Thursday, 22 October 2015

Cymru am byth

By the time you read this, the defeat of Wales at the hands of South Africa in the rugby will be a fading memory. That much may be incontestable but what is also indisputable is this - the dignity with which the Welsh team took defeat will never be bettered!

I’m no expert when it comes to sport but, like most people, I’ve experienced enough of it to recognise true courage and valour. Both the captain and the coach for Wales refused to blame the result on injuries or new players coming in. That would have been the easy way in the raw moments of the post-match interview seconds after game. Instead, both men smiled at the camera and praised their team’s valiant efforts to the end.

From a business perspective, I think the point is that the defeat is seen as a temporary setback and the team spirit is not and never will be broken. What’s more the players in the team are completely trusted and will carry on repaying that trust with unswerving loyalty. On that basis, it will be possible to lose the battle maybe but still be fighting to win the war.

But of course all of this can be contrasted with the success of the Football Team who have qualified for a major tournament for the first time since 1958. Well done to them and I’m sure that will be a great occasion for the whole nation to rally round.

On a wider front I’m also going to link this event to business even though the connection may be slightly tenuous. My point is a simple one – Welsh business needs some of the spirit and dignity shown recently by Welsh sportsmen both on and off the pitch.

I’ve been involved in Welsh business for many years both as a Director and an adviser and I really feel the time is right to inject some passion into the fight. As a nation, Wales demonstrated pride and confidence in the future some years ago to involve major foreign investment into the A55 and M4 corridors – it needs to happen again! Blessed with entrepreneurial spirit and the drive to internationalize in the same way as the Celtic cousins in Ireland and Scotland, Wales needs to “put in the hard yards”. Take a leaf out of the book of the football or rugby team’s manual and train for a performance that takes you to the absolute limit.

As we can all see clearly from recent activities on those fabled pitches, when hope is alive and you are prepared to take on the world, anything is possible! I’m sure business will never get the same TV coverage as the heroes of the sporting world but the success can be every bit as sweet.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Just be yourself.

There are many things about the new Labour leader which have left me perplexed – I gather I am not alone! I’m not talking simply about appearance but rather about dangerously radical opinions, dubious friendships and a tendency to look back rather than forwards.  However, like many others I am being forced to revise some of my opinions in the light of what he is actually achieving even at this early stage.

Jeremy Corbyn may ultimately not make his party electable to govern and some of his rather more extreme views may be his undoing. But I think you have to admit that right now he is like a breath of fresh air in our politics.

The particular action that he’s taken that makes me think he is relevant to a business column is the stance he has taken over Prime Minister’s Questions. By insisting on civilised debate and an inclusive approach, Jeremy Corbyn has liberated the whole process and shifted the emphasis away from style and on to content. In a boardroom context, this for me is the equivalent of standing up to a bully-boy Chairman who stifles debate around the table for personal ends.

Simultaneously, Mr Corbyn has followed one of the golden rules for business growth which is to vigorously challenge habits which have been in place for many years. Such things, in a strange way, are protected and cherished even though they are clearly wrong. It takes a brave person to say things are going to change. Just because we’ve always done it that way doesn’t guarantee that there isn’t a far better way available to us.

For me, the other way major way in which the Labour leader has espoused values of extreme importance also in the world of business is his use of authenticity. In his world the use of spin has become ubiquitous to the point of completely denying the audience of opinions which are valued.

Ironically for someone who is often likened to comrade this or that, Jeremy Corbyn takes us away from the sterility of a party line that may have come out of a five year soviet plan. I can’t wait for his appearance of Question Time when for once we will hear views that are passionately upheld and of great personal importance. In business, this can be likened to the use of authenticity in presentations and brand building.

Whether you are talking about the public or your customers, it’s time to get honest and just be yourself. I’m not saying abandon the plan but be flexible enough to follow your heart from time to time rather than the head for the whole time.

At the end of the day, achieving change is a slow process whether in political or business terms, but you have to admire people who at least have the guts to tackle the problem head on.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

What a good idea!

One of the best phrases I’ve come across recently on my travels in the world of business is the expression “ideas are everywhere”.

 I know it’s the most pathetically simple form of words you’ve seen for a considerable time but at the same time it’s a very powerful expression when used well. The key, I suspect, is in how you use it and how you bring yourself to treat it seriously. It’s easy to scoff and pour scorn on concepts and initiatives but in considering that view we may have stumbled on the reason why many great ideas simply don’t see the light of day!

I use the expression almost every day either in my own head or when working with clients. For me it acts very much as a prompt and as a way of levelling the ideas playing field, so to speak. Wherever the idea comes from, it is valid and potentially game-changing in its significance. Wherever the idea comes from, it is to be encouraged as there be more where that came from. Wherever the idea came from, it is to be encouraged as the source of the idea may be someone you could collaborate with in your business.

So you see, there is considerable potential value contained in those three simple words. When you think about it closely it becomes fairly obvious but at the same time remains easy to forget in the heat of battle.

Although it’s probably a good idea to act on concepts like these instinctively and almost adopt them as a mantra, it’s equally valid to engineer idea-producing circumstances.  To most people that will probably mean mind-mapping or brain-storming in an office with sticky notes plastered all over the walls or flip-chart. But why go for the business school option every time?

A brilliant way to generate ideas is to work with a colleague who is outside your normal circle of influence. Be brave enough to do something different and you will get out of the rut of established relationship paths. You will set up opportunities for different kinds of ideas to flourish out of the sparks generated by the adjustments and accommodations you will both be making.

The work you do together doesn’t have to be a big deal – in fact this often works better when the job in hand is relatively insignificant and the rapport building/accidental idea generation can occur naturally. A common place for this to take place is in a shared journey to a client for example. Exploring a new relationship side by side with no set agenda leads to a feeling of mutual support and the sudden lack of pressure can lead to a release of ideas which have probably been under the surface for some time.

Ideas are too valuable to be kept locked up – let’s see if we can find a few more and maybe help others to find some too!

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Unlocking talent

People are the most important asset in any business – we’ve heard it a million times but does that fact stop it from being true? Not in my opinion and still-increasing experience.

I’ve been lucky enough to share some significant milestones recently with a number of clients. When I pause to reflect on their achievements and successes, I always put the end result down to people. People, people, and people – it’s as simple as that.

The bedrock of any successful business will always be the people who tend to get overlooked and even taken for granted. They are the ones who work tirelessly, day in day out and simply get the job done without any drama or fuss.

I am fortunate to have a lot to do with people of this sort as well as the people at the “top of the tree” and I have come to know the type well. They are indisputably the ones who do the heavy lifting when a business puts in serious effort to buck trends, beat competitors and smash through demanding growth targets.

 So, when business leaders review their talent pool in readiness for a big push in a new direction, I would suggest looking at everyone in the company and not just the “stars”. Where can you truly unlock talent and gain that vital competitive advantage to enable you to soar?

My answer would be you will find talent to unlock in the most unlikely of places but you may need to put if effort simply to see it.  Unassuming people don’t live their lives to showcase their talent and may not show up on your radar. You won’t know if someone is possessed of a game-changing positive attitude unless you get to know them better and ask questions to reveal what’s below the surface.

Time may be required for the true potential to reveal itself and that process needs patience, an open-minded approach and an encouraging style. These are management practices which in themselves can be difficult to pull off but which certainly will be beneficial to any business looking to improve and grow.

This kind of approach can be very liberating for both sides as the increased knowledge and awareness leads to more opportunities to exploit and experiences to share. The increase in self-confidence which comes about when someone realises what they are capable of can be significant.

So, if you’re a manager with employees, why not spread your net a little wider, look at people from a different angle and dig a little deeper. You may be surprised what talent is right under your nose and has been for years!

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Do something different!

I’ll be engaging with a business from Finland this month on behalf of a client and that will be a first in my lifetime. Business never stops throwing new things at you if you approach in the right way and for me that is one of the main reasons for getting involved.

It doesn’t have to involve exotic overseas travel either although a little of that naturally helps to keep the store of experiences topped up. You don’t have to leave the shores of this tiny island to get more variety than anyone could deal with in a lifetime. Simply altering your perspective is often the key to keeping fresh and engaged.

Business has a name for this – Unique Selling Point, or more commonly USP. By developing a unique approach to business you can give yourself a USP.  This is important as we all need to achieve a certain degree of stand-out but for me it masks the really vital element of difference. The truly rich and diverse difference is going to come from the people you engage with and not yourself.

By asking questions rather than putting forward possible answers on a continuous loop, you will soon build up an information bank which will be the envy of others. You will build up an enormous pool of contacts who are keen to help you and you USP will no longer be an isolated phenomenon.

For me, subtlety is everything in business today and by allowing others to define you to some extent you are lessening your dependence on a personal USP. This in itself is beneficial as it takes away the painful noise of someone continually banging on their drum. Rather than being heard as you shout from the rooftops, you will be seen through the filter of all your experiences which will always give you an interesting colour, texture and feel.

Of course, this is not an easy option. It can be messy, complicated and time-consuming. Despite appearing to be random, engaging with a wide spectrum of people requires effort and a plan until it becomes second nature and almost a way of life rather than simply a way of doing business.

 For this reason, it’s often a good idea to make sure your interaction is fun on occasions and even a little self-indulgent. Richard Branson famously said that the number one objective of all businesses should be fun and I can see clearly what he means by this. Introducing fun into the equation means the process becomes sustainable over long periods of time. With recent developments in pension rights in the UK that sustainability is clearly going to become ever more important to our future business people.

So good luck with your hunting and keep on keeping on, as they say!

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Act now!

How often have you said – “if only I’d known how you felt, I would never have acted in that way”? If we’re honest we can probably all answer, without exception – “only too often”.

I was reminded forcefully of this truism over recent weeks by some major personal events going on with family members in my life. As chapters closed and new ones began on several different fronts and in different parts of the world they were all drawn together by a common thread. As people prepared for the new circumstances, they instinctively reminded themselves of what good had gone on before and what good was waiting round the corner in the new phase.

In business we don’t all have the advantage of major new events to help us crystallise our thoughts and remind ourselves of the inherent value we are leaving behind in order to progress. So maybe it’s a good idea to dwell on this phenomenon for a few minutes and see if there are useful parallels to be drawn. You can probably guess my view already but relate this to your circumstances and I hope you would come up with the same conclusions.

Telling someone what you think of them as you are required to do when a major personal event happens almost inevitably forces you to be positive. You look back on shared experiences, very often including a few negative ones, and you stress the positive in both what’s happened and what’s yet to come. This is beneficial for both the giver and the taker as it reinforces good points and looks forward with optimism.

This is perfectly possible to do in a business environment but what’s often missing is the pretext to do it in the first place. So why not invent a pretext? Why not just do it “spontaneously”?  Avoid the embarrassment that often comes with personal reviews when two people shuffle through a form-filling exercise together in a kind of coma. Just do it because you think it might help all round.

It’s a well-known fact that a vast majority of the workforce in the UK is suffering daily because they don’t feel engaged with the process they’re part of. So whatever your position in the organisation, why not have a go at forcefully suggesting a new forum for communication that will help everyone. You will doubtless have to invest time and/or money to achieve this but the benefits will be very real and there for all to enjoy.

If we each of us set more time aside for genuine communication we will massively increase our chances of success in whatever venture we’re engaged in. Act now and get a process going that only needs a little nudge every now and then in order to keep the proverbial flywheel spinning.
If anyone in business catches themselves or others saying “I didn’t realise how much I was valued round here” then there’s work to do and we may as well start the job right now!

Thursday, 23 July 2015

The challenger model.

Are you sometimes annoyed when you hear certain words used so often they seem to be devoid of all meaning? I’m thinking of course of words like “tired”, “stressed” and “challenging”. We hear them all the time and they very soon descend into the category of cliché.

They annoy me too and they are a particular danger in the world of work, especially in consultancy where I spend a lot of my time. Business jargon is all too easy to slip into and the risk of failing to communicate with clients is a very real one.

So my challenge to everyone in business is to rise to the challenge of either finding another word which still has some life in it. If that’s not possible then simply find other ways of keeping your communications fresh, original and therefore effective.

In other words, get outside the comfort zone of depending on the norm and get some originality back into your thinking.

Of course, this doesn’t need to apply only to the field of communications. By adopting a challenger model for all business activities it’s possible to continually break new ground and “move things on to another level”. You see what I mean – it’s so easy to forget and just use the first phrase that comes to mind!

As I’ve said before, a particularly useful tool in business is a review and I would suggest it has some value in this discussion. By stopping to carry out a review of your business you give yourself the opportunity to analyse what’s happening and put some checks and balances in place to stop unhelpful trends.

We are none of us perfect of course so the discipline of an exercise can help most of us to self-correct and keep to the script. In this way we can ensure we are keeping to plan and improving our businesses in line with our own growth targets and overall objectives.

All of this can be easy to say of course and yet very difficult to achieve in reality.  By constantly guarding against the danger of falling into the comfort zone, we give ourselves a better chance of creating something worthwhile and exceeding the expectations of the most demanding client.

As you all surely know, there’s always a simple expression to cover all eventualities in business and in this case I think it might be “no pain no gain”. At the end of a busy day, make that extra phone call or ask that question that’s been on your agenda for far too long. You never know, that action might be the one that makes the vital difference to the performance of your business.

So next time you find yourself slipping into a familiar and comfortable rut – jump out quickly before it gets too deep and find yourself  another route!