Having spent some good quality time with some superb SME’s this week, it really highlighted to me how when your business grows, a new set of challenges appear mostly around strategy, culture and organisational development.
Running a large organisation it’s easy to take for granted the things that seem like business as usual for us, but business as ‘unusual’ for a fast growth small or mid enterprise. I’ve previously posted about what small businesses can learn from big businesses here. They are a good starter for ten.
The key things that a business owner needs to think about are: -
- Managing your growth better by not trying to be everything to everybody. Have a clear sales/customer strategy about who is going to deliver your objectives most quickly. I’ve seen so many small businesses dizzy with being so busy on delivering projects which deliver little real margin and distracting them from more profitable opportunities. Be careful about your ABC (Activity Based Cost) before committing your precious resources!
- Prioritising your resources behind those priority areas. In particular a regular review of who is in the right seat on the bus, where you spend your customer acquisition funds, rebate payments, who you extend preferential terms and why. Overhaul everything, recession or no recession with a frequency.
- Understanding the dragging anchors on your performance and taking action against them (low margin, high touch customers, or employee underperformance for example). The longer you leave it, the worse it gets and the the more you dilute your ability to be competitive or achieve your goals.
- Getting clarity on what you are doing it all for. What is the key outcome you need from your business? An exit, organic growth, runaway growth, a lifestyle? This bit seems to be missing a lot of the time and as a result, small businesses can easily drift. It will help massively in establishing what you need to achieve, with who, by when.
- Before appointing a board or non-executive directors think really clearly about what you need them to contribute. What skills are you missing, does it need to be a board position or a senior management position? Do you want someone sales focused or financially focused? Do you need someone to prepare you for sale, merger or investment? NED’s come in all shapes and sizes, so always be clear about what you want?
I once got called the “King of the Three Letter Acronym” (TLA). I do use them a lot when speaking and presenting, but also to remind myself of great insights or when talking with others. TLA’s can be very useful in ensuring an audience goes away with “one key thing” from a talk, something they can easily remember.
One that I use in my own life is “TIM” which stands for “This Is Me”. Early on in my career I spent my time fitting in. Wearing the right corporate uniform, using the right business jargon, saying things I felt people wanted to hear and conforming. I guess I just was trying to be liked and doing what needed to be done to move up the ladder!
Only later did I realise that I wasn’t doing myself any favours by diluting who I was with others. Effectively I was two people, one person at the office, another at home. This led to a fundamental misalignment of self, which needed correction. Misalignment stops you being the best possible version of you and I continue to meet lots of people who can really identify with this concept of a “private me” and a “professional me”.
You can align those two things into a common definition of “me” which then becomes the true and authentic version of you. Life is far simpler and you spend less time on what other people think about you and more time on your own happiness. A recommendation I always give to people is to have clear in their mind their own Vision, Mission and Values (VMV).
Vision – What are you doing this all for? (An easy to remember one-liner).
Mission – What are the major things you need to do to make this happen? (tip, don’t create too many, keep it simple. Think of your main effort(s).
Values – What things really/truly matter to you in life?
One extra I like to add….
Morals – What are your “no-compromise” morals?
I have those things in my mind, stored across multiple devices and written down in key places. They are a constant reference point and act as a great compass in the journey. From first thought to the final list took me a couple of months of thought, refinement and deletion. When finalised, you’ll get a great sense of perspective of the real you. Acknowledge and accept that, then go and be you. Change a few things if you have to as there is no set of rules anyway that you have to be wedded to the past definition of you, whether that’s internalised or how others may view you.
So, in your head think of this TLA. “Hi, I’m TIM” – (This Is Me).
If you do prepare your VMV and get some clarity as a result, will you let me know via a comment or a note on Twitter.
Cycling is booming in the UK, road cycling particularly following the success of Bradley Wiggins at the Tour de France in 2012. The roads are busy with new bikes and men in lycra! I write a popular road cycling blog after getting into the sport in 2008 and have been learning about it ever since.
One common misconception I initially had about professional cycle racing is that they all set off at the same time and race as individuals, with the strongest cyclist going over the line and winning the race. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Professional road cycling is a team sport. Here’s a short post with some simple observations about how it all works with some business lessons thrown in: -
- They back a winner. Bradley Wiggins was the nominated Team Sky rider to win the Tour de France before they had even turned a pedal. The entire race had been planned around him, training camps, team selection and race strategy. What/who are the products/people in your business that you should over-invest in and build a team around?
- Every rider has a clear role/function. Each brings something different to the party. You can’t win the Tour de France without being backed by mountain specialists, riders with big engines to take the wind, and good all rounders. Appreciate every member of your team if you want to get over the line and build teams with differing skills and attributes.
- Air resistance is key. Cyclists hate wind, unless it is a tailwind! All their technology from clothing, bike position and equipment is designed to reduce drag. What are you doing to reduce drag in your business? When did you last overhaul how and why you do what you do to speed up? A cycling team would be re-assessing/re-inventing pre, during and after race season.
- The only time a rider races as an individual is on a Time Trial. This is the so called race of truth when there are no other riders to ride behind or ride with in a group. This involves riding at a controlled heart rate, often high up in your heart rate zones to deliver power smoothly and in a measured way across a set distance. This means that although are part of the team, you also need to deliver a good result when the spotlight turns on you individually. Although you may have a brilliant team, you also need to ensure that you encourage specialism for those moments when you need individuals to perform against specific outcomes/tasks/projects.
- A road captain keeps his eye on changing tactics on the ground. Although the team will have already planned their race, they need to adapt their tactics as the race unfolds. The road captain will be keeping an eye on his own team mates aswell as feeding back intelligence to the team car and race directors about how other riders are performing. Like a market, conditions change rapidly and you have to be ready to adapt. Make sure you have feedback mechanisms to get ‘real time’ feedback into the business which can be acted upon. Who are your road captains in the market?
- The lighter and stronger you are, the faster you go up hills. Successful climbers are normally very low in weight, but incredibly strong. Their appearance can be deceiving. Technology will take you so far, however your body weight and strength are key. Consider whether you are carrying any excess weight in terms of process overhead, you need to be lean in conjunction with the right technology to compete in the market.
- Riding in groups is key. Cyclists ride in large groups (pelotons) wherever possible. By doing this, it can reduce effort needed by around 25%, with the wind rushing over the group as it breaks through the wind. This takes incredible trust as they are riding inches away from each other at considerable pace as competitors. If one rider makes a mistake, the whole group risks crashing. An important lesson in trust here and putting your faith in others plus the importance of collaboration to achieve your end state.
- Every bike is set-up “inch-perfect” for the rider. Everyone is different in terms of their shape and riding style, there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’. Like an organisation, if you use a ‘one size fits all’ approach with people or customers, you’ll quickly become unstuck. Modify communications methodologies to suit your market/audience.
- Marginal Gains. Team Sky particulalry work on a methodology called “marginal gains” which aggregates tiny 1% improvements in everything, to add up into larger benefts when consolidated. An example of this is shipping mattresses and pillows for each specific rider so they get a good nights sleep every night. Great lesson here in excellence and continuous improvement. The pillows is recognising that an off-bike improvment can dramatically affect on-bike performance. What are the surrounding processes to primary functions in your organisation which could do with improving?
- Prize Money is Shared. Given one rider is given such significant resources to be the person on the podium, it would be pretty gut wrenching to see him take all the benefits. Prize money is generally shared out amongst the teams, including the back room staff to motivate/encourage a team ethic. In a business, a salesperson is normally the equivalent person on the podium, make sure you search out all the backstage contributors and reward them too.
Over the years, I’ve read a huge quantity of books around leadership from biographies to methodologies. It’s easy to copy a successful formula if you are trying to develop your leadership capabilities however you may end up not being the true and authentic version of you.
As I rose up within my own business, it started to dawn on me that I got far more done when I spent more time just being me, not trying to be a Jack Welch clone. People responded to me far more when I stopped trying to be something/someone I wasn’t. From that point my career rocketed, on to lead the UK organisation from humble beginnings as a fax salesman.
To this day, I could kick myself for the “work mask” that I had developed in my early years. Only when I began to work with business psychologists in 2000, did I realise the error of my ways. Over the following years, my leadership style has simply been focused on being the best possible version of me – that’s it. Let me share with you 10 simple things that I have learned about leadership as a framework which may work for you: -
- Being truthful with yourself.
- Being truthful with others.
- Respecting everyone regardless of where they sit.
- Pressing CTRL+ALT+DEL on your past and living in the now.
- Letting your true personality come through not what you think other people want to see.
- Being compassionate when making tough decisions.
- Always giving space for others to give a view.
- Being fair.
- Admitting your shortcomings and mistakes.
- Seeing everyone and everything as a potential for learning.
Back to my opening paragraph, this is not about creating an army of “me’s”. These are just some of the things that allowed myself to be the best possible version of me, when heading up a large organisation. I’ve found that the topic of leadership is more about respect. Respect for self, others and your wider environment, however you define it. When you practice that, it drifts you more towards the familiar descriptions of what “leadership looks like” in a book but with your personality stamped all over it.
Stored belief systems can be incredibly damaging if not updated, think of them like APPS on a smartphone which need to be constantly upgraded to fix bugs to function correctly and at their optimum.
Your brain is amazing supercomputer, which functions 24/7/365. Keeping your heart beating, your eyelids blinking, your legs moving, your imagination whirring and turning your thoughts into words – all without you giving it much thought. It is constantly running in the background, predicting outcomes, regulating your temperature and storing your experiences like a massive hard disc.
With something so powerful, you’d want to be sure that the operating system and software that you use with it is in tip top condition and bang up to date. To do this, you need to ensure that all it’s stored beliefs are updated and that – like a sat nav – it’s updated with the very latest route planner for you.
A tip I often give to people is to work out your personal vision, mission and values. These act as your sub-conscious route planner for your brain when needing to decide it’s direction of travel, left/right turns and the like. Like a corporate mission statement your vision (what I call DING!) needs to be clearly defined, this is your top line “what’s it all for” statement. Your mission is the actions you are going to take each day to achieve that vision. Your values should be those things most important to you which become the basis for your moral compass.
When you have those things defined – and it will take a good deal of thought – write them down somewhere where they are easily accessible at all times. I have them synced in Evernote across all of my devices, so they are never far from reach. Refer to them regularly, memorise them as much as possible, make them part of your core operating system and see what happens.
Decisions become clearer, purpose jumps to the fore and clarity ensues. Your brain will then start to store them deep in your parietal lobe, the key area for auto-pilot responses, and update itself with your personal direction of travel. Hopefully that place is a destination called “success”. Let me know how you get on.
More scandal this week as it has been established that Findus Lasagne has been discovered containing 100% horse meat, not beef as advertised. It’s the latest in the on-going headlines about horse meat being discovered in processed food products, sold by supermarkets and brands. I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of this issue, as no doubt all parties in the supply chain are now busily drilling down to the root cause.
Whilst out riding my bike this weekend, I got to thinking about this issue and what thoughts it triggers within consumers when scandal hits. Believe it or not, the words that came up happened to make an acronym called MEAT! Scandals tend to boil down to four major things, whether you are Lance Armstrong, a merchant banker, an MP or Findus. Generally speaking they tend to fall into one of the categories below. I’ve made some comment against each of them relative to the horsemeat scandal.
M = Morality. In the UK, we have an issue with eating horses. To us, they are primarily pets, not a food source unlike other cultures across the world. It’s funny how no-one has picked up the taste difference, when smothered in sauces, sugar and colouring! So, it’s not about the taste, it’s about the ingredients.
E = Ethics. No household name brand on earth would risk their reputation by substituting constituent ingredients in their products. The risks are simply too large, starting at shareholder value. Nestle previously owned the brand up to 2000, but sold rights to Findus Group. Ethically, major issues like this can set a brand back years and many other food processing businesses will be working overtime to see if they too are affected. Major brands spend significant sums of money protecting their Corporate reputation and suppliers will have been audited, so there is likely to be foul play.
A = Accountability. Consumers will want the root cause to be quickly established. The brand involved – Findus – has already launched its own investigation which points the finger at a Romanian supplier. They’ve been quick, as with all PR crisis management, to get a statement up on their website. The major supermarkets will be applying the pressure big time, exerting their full weight on the supplier to come up with some answers. No doubt they are all busy checking their own brand and private label products, likely sourced from the same suppliers. Consumers expect you to stand up, man up, and be honest if you are in the frame.
T = Trust. Consumers put huge trust in big brands, supermarkets particularly. They take the position that if a supermarket is selling something, then it must be OK. I bet your bottom dollar that the category manager in charge of the ready-meal/frozen foods category is looking at a chart that shows negative sales for value products in their range. We (consumers) can be a funny bunch when it comes to establishing who we want to take the hit. Is it the supermarkets or the supplier who will feel the pain of our brand switch? Worst thing possible for a consumer to lose trust in your brand.
The acronym works for leaders of businesses too. Stakeholders expect morality, ethics, accountability and trust as characteristics of the people charged to lead them. It’s critical that you have these things in order, for example: -
Morality. Doing the right thing, having a strong organisational and moral compass.
Ethics. Never compromising your personal or organisational credibility for a quick short term financial win, always play the long game.
Accountability. Being the buck stops here person. Calling the big shots and standing behind them. Saying sorry when you get it wrong.
Trust. Keeping confidences, doing the things you say, being honest even when the news is difficult, having personal integrity.
In a social media driven world, leaders and brands are instantly accountable for their actions. News spreads like wildfire, opinion spreads, blame spreads and your reputation can be gone in an instant. Take the lessons from Findus and apply them to your own business in terms of your business and personal reputations.
Been thinking about these words a lot of late and worked them into a few talks.
It’s amazing how your thoughts can conspire to constrain you, with past experiences creating a hard disk memory in your parietal brain which may auto-pilot you to never repeat something or your limbic brain telling you a thousand reasons why you should retreat, not invest. I’ve met so many people, wearing their virtual black armbands or past experience, failing to forgive and move on.
Successful people, have mastered the notion of ubiquitous opportunity. They don’t pre-judge, they stay open to everything and closed to nothing. Even if that means repeating a previously unsuccessful thing on a different day as the outcome may be different. Your past experiences can end up pre-programming you to be closed to opportunity, unless you constantly update your stored experiences and beliefs with the up to date version of you.
Earlier I sent this tweet, “Opportunities are never lost,someone will always find the ones you fail to see/action”. It’s a great reminder that those who have moved on into the moment of now, rarely miss opportunity, as they see the possibility in everyone and everything at anytime. They have great listening skills, ask lots of questions, take lots of feedback and update their personal software.
People who have pre-formed opinions, want to spend more time arguing they are right or pre-judging outcomes rarely see as much opportunity. So spend more of your time reflecting as to whether you might be in that place, I have been and from experience I can tell you, the less hung up you are, the more UP! will come your way.
You’d have to live on space to have not seen the news around disgraced cyclist – Lance Armstrong – stripped of his seven Tour de France titles by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey (which many cynics labelled the “DOPRAH” interview).
After years of denying doping (use of banned performance enhancing drugs and techniques like blood transfusions), the evidence has become so overwhelming, that it’s not left not a shred of wriggle room for the usual “I’ve never failed a drug test” response that Armstrong has repeated so many times (does that remind you of a similar response by Bill Clinton – “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” when questioned on the Monica Lewinsky affair some years ago).
Now falling from grace, Armstrongs former team mates have all given sworn evidence of his doping to USADA, the evidence is irrefutable and now it’s all about news and reputation management. A big coup for Oprah, the Armstrong interview is his first step in re-gaining control of the story (Armstrong openly admits to being a control freak).
For those into road cycling (I’d count myself within that), his reputation has been under the microscope for years. Journalist David Walsh has written a great book which I’d recommend you read called “The Seven Deadly Sins” if you want to know more about it. If you want the first hand detail, read Tyler Hamiltons book ”The Secret Race” which goes into the specifics. Hamilton was a former teammate of Armstrong and a trusted lieutenant who broke ranks.
Armstrong has built a global reputation as the cancer survivor, offering hope to millions through his own personal story and the Livestrong foundation which he helped found. It’s been difficult for believers to now separate the two stories of cancer survivorship and his cheating in sports. The Livestrong bands, his auto-biographies and other promotional material have left their “personal buildings” with the same speed as the corporate sponsors – Nike, Oakley and Trek to name but a few.
Over the years of accuations, Armstrong has been vociferous in his responses to those who challenged him. Deploying legal teams, destroying the reputations of those who dared challenge him. Bullying, manipulating and narcissistic in his response, he took no prisoners, villifying those who dared speak out.
In his book “Mask of Sanity” – psychiatrist Hervey M. Cleckley cited sixteen common qualities of a psychopath, I’ve quoted ten of them below and I’ll leave you to judge whether you feel Armstrong has displayed any in his career thus far: -
- Superficial charm and good “intelligence”
- Absence of delusions and other signs of irrational thinking
- Absence of “nervousness” or psychoneurotic manifestations
- Untruthfulness and insincerity
- Lack of remorse and shame
- Inadequately motivated antisocial behavior
- Poor judgment and failure to learn by experience
- Pathologic egocentricity and incapacity for love
- Specific loss of insight
- Unresponsiveness in general interpersonal relations
There is of course a huge back story to this whole thing, much bigger than I plan to write about here, particularly relating to Armstrong’s lack of father figures in his life. It’s no surprise to me that he has this me vs. the world mentality, that’s how it must of felt his whole life. You’d need to read a few books to get the full picture, I compiled a list of five good reads on my cycling blog here.
What are the lessons to be identified?
So, ultimately what are the lessons for all of us here. Here’s 10 random things that I thought about: -
- The truth always catches you up. No matter how intricate the web you spin, it always seems to become untangled. Much more likely in the world of instantaneousness we now live in with smartphones permanently planted in peoples hands.
- Life has a karma. Doing bad to others ultimately always ends up in it coming back to you.
- Forgive your past. Don’t let the stored beliefs in your parietal brain determine your future. Update them and your current beliefs about yourself.
- Trust is so key in life. Breach trust and it’s very hard to ever re-gain it to the same previous levels.
- Bullying behaviour is all about the bully. Hiding their own insecurity, they manipulate others, it’s all about them, never about their victim(s).
- If you need to say sorry, mean it. A deep heart felt apology can assist in repairing a rift. A lot of viewers came away from the Oprah show feeling there not full and unconditional apologies given to some of those whose lives Armstrong had made very miserable indeed.
- The truth sets you free. Now he is admitting everything, it must be a relief to Armstrong to now have it all out there.
- Have a strong and well defined moral compass. If you have a strong belief system, then your moral sense check will help guide you. Write down the things that matter to you, the things you would never compromise on and keep them close at all times.
- Collective consciousness is a powerful thing. The bulk of the pro peloton were using performance enhancing drugs at this time in history. Using a principle called “the omerta” (code of silence) to ostracise anyone who ‘spat in the soup’ and broke ranks by talking to the press. There were clean riders whose careers were ruined who left the sport as they simply couldn’t keep up. Always be aware of where collective consciousness exists and ensure you walk your own pathway.
- Forgiveness is a powerful thing. I disagree with what he has done, the way he has acted, the deceipt, the manipulation and the lies he has portrayed. Despite all those things, it’s not worth holding on to personal anger ever for someone else, it’s simply energy depleting. To be at your best, you have to let those things go, or you get held back.
One thing I always remember from spending a day with the Apache Attack Force at Wattisham a couple of years back was that a lesson identified is different from a lesson learned. A lesson learned is where you took the things you identified and did something about them.
I hope that Armstrong can now learn from his mistakes and come out of this whole thing with a new purpose, a new perspective and a series of solid lessons for young sportspeople everywhere. If this is just some showpiece to set up a stage for a new book, a re-launched celebrity career, then it’s just a set of lessons identified.
Today we learned that video chain – Blockbuster – has called in the administrators, in the same week that music retailer – HMV – did the same.
For many observers, it’s no big surprise. You only need to look at the prolific rise of initially DVD mail services like Lovefilm, who have quickly migrated their business model over to a film on demand model or the launch of new services like Netflix or Blinkbox to know that the writing was on the wall for “nightly hire” DVD’s. Also on the threat matrix are the thousands of DVD’s to be impulse purchased in supermarkets for the price of a nightly rental.
I’ve spoken time and time again in this blog of the necessity to always understand what disruptive technologies are launching, who your indirect competitors might be and what changes are being wtitnessed in consumer behaviour, in order that you can make sound choices about future pathways. Without these, you are not keeping pace with the world. Add to that the totally transparent levels of pricing of just about anything and you have a perfect hurricane (not storm) ready to rip through your business model.
It’s hard to believe that the strategic plan of Blockbuster did not consider these things, if they didn’t, then the blame lays firmly and squarely with the senior team. Maybe it was speed, they knew what needed to be done, but didn’t possess the talent or technology to move quickly. Perhaps it was the business model, over 500 locations with eager landlords tied into long leases which couldn’t be unwound. Or the cost of downsizing the whole thing simply couldn’t be borne from reserves. The administrators will quickly figure things out and see what value remains. Whether anyone feels there is anything sustainable to buy, I think unlikely.
Hungry consumers will be ready to pick over the bones, to give the shops a temporary buzz as they sense a bargain and a kill. It’s estimated that the closure of Blockbuster, along with HMV and Comet will increase the empty retail outlet numbers by 5%, so cue more charity shops to a town near you soon.
Retail needs to be multi-channel and highly distinctive. Creating store experiences that blend the on and off-line world, giving people a real reason to visit a store. I categorise today’s buyers into three types: -
- I-WIN = I Want It Now. The tribe that leaves things too late to internet shop or hunting down something due to a breakage or fault.
- I-WAIT = I know what I want but I will happily on-line shop for it. Likely to go to a store to see something or try it on, but happy to wait and order it on-line for a better deal.
- I-BROWSE = In a state of active purchase. Happy to browse a shop and make an impulse purchase or browse an internet site.
Many of the big retailers have already recognised this and have created “destination” stores and integrated multi-channel experiences giving someone a real reason to visit using theatre or over and above benefits to shopping on-line, I call these “perkonomics”. Hi-Fi retailer Richer Sounds are great at this, driving foot traffic to stores promising “better than the web deals” with real personal service.
Blockbuster won’t be the last. Other retail chains may fall in 2013, January is normally the time when chains go, with Christmas sales dictating whether they can pay the next quarters rent. What’s for certain is the landscape has permanently changed and the internet has truly challenged the high overhead cost of chains running stores. Things will be fine for the big retailers that own their own brands and margins, life will remain pressurised for those that don’t.
This was the scene I had in front of me on Sunday morning – fantastic isn’t it. I was out on my bike, it was foggy and early in the morning so the roads were quiet. The sunrise was breaking through the haze and riding towards it, I couldn’t help but feel what an amazing scene it was, so I pulled over and took a picture with my phone.
Absorbing the detail of the view, the trees, the distance, the sunrise and combined with the slightly shivery conditions, I felt glad to be alive and equally glad to be out enjoying such a moment.
As I rode off towards the amazing sunrise, it made me reflect on why I no longer make New Years Resolutions, prefering “lifelong evolution” to short term “resolution” which sounds like you are doing a running repair.
When you are working to a greater purpose (for me it’s simply to make a difference to the people that I meet), you take little notice of days, months and years anymore. Your life is less goal centred and more orientated towards your bigger picture,with goals contributing rather than being the be all and end all.
For too many years I chose to make resolutions, which all lasted for a week or two before I got back into my old ways. Usual stuff, lose a bit of weight, get fitter or ring up an old friend. It wasnt until I turned forty that I began to realise that you don’t need a New Year to do any of this stuff, you can make the choice anytime of the day or night, on any given day on any given year. All you need is a wider purpose to make it meaningful for you, for you to get the motivation to break a habit and create a new one.
Everyone needs goals, they do help to motivate. But goals not linked to a purpose can end up becoming empty goals, or a shot at goal which goes wide of the net. Whether in business or your personal life, feeling connection to a strategic objective or life goal, is the surefire way to accelerate your journey towards it.
Those that may have seen me speak on this subject will have heard me refer to this as defining your “ding” – there is a short blogpost about it which you can read here. When you get that over-arching reason as to what you’re doing it all for, you’ll quickly realise that you can change anything about how you operate in the blink of one eye and change needn’t be driven by a date called the 1st of January which only occurs once per year. You can have twenty “1st of January’s” every day, if they are linked to a real purpose, all you have to do is decide what.
Happy New Year!