I saw this article on Harvard Business Review earlier today, which argues that a CEO should step out of the saddle before losing relevancy. There are some really well made points about tenure length, growing ‘stale’ and it leading to a cessation in ‘adaptive changes,’ much of which I agree with. The balancing piece that the article didn’t address was - How do you continue to stay relevant if a leader in a large business?
Speaking at the Telegraph Festival of Business in November, I outlined a philosophy I simply call Out/On/In (OOI) for how I broadly manage my diary. I use this to dictate how I invest (not spend) my time as head of a large organisation. It’s pretty simple and looks something like: -
OUT – 1/3 rd of time. Experiencing, seeing customers, visiting conferences, establishing new relationships, media relations activity, networking, connecting and creating. What’s changing in the external environment?
ON – 1/3rd of time. Processing what I’ve seen and the impact it has on our strategy, direction, course, decisions, organsisation. Reviewing the high level impacts of the things that I’ve seen and experienced for the longer term 3-10 years, so you can always keep rolling perspective of the future. What should we change about our direction now from what we’ve seen and heard?
IN – 1/3rd of time. Being in the business, reviewing process, people, performance and culture. Dealing with the practical implications of it all aswell as the other things that you need to service a large business as a leader. What should we change about our practice, process or culture to deal with the changes we need to make?
It’s a very simple system and it serves me really well, I don’t run it strictly to 1/3rd all the time, it’s a broad brush. Some months I’m more in that out. ‘ON can mean being in the office or thinking ‘OUT’ of the office depending on what’s going on and where I am relating to optimising my travel and diary optimisation. The key point is this, unless you spend time ‘Out’ you can quickly become one of those CEO’s who do become stale, losing perspective, relying on past data for decisions not the current day climate. You become the person in the HBR article.
Unless you are feeling, experiencing and seeing what is going on at a ‘meta’ level with the world, it’s so easy to fall asleep at the wheel oblivous to the landscape whizzing by at 125mph like landscape from a train window. By investing time ‘OUT’ in this way, you can make highly relevant decisions relating to your ‘ON’ and your ‘IN’ that are meaningful for the climate of today.
As a leader it energises you, pushes you to constantly ask yourself – “What does this mean for us?” Meeting lots of people, studying organisations, people, cultures and management styles gives you a shot in the arm to ensure you are always keeping up, learning, absorbing and keeping your skin in the game for mood music of today and tomorrow. If you do that, in my view, you won’t hit a sell by date because you are always remaining relevant my drawing on the now.
Boosted by reading books, being open to everything, staying approachable and always seeking feedback is a framework for staying in the saddle and galloping towards the future – saddle up!
“Nice shot Dad, but what are you going to do next”. Those words hit me and this blog title came straight into my head. Picture the scene, a bar in Faliraki, Rhodes. My son and I playing pool whilst my wife and daughter did some holiday shopping.
I’d just potted a difficult ball and was busy self-congratulating myself (helped by a few beers) when I saw the white rolling behind another ball which effectively left me snookered to pot the black and win the game. There was the business lesson right there, it’s all about thinking one shot ahead.
Reality is, I normally do, however I’d taken my eye off the ball. This was the last shot before the black, competitiveness had kicked in, my need to win had distracted me from the normal process of potting one ball at a time and thinking ahead to the next shot. There are a few thoughts which came to mind: -
1. Competition in business can lead you to chase for short term wins with the potential to lose the big picture goal. Adrenalin, excitement and the environment you are in can contribute to this.
2. Always be aware of pressure and how it can impact your thinking and ability to drill your pre-defined processes. Elite athletes are taught this way, to simply execute what they do in training day after day, regardless of the occasion.
3. The metaphor for thinking one shot ahead is a great way to think about business planning. If we do this, what would the shot after be and are we well positioned for it?
4. Every situation is a potential moment for learning, look for the insights.
5. Be quick to reflect on the level of your success before calling in the massed marching bands.
6. There is another obvious one related to alcohol intake, but hey I was on my holidays
Seeing how my son had improved both his pool and table tennis playing skills over our holiday was another important insight about the brains ability to quickly learn and adapt. Both of us rapidly increased our skill by playing every day, committing to memory (both mental and muscle) the strokes, weight and movements needed to improve our respective games.
Ecoutez et Repetez
Like anything in life, if you systematically repeat something, the brain quickly creates new synapses to accommodate the new information. A reminder to commit to those things that are important to you through regular review, so that they become committed to your sub-conscious.
During our holiday, I invested time in re-reviewing my personal vision, mission and values aswell as writing a 50 point plan of all the things that I feel are contributory to living a life of happiness, success and unlimited potential.
This information, processed, documented and validated remains stored in the parietal area of my brain like an auto-pilot or wiki, for constant referral to. By this regular review, like the table tennis or pool, it can only serve you and improve you by participating and repeating the practice regularly.
As your brain then runs your systems like breathing, heart regulation and digestion, it can also run your positive direction of travel, improve your circumstances and potential to achieve your goals and make the whole process second nature. An easy win for anyone wanting to improve their personal success in life.
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.
One thing about being a child of the 80′s (growing up) is that I’ve witnessed a renaissance in technology over the the last thirty years. When you just take a minute to step back and think a minute, you come up with a list that contains things like this (not exhaustive or in any particular order): -
- Fax Machines.
- CD’s (including portable CD players).
- The internet!
- MP3 downloads.
- Mobile phones.
- Personal Computers.
- Laptop Computers.
- Sky TV.
- Portable flash drives.
- Wireless Networks.
- Digital cameras.
- Satellite navigation systems.
- Social Media – Youtube, Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, Wikepedia, Hotmail.
- The birth of Amazon and Google.
- Flat screen Televisions – LCD, Plasma.
- Apple (i-pod, i-pad, i-phone).
- Tablet computers.
- Cloud computing.
It’s quite incredible to think that in early 1990 when I entered the world of work, only a few of the things on this list existed in terms of technology. Everything else has been invented subsequently, in fact, life has changed totally. One characteristic of all this technology is that it has led to a world of consumption, with nearly all the tech listed contributing in some way to cramming every available moment we have.
The victim of this is quality thinking time. Waking moments are spent with screens in our hands, devices buzzing, status updates demanding attention and a need to fill down time with something. For you to be at your best, you need downtime from technology to re-connect and quieten the chatter in your head. Over a year ago I did this presentation (see slides 6-8), highlighting how being in this busy mode keeps your brain in a “beta” state, which is massively under utilising your capability to think creatively. Don’t get me wrong, I love technology and I run a technology company, however I also know the importance of keeping a balance.
When you disconnect and invest some time away from technology, it can have a re-charging effect on you. Your brain moves into it’s “alpha” mode, which is far more creative, expansive and potential based – a brilliant place to be to come up with solutions to problems or your next big idea. Your internal dialogue quietens down and relaxation becomes easier, you begin to re-connect with the inner you.
Things will keep speeding up, that’s for sure. 2013 will see more platforms, more tech and more reasons to stay permanently connected to the internet. If you want 2013 to be a year of potential and achievement, combined with a feeling of peace and contentment, then make sure you disconnect regularly, don’t be a slave to the system and invest more time in quality thought to achieve your goals. When you do, marvellous things start to happen.
You’ll be amazed at the moments of synchronicity that come your way, how you navigate yourself sub-consciously towards your goals and how you can make more positive choice about your life direction. Don’t do it half-heartedly with a smartphone in one hand and a pen in the other, the best time to think is either on your own with no distractions and nothing on in the background (radios, TV) or when walking, running, cycling, swimming or partaking in some form of exercise.
Achieving your goals is about working hard and smart. Give yourself the edge and make one of your New Years resolutions to invest more time thinking, it will deliver fantastic results.
Happy New Year!
Hindsight in not always a wonderful thing, in fact it can be really damaging. When you spend time remorsing about outcomes in the now using words like “I wish” and “I should” they are simply wasted thoughts and energy.
The only moment that matters is now. You are where you are. Reflection of what you could have done differently from what has passed, now that is a different thing. Reflection allows you to take all the lessons and re-apply them to the future you to help refine and re-define who you really are, a better version of you.
Spending time remorsing about where you are based upon the decisions you have already taken is self-destructive. Your brain will happily indulge you – if you give it permission to – in the thousand different reasons why you’re circumstances are why there are right now. “If I’d of been six inches taller I’d of been a pro-basketball player and my life would be different to what it is now.” All that says is “I’m not taking responsibility for my past decisions, my current version of me and the energy I chose to put into creating my future.” If you want to stay stuck in the past or even your present, remorseful hindsight will keep you there.
Three Tips to Assist
- Eliminate the word “Should” from your internal dialogue and replace it with “could, but I didn’t”. So, “I should have done this” turns into “I could have done that, but I didn’t”. It quietens your internal dialogue, allows you to accept your past decisions and move.
- Always look to refine and re-define yourself. Every experience is an opportunity for you to learn more about who you really are. Take the constructive lessons from what you’ve been through, but never dwell by going back and back by comparing your current circumstances. Simply take the learning and get it applied – fast to your current circumstance.
- Fly TWA. See previous blogpost on this subject here.
It’s amazing how much past experience dictates current thinking. When you can move on quickly, life is far happier. I meet lots of people that still wear their “black armband” of remorse for a past event or behaviour, keeping themselves in this period of mourning for what they should have done differently. Ask yourself if you are wearing one? If you are – For what? For who? And for how long do you want to keep going over this?
With 2012 coming to a close, it’s always a good point to have some personal reflection time. Being the best possible version of you means simply taking all the learning from those experiences from 2012, updating your brains belief systems and moral compass and living “in the now”.
To all my readers, my seasonal thought for you is about “being happy”. Happiness is simply that state of mind when you feel “peace”, “joy” and “purpose” in the things you do, a lovely balance where everything just falls into place. You can re-create who you are in a moment with a brand new thought, what lies ahead of you is simply there to be created. See you out there.
Yesterday I spoke at the Cheshire Business Expo (organised by Profile Communications) on what small businesses can learn from big businesses and leaders of big businesses. I covered quite a lot of content but wanted to summarise some of the key points here for the people that attended as a reminder of the key takeaways. Bullet form for easy digestion: -
- Have a clear vision.
- Have the right people, in the right seat.
- Understand their economic engine.
- Are disciplined in Thoughts, Words and Actions.
- Don’t just have a plan A, but also a B) Big and C) Contingency.
- Know what their main effort should be to deliver the vision.
- Have a stop doing list.
- Confront the brutal facts.
- Act quickly on poor performance at all levels.
- Spend more time thinking about the future.
Successful Leaders of Big Companies
- Manage their emotional state.
- Make evidence led decisons.
- Look to data and facts.
- Check assumptions.
- Spend more time creating than reacting to things.
- Are focused on “being their best” not comparing to others.
- Are open to everyone and everything.
- Have their mind, body and soul aligned.
- Effectively delegate and spend their time coaching/aligning others.
- Know their Ding!
I spoke quite a bit about emotional intelligence, here are a few additional articles for you to read: -
- The Ocean of Opportunity (all about the future and not looking back).
- Fly TWA (why you should put thoughts and words into action).
- AFD-MO (why you should just forgive everything and everybody as the only moment is now).
I do wonder sometimes about who are the high-profile role models for Generation Y+Z to base their lives upon. Most of what is in the media is sensationalist reality television depicting lifestyles dominated by drama, micro-celebrity and the pursuit of money plus things to artifically elevate social status – not great for our next generation of young people. Hopefully the London 2012 Olympics did it’s job in “inspiring a generation” of young people to take a different pathway inspired by different values of teamwork, personal success through hard work and recognition through personal sacrifice.
I spent a day at a conference yesterday , where two keynotes speakers inspired me, enter stage left – Sir Ranulph Fiennes OBE and Roger Black MBE. Fiennes our greatest living explorer and Black a great former Olympian. I seek out opportunities to hear stories from people like these as there are always transferable lessons from their achievements and timelines to transfer into your own. These two guys are great role modes with bonefide achievements and life lessons. I’ve bulleted five key points from each speaker to share and added some further thoughts in italics: -
Roger Black MBE
- “My Silver medal was my Gold”. Perhaps one of the most profound comments of the day and one that I totally identified with. The day he ran his own best race in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, he came second to perhaps the greatest athlete of that time, American – Michael Johnson. Rather than say he failed, he re-framed the way he looked at that to say that he ran his best possible race and won a silver medal. He walked away from that track knowing that he had delivered his full capability, in the moment. When he looked in the mirror, he could say there was nothing else he could of done on the day and the result was the result. He felt proud that he performed to his best when needed – This is a powerful lesson in moving on and acceptance, when all you aim to deliver in life is your personal best then it leads you to a really great place of accepting who you are.
- “Have the courage to change a winning formula. ” Black re-counted a race when they turned the conventions of running a 400m relay upside down by putting him as the first man, not the last, in order to beat the dominant Americans. The night before they realised that they could not beat them conventionally and had to put immediate pressure on their competitors. The result was a thrilling race which saw them execute their plan perfectly and win – A great example to always question what, why and how you do things – are your competitors planning to switch their running order to outpace you?
- “Wanting to win isn’t enough.“ At the Olympics, every athlete wants to win so everyone is in the same place mentally, which neutralises everyone. He spoke of the need to develop your own “need to achieve” which transcends “wanting to win” into a greater purpose. I think this is a great metaphor for life, I see so many people “wanting to be successful” but not being driven by the purpose of “why they want to be successful.” When you switch “I want to be successful because I want greater status in society” (short term happiness) to “I want to be successful so that I can help others less fortunate” (long term happiness) see what happens to your purpose and your results.
- “Champions are reactive, they are pro-active.” Linked back to point one but a different point. There was a time in Blacks career that he kept a close eye on his rivals, comparing race times to his, getting feedback about their winter training camps or form. He spent a lot of time comparing himself to them and then trying to fine tune against them. At one point he received career changing advice from a coach that he had to stop comparing against them and focus on running his perfect race. I wrote a blog on this theme called “Being Your Best” which you can read here. Bottom line is this, focus on your own potential, not others.
- “Talent is not enough unless properly applied. “ Black was a talented runner, with a physique perfect for the 400m. He has been gifted the physical attributes to run very, very fast. He had the talent. However, to maximise that talent he needed the right people around him to demonstrate how to use it. Successful running is about many different things including tactics and he had to listen and learn to refine his talent to become world class. If you are trying to be world class in your business, then don’t do it on your own. Get great non-executive directors, hire great talent – the best you can afford, go to conferences and listen to how world class people achieved, read white papers around excellence in your industry and most importantly – develop yourself.
Sir Ranulph Fiennes OBE
- “You can sack someone on an expedition but you can’t get rid of them.“ If someone isn’t performing in the middle of the Antarctic, you can say “you’re fired” but there is nowhere for them to go as you’re in the middle of nowhere. Candidate selection is vital for the expeditions that Fiennes leads, it’s also vital for business. Spend time at the front of the process – particularly with key hires – to ensure best fit.
- “We go for any record that any human has never done before.” How do you frame that? Achieving what most think is the impossible. Using your frame of reference as to what everyone else things is unchartered territory. Are you confining your thoughts to the market as defined by everyone else or the potential of the market in a completely new unchartered way?
- “We had nothing but morse code for communication with the outside world. “ Describing one of his major expeditions which saw him circumnavigate the globe, a feat to which this day has not been repeated and took him three years, Fiennes described a world without GPS, satellite navigation and mobile devices. He and his companion – Charles Burton – had each other and morse code only for communication with hunanity. They mapped regions of the world for the first time ever, by hand for the great good of humanity. Can you imagine life without a device, wireless access or 24/7 communication? Are you comfortable with your own company? Can you sit and think without agitaton to be connected? Can you imagine having to walk for thousands of miles over ice, which is constantly moving only navigating by a compass? The lesson here is all about the growing need to be connected to the matrix in order to feel in touch and the growing need for things to be automated which ultimately stops your brain doing the work. It’s not a bad thing to be out of touch, to allow your mind to drift from “attention” to “possibilities.”
- “Have mental ammunition at the ready.” A question came about how Fiennes kept going in some of toughest conditions on the planet, ravaged by frostbite, in constant pain with huge distances still to travel. He said he had “mental ammunition” which he always fired at his brain to overcome the overwhelming need to stop.“ Ability to cope under pressure and mental toughness is a fantastic quality, which you can personally develop. You’re potential to achieve is far greater than you imagine and your pain threshold far further than you might think. Have your own mental ammunition ready for the tough times to dig you out of a hole. Good ammunition are things like: – “Pain is temporary, quitting is forever,” “How bad is this compared to being diagnosed with a terminal illness.” Get some perspective and push on through.
- “I recruit on motivation.” Many of the people that accompanied Fiennes on his expeditions were unpaid, took time out of their lives and risked their livelihoods to accompany him. For Fiennes this meant that their purpose was not money or status, but the adventure. Fiennes knew that these people would give every last drop in their tank if they had to because they had nothing to lose. Fantastic lesson to find the fanatics in your business whose purpose is all about the adventure and the experiences.
Arriving at our local Costa coffee on Sunday afternoon, you couldn’t help but notice that it had been updated and refurbished. Out with the deep red colour, in with a funky new colour scheme – very nice for the customer.
Over the time we’ve been visiting this particular store you always end up talking to the baristas as you’re waiting for your drink to be prepared. Observing the new working area for the baristas which seemed to be more cramped, I asked whether they had been consulted about the re-fit. The answer was no.
Worse was to come, the re-fit had made their job harder. The bins were smaller meaning that they now had to be emptied every half an hour, rather than every morning or afternoon. The serving areas had been reduced meaning they could not benefit from the improved cycle time of an additional coffee machine and the additional coffee machine had been located at the opposite end of the servery, meaning they had to constantly weave through each other with hot drinks. In sum, the new design made the work more difficult for the baristas.
It was a classic scenario of someone thinking about the brand look and feel for the customer – big tick, but not thinking about how the work works – no tick. Bottom line is that customers will still be kept waiting in a queue as something as simple as a serving area was not considered sufficiently enough in the new “grand design”.
In a world where people don’t want to wait, my primary effort would have been to review cycle time to reduce queues and minimise wait times, then designed the coffee drinking experience around that. The only way to achieve that aim is to go to see how the work works, consult, listen and then test, learn and refine.
There’s a huge lesson here in that you should never make big decisions unless you understand how the work works by talking to people who do the work. First question, “If you were me, what would you change?” Invariably, they know more about the processes than anyone, so listen up and listen carefully and you’ll get better results in the long term.
I don’t watch much television nowadays, the TV I do watch tends to be documentaries, business shows or cycling! (Saying that I have recently been wowed by introducing an Apple TV set-top box and Netflix subscription into the house following a new high speed broadband network at home – lots of new possibilities there).
I have however been impressed by some of the shows on Channel Four recently and one that recently caught my eye was The Audience. Imagine a crowd of fifty people who follow you everywhere you go as you wrestle with a personal dilemma or big decision, their job is to view your problem through their eyes then debate and counsel you as to route you should take.
The fifty are drawn from all walks of life, different ages, ethnic origins, regions and backgrounds. They observe, listen, question, then debate amongst themselves the issue at hand ultimately then answering the dilemma at the end of the show having thrashed the issue out amongst themselves.
It’s compelling viewing and there is a huge lesson in there. This problem isn’t just a problem halved, it’s quartered up into fifty slices with fifty brains working on potential solutions. Each of the individuals bring different perspective, life experience, logic and rationality to the process. The lesson is about using the wisdom of crowds. Not everyone thinks the same, sees the problem with the same eyes or has the emotional attachment to a set of circumstances.
Regardless if your problem is personal, technical or business related, a third party can always give you fresh perspective. If you think you know always know the answers, you’re likely to be closed to new possibilities. I often tell a story at work of a pharma company whose development of a blockbuster drug was halted whilst their chief scientist wrestled with a highly technical development issue. A chance meeting at a coffee machine with a colleague from the finance department solved it. The guy in finance happened to have graduated with a degree in chemistry, then had a career change. His fresh set of eyes and ears on the problem, simplified the solution and development got back on track.
Surround yourself with others. Appreciate their differences to you. If you’re logical, seek non-logical people – the opposite to you to get a fresh perspective. Appreciate the wisdom of others. Welcome feedback. Don’t always think you have the answers, there is something to learn from everybody.
If you’ve ever flown in a helicopter or light aircraft, then you’ll be familiar with the words “you have control” when a pilot hands over the joystock to a co-pilot or vice versa. It’s a very specific instruction so that both are clear as to who is flying the machine. I used this metaphor the other day when explaining a leadership situation around delegation, that once you have handed over control, don’t try and wrestle it back!
Another great helicopter metaphor relates to staying in the sky and retaining ” the helicopter view.” As the leader of the business you have to stay above the business, looking down and keeping the aerial view – it’s a commonly used anecdote. The bit that most people don’t tell you though is how easy it is to come crashing back to ground when problems occur!
Your first response will be to grab the controls, descend as fast as possible, get the chopper on the ground and get problem solving. This is the thing you must avoid at all costs, if you are to truly delegate. Trust those you work with to solve the situation, you stay up in the air and keep in radio contact!
In the early days it’s hard to do but you soon get the hang of it. By staying “up there,” you can remain objective and provide the best possible advice keeping the big picture in mind. It’s very tempting to land the helicopter but remind yourself that if you’ve said “you have control” to a colleague, then unless they are struggling or specifically ask you to get back down on the ground and help out, then keep flying, keep thinking and keep big picture.