Keep it simple……

I was flicking through the TV channels one evening recently and came across a rerun of a programme titled ‘Wonders of the Universe.’ Professor Brian Cox reveals how the fundamental scientific principles and laws explain not only the story of the universe but also answer one of mankind’s greatest questions – “Where did we come from?” Now that sounded an understated claim and a bit of light viewing before bed! Unfortunately, I quickly became engrossed and before I knew an hour had flown by as he revealed the wonder of the universe. It was clear that Brian’s purpose was not to complicate the underlying principles which are undoubtedly complex but to pass on his understanding in a concise and simple way. What Brian did was take that complex subject and made it simple so that even I could understand it. Brian’s use of everyday language allows his audience to understand. We weren’t bemused by technical jargon. His communication skills are clear, straight forward and to the point. No doubt when talking to fellow scientists he uses complicated scientific concepts that would be unintelligible to a layperson, like me. Brian’s key to success is his skill of using language appropriate to his audience. He is a great communicator, he passes on his understanding so that in turn his audience can understand. Surely, in business that must be the holy grail. To clearly communicate our message simply to our target audience. Never to over complicate. Now that’s good communication skills! However, the next day I realised that in business the direct opposite is so often true. I so often see and hear people... read more

Message from America

Last month I went to Atlanta in Georgia, USA to attend the training to become a certified Gazelle Coach. For me it was a stretch, there was the 30 hours of learning that needed to be completed before flying out together with a mountain of background reading and an exam!   An exam!   I haven’t done an exam for many a year!   I have to admit that there were moments when I thought maybe I’m getting too long in the tooth for all this!   Then I remembered Bertie Gladwin who I wrote about in my last book.   In 2012, Bertie became Britain’s oldest recorded graduate (with his third degree) at the age of 90!   Bertie left school aged 14 to take up a delivery job, served in the Royal Air Force during WW2 and spent most of his working life at MI6 as an electronics engineer.   While in his sixties, Bertie gained two degrees from the Open University – a BA in psychology and a BSc in molecular biology. His latest accolade was a degree in Intelligence History, specialising on Bletchley Park.   Compared to Bertie I’m still a spring chicken!   The week away from the office mixing with like minded people was great fun. It left me mental stretched but emotionally energised. It was a great investment of my time and money, just brilliant to be at the cutting edge of business thinking.   Now, my challenge is to truly understand what one of my clients calls ” That West Coast Thinking” which can sometimes be seen as overly complex and... read more

Time To Seek Rough Diamonds

Imagine you are walking through the countryside and you see a small glassy object on the ground. Unimpressed you just kick it to one side as you walk on by. Now, if that walk was near a diamond mine in South Africa you may take a longer look at that boring angular, opaque stone. Still unimpressed you kick it to one side and walk on by. But beware, diamonds in their rough state are often unimpressive and therefore so easy to miss. Rough diamonds have to be polished to expose their beauty. So, if we believe that there are no diamonds in our vicinity we will be totally oblivious to the possibility of finding them, whereas, if we are aware that we could find something special we are more likely to spot them. Unfortunately, we may still walk on by if we do not recognise what we are looking at. What’s this to do with your business? Well, let me explain. How many of those that you employ could be rough diamonds just waiting to be discovered. Indeed some may be hidden away in unexpected places, doing a mundane job. They may not be that shiny finished gem that will sparkle and dazzle in the light but perhaps they could be with a little encouragement and work. However, just like diamonds until they are polished they will continue to be unimpressive you have to look past what they are now to what they could become. What will your business will look like in 5 years and what will the organisation chart need to be to support that vision? Are... read more

Focus on the right things!

With so many competing demands on your time and energy, it can often be difficult for the owner of a SME to identify and choose the priorities or goals within their business. This can be a lot trickier than you might think. Let me give you an everyday example to show what I mean. Joe has been suffering some health issues and decides to make ‘becoming healthier’ his number one priority (the key outcome). So, he chooses to change his diet and embarks on a programme of exercise (the component parts which aim to produce that outcome). After some time, Joe notices he has lost weight but is still suffering the same health issues as before. Why? Well, Joe made the assumption that the diet/ exercise combination would bring about the result he was looking for, but perhaps a more analytical approach might reveal that something totally different is required. Perhaps he has been suffering from a particular vitamin deficiency, or maybe he needs some kind of medical intervention, or it could be that he just really needs to give up the ten-year smoking habit! Whatever the cause of his health issues, here is the problem. Joe became fixed on an outcome but hadn’t taken the time to align the action he took (the inputs) to achieve that outcome. In business, we have to be very careful not to fall into the same trap. Frequently, I see owners who have become fixated on trying to directly improve an outcome but have lost sight of all the various component parts required to drive that output. Take the sales process as... read more

Is it time to stop banging your head against a brick wall?

It’s amazing that it’s only when you stop banging your head against a brick wall that you realise that you have a headache! You may have had that headache for such a long time you no longer realise it is causing you pain. Let me explain. In business it’s so easy to become totally fixated on something that appears to be so important. However, no matter what you try you just cannot make any headway. You have met an immoveable obstacle and until you realise that it’s not going to move you are going to waste a huge amount of your time and energy. You may have convinced yourself that if you keep on bashing away that one day you will change everyone else’s opinions and you will overcome the obstacle. It may be time to realise that you may have little control over the outcome. Now may be a good time to truly look at the facts. Time to question your beliefs and the opinions of those around you. Time to take a clear hard look at the true reality of the situation and consider whether now is the time to change. It may take much soul searching to write off all that time and effort but once you realise the personal cost you are on the way to recovery. Realise that you cannot force someone else to change until they choose to change. Be aware of the energy, time and focus you may have already expended on the wrong priorities. Have you been banging your head against that brick wall for far too long? So the first... read more

Seeking out that honest business advice

‘The Wheels on the Bus go round and round, round and round………’ For those of you with young children I’m sure you will have heard this old favourite played over and over again on any car journey! It’s easy to zone out until the cry comes from the back “again, again.” Last week on a journey with my grandchildren there was a respite from the sing along when some beloved stories played ‘The Story of the Three Bears,’ ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ and then one I have not heard for sometime ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’. I’m sure you know the story where The Emperor and all his advisor’s and confidents are blinded by their own ego and vanity to see what was going on until a young child shouts out the obvious “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!” and then all became so, so embarrassingly clear. Isn’t it interesting that no one had the strength of character to tell The Emperor the truth. If only someone had pointed out to him what he really suspected before he paraded before his subjects. They could have saved him and themselves a lot of heartache. In business we all need an unreasonable yet compassionate friend who can give us that honest and unbiased business advice. Sometimes we may need to understand what others may see but we cannot. It is so easy to become inward looking and blind to our own weaknesses. So, what may stop us seeking the truth? The obvious answer is fear. The fear of being found out! It’s the successful business owners most common fear. Let me... read more

Time to take the helicopter view of your business?

Isn’t it easy to get caught up in the everyday stuff that just sucks all your energy and time. As a business owner if you get too close to the coalface you can quickly lose focus on what’s really important. Who in your business has the time and the ability to step back from the business, to truly see what is going on? Easily said but often not so easily done! So how often do you take a view of your business challenges from 1,000 feet? Let me explain what I mean. Imagine you are on a car journey across a busy city from one side to the other. You set off and all is well but soon you get stuck in a unexpected traffic jam. The good old sat nav has let you down, yet again! So what can you do? Here are three possible choices. Acceptance. Looking out of the windows all you can see are the other cars all around you, to the front, the side and behind you. Everyone else is in the same predicament so you turn off the engine and resign yourself to wait for the blockage to clear. You are at the mercy of factors outside of your control. Make things happen. Frustrated, you get out of the car, immediately feeling better for being active. You look around and eventually stumble across the cause of the hold up. The traffic has ground to a halt at a cross roads a few miles up the road. Seeing the problem, you enlist a small band of willing helpers and you start to direct the... read more

After all, common sense is not so common!

How many times have you looked at a problem and just known the answer? Doesn’t it just seem so obvious! So why is it that those that work for you just don’t seem to see the obvious solution to a problem? For many of you that started your own business it may be that you put it down to your experience that you have built up in the cut and thrust of business. So, when one of your team confronts a problem it is just quicker for you to tell them what to do or even to sort out the problem yourself. Think about your own experiences for a minute and consider those things that you do the best and that you find difficult to explain to someone else. These are your blind spots. You may show someone how to do something but on further questioning you cannot see why they just don’t get it. You are blind to why they can’t see it as to you see it. To you it is so clear and seems like ‘common sense’. In reality, these blind spots are what you take for granted. To you it may appear so simple but do you really understand what you do? You may have repeated a task so many times that it has become so routine that you don’t have to think about it anymore. The real problem though is that if you can’t get someone else to do a routine task as well as you then you are destined to do that task for ever. Let’s look at a real example of this... read more

What price will you pay?

Lack of time is the most cited challenge by owners of growing businesses. With their nose to the proverbial grindstone it becomes so difficult to get away from the day-to-day issues. Working hard long hours adds to the stress and this, in turn, forces them to work even harder. There is a belief that if they work harder in the end it will somehow all work out. It’s a Catch 22 and no matter which way they turn there is always another issue that is demanding their time. A definition of insanity is to do the same thing tomorrow as you did today and expect a different result. If this sounds like you then the solution may sound a little counter-intuitive. The first step is to realise that you choose how to spend your time! No one else, YOU. It’s that simple. Let me share a personal experience. About fifteen years ago I got into the habit of going into the office on a Saturday morning. It started off as the odd Saturday, then every other week and then every Saturday. I justified it by convincing myself and my family that I got ten times the amount of work completed on a Saturday from 8 o’clock until midday as there were no phone interruptions. Also the business was growing, there was more to do and anyway, it was what business owners did! Somewhere along the line my business partner started to join me, perhaps he felt guilty. We found it was a great time to talk about really important business issues (actually it was just hot air!). Soon the... read more

Here’s how to get massive improvements within your business.

It is often difficult to identify and choose the priority of goals within a business. With so many competing demands on your time and energy how can you decide? Well, the first step is to be crystal clear about the key outcome you want to achieve and to then identify what are the components that produce that outcome. Here’s an everyday example to show what I mean. You may want to become healthier so to do that you will have to exercise and change your diet. No matter how hard you try you cannot directly impact your health because being healthy is an outcome and exercise and diet are two of the components that produce that outcome. The same applies in business. Sales is an outcome of potentially many things, customer service, product range, reliability …….. It is so easy to become fixated on trying to directly improve an outcome and loose sight on the components that drive that output. I often hear comments like ‘go and get more sales!’ Well, in this case, by focusing on, say, improving customer experience (service) you will achieve more sales and more profit. Whereas, ‘go and get sales’ i.e. chasing sales may in fact cause a deterioration in customer experience which will actually produce lower sales and lower profits. Totally opposite to the outcome you want! Take a moment to think what outcomes you want to achieve and what are the key components that produce those outcomes. Go on write them down:- Now what can you do to improve those key drivers. It may take a while to drill down to the... read more