Many of the owners of the businesses I work with recognise that they do not have all the skills they need to support continued growth. They often have specialist advisers working independently but do not benefit from having differently skilled expertise working together to deliver a coherent strategy. In these circumstances, I suggest that they consider building an advisory board that will help them to achieve their aims.
I emphasis that this is an important step as by involving others you need to be open to others' ideas and be willing to trust them - often up until this point they have been successful following their own intuition - dogged determination underpinning their success so far.
Unlike a formal board of Directors, an advisory board is assembled and brings together the skills that the owners requires. The advisers have no formal accountability but will need some incentive to be involved and usually have some empathy and insight into the sector of the business. Their role is not to be a replacement MD but to provide wise counsel, supporting the owners/managers to make the best decisions to achieve their business goals.
Easily forgotten, but at your peril - for those customers who have shown the foresight to adopt your fledgling products and loyalty to stick with you, are crucial for the continued success of your business.
It's worth remembering, that when it comes to business these are the key facts of life:
Fact 1. It costs between 4 and 10 times to attract a new customer than keep an existing one (Chartered Institute of Marketing).
Fact 2. Unhappy customers will tell 8-10 people, whilst satisfied ones will tell only 2-3 people (White House Office of Consumer Affairs).
Fact 3. Recommendations from people we know is the most influential form of marketing (Neilsen, "Under the Influence" Report, 2013.
Fact 4. The probability of selling to an existing customer is 60 – 70%. The probability of selling to a new prospect is 5-20% (Marketing Metrics).
Fact 5. A 5% reduction in the customer defection rate can increase profits by up to 95% (Bain & Company).
As we hurtle towards another election, am I alone in feeling increasingly frustrated with the political choices available to me?
Frustration doesn't cover it - a form of incredulity perhaps?
Politicians have seemed to transform into an amorphous mass, not distinctive, open or willing to listen.
The irony is, of course, that business is often pilloried by our politicians as a den of iniquity, amoral and closed to scrutiny. Whilst this may have been true in some cases (see Tesco and Banking blogs) even the most partial observer can't have failed to recognise that the House of Commons has a disproportionate number of cheats, liars and lawbreakers amongst its members.
For some, the thought of plunging headlong into an environment where they are surrounded by strangers with whom they appear to have nothing in common is worse than frightening, it's the nightmare scenario. "What will I say to them?" and "what if they don't like me?", I am often asked.
Along with the development of social media skills, mastery and confidence in networking are probably the crucial capabilities required by entrepreneurs who are looking to make a mark amongst potential customers, backers, supporters and advocates. Sadly for those afflicted with an inability to mingle, although social media expertise may get you to the front door of an important relationship, unconfident networking may ensure that the door is kept firmly locked.
In my time as a Banking Director during the dotcom crash, it wasn't difficult to identify some common features of those start-ups that failed to transition into growth: ambitious and over-engineered business plans, high running costs, and an inability to react to changing market conditions. Later experiences as an operational excellence practitioner, deploying lean six sigma, helped me appreciate the need for start-ups to to treasure their cash and harness their enthusiasm in a more informed way.
As another year draws to a close, and as you prepare yourself for the inevitable frenetic return of the work-life treadmill, you might allocate space for some deep thought. Not about others, your work, your family, but yourself. You.
Organisations of all shapes and sizes love to use staff appraisals to ensure that performance, engagement and motivation is optimised, supporting the achievement of corporate goals. So why not use an appraisal yourself to help realign your own individual success, health and, most importantly, happiness?
Assuming you still use interviews to select new employees (and many companies don't) you might consider how effective they are.
In normal circumstances, interviews fall into 2 categories:
1. Benign but not informative - a benign experience but providing no insight into the potential of the individual or their fit for your organisation, or
2. Totally pointless and unpleasant - offering no insight into interviewee suitability but also being a negative experience that reflects poorly on the interviewer and the organisation.
Why not, then, make interviews work for your organisation as, whilst imperfect, they can be a useful mechanism for obtaining a better idea on the interviewee's experience, approach and style and more importantly they can offer a real insight into the individuals' willingness to learn.
Trust and the Banks - Defusing the Bomb
"Trust is like a piece of silk, once torn, you will always see the join" Anon
"Just as the revolution eats its children, unchecked market fundamentalism can devour the social capital essential for the long term dynamism of capitalism itself" Mark Carney, Governor, Bank of England
Whilst the latest banking scandal may not have surprised even the most optimistic of capitalists, for the most part it fills most of us, even ex-bankers like me, with an overriding sense of gloom.
How dare they? They have fixed the currency markets, fiddled the LIBOR rates, mis-sold PPI, endowments and other financial products. When push came to shove, they proved to be undercapitalised and now the economy is on the up, they are slow to lend. Even this week RBS has been fined millions for failing to invest in its IT systems - putting our money at risk.
Should we be surprised? Banks, remember, are relative newcomers to the world of unfettered capitalism and since the freeing up of regulations in the 1980s have been most anxious to please their demanding owners. Not us the customers, but the shareholders. In this context, all efforts have been made to maximise financial returns to ensure the share price and dividends were optimised. Strategies were set to maximise returns with "under-performing" businesses being sold off, being identified as "non-core", and new investments in riskier opportunities pursued. Staff were trained, incentivised and rewarded on the basis of achieving the overarching financial returns. New performance management approaches were introduced to encourage a single-minded drive to enhancing profits. At the same time, banking products became riskier and a rising market supported a frenzied dash to out do each other. A poisonous cocktail.
How are the mighty fallen.
At its peak, it was said that one pound in every seven spent in the UK went into a Tesco till. Those days appear, at least for the forseeable future, to have gone with calamity after disaster overtaking the troubled supermarket.
With their shares at a 11 year low, dividends being cut and the market capitalisation falling nearly half since the beginning of the year, the marketplace has lost confidence. Warren Buffet announced his dollars invested in Tesco as possibly his worst ever investment and with analysts at HSBC estimating a wapping £3bn to rectify their problems, this story appears have a long way to go.
The new CEO, Dave Lewis, is encountering a rotten structure apparently built on corporate greed (the lavish private jet is on the market for £23m and big bonuses have been frozen), corruption (allegations of the sale of personal information of 5m customers) and desperation (misposting of income and costs to massage financial trading information by c£260m). 8 Senior Executives have been suspended pending their investigation whilst Deloitte have been brought in to investigate the scale of the scandal.
Tragically for Lewis, these issues are underpinned by a more serious concern - the TESCO model for making money no longer works. Like for like sales are down 5%+, whilst thin margins are under pressure and profits are down over 90%. Once the dominant brand that reshaped the high street, Tesco's brand has been, some say, irreparably tarnished with customers, suppliers and the financial markets.
Picture it. They are coming towards you and you know they are going to ask you what you are doing now...
If you impress them there could be plenty of business coming your way, but if you don't...
The overriding temptation is to leap straight in and explain what you do. "I sell computers", "I design houses", "I make cars". This is understandable but wrong.
The truth is that people are rarely impressed by the "what". Decision making has been proven to be controlled by that part of the brain that is linked to emotional engagement not reason - the area where trust and happiness exist. In this part of the brain, judgements will be influenced by the "why" not the what.
So a better approach would be to get to the why you are doing something in the first 10 seconds - don't hang around....
"You know I'm passionate about how small businesses need expert advice, so now I am ...."
"I've always been fascinated by design, so now I..."
"I've realised that I love helping people work together..."
Try it and wait to see their response.
Although it might seems counter-intuitive, one of the first lessons effective sales people learn, is how to overcome customer objections.
Why? Well, because they know that customers will hardly ever buy a product or service without first going through an important psychological routine of justifying it in their mind first and buying time through objecting. Any of the following sound familiar?
"I don't think I need it, right now..."
"Yes, we tried it before, but we didn't like it"...
"It sounds great but its too expensive for me"....
If, like me, you've had customers say "yes, we'd love to use you" almost immediately but then all goes quiet, it might be that you have failed to help them understand why they truely need your help.
Now this isn't new, businessmen and women have known this for years, but the tried and tested tricks to overcome these objections are easily forgotten with either difficult discussions ensuing or, even worse, the potential customer being let off without even a murmur......
So how do you do it?
Rudyard Kipling isn't the obvious choice when considering how to overcome objections but in his poem The Elephant's Child he recounted the lines:
“I keep six honest serving-men,
(they taught me all I knew):
Their names are what and why and when
And how and where and who.”
"If you have dead wood in your organisation it is because you either hired dead wood in the first place, or you hired live wood; then killed it.”
W. Edwards Deming
.....if you ranked the most influential people in your business life how many of you would put your nearest and dearest within the top ten, the top 20, or even the top 100? I won't embarrass you by asking you for your answer.
It's strange, isn't it, but we manage to possess incredible short sightedness when we view our business lives despite the fact that the so-called work-life balance has all but disappeared. The truth is:
"In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king" Desiderius Erasmus
Rather than accepting this supposedly inevitable outcome, perhaps you might consider Erasmus' words and move in synch with this emerging world but without ostracising those you love.
Why not try to learn to:
Be distinctive, be distinctive, be distinctive, be distinctive, be distinctive.
Get it? No?
Well, be distinctive, be distinctive, be distinctive.....
The universal truths out there are:
1. Social media is ubiquitous. There are over a billion websites, more mobile phones on the planet than people and even my father is an internet surfer.
2. We have less time than ever. We work longer than ever, sleep for less hours, and are unable to differentiate between work and home when we switch on that laptop/ipad/mobile....
3. Consumers have more choice than ever. If you are in a competitor free environment then it won't be in the "free world". Consumers can choose anyone, anywhere, anytime....
So what does this mean to your business?
If you want to be visible, there really is no choice you need to have a social media presence. Not just a website page that gives anyone who bothers to click on it a rough idea of what you do and how to contact you, but one that grabs their attention, elicits a response and make them act. It's a harsh world out there but if you haven't grabbed their attention in less than 3 seconds you have already lost their attention.
The halcyon cry that "marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department" is truer than ever. Consumers know it and hate it when they are bored by the same old twitter tripe that is knocked out in seconds by the newly appointed marketing assistant.
Ok I get it, so what next?
1. Work with your staff to consider what emotions you are trying to evoke. Do you want them to be excited, curious, horrified, anxious, mystified, or desperate.
2. Develop a social media strategy that drives attention in the chosen way and, please, don't compromise. Take one look at your competitors' websites and you will realise how dull they are. Probably the only people looking at them are their staff and competitors like you....
3. Create an approach that engages all staff, getting them involved. Ask them to be creative and trust their instincts.
4. Test it with your clients or your potential clients and monitor their responses carefully. If they hate it, is it because they are offended (clue - that's bad) or because it makes them uncomfortable (that could be good)?
5. Measure the impact. Not just in terms of followers and hits, but whose talking about your approach?
5. Be brave. Enjoy the frisson and excitement of knowing people are talking about your business, whilst they are certainly not talking about the competition.
6. Connect the virtual to the real. Make sure those consumers who have been inspired to contact you are greeted with a consistent approach - you have done the difficult bit of attracting their attention, don't lose them now.
When it comes to feedback, "Please sir, can I have some more?" is not the gentle refrain oft repeated.
"Can I give you some feedback?" is a phrase that to some of us is as welcome as a bout of measles and our natural reaction is to run for the hills or respond with a curt and assertive "no". Alternatively we will smile blithely and prepare ourselves for the onslaught. Our wired response may be so extreme that even if the feedback is positive, we sometimes react as if we have been mortally injured.
Why is this?
The tragedy is that although we would like to consider ourselves as sophisticated professionals when it comes to feedback we revert to our child like state, seeing feedback as criticism and potentially something that could get us into trouble. It is a deeply felt emotion and one that needs time, practice and a new mindset to overcome.
This response creates an inevitable outcome of imperfect communication, insecurity and, potentially, an unwillingness from the source of advice to offer any further help again. Oh dear.
“It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” —Charles Darwin
Business people are often caricatured as hard-nosed, competitive and single-minded – their mantra “my way or the high way”. But the truth is, this stereotype is not accurate and all organisations are waking up to the fact that to survive, let alone flourish, collaboration strategies are crucial for success.
Collaboration can positively impact in a number of dimensions. Below is a checklist of just a few of the possible choices:
So what to do if you want to collaborate?
7 Steps to Collaboration!
1. Articulate why you want to collaborate and consider whether this could be achieved through other approaches. What is your key driver: Cost reduction? New customers? Innovation?
2. Identify the potential partner(s) and research them. Are they really the right ones for you? Do they have the capabilities you require? Could you work with them?
3. Approach them direct or through a trusted adviser at the right level and identify whether they are keen to talk more. At this point you should be careful about giving too much information away but also you need to generate sufficient rapport. Remember most collaboration breaks down at this stage through a lack of trust.
4. Identify an agenda of areas you can discuss. You might want to agree confidentiality arrangements.
5. Agree a timetable and approach. You don’t need to go the whole hog…why not build trust through piloting an approach? There are a whole range of collaboration options from preferred partner status to full mergers. Consider what approach will suit you both.
6. Even for limited collaborations it is important to document the agreement, considering areas such as:
· Purpose and objectives of the collaboration.
· Key targets.
· Escalation routes.
· Review and termination dates.
· Allocation of costs and revenue.
· Ownership of intellectual property and assets.
7. Have regular reviews to discuss progress – remember Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Reaching out beyond our own world is a business skill.
Possessing the confidence and poise to talk to anyone is a capability we all yearn for but when asked, most believe they do not have it. For many, the fear of rejection, of looking “silly” or betraying their inner failings to the outside world is too big a barrier to overcome and they take the alternative option to retreat to indirect approaches: email messages, social media, marketing campaigns….
Quite by accident, on a train journey, I met a man once who I can only say was blessed with a quiet self confidence that was immediately impressive. He asked me about the book I was reading and took time to ask me about myself and, it seemed to me, was actively interested in my plans and aspirations. He gave me a few tips and insights which I wrote down and he made a useful suggestion of someone I should talk to.
Stupidly, I did nothing, until weeks later I found the notes I had written and the details of the suggested contact. I made contact with the person and followed up with an exceptional meeting which saved me many hours of fruitless effort. Whilst packing up to go, I asked this new contact, about our mutual friend. “Yes, I asked him once how he was so well connected”, he said, “and his response to me was Hebrews 13:2 – it was helpful to me and it might be to you, you should look it up”.
Now although I have had a privileged education my knowledge of the Bible was, shall we say, inconsistent. Hebrews 13:2. Getting home that night, I found a battered copy of the Bible and looked up the chapter. It said “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares”.
People often talk about making their own luck through doing the right things.
The lesson I drew from Hebrews 13:2 is that I had to be more welcoming and connected with my fellow man. I realised that only through conservation do we make the connections that can be invaluable to our business careers and the achievement of our aims.
Conversation, uniquely, creates bonds, responsibilities and emotions that prompt action.
Now social media is a wonderful thing, but you can’t look into the eyes of a facebook friend, linked in connection or twitter contact and know whether they want you to be successful, will honour their promises or empathise with your situation.
So what to do?
Practice each day by making a new connection, real ones not social media ones and develop conversations. Who knows? That new relationship may have been entertained by angels unawares.
Top tips on how to develop rapport with strangers
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
Mike Tyson World champion boxer
Consultants tell us that "if we fail to plan, we plan to fail" and we are pre-destined to wander the world in a directionless fug of confusion.
Traditionally, the structured planning approach, identifies a vision, goals and key priorities, aligns roles and responsibilities, and articulates targets, with wider communicating to the key staff. It is a well worn path that has lasted the test of time and earnt many a consultant a healthy crust. However, this approach has 4 key weaknesses which have been exposed in the modern post-recession world:
1. Out of date before it's finished. We used to say that the next competitor threat would take only 6 months to develop. It may have been true then but now with the power of social media to reach global markets within hours, 6 weeks is a more realistic timeframe. This means that as important as it is to align the business, there really isn't the time to follow an overcomplicated planning approach that eats up time and resource.
2. Comprehensive but not actionable. The approach will leave you with a plan that has considered all angles and creates multiple tasks and responsibilities. However, ultimately, unless the plan is implementable by hard-pressed staff, who are already juggling a number of balls, then it risks gathering dust on the shelf with other previously abandoned plans.
3. Structure over behaviours. The traditional planning approach purposefully follows a process that can be followed by all staff, given time and space, with careful facilitation. It does not, however, develop the capabilities of the participants helping them to respond intuitively to future business challenges.
4. Episodic. Even the best written plan has its shelf life and unless your organisation is able to support the luxury of employing people to continually update the plan (believe me - this happens, especially in public services) then it will soon be yesterday's plan.
Guess what? Further on down the road, you'll want to start again.
The ABC planning approach
This new approach requires a focus on "doing the right things, not doing things right". It accepts that speed is of the essence and that it is better to act decisively with 80% of the information not wait to collect 100%. It emphasises building staff capabilities to spot opportunities, identify competitor threats and deliver value rather than create and monitor plans. In short, it is action oriented. Finally, it focuses on excellent communication of the aim and approach, not the plan itself.
So how does it work?
It has 3 components which are the A,B, C of planning:
Compiled by the senior managers with all key staff, this is a one page document (written or drawn, it doesn't matter) that sets out in simple terms:
The approach is important but of equal value is creating a culture where all staff are the exhibiting behaviours that will support the organisation's progress. In simple terms, short term targets will achieve short term impacts but recruiting and rewarding exceptional behaviours has a longer term impact.
This requires the organisation to identify the key behaviours that staff need to exhibit to achieve the overall plan. These might be as varied as "quality focused", "delighting customers", "integrity and honesty", or "partnership driven" and each will require a lower level of descriptors that will help describe to staff what exceptional behaviours look like. The organisation also needs to develop an expertise on providing feedback to staff so they know when they are achieving these
The essential element to ensuring that the plan is adopted and cherished is ensuring that it is discussed regularly (weekly or less) as part of the organisational culture. The messaging and vocabulary needs to be consistent with those promoted by the plan and through the behaviours. The communication needs to be action-oriented, constructive and participative, encouraging all employees to have a stake in the future direction. Ideally, it should be face to face not remote so that 2 way feedback can be picked up on.
Have a go. Try it.
The ABC approach needs to be owned by you and your organisation. It can not be delegated to a consultant, the communications manager, strategy manager or anyone else.....
If you want some guidelines on how to do it, speak to me and I'll coach you to lead this change, helping your business become resilient to the next punch in the mouth...
It is one of the best kept secrets in the world of business support but a Government backed scheme to help aspirational businesses make the business breakthrough they require is available for organisations that turnover below £40m with staff numbers below 250. The scheme, called GrowthAccelerator, provides access to one to one support for up to 6 days through experienced business coaches who have expertise in supporting growing businesses. Additionally, businesses can make the most of an investment in training through access to matched funding of up to £2,000 per senior staff member to support specific areas of development.
Research suggests that businesses that seek external advice and information are 50% more successful than those that do not (BIS , 2010). Equally, evidence suggests that businesses are often more likely to adopt new practices when they are introduced from outside the organisation. "There are many invisible barriers to growth" commented Chris Lorimer, one of the approved and registered business coaches, "however, it is often difficult to see them when you are confronted with the day to day activities involved in running a business".
The cost for eligible businesses can be as low as £600 plus £700 VAT for businesses employing up to 4 staff and only £3,000 + £700 VAT for businesses employing between 50 and 249 staff.
"When you consider the value of the training and coaching support can run into several thousands of £s," Lorimer continued, "if you are an aspirational business, you would be mad not to at least consider this support".
For further information contact Chris Lorimer who will put you in touch with one of the GrowthAccelerator Managers.
Telephone: 07774 827305
Be honest, you know you do it yourself, but people are making judgements about you as soon as they set eyes on you. Within the first 7 seconds, your potential customers, employers or colleagues are making assumptions about you that may determine whether they decide to find out more or give you the proverbial cold shoulder. Within those first fleeting moments, they will have assessed whether you are friendly, trustworthy, successful, interesting, inspiring, kind, astute, or, even, intelligent. Even as you are uttering your first sentence, they will have taken a view as to your job, educational attainment, level of income, sexuality, and, in short, your value to them as a human being.
Shocked? Don't be. Although we know that these initial assumptions are often wildly inaccurate, your success at developing business or personal relationships means that you have to understand what signals you are giving out and, more importantly how they are being interpreted. You are unconsciously wearing a uniform that is displaying to the wider world an image that could be secretly jeopardising your career, your ambitions, your relationships or, indeed, your ability to fit in.
So what are the signals that you are giving out? What mixture of factors is contributing to this unconsciously assembled uniform?
The good news is by focusing on just 5 areas you can overhaul, upgrade or, just, adjust your uniform, helping you influence how others see you.
1. Dress for success.
No one's suggesting that you need to buy a new wardrobe, but you do need to dress appropriately regardless of whether you are a lawyer or a teacher. Unless you are a supermodel, if clothing distracts, it will undermine the image that you are trying to put across. Dirty or outdated clothing will lead people to think that you are....dirty or outdated. Take a good look at what successful peers are wearing and adjust to match your own personality.
2. Face the truth.
The head, or more specifically, the face is the usual landing point for the eyes when you start a conversation. If you decide to create distractions for the observer through unkempt hair (wherever it might be), overaggressive make-up, novelty jewellery or glasses, then accept that it will leave an impression - hope that it is the one that you want to present.
3. Making Contact.
The first contact is crucial to the first impression. Posture, eye contact, smile, and handshake all leave impressions - are they the ones you want to leave? Beware that overconfident body language to some might make you appear arrogant or aggressive. Equally, shambling, deferential approaches may put off all but those looking to adopt.
4. Smell the roses.
They've got close enough to smell your fear, hopefully they don't. Even if it is your favourite perfume or aftershave, the best smell is no smell. Halitosis, nicotine, and body odour are major detractors in the world of image.
5. Speak unto strangers.
After the initial welcome (please sound genuine), the best step is to ask an open question ..and then wait for the answer. Remember the majority of what people understand comes from how you say it rather than what you say, so be welcoming and enthused. Make sure you are clear and listen carefully. Don't try and impress, develop rapport.
So armed with this knowledge, the wrong question to ask is "so what can I do about my image?" A better question would be "Do you need to do anything different?" Ideally you'll ask friends and colleagues to provide feedback on how you come across and whether your uniform is helping you to be successful.
How to wear the uniform of a.......bank manager
Economists are telling us that the business confidence is returning to the levels that existed when the UK officially entered the recession back in 2008.
Yes, not just a couple of years ago but over half a decade has passed since we were last seriously considering driving our businesses forward with unfettered abandon, unaware of the winter chill that we were about to encounter.
But, of course, not much has changed since 2008 has it. Has it? We had the internet then, the same recognition that business had become more transactional and some of us were exploring the latest social media fads with bemused intrigue.
Wrong. Totally wrong.
The world has changed exponentially since 2008 and the business development routines used then are no longer fit for purpose. Those businesses awakening from the slumber of the recession, hoping to reignite business activity with the same sales approach they had employed in 2008 will be, at best, sadly disappointed.
Even with the best will in the world sometimes the harder you try to be successful in business, the more difficult it can be to make an impact.
You must have known the situation when you’ve:
Chris Lorimer is an
experienced management consultant who has helped many owners, Directors and staff to achieve more.