokesperson, Kevin Hassett, eulogise over the idea that “our human capital stock hasn’t been destroyed; our human capital stock is ready to get back to work”. A chilling statement about how working people are seen and valued.

Many of our global businesses have thrived on consumer led economics. Human capital went out to work, they worked hard, they worked long hours, they were cubicled and ordered in lines of efficient output. When they finished they wanted to show off the rewards of their labour. They surrounded themselves with the symbols of success. It was how they became recognised for their efforts. But people are changing. Their values are changing. Their needs and wants are changing. Their outlook and aspirations are changing.

People want connection more than they want stuff. People want intimacy and shared experiences more than they want to jet off to an island in the sun or a ski resort to be seen. People became dry and burnt out. They sought nourishment in inanimate objects and they subordinated the art of cherishing life to the lusts of consuming more and more product.

Human capital isn’t coming back to work…people are coming back to live amongst work and lifestyle changes. There will be conflict and struggles. There will be a retrenchment of commitment. There will be downsizing of application. And all of this will impact upon consumer demand and work output.

Leaders of businesses will have to think anew about how they sanction a new way of working so that their business adapts and flourishes in these times of change. If you run a business and think ‘this won’t happen to me’…it will and it has, deal with it.

Photo by Minhao Shen on Unsplash

Which Type of Thinking Will Make Britain Great Again? Conservative or Liberal?

Within the world of business, there are only two types of thinkers. Conservative thinkers, those that become the really great managers. And their counterparts, the liberal thinkers, those that don’t become really great managers.

Conservative thinkers, and yes folks, that’s with a small c, are great at doing the right thing. They are very diligent, dutiful and conscientious. They know what is right for them and they stick to it. They are happy making big decisions and most of the time they aren’t emotional about it, they just do what is clearly the right thing at the time.

Conservative thinkers work hard to maintain integrity in their world. They develop and maintain well thought through systems and they create good habits. Habits they revert to and rely upon time after time. Conservative thinkers are usually very reasonable.

Liberal thinkers are the flaky ones. They are really good at seeing the overall ‘aesthetic’ of an idea; the broader picture. Liberal thinkers are more abstract and likely to veer off at tangents and throw stones into the pond just to see it ripple.

Liberal thinkers are much more open to the ideas and concepts of others. They broaden out the debate and create a soup of thoughts and conjecture. They are very hard to pin down and are sceptical of reason or constraint.

So, who would be best to drive us forward as a nation and put us back on the map of greatness around the world? Well, it’s the small band of liberal thinkers. The Ferdinand Porsche or Nikola Tesla. The Alfred Nobel or Earnest Rutherford. The Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein. For these are some of the greatest entrepreneurs of all time.

And whilst greatness is largely built, commercialised and industrialised by conservative thinkers, it was done on the shoulders of our flaky liberals. Great entrepreneurs are a very rare breed and very hard to spot. In the wild, they look just like you and me. But if we release them from their cages, if we unshackle them from the ties that bind them and if we invest all that we can into them, they will be unstoppable in a new post-neoliberal virus riven world.

Britain has some great and amazing liberal thinkers, unfortunately, we are governed by managers.

It was George Bernard Shaw that said…

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

Franchise Your Business? – If You Can’t, You Could Be In Trouble.

Now, before you start, I’m not advocating that all businesses should be franchised, hence the question mark.

What I am saying is that the most successful businesses on the planet could be franchised because they have wide ranging and far reaching systems. Systems are just repeatable ways of carrying out consistent business functions and tasks. Most businesses start with a team of people and then grow that team as demand increases. Many business owners then look at ways of automating functions to cut down on staffing. A cost saving.

I would suggest that the first thing any start up team should do is to look at the business when it is big. To imagine what it looks like when it’s all done and the size it could be. The reason for this is to design systems ahead of when they are needed and then build them as the business grows. But what happens next can strangle a business and become a constraint. Highly skilled and deeply knowledgeable people leave the business.

If you have run the business well with these people in post and invested in automation and AI then I would suggest that firstly, everyone is then trained to operate in all parts of the business. Why? Well, innovation. Everything that has gone into building the business has built a business that works as it is. Secondly, it frees up team members to think. To think and innovate and then think some more. To crystal ball gaze. To Imagine. To build a new future for the business. After all, they built the first one.

Whatever you do, whatever the pressure to reduce costs, whatever you think about rainy days…don’t lose this knowledge and talent. They are your future business.

Photo by Norbert Levajsics on Unsplash

Using Social Media

Using Social Media

There is some mystery about the array of platforms available to us as we try to inspire and motivate people to engage with us. The reason we communicate is to grow the business and the way we grow is through engaging with ‘friends’ who become our clients, ambassadors and evangelists.

We should use social media to capture the hearts and minds of our followers by giving them something for free. Free works, free is good and free is always well received. We should always be on the lookout for stuff we can do for free.

This can be show and tells, knowhow, skills, knowledge and facts. The way we assemble this is to first occupy the mind of your audience and become them. Once you become them you will know what is important to them, what is valuable to them and what will cause them to act on our behalf.

There is only one danger with sharing our knowledge, with showing people our stuff and with giving things away that are important to us…that we do it badly. We need to show excellent stuff using excellent tools and through the right channels.

We are all capable of creating valuable and interesting materials. Materials that are easy to produce, unique to us and, most of all, valuable to our audience.

So when you are out and about feeling the creative juices flowing through your mind you should come up with the messages we need to get out there and creative ways to communicate them.

Twitter

This is a ticker-tape type of platform to announce small sound-bites about something current, interesting and important using just 144 characters including short links to information and photos…a snapshot in time as the event unfolds.

Pros – quick and dirty…feels good

Cons – you need to work hard to build a good follower base and make it really topical (or it gets lost in the ether)

Facebook

A forum based platform for sharing opinions and feelings about a topic close to everyone’s heart. Something of real value that will invite people to participate and share with their friends. This platform never works (in business) as a ‘look at me’ profile as people build resentment and will you to fail and fall. Nobody likes a happy t*”t…we are British and don’t do the disingenuous and falsely gratifying selfie promotion…it’s crass.

Pros – a people’s platform and is ‘friendly’

Cons – needs a huge ‘follower’ base to have any meaningful impact

Instagram

Now owned by Facebook, Instagram is a photo based repository where you can enhance shots and host them online for others to see. The obvious platform for location snaps and course promotion…but only when linked to something of demonstrable value to the intended audience.

Pros – a picture tells a thousands stories

Cons – crap pics don’t have any positive impact

YouTube (or Vimeo)

A Google owned platform for hosting video content for show hows and live records of exceptional events. Training materials can be added and a knowledge base built. This can build quickly and categorised into useful and valuable content.

Pros – media heavyweight and forms a strong and useful resource. Can integrate into websites and blogs. Is more personal and gives a face to the viewer

Cons – do it on the cheap and it will work against you

LinkedIn

This is the platform to show your credentials. It’s your work CV and carries enormous weight when people search for individuals. It is very useful to add gravitas to our online profiles and is impressive when tended and displayed correctly.

Pros – great for an organisational CV platform (if the CV’s are strong)

Cons – rarely gets used unless someone is looking specifically for you of for people that do what you say you do.

Pinterest.

This is like a scrap book of all of the (work related) things you find interesting. Topics can be arranged into individual pin-boards and you can deposit things you have discovered online that you want to share with the rest of the world.

Pros – great nostalgic feel to it all

Cons – only usful for others to find your topics when they are looking for topics that you like

G+ ( Google Circles)

This hasn’t taken off as everyone expected as we are still hooked into old platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. When (if) it does it will need some careful thought as it is powerful and links everything to everything.

Pros – immensely powerful and far reaching

Cons – used mainly by techies as they a) can be bothered and b0 can work it all out.

Photo by Prateek Katyal on Unsplash