If you are finding yourself waking up at night, thoughts whirling around, then you are not alone. Tectonic shifts in the global business landscape, means that for many of us, regardless of whether we are employed, previously employed, running our own business, volunteering or a combination of all of the above are finding that what we previously thought was certain is no longer so. Many are still reeling from the impacts of this realisation, coming to terms with the fact that they may have to change direction.
However, it is also true that this is a huge opportunity for many who were languishing in jobs or roles they hated but were persisting because "it paid the bills". In retrospect, it might be that the uncompromising jolt of COVID-19 may well have been a welcome wake up call, providing the time and the space to find the new call to arms.
You could argue that only Walter Mitty and colleagues could find any positives to draw from the nightmarish Coronavirus Pandemic, however, I can't help thinking that there will be numerous mind shifts that will emerge from this episode, many positive and even life changing.
Lockdown has opened up new opportunities for many that would simply not exist. Opportunities, not in the revenue generating type, but ones that allow us to reassess what is important to us. The fatal implications for too many of COVID-19, also helps create a useful filter for issues that we might have in the past, fretted over - issues that now we can firmly assign to the "not important" box.
I'm so lucky. I live in a lovely part of Devon and am confined here with my grown up family in a house which is large enough that we can be close or far away from each other - certainly not the case for all - and we even have the luxury of escaping to the nearby (30 large steps away) Devon Business & Education Centre if we want decent internet or need a variety of business space. However, many of the positives could apply to all - here are my top 5 - what are yours?
So the question is. When the world returns to a post-lockdown reality, will we have adopted these new insights or will we revert? I hope we realise that the new world could be our opportunity to be better people and better colleagues.
What are your 5?
If your clients, suppliers and staff are telling you that “your business is difficult to engage with” – you have a real problem.
Even more in the Digital Age, instant responses are the norm, and a sluggish or bureaucratic reaction will reduce the likelihood of customers returning to your business. Staff, also, hate papering up the cracks and you will find staff turnover is greatest where the operations do not hit the spot.
Processes, poorly thought through or having evolved over time, can be the barrier not the solution to improved visibility of the customer experience. In these circumstances, you might not even notice that the client has been relegated from being king to working in the kitchens.
Recognition and acceptance that this gloomy situation needs improving is the first step. The next requires the development of, what we call, a “lean mindset” across the business.
So what is a lean mindset?
A lean mindset is based on creating flowing processes that help the customer achieve their requirements, profitably.
Clients sometimes forget that last word - “profitably”, but your job is not to do everything the customer wants but only those things that help them admire you, pay you and want to come back.
Once you understand what the your customers want you need to surface what is happening at the moment. We use a basket of tools and techniques to do this and are, in particular looking for signs of non-productive tasks, wasted effort and moments of customer misery.
Lean thinking will the help you strip out those tasks and create moments that the customer value and want to pay for.
As we enter the season of overconsumption, we also know this will soon follow with the consequent feelings of regret and requisite intent to put things right. We also know full well that New Years’ resolutions rarely last, unless they are properly planned with sufficient focus placed on creating supporting structures to aid success.
At South West Growth Service, We also find that business owners also emerge from the seasonal miasma with the best intentions to put right those issues that have irritated them for so long, issues that, they perceive, have held them and their business back. Typically the most common New Year enquiries we receive are based on the following reactions:
The clarity created by the seasonal break, can then lead to action – often frenetic activity based on the initial impulse – we see it all the time: a new PR campaign, social media training, a new staff role, a new commitment to do more, less or different….
Whilst you could argue that something is better than nothing, often the chances of success are as good as my recent attempts to shed a few pounds, run a marathon and… well, you get the picture. The only way to achieve sustained change is to have a more considered assessment, reviewing your and your businesses’ aims and understanding precisely why you are not being successful. More often than not the answers are complex and fall across multiple areas – perhaps there has been a shift in the market resulting in your previously successful strategy now being ineffectual, maybe resulting in the wrong marketing and sales activity. Rarely is there a one-dimensional solution.
At South West Growth Service, we have developed a “Business Detox” process that will enable you and your key staff to spend a day with some of the best consultants in the SW reviewing the business performance along a range of parameters:
“Business detox” events are limited to only 6 businesses with a maximum of 3 staff per business. Early bird prices have been reserved for the first 2 businesses to register. The day is hosted at Devon Business & Education Centre and will last from 0900 to 1700. Lunch is provided.
To find out more, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
To book, please go to
Most of us stumble into self-employment - unexpectedly waking up to find we have to consider customers, cashflow, and marketing. Before long we realise we have staff and wider commitments - all too quickly what started as fun has turned into a chore.
However, whether your business has just started up, is a year old or, even, you are wanting the confidence to launch it - then a little time out can be essential to make sure your progress is swift, efficient and enjoyable.
The Start-Up Success Seminar is designed to help all businesses of all shapes and ambitions get off to the right start. At the day long event, held in the sanctuary of the picturesque Devon Business & Education Centre, delegates will enjoy an uninterrupted and focused assessment of their business, helping them to achieve their ambitions. The seminar is led by Chris Lorimer of Lorimer Consulting with input from a range of experts.
Attendees will gain insights on:
To find out more contact Chris at email@example.com or book now at any of the scheduled dates (September 2017, November 2017 and January 2018).
Stress does funny things to people. The shock of the previous 24 hours was visibly etched in the very demeanour of Theresa May, after her surprise reverse in fortune in the General Election. No confident steps, only glancing eye contact, a faltering voice – the impact of a hard few days at the office was obvious to all.
The world of politics is not unusual, prolonged or intense episodes of highly stressful instances are par for the course in business. Business leaders, owners and managers are often expected to “lead from the front”, showing an insouciant disregard for the occasional “slings and arrows”.
Business leaders who fail to respond “as expected” can create a vortex of negative emotions within the organisation – “it’s worse than we thought” comments filling the air around the proverbial water coolers. Prolonged, this will affect staff morale and engagement, potentially seriously impacting business performance.
“Operations” are often wrongly viewed as the unglamorous part of a business – not strategic, not lucrative, no real intellect required, and, let’s be honest, a bit….grubby. This view is not just totally wrong but ignores the fact that companies that successfully build lean processes will be more successful, more valuable and much, much more profitable.
“Operational excellence” is not well understood but generally combines three aspects where the business operations:
The most successful companies have mastered the operational processes making it easier for the customer to do business with them. It’s no accident that Amazon’s “1 click” button is helping the cash flow in – customers are over 20 times more likely to repurchase where it is low effort to do so. Equally when businesses get it wrong, it can jeopardise performance – consider the brand impact of United Airline’s recent disastrous removal of a passenger from an overbooked airline.
Anticipating a few days break, a number of business owners have asked me what they should be doing ”usefully” during their time-off. The obvious answer is “nothing at all” – really they should be putting their laptops away and learn to relax, however, this answer is seldom sufficient.
“Well, if you have to do something, why not consider what your business’ purpose is? Why does it exist?”
The standard retort is “to make money, pay the bills….”, or something similar. However, in my view, these are outputs of their purpose not the purpose itself and the better they are at defining it, the better they will perform in achieving their financial goals.
The underpinning rationale for defining the business purpose is compelling. Without a defined purpose, every business risks drifting - being swept along in the flow. Research by PWC, suggests that for millennials, one of their key considerations is their connectedness with the organisational purpose. Separately, team motivation is shown to be much stronger when there is a cause that unites. Simon Sinek famously referenced the importance of “The Why” in how great leaders inspire action – have a look at his TED talk.
Governments, Banks, Investors… they all yearn to know the secret that turns companies from steady state to fast growth – a beguilingly small proportion of all businesses that have a disproportionate impact on global wealth creation and employment levels.
Spotting the gazelles and backing them is the stuff of dreams but is remarkably difficult to do because of the cocktail of ingredients that contribute.
Typically though, the successful menu can be boiled down to just 7 key areas, albeit each one requires a lot of thought to implement effectively.
When I meet business owners for the first time, they usually tell me that their business is suffering from difficulties with “marketing”, “process issues” or sometimes even “our staff”. However, when I spend time with them, it is usually abundantly clear to all that what they thought was the major issue was not the entire answer.
”For every complex problem there is a simple solution. And it's always wrong” - H.L. Mencken
As humans, it comforts us to simplify complexity but in business this can lead you down the wrong track, creating unnecessary change, costing valuable cash and, even worse, not resolving the underlying issues. I find the answer usually lies in a number of areas and, particularly, their relationship with the overarching business strategy.
The best businesses, regardless of size, have a clear business strategy, which sets out a direction and focus of the company – ideally described in words of one syllable. Critically, this strategy needs then to be aligned and in sync with all the supporting organisational structures and processes, including sales, marketing, IT, operations, procurement, finance, HR, customer service, staff training, everything….
“Interns are a waste of time and energy.”
In my recent placement, I was shocked to hear this sentiment on more than one occasion from business owners who think that students will do anything to gain ‘CV fodder’ and be nothing more than a drain on already overstretched resources.
However, I believe, that with the right approach, interns can provide a real boost to your business. Bringing fresh eyes, bright ideas, and often a sense of possibility, the benefit can be profound for both parties.
Even the most partial observer cannot fail to have been impressed by the inexorable rise of the South West rugby team, the Exeter Chiefs.
Over a decade that I have supported them, the club has risen from relative obscurity to being Premiership finalists, an achievement that has baffled the rugby cognoscenti, expecting a more predictable “boom and bust” result.
The fact is that business has much to learn from the Chiefs, who despite another highly successful season, will be continuing to plot and plan improved performance for the next season and, indeed, the ones after.
Often I meet highly competent professionals who are between jobs and “in the perfect world” would start their own business as consultants, passing on their invaluable knowledge.
They tell me that they are clear that’s what they want to do but they are reluctant to fully commit as they are the main breadwinner, they have a big mortgage, or “want to see how it goes”.
Typically, they start off with best intentions, by taking on a part-time employed role and aim to develop their business in the remaining available time.
They are embarking upon, what I call, the “I can have it all strategy”. Which, by the way, is doomed to failure.
“There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” Sam Walton, Founder of Wal-Mart
Too often I hear organisations saying how the customer is everything to them but then find that the real experience is several light years away from what any discerning customer would value.
These same organisations don’t seem to appreciate that most of us, even when the service is low cost, would not choose to:
As a consultant, it is one of life's joys to visit an organisation where there is that palpable sense of unity and purpose, evident from the point of entering the front door, clicking onto their website, or speaking to the company helpdesk. Their consistent messaging is a reflection of the company ethos, and is understood and exhibited by all its staff.
And when it's not quite like that?
Of course, in most organisations, it isn't like that. Staff are often recruited at speed, rarely inducted well and are usually left to get on with it, without much feedback, until they make the inevitable mistakes. Organisations usually measure the outputs of their staff members' endeavours, often pedantically, but rarely do they expressly define how they should perform the task. This leads to a world where disappointment, blame, and tension become endemic, the cultural collateral of focusing on the wrong thing.
Having a clear description of what "a good job" looks like is critical - it can underpin induction, training and performance management.
The importance of the "How"
The thing is, although measuring the final outcome is important (after all you need to understand the progress is being made) only through measuring the "how" can sustained and consistent performance occur. Called organisational behaviours, together they combine to create powerful levers of change, and standards by which staff, suppliers and, of course, customers measure the organisation. Arguably, they can be the standard through which reputations are made or lost.
What was it like, the last time you had to complain? Were you treated like a nuisance or were you listened to and treated with respect? All organisations make mistakes, but how they deal with them reflects their focus on the "hows" - their staff's attitude, demeanour and behaviour.
“Going portfolio means exchanging full-time employment for independence. The portfolio is a collection of different bits and pieces of work for different clients. The word “job” now means a client.” The Portfolio career, popularised by Charles Handy in his book “The Empty Raincoat”, 1994
First, the gloomy news. The idea of working for the same employer year after year is dead. Whether we may like to think of ourselves as indispensable, no one is and all employers are constantly reviewing which staff are core and which are, well, surplus to requirements. This means that those of you that are employed are either working excessively hard because your skills are in short supply or working excessively hard to prove your worth.
Bethlehem Steel Works, a watercolour by Joseph Pennell, depicting Bethlehem Iron Company in May 1881
Whilst we canter towards the time of pudding, parties and wrapping paper, it's worth remembering the Bethlehem story.
No, not that Bethlehem.
I'm talking about the Bethlehem Steel Mill story which might help us identify how we will pack all those tasks in before the world around us grinds to a halt.
You see, Bethlehem Steel Mill was the site of one of the apocryphal stories of time management, when a chap called Ivy Lee persuaded Charles Schwab, the CEO of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, that he could increase his company's productivity by over 20% if his managers adopted his system for over 30 days.
“I don’t do politics”
In my previous careers, I genuinely believed that I wasn’t a political animal, just a straight talking chap, making his way in the world. However, in retrospect, I now realise that I was highly political, even Machiavellian.
It could be said that working in contrasting but highly structured environments (commercial banking and public sector education), office politics were essential skills, if you wanted to advance your career. Accordingly, armed with an insatiable desire to progress, I could schmooze, intimidate or manoeuvre around any barrier I perceived was blocking my path.
But is this a problem? Aren’t these the essential tools that knit together the organisational fabric?
With the luxury of now viewing organisations from the outside, it becomes crystal clear just how much time is wasted through office politics. In a world where we all have too little time, too much information, too little energy – this component can often be the straw that breaks the camels back, causing good people to leave and creating a culture where trust and collaboration are left outside the front door.
British Telecom, a great British Institution, market capitalisation of £50bn+, providing telephone lines to over £28m of the UK population, helping us to be connected, be complete.....
Love them or hate them, BT has to deal with some significant issues, massive volumes, an ageing and stretched infrastructure, and, worst of all, rising customer expectations that demand immediate, fast and reliable connectivity. BT is also facing significant competition from multiple global players, all trying to access the profitable parts of their marketplace.
So when things do go wrong, against this backdrop, you would have thought that even this leviathan would be interested in addressing it effectively, after all customers do pay the bills…?
No. Unfortunately, judging by my experiences, you’d be wrong.
"Darling, I’m a publicist of some repute and we really want Harry to be in this film. No not Prince Harry! Your Harry….”
Well she might be excused if it were her plan, after all she was, she says, a publicist (of some repute, no less) but I wonder if she realised that all the passengers of Coach C of the Plymouth to London Paddington were hanging onto every word she bellowed out.
Now I’m also not a One Directioner (no honestly, I’m not) but the news flash that Harry Styles could be playing a part in a certain film was of moderate interest. How, I wondered, would the wider world react and, more importantly, what would they do with that information….
Picture the scene. You are in charge of managing the relationship with one of the highest profile customers your business has and you have just received the phone call in which they tell you that the relationship is finished. Ended. No more.
Tragically for the Met Office, the world's most famous weather forecasting agency, this scene wasn't imagined, but became an unwelcome reality last week. A relationship held since 1922 with the BBC appears to be, notwithstanding some last ditch attempts to resuscitate it, all but dead. True, the Met Office will continue to provide some services (including, severe weather warnings) but the bulk of services, representing £3m of annual income, will be put out to tender, opening the door to global competitors.
Setting up and then growing a business can feel like a white knuckle ride - full of expectation and adrenaline, with the highs and lows that punctuate every turn. The experience can be exhilarating, exhausting and transformational.
One of the reasons that the business' development feels this way for those involved is because, consciously or subconsciously, they are riding one of nature's oldest predictive models - the S Curve.
The S Curve and business
The S curve, also known as the logistic curve, plots the growth of one variable against another. The relationship between the two variables follows this pattern because they are constrained by a limiting factor which determines the S shaped trajectory. Whether it's cell growth, economic forecasts, international development, stock market performance or, most famously, the product innovation cycle, the S Curve has been helpful in predicting future outcomes.
In the development of a business, the S curve is typically used to describe the performance of a company or a product over a period of time, often with cash, turnover, market share or profit as the quantum that defines success.
We are all aware of the idea that through only 6 consecutive contacts we can reach anyone else in the planet. A 'degree of separation' is a measure of social distance between people. You are one degree away from everyone you know, two degrees away from everyone they know, and so on.
What about the quality of the contact?
Logic would suggest that the closer you are to knowing the contact personally the more helpful it would be. However, emerging research suggests that when it comes to influencing others, it is not your contact that matters, or, indeed, their contact but the conversation that happens one stage further on.
So if, for example, you were looking to encourage someone to buy your product or service, then your immediate sales discussion will apparently have less influence than the advocacy of your customer’s contact. Or put it another way, the conversation might go like this:
“I’m looking to get some financial advice – do you know anyone?”
“ A chap I know always raves about a company called XYZ Ltd – you might want to give them a try?”
Thomas Cook, the UK Tour Operator, is a significant company with c£9bn of revenue and over 22,000 employees. Operating in a difficult sector, heavily impacted by global economic conditions and the relentless move of customers towards online booking, its Executive are used to wrestling with difficult decisions, charting a safe course through the choppy waters of the travel industry.
It's worth asking then, in the case of the tragic deaths of 7 year old Christi and 6 year old Bobby Shepherd in a Corfu Hotel, how could the company have got it so wrong?
Chris Lorimer is an
experienced management consultant who has helped many owners, Directors and staff to achieve more.