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!

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Same old stuff?

What does “status quo” mean to you? Is it a famous rock band, a bit of Latin text from your schooldays, or is it something to be avoided like the plague when it comes to business?

I’m thinking about questions like this as I’ve just participated in the IoD North West regional conference on the theme of Disruption. Treated to glittering presentations by companies like Uber, Salesforce and Metro bank, I was reminded forcefully of the value of original thought, albeit outside the proverbial box.

I don’t expect all of us to break the mould in quite the way Uber has and grow globally with eye-watering speed to dizzying levels of turnover. But equally I’m sure we can all take something of value from a study of such businesses.

Even if it means you simply avoid getting your business stuck in a rut then it’s been worth the effort. Most people work hard at promoting themselves but if you stop to think about it, digging hard once you’re in a rut can only be counterproductive. You simply get stuck in at a very much deeper level and it feels like the lights have gone out because you’re at the bottom of what is now an exceedingly deep rut. Oh, and it’s also just become a whole lot harder to get out of your rut as you’re now surrounded by vertical walls which are impossible to climb!

I suppose the crux of the problem is it takes a bit of bravery to shake the market up and challenge the status quo. It also takes guts to spend time outside your traditional area of work and do the hard thinking that ensures your new idea doesn’t simply get laughed at or ignored.

I know Disruption is a theme that’s on the lips of just about every business guru these days but in reality it’s been around for ages in one form or another. Anyone can do it and as many of the extremely young entrepreneurs today show, to them it’s very natural and intuitive. Follow your ideas with passion and pursue your instincts – you may be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Work hard at removing barriers, challenge your existing business model, network with new people to get different angles on old questions – the very process of doing these things may be all you need.

A useful summary of the four limiting factors we encounter when we try to break out and do something new could be these: habits, attitudes, expectations and beliefs. It’s more than a five minute job to set about changing all of them but I would suggest a very good first step would be to admit to yourself that they’re not set in stone.

A review is always a good place to start working on a business – starting small doesn’t preclude you from thinking big when it comes to the crunch.  I’ll bet that guy from Uber didn’t shirk from doing his homework and prep – probably started in the back of a black cab!

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Step forward…

Recent events have proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is considerable value in stepping forward when you’re in business. You might think that sounds crazy – why give away time when we all know that “time is money”! We’re all fighting for survival and the best piece of advice on offer is do something for free – how can that be?

For me, it’s all around creating the right impression and letting people get a glimpse of the real you.
If you stop and think about it, volunteering is a great way of doing just that. By offering your services for free you are demonstrating a passion for the cause that goes beyond the petty requirements of a commercial transaction. This is something you’re prepared to do, come what may. You’re not even going to pause to strike a deal because that would delay you getting stuck into the fray.

Hopefully, you’re getting a flavour of where I’m going with this. In a world where all too many people get bogged down in the detail you’re striking taking a position based solely on your beliefs. That, I believe, is appealing and you may be surprised at the results it can produce.

This can work in a variety of circumstances and is not limited to any particular field of business as far as I can see. Whether you’re a Managing Director, a florist or a policeman we all need to influence our colleagues, peers and “customers”.

If you follow this particular piece of advice you’ll find you are better able to win hearts as well as minds. All too often in business, you see the failed attempts to convert only minds and the heart bit of the equation is ignored as lightweight, trivial or irrelevant.

In fact, I would say that the emotional side of the debate is even more important than the rational. If you are successful in what you step forward for just take a note of how many people recommend you to others. We all love someone who stands up for what they believe in because we secretly wish we had done so ourselves. By endorsing someone’s stand we can do our bit and you would be surprised how many people are ready to do just that for you.

All you have to do is step forward. Just make sure you don’t get confused with another similar expression about one step forwards and two steps back – that’s for other people who don’t have your high levels of ambition!

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Northern Powerhouse – rhetoric or reality?

In the business world, if not the real world, there’s been a lot of talk and commentary lately about the Northern Powerhouse. Whether you think that’s a good thing or not is up to you but I would suggest the whole issue is going to increase in visibility very soon. It will likely impact all businesses in the North West in some way or other over the coming years so why not give it some thought at least.

So where does the idea come from and what sort of chance has it got of making a difference?

For me the issue of a North/South divide has always been around and has always seemed something very real and tangible – in a positive way. One of the great beauties of Great Britain to my mind is, and always will be, its huge diversity and regional differences. Whether you’re doing business with a company in Bradford, Birmingham or Bath, you are dealing with that diversity and doing so to the benefit of all.  Long may that continue.

But what happens when the economic imbalance becomes so great as to threaten the very survival of one of the parties involved? When all the action, jobs and overseas investment are in London there is a real danger that the great Northern cities will enter a dangerous phase of decline. Surely that is the time to at least consider taking some action.

 We don’t have the space here to go into all the arguments but there are plenty of debates going on all over the region for getting up to speed. My point is simply this – take some responsible ownership, look for example at the pros and cons of a high-speed rail link to Crewe or consider the benefits of Liverpool Super Port from your own commercial point of view and get involved.

Because of the nature my work, I know for certain that there are plenty of businesses here in the North West who simply don’t know what the Northern Powerhouse is or what it’s attempting to do to ensure our economic prosperity. The simple concepts of economic collaboration or targeting of growth can easily be obscured behind the very labels designed to make them accessible. We need to be smarter than that and cut through jargon to make a difference.

Ignore scepticism, take political bias with a huge pinch of salt but don’t waste the opportunity to derive some benefit from what’s readily on offer. It may take some effort to penetrate the fog but the reward will be there for the benefit of us all.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Opinion polls – what’s the point?

I guess you know which opinion polls I’ve got in mind, unless you’ve been on Mars for the last few months.

How could the opinion polls have got the general election result so spectacularly wrong? There was a trend between all the pollsters so well-defined it was impossible that it was wrong. Even the most experienced of commentators started their interviews from the premise that no single party was ever going to win a majority. And yet, with the benefit of that very precious commodity hindsight we now all know that was completely wrong!

But do you think any pollsters will shut up shop as a result of the debacle. Yes, I doubt it too. We all want to know the future as early as we can and we’re prepared to do what we can to get into that privileged position.

To some extent, I would say that’s how it is in business too. We conduct focus-group activities to try and find out what consumers want. We want to know what fashions are going to be big next year or what type of biscuits our children are likely to be devouring in huge quantities next summer. As with politics, the rewards for getting it right are significant but this election has just given us a crystal clear example of why we shouldn’t put too much faith in our attempts to read the future.

Build it and they will come – words on the epitaph of many a failed business. It’s worth reminding ourselves that customers, in any business, have a habit of doing what they want. You may think you’ve just constructed a world-beating business model that’s bound to make you a millionaire but your future customers may have other ideas.

I’m not saying it’s a futile exercise to try and forecast the way in which your business will perform in the future – far from it. My point would be simply this – remember it is only a forecast and there is no substitute for getting close to the market. In other words, don’t rely on “polls” too heavily – have the equivalent of an election and find out what your customers actually want for real. Talk to them directly and ask them to “vote”. Find out for yourself what is really going on and don’t allow any kind of filter to come between you and your target audience.

Having said all that, there’s another angle in this that might be worth noting. Your soundings may be wrong and your consumers may reward you with unexpected business which you had given up on. Just as they may turn away unexpectedly there is also a very real possibility that your business proposition may be more interesting than even you imagined. So don’t give up on serendipity – we all need a bit of luck some time!

Thursday, 14 May 2015

The ups and downs of a campaign

As I write this, the political campaigning of recent weeks is drawing to a close and the UK is about to vote for the next Prime Minister. The TV debates are over for now and the battle buses are presumably parked up somewhere as the support teams take a well-earned rest.

The campaigns have been tiring enough for the public who have been the recipients of so much messaging and so much targeted hype. But, what of the protagonists – what have they learnt from the process before some of them rush onto the next stage? Does a political campaign have useful parallels with a marketing campaign and can we learn anything from studying the way our politicians behaved during the campaign?

In a nutshell, I would say a resounding yes to all of the above. Which of is going to forget the bacon sandwich incident, the Green Party brain-freeze or expressions like “pumped-up” and “hell yeah”? OK, in business we don’t have the luxury often of appearing on national TV to get our message across and most of don’t command a budget the size of a political party. But we are often waging a campaign to raise awareness of who we are and what we stand for. Every time we open our mouths before a client or engage in a dialogue with the object of persuading a client to opt for us, we are on exactly the same path.

So, in my humble opinion, we would do well to heed the lessons of the past few weeks. Perhaps, like me, you cringed every time you heard the expression “pumped-up” or winced when a politician struck a note which was not authentically their own. Maybe you hid behind the sofa when you saw a “life-time supporter” of a well-known football team simply forget what they were called.

Yes, it’s good to identify with your target audience and talk about subjects likely to be of interest and relevance but remember to be honest if you want to be credible.  As we’ve seen time and time again just recently, if you are faking it, there’s a good chance you will be caught out. As I suspect some of our politicians are about to find out, it may well be simply impossible to come back from such a position of having been exposed!

But just in case you think this is just an exercise in politician bashing, I would pay them all a massive compliment for harnessing meticulous planning and prodigious quantities of energy. Surely these are two absolute prerequisites for any business campaign. Having sown the seeds, it is absolutely vital that you have the resources and energy to harvest your results. If you go after a target market you will like as not provoke a reaction – be ready to deal with the tiger you will be holding by the tail!

Be ready for the long run. Whether you’re a politician or a business person, I think you’ll you’re your personal equivalent to marathon training to be very useful.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

A different angle on the Election

I am not a fan of the TV political debates as a rule, but I saw and heard enough of recent broadcasts to enable me to update some thoughts on the topic of presenting in business.

Like probably most other people, I was most impressed with the performances of Nicola Sturgeon and Leanne Wood. I think there are various reasons for this which are worth considering from a business perspective.

Like any business person making a pitch to secure a future contract, these ladies presented themselves, their beliefs and their ideas for us to consider, dissect and either accept or reject all that they stood for.

So why it was these two in particular drew such a broad level of support and favourable comment for their performances?

Superficially, you could say it was all to do with appearance. A sharp, business-like suit with appealing colours and coordinated styles produced a strong effect that suggested a well organised individual with the ability to reflect, not ignore the audience’s own tastes and preferences. A small point you may think but for me the person who chimes with his or her audience even before saying a word is simply doing a very good job. It shows that you care enough to bother to dress appropriately, not arrogantly or in a way designed to reflect your perceived superiority.

Secondly, and for me way more importantly, was the way in which they portrayed inner confidence. When a person at the top of their game engages with relish and enthusiasm as they did, then the proposition they offer simply becomes irresistible. In other words, it becomes very difficult for the audience not to admire the performance, watch every detail with close attention and ultimately buy in to the arguments put forward.

In a nutshell, the head and the heart are aligned into a near perfect performance and it is nothing short of a pleasure to watch as the presenter produces a polished and professional display which is extremely compelling to an audience.

I offer these comments of course without any political bias or favour. Each of us will decide on Election Day if these two ladies can be victorious. In the meantime, I think we should be grateful to them for demonstrating so vividly what can be achieved with a carefully crafted presentation delivered with passion and commitment.

Look after what is within and very often that is the secret ingredient which gets you over the line. In a world where we are bombarded with messages and people vying for attention, don’t ignore the difference your inner confidence can make. It’s unique after all so why squander it?

Thursday, 16 April 2015

The power of three

Three’s a crowd – so the saying goes. Two-up we’re fine but add a third and all hell breaks loose. A couple is a great idea – but opt for three and that’s just asking for trouble. Or so we’re led to believe. Maybe in some areas of life that’s absolutely true and we would be well advised to take heed. But in business maybe there are some lesser known angles on this issue which are deserving of a little attention.

My last column started with the trio “who dare wins” and ended with the trio “brains, bravery, balance”.  From a linguistic point of view I have to say that I think the three-word motto like the ones quoted is pretty much perfect. They’ve been around since the days of Cicero and they are as effective now as they were then. By combining three words which often start with the same letter or have a strikingly memorable grammatical construction, the effect is to create a motto which is simple, easy to remember and yet contains the seeds of great ideas.

But I would like to take this a step further and point out the usefulness of a three-way conversation or meeting in a business context. This perhaps bizarrely has to do with the last word of the second trio, namely balance. Whilst two is very often good and creates an effective partnership in life we can see quite the reverse in a business context. This can be countered by the addition of a third party which can remove direct confrontation and often restore the kind of balance that allows an effective dialogue to take place.

This can be thought of as a tripod where all three “legs” have to be working for the tripod to remain standing. As an external business coach, I’m fortunate to be able to play this role quite frequently and bring balance around the boardroom or kitchen table where communication between two directors has become difficult.

The same role can be played in meetings where an outbreak of politics or a fight between two adversaries is consigning the real business issues of the moment to second place with often disastrous consequences.  The balance is lost and the business can end up on the wrong track very quickly from which it can be difficult, expensive or just plain impossible to recover.

So, perhaps tha t very ordinary little word “balance” is deserving of a lot more attention in a business context than you might have thought.

 As a final thought around the idea of three-word mottos, I would like to end on the concept of using them as a source of inspiration.

Often used before key meetings or important sales pitches, a lot of business people whisper phrases like “yes you can” under their breath. Whilst it’s easy to dismiss this as psycho-babble it’s also worth noting that in life you tend to get what you expect to get. Why not expect to get a positive outcome? Maybe you just might!

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Who dares, wins!

“Who dares, wins” is a very memorable form of words and there can very few people who haven’t heard the phrase. It relates of course to the SAS and immediately conjures up scenes like those some years back of the Iranian Embassy siege in London. Masked men with stun grenades taking inordinate risks to protect the futures of ordinary British citizens as simply part of their job.

But what, you may be wondering, does all this have to do with a business column in the Chester Standard? The answer, of course, is that bravery plays a larger part than many of us care to admit in just about every conceivable way in every conceivable business.

I’m reminded of this daily in my own business and all those I interact with, almost without exception.  If your business is to succeed you need to take action and very often at high speed. In fact it’s a basic tenet of business improvement that high-speed action brings with it many unseen and highly significant advantages.

By being brave enough to impose time limits on yourself and drive through what you instinctively know needs to be done, you will reap the rewards of bravery. Acting decisively and taking ownership of the agenda is very often the first step in becoming an effective leader. Speed of itself can be exhilarating and is also a self-perpetuating mechanism which leads to more bold action in its wake. A taste is developed for the new way of working and the boost to self-confidence drives you further on to even more rewarding and challenging areas.

But, of course, no-one can get to dizzy heights without first doing some training and putting in some serious mental effort. Any element of a business plan has to be thought through, planned and given a huge amount of commitment. With such attention to detail you will open up possibilities that your former meek self could only dream of.

 If all of this sounds a little bit pretentious why not give it a go and see if you still feel that way afterwards. I recently won a new contract by moving fast and taking a larger risk than normal. I did my due diligence but at high speed and by carving a niche in my day-to-day routine to enable me to bid. Having got myself into that position I was rewarded by an early meeting with the client at which many of my fears around the content of the project were happily dispelled. I like to think there was an element of divine intervention involved but the truth is probably more prosaic and, in plain English, I just got what I worked for.

Oh and by the way, it’s not just me who thinks bravery is a good thing to have in your business. I attended a local event recently to listen to the inspiring Vanda Murray OBE  speak about her prodigious business experience and reveal her suggestions of how to improve performance. No coincidence I think that the word bravery was right at the heart of her three-word exhortation to us all: Brains, Bravery and Balance!

Thursday, 19 March 2015

What’s new?

What’s new in business – probably nothing!

Are we simply obsessed with the concept of new? We’re living in an age where recycling and re-using are seen by most people as sensible if not vital and yet re-using business ideas and processes is shunned as old hat. Trotting out ideas from 20 or 30 years ago is never going to work in the world of business, is it?

Well, I’m not so sure.

I was lucky enough to work for a client some years ago whose products were sold off the shelves of some of the poshest supermarkets in the country. In other words, it was a pretty safe bet that the consumers under discussion here were not unable to make evaluations and come to decisions by use of logic. And yet, by a process of trial and elimination we were able to prove by solid statistical analysis that what influenced sales positively for these particular consumers was the additional of a brightly coloured triangle on the top right of the pack with a jazzy word “new” in it. Just the addition of the word “new” to bring their attention to a product which had newly arrived on their shelves was enough to get them to take the first step and try the product. After that of course we were on our own and that new product had better be good but the important thing was to have cleared the first hurdle!

On the other hand, I was working with a new client recently in the home decoration market and new, up-to-the-minute digital campaigns for them were simply not working at all. In a field where people are constantly searching to buy the latest fashionable products, the word new did not appear to be having any influence whatsoever. It took an exercise into the four P’s of marketing (product, price, place and promotion) to help this business rethink its campaigns.

It was the four P’s which have been around forever which convinced this company that the campaign was not the issue but rather the whole marketing mix which influenced any client that bought into the offer and purchased products. The whole experience had to be right before the sweet fruits of success could be tasted. It was useful to think of the entire process of marketing as being similar to baking a cake of which the four P’s were the ingredients – leave any one out and the end result is a disaster.
The solution to the problem above is anything but new – the four P’s have been around for ages but that doesn’t make them any less valid.

In some cases, new is good and performs well but in others the tried and tested route may be your best option. Think of it this way – “old” could be the new “new” – that may sound a little odd but the bottom line in business is results so why not go with that if it works for you!

Thursday, 5 March 2015

In the internet we trust

I belong to the generation that grew up without the benefit of the internet and google searches. Nowadays,  I guess it’s pretty much all of us who simply grab whichever keyboard’s nearest to hand when we want to check the derivation or meaning of just about anything on the planet. I privately console myself with the thought that my university degree would have been a lot better if I hadn’t had to haul myself off to the college library every time I had to check some facts, dates or generally read up on a subject for some badly needed inspiration!

What got me thinking about all of this was when I recently learned of an internet-related term called “clickbait”. For me it’s one of those words that manage to subtly but quite unwittingly convey quite a deep insight into the dangers of the internet.

Clickbait is something I’ve been responding to, like millions of others, for a number of years. Tired at the end of a long day, it’s easy to be lured in to the kind of internet twaddle that promises everything and delivers nothing. You know the kind of thing – “two things only terrible bosses say” or “the one word that ruins 90% of all CV’s”.  Our curiosity draws us in and in some cases we may even click further as there is often a trail of “clickbait” for the unsuspecting victim.

For me there are three reasons why this practice sullies the internet for all of us, especially business people:

The practice is often concealed within a respectable looking blog or tweet so is little more than deception
Offering more than you deliver is entirely the wrong way to go about business
The concept of clickbait is now so overdone that it is generally seen as imitative and to be avoided at all costs

I have another internet term I love to hate and that is “lead magnet” which, like clickbait, is exactly what it sounds like. All these terms are transparent and rely on not being spotted if they are to work.

Clearly, they are commonly spotted, do not work and represent abuse of the internet. They unfairly detract from genuine use of what is potentially a marvellous tool for us all if we exercise caution.
By the way, the title for this piece is a very poor pun on the words “In God we trust” which I’m sure you knew. I checked my sources first on the internet so I know I’m right. I can also tell you the phrase appears on US banknotes and replaces the earlier phrase “ e pluribus unum”. Much as I love my Latin, I have to say that was probably a good call.

And for those of you who are thinking that google wouldn’t have improved my degree performance by much you’re probably right – the college bar was not very far from the library so I would simply have spent more time in there too!

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Happy Birthday to Wrexham F.C.

Wrexham F.C., as I’m sure most of the readers of this newspaper will know, recently celebrated its 150th birthday.

Fantastic – sounds like something to celebrate and definitely an achievement. In this day and age, when we routinely replace things rather than make them last another few months, never mind years, surely it’s impressive for any institution to last 150 years.

I wouldn’t argue with that line personally but as usual I’m wondering what are the reasons behind our admiration – can we learn anything by probing behind the headline and making a comparison with the world of business.

There’s a very useful test in business that asks if a company or individual’s actions respond well to the query – so what? As usual with simple statements, if you respond honestly to the question you might find out something useful that you can build on.

In Wrexham FC’s case the answer might be something like this: for 150 years sporting excellence has been striven for and a whole town has been united behind the team as they strove to improve their standing in the league by competing week in week out. Many people have identified with the team and found a sense of purpose in a shared endeavour and also relaxation and an escape from the drudgery of the 9-5 routine. Fitness has been held up as something worthy and an ideal to pursue for youngsters who may have that sort of talent within their grasp.

So, yes Wrexham FC is a socially useful phenomenon without which the town would most definitely be the poorer but what of your business or enterprise. What would you answer to the “so what” question on your 10th anniversary, for example? I suspect that one may be more difficult to answer but hopefully worth the effort.

If you genuinely struggle to find reasons for why you were so keen to announce to all your business contacts that you had just crossed the 10 year milestone – think again. It may point to a lack of balance. Perhaps you have been one-dimensional in your pursuit of profit or never given a second thought to gender diversity or your position as an employer in the community.

Sounding off about a record just for its own sake clearly leaves you open to the charge of being lightweight or lacking in depth. Worse still, perhaps you lack objectives with which your wider customer base can identify. To grow a business requires shared goals and vision – no-one can achieve truly great heights alone and even what appears to be a cause for celebration might offer a good opportunity to reflect on that.

I like a celebration as much as the next person but don’t let the answer to “so what” be disappointing because your 10 years in business equates to the same year repeated 10 times over. Like Wrexham FC, aim for 150 years and aim for the pride that will come when your business community genuinely has good reasons to celebrate with you, even before you remind them to do so!

Thursday, 5 February 2015

The power of the written word

There’s an old adage in business that says something to this effect - anything that doesn’t get written down is bound to get forgotten. For me that’s a good maxim and one that I have personally lived my business life to for many years now. In my humble opinion it’s even more valuable in today’s tech-savvy age than in it ever was.

Why? Because writing things down is way more valuable than serving as a mere memory-jogger. Putting pen to paper is one of life’s pleasures and it is a grave mistake to dismiss it as simply a chore or something to avoid at all costs. Sure, writing in a business context can mean a little dullness when it comes to content but no-one should underestimate the feeling of control and creative flow that any writing can give.

For sheer enthusiasm and commitment to the task it would be hard to find a better example of this than Andrew Marr. I know most of us don’t write on the scale he does but the feeling he describes as the act of creative writing gives another dimension to his knowledge is undeniably true for us all. Try it sometime and I guarantee you will be surprised at the results.

We are all of us better than we often give ourselves credit for and writing can reveal the true depth of what we know. It is as if another part of the writer takes over for as long as the writing is taking place.
“Getting in the zone” is probably how this phenomenon would be described in business-speak and that’s not a bad description. It conveys the sense of “somewhere-elseness” and it implies you are now in a special place where serious business will start to happen and happen fast. It engenders a very useful feeling of purposefulness, control and added dimensions that might mean the edge in business we are all looking for.

Be bold – express yourself with considered thought and it will give you a USP. This is especially so nowadays when the majority of business people run a mile from writing things down preferring to take comfort in the fact that we can talk hundreds of times faster than we can write.

I hope you enjoy this column – if you think it’s below par in any way that’s probably because I didn’t trouble to write a written draft before I produced it

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Glad to be of service…

In the North West we have a thriving knowledge economy where service industries continue today to play a massive part in sustaining our futures. This is not to downplay the importance of other strands of pour economy such as manufacturing, engineering or exporting but it’s a fact that professional services continue to be one of the mainstays of our regional prosperity.

This link to knowledge, especially scientific knowledge, is of particular interest in the North West as we head towards 2016 when Manchester will become the European City of Science. The North West has been in the news quite often in recent months with the go-ahead for the new £235m science research centre at Manchester University to build on successes like the development of Graphene.

But I wanted to concentrate here on what is perhaps a lesser known but vitally important link of worldwide significance. Namely the link the North West has to Alan Turing who of course is only now starting to get the recognition he so richly deserves.

Most people know Turing was a fellow of King’s College Cambridge but how many of us knew he was also Reader in Mathematics at the University of Manchester from 1948 to 1954?

We’re closely linked to the man who helped to bring about a speedier end to the war, developed the mathematical theory that underpins modern computing and significantly advanced our progress in the use of artificial intelligence.

But, as is often the case with such geniuses, there is more to this than meets the eye and many more useful parallels with business than just the simple fact that knowledge and innovation are crucial to our sustained growth.

Turing was probably on the Asperger’s spectrum and no doubt written off by many as an eccentric. In the social atmosphere of the 1950’s there was no room for tolerance and a frightening readiness to ignore even valuable contributions of those who were different. This is summed up nicely by the catchphrase of the film made to commemorate the role of Turing in Bletchley Park: “sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine”

Less commendable is the way he was dealt with but I feel it’s important that that story is also told if we are to learn from our mistakes. We must all play our part if we are to continue to advance as a region– use your intellect if you are gifted, encourage others if that’s your role as a parent or teacher, engage and collaborate if you’re a business to help UK plc maximise the scientific innovation skills we have undoubtedly got in the North West.

There turned out to be more strands to this column than I anticipated but I hope it will add another feather to the balance in favour of a knowledge-based economy where all contributions are genuinely valued.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

The January effect…

I believe I’m right in saying that Janus was a Roman God famed for his ability to look in two different directions at once. In my view, that is a very neat trick and one worth copying at this time of year whatever business you may be in.

Use the January effect to simultaneously look back on 2014 whilst focusing intently on what’s coming down the track for you in the New Year too. It’s probably an obvious thing to say but the benefits of doing it may not be so readily appreciated until you have tried it for yourself.

Because of the symmetry created around the end of one year and the start of the next, it’s possible and indeed very easy to make meaningful comparisons. For most of us the obvious one to make is between the final quarter of the year just gone and the first quarter of the year you are just entering. If your tax year coincides with the fiscal year, you have a final quarter left to either make up ground or press on and reach some loftier target.

Whatever state your business is in, this extra degree of focus is very useful and shouldn’t be ignored. I look on it as a great opportunity to increase motivation, remind everyone of where we are trying to get to and redouble efforts where some slippage may have occurred.

But there’s a second compelling reason why this is a good time of year to review progress of business against objectives. That is of course the chance to harness some of the optimism that always flies around at the start of a New Year. Don’t fall into the trap of those who take out gym subscriptions in January and give them up by the end of February! Make sure your plans are grounded and realistic – viewed against the backdrop of the calendar year just ended, are they achievable?

Use your comparisons proactively and put some real effort in now. That equivalent of a gym subscription for your business must earn its keep.  What do you aim to get from the outlay – be specific and realistic against the track record and then nail down some specific outcomes.

When the going gets tough, as it usually does, your objectives will bear comparison with what you know is achievable but will get an extra boost from the seasonal lift we all get from starting afresh. When you friends and colleagues start drifting away from their new regimes you will stick the course. Emboldened by additional knowledge and a doubly magnified fresh perspective, you can lead the way as if you had the strength of a God.