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.
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.
Business relies upon ideas. Creativity leads to innovation, innovation leads to new products and services, new products and services lead to temporary monopolies, temporary monopolies lead to market demand and ultimately profits. However, time pressures mean we are spending less time thinking and more time doing in today’s “must make every moment count by doing something” world. Here is a short presentation outlining some reasons why you should spend some more time thinking, five frameworks for creative thinking or problem solving and some tips to get you going.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve been increasing the frequency of public speaking that I do as part of our overall brand reputation strategy. Being seen as a person of influence in your sector, provides substantial benefits to your brand and puts you significantly higher up the consideration chain of your target audience. It reaches out further and deeper than any advert you can ever place.
This week I hosted the annual Shared Services Forum UK conference in Harrogate. Bringing together around forty really large private and public sector organisations to share examples of excellence, the names of businesses attending was like a who’s who of top flight companies. There was a brilliant line up of keynote speakers during the day, including Molly Harvey, Adrian Webster and David Yeoman , each delivering different takes on leadership, motivating others and personal development. I was able to spend time with each of them during the prior evening dinner and during the day to talk about what makes them tick.
The one common characteristic of the three speakers is that they all continue to develop themselves, in order to develop others. They sat in on the keynotes of the other speakers, observing, taking notes and learning. They all possess a hunger to raise their game, refine, test, learn and be their best.
It was fascinating to see the contrast in styles and engagement between the three speakers. Harvey, with a soft Irish accent, delivered some powerful content which had the audience listening intently. Webster, turning energy up and down in explosive stage fits of a sparky performance and Glaswegian Yeoman, engaging the audience and challenging people with his forthright views on use of words and behaviour. He managed to get everyone up and spontaneously clapping to the Gypsy Kings, cleverly anchoring a moment where we had all just let go of tension by blowing our negative thoughts into a balloon.
Observing the audience, it’s amazing how people love to be inspired by others and catch the wind of enthusiasm of clever thoughts, connectedness and potential for change. Molly Harvey made a great point during her keynote about “watch who you spend your time with.” What she meant was, you have to spend your time with people who have the mindset that you aspire to, have or are developing in order for you to be challenged and grow. If you have a think about the five people you spend the bulk of your time with, what does that say about how you are influenced?
That’s why it’s important to get out of the office, meet new people, discuss, debate and network. To listen to others, grow, share and challenge yourself. I learned a huge amount just being in the presence of others, I’d encourage you too. Consider it an investment, not a cost. Invest in a day, don’t justify a day. Excellent people do.
Earlier this week, I was invited along to Hull Business Week to deliver a keynote around megatrends. Hull Business Week does what is says on the tin, a week long celebration of business. Speakers, exhibitions, dinners, you name it, they do it.
I don’t get over to East Yorkshire much. It was a few weeks since I was there last and I do remember how welcoming the business community was then. Nothing’s changed.
Delivering a keynote around something I call “The Me-cosystem”, I shared some trends which I think are changing the game in respect of how businesses need to re-define themselves in the new hyper-speed economy. Time, Attention, and Trust continue to dominate the social landscape. Breaking through is the new challenge for marketeers and business development professionals.
In an engaging Q&A session afterwards, we spent a lot of time discussing questions around which platforms are right for business, how to manage a PR crisis on social media, developing policies for your business to give guidance to staff, the legalities of web defamation and even what the digital future holds for a printer company – great stuff!
Some of those answers were: -
In a social media crisis, respond and take it off-line wherever possible. Don’t pour further fuel on a fire by debating in the public domand. Keep your answers to facts, keep it short and take it to e-mail or phone.
Create a social media policy for your staff. Do’s and dont’s. Remember, nearly all your staff will already have a social media profile – you can’t control that. But you should give guidance to what they do or don’t say about your business and in business hours.
Platforms for business. I use Twitter for listening, Linkedin for contacts that I’ve met, blogging for reputation. I don’t use Facebook for business at a personal level, however we do use it for customer interaction.
F-Commerce is the new E-Commerce. Transactional platforms like e-Bay and Amazon are dominating the convenience of on-line marketplaces and communities. Facebook is coming. Facebook credits are alread on sale in the USA – the new global digital currency perhaps?
Managing your on-line reputation is key. Honesty and transparency matter. You can’t edit content so that it only contains good stuff or people won’t believe you. People will tell you if you’ve got a bad product or received bad service. Better to listen and respond and do better next time. 63% of people trust recommendations from peer review ahead of adverts. So, start listening and engaging with your customers.
Hull Business Week was well managed, well attended and a great example to other regions on how to lay on a top quality event for business. Great job.
Growing for Gold. That’s what I entitled a talk I gave at the Business North West fair in Manchester today to an audience of small businesses. Examining three key areas of growing a small business to large, I made these points: -
Growing Pains – Things you’ll experience as your business grows.
Feeling less connected with the breathing heart of the business.
You’ll feel a bit out of control. As you will realise you can’t do everything.
You’ll spend more time in meetings.
You’ll spend more time on people issues.
You have to bring in managers to run areas for you (and by default spend more time managing them).
You spend your time avoiding calls of people trying to sell you stuff.
Life gets lonelier. You’re not part of the team anymore. You’re the big boss.
Things that Big Companies do well that small businesses can learn from
They’re on the numbers. They always have a budget, 3 year plan and cashflow forecast.
They make their processes slick, with as little human intervention as possible.
They have a good plan A, but always have a plan B.
They fail fast. If things aren’t going well, they don’t get wedded to an idea.
They spend more time in the future. Looking at future markets, products and growth areas.
Transitioning from Management to Leadership
I ran through ten things from a previous post I’d written around leadership. You can view it here and some tips to make you a better leader.
An interesting conversation came from the audience. “What’s your motivation for giving this talk today?” – excellent. Answer = My day job is creating market space for us to sell our products to SME’s. It’s in my interest to see small businesss grow. By growing, we get to sell more products to them (plus I enjoy the public speaking).
At the end of today’s talk, I spent about an hour talking to small business owners about various challenges, problems and opportunities that are on their desks right now. It’s clear, that there are plenty of businesses with big ideas, ambition and the metal to get on with it. Good for them.
Speaking at an event I did in London yesterday, I was approached by one of the audience members at the coffee break to ask for some tips they could use for an upcoming and important presentation they were doing. Speaking in public isn’t difficult, it all depends on how much work you put in to make it an enjoyable/stimulating experience for your audience. Let me share some of the tips with you.
Really think of your message and take out, build the entire talk around this.
Never read from bullet points.
Use images to support your words.
Stand still, except when moving to another fixed positon.
Speak with your mouth and use your hands to exaggerate. Vary your voice.
You will either gain or lose your audiene in the first minute, think about what you can do/say to really gain their attention.
Be yourself. Authenticity matters. Share stories that show you are human.
Prepare. Your audience can spot an unprepared speaker from a mile off.
Engage with as many people as you can when you talk. Look for the “nod”. What this means is, look into a particular audience members eyes and speak at them until they nod at you, then move on to someone else.
Be engaging and interesting. Nearly all subjects – bar the obvious – can be made more interesting if you really think about it. The more interesting, the more engaged your audience will be.
“Tell me why, I don’t like Ma han day’s, tell me why I don’t like Ma han day’s”, Boomtown Rats 1979, I’m sure you remember the song. It fell to my mind tonight speaking at this event called “Green Monday”, and I certainly do like “Ma han day’s”, particularly tonight.
The topic I was covering was about how to position green products into specific markets, for example, the difference between consumers (B2C) and businesses (B2B). The business I work for has been working towards environmental objectives for about twenty years, however it was 1993 before we developed the worlds greenest printer. At the time, it was a monumentous effort, taking huge resources and passing very stringent tests. We were confident that it would be a winner.
Opening tonights session, I spoke briefly about some of the key lessons I’d learned over the years about positioning or selling green products. Let me share them with you: -
Lesson number 1. Businesses won’t pay a premium to go green. Consumers are more likely, providing they have the disposable income. This was a harsh lesson as we thought everyone would share our philosophy of doing the right thing. When it came to it, the money talked. I call this “ECO-nomics”, that is, you have to make a sound business case with clear return on investment (ROI) or return on objectives (ROO).
Lesson number 2. It shouldn’t inconvenience the user. If it means someone has to do something different it puts them out, then you’re likely to see objections raised or resistance to a proposed change. Try removing people’s bins in your office for a week and see how eco-friendly their prepared to be when they have to get up from their desk to use a waste bin.
Lesson number 3. It must be a “no-brainer”. Take all of the guessing out of it. Same price, easier to use, sexier than the non-eco version etc. The more you make people think, the harder it gets to convince them to change a habit.
Hard as this is to say, the world is suffering from ECO-fatigue. Recessions are killers for green investments, the age of austerity might put back sustainable procurement and people are more concernnd with their personal worlds, than the world (massive generalisation I know, however it is a generalisation). Now it’s about protecting your job at all costs and doing things that make you look good in front of your boss or feel happy in a miserable economic environment.
We’re living in a disposable consumer age. Consumption and one-upmanship trump eco-ness any day of the week. Example. Apple i-Pad. According to Greenpeace, they only rate 4.9 out of 10 on green issues in their Guide to Greener Electronics. Who cares? They’ve made a sexy gadget that everyone wants, no one looked at the eco-label, far from it, buyers were more interested in being first, bragging rights and making their lives easier.
So, this is what the green market is up against. You have to play in the same backyard as everyone else. Don’t think people will pay more, they expect you to be green as a hygiene factor, but that still doesn’t mean they will buy your product, you’ll just be considered. If it’s green and a monstrosity, forget it.
There is reason to be positive however. There are a growing band of businesses and individuals that continue to lead the charge and show leadership in this area. The businesses attending tonights Green Monday conference are all great examples of this and I’m pleased to air my views that it’s still a tough road. Corporate CSR brochures and Corporate procurement are still disconnected, boardroom rhetoric and actions are still distanced, no-one said it would be easy, but the world won’t wait and we have to all be good Corporate citizens and get on with it.
There’s lot of challenges to making your business lower carbon, particularly in the depths of a global credit crisis and recession recovery. You’re battling for Time, Attention and Trust, keeping your head above water and winning business. People are distracted with the here and now, their own problems in their personal bubble. Speaking to a roomful of businesses interested in the idea of a Greater Manchester Low Carbon economy this morning, I outlined some of the challenges with getting things going (see this link for some of the slides I used).
Civic leaders have had every report possible done. The opportunity is clear. The risks are clear. The next steps for business are not. Greater Manchester has lots of commissions and passionate people, however, I feel it is lacking “The Big Idea”. i.e., What one thing could we mobilise a whole city region behind, in order to improve the lives of the people within it? Whether that means cleaner air, better business, infrastructure or living environment. The newly established Greater Manchester Chamber Carbon Reduction Groups aims to tackle that.
I gave a couple of examples today of great things that I’d seen. One was about a City in France that has a huge balloon floating about the City Hall, connected to the power grid. It glows red when high demands are being made on the grid, allowing everyone in the City Region to instantly visualise and take action. That alone forced behaviour change, started people thinking about the things they could/should do. It’s not always about telling people what to do, but motivating them to do something.
I also spoke about a clever little piece of software called Powerman from a company called Ergo Computing (details here) which actively monitors energy consumption of IT on a network. A simple yet highly effective way to reduce carbon and costs. Straight to the bottom line and ticking everyone’s boxes.
For business, you have to balance the economics of carbon reduction with the economics of running your business. I gave the example of having a large external salesforce, who are very motivated by cars. We choose to offer a benchmark car with an industry leading CO2, yet still good enough to attract the right talent. We then offer further financial incentives for them to go even lower on their CO2. Around 25% of drivers choose this route, so it’s a way of still balancing our need for talent, with the need to be as efficient as we can be with our carbon. If we offered a fleet of electric cars, we wouldn’t get the right people, that’s hard to swallow sometimes, but a fact of life, so you need to accomodate it and save additional carbon in other ways.
It’s not all easy though. Going green can be an inconvenience to people because it requires changes in our behaviour, particularly when it comes to re-cycling. When you’ve been running a sustainable business as long as we have, you have to search for the continuing wins, like squeezing a sponge. That’s when it begins to hurt a little more as it becomes much more focussed on the individual doing different things rather than the organisation. Levels of kickback increase when you reach this points, however, you get over the humps in time.
Behind the landscape of all of this, you also still have the disconnect between green dollars (procurement) and green ideals (CSR). If it were a game of Top Trumps, the economic buyer always trumps the sustainability department. It would be great to see organisations resolving this and having a more holistic view to their overall footprint, some businesses achieve this brilliantly, others not atall. These are the simple steps that business could take to get on board.
Whatever happens, you have to do something as a business. Public sector procurement and large companies expect you to be able to demonstrate your credentials when tendering as a supplier, we want to deal with suppliers with the same ideals. If you don’t get on the (electric) bus it will leave without you! Notwithstanding the fact that in Manchester that there is a £4bn economy to go at, see that made you sit up!
I could write a lot on this issue, I’m passionate about it. However, taking my own medicine and wanting to keep my blogposts short(ish) so that they get read, I’m going to now hand back to you to go and do something amazing in your own business. Start small. Make it Easy. Make a difference.
Second Life, Openism, Blue Mars, 3D Explorer. If these mean nothing to you today, they certainly will in future. They are all example of Virtual Worlds and this evening in Manchester I had the job of Chairing a really interesting mixed reality debate called The Death of Distance. Around 800M people alredy have virtual world accounts, around 2/3 of these are under 16. Before you roll your eyes and tut and say “it’s not for business”, give me a minute to explain.
So, firstly picture the scene. Room with about 40 people in it and projector. On screen, a virtual world, designed by the clever folk from Corporation Pop. A specially designed virtual world avatar of me (which looked slimmer and younger with no bags under the eyes – yippee), avatars of four other people attending virtually (x1 in Australia, x2 in America, x1 in London), two people piped in via video conference on a screen in the virtual world, a laptop running Twitter with the event hashtag #DofD. Got your head round that?
The central theme of the discussion was to examine the role of distance in a world which seems to be getting smaller, due to digital technology and the role that virtual worlds can play. Topics we probed and talked about included the return on investment, how to overcome global cultural barriers, how to establish authenticity and trust and how to break convention. I cited videoconferencing as one of things that is in the same league as the paperless office, it’s talked about a lot, yet global paper production continues to grow, in the same way that videoconferencing never really became mainstream. The recent Icelandic volcano might give us the wake up call we need on this stuff. An estimated 7M people were stranded globally when planes were grounded, so will this change our behaviour?
According to Gartner, they estimated that 70% of businesses would be using some sort of virtual world application by 2012. The panel disagreed. There seems to be a lot of barriers to entry right now, mostly technical. I.T. departments want a policy for everything, opening up network bandwidth is a real issue. Yet, so much can be gained. We heard from IBM and BP about the tremendous cost savings they implemented by switching conferences from real world to virtual world, up to 75% reduction in costs, yet similar outputs. The figures speak for themselves. This does however take, time, resources and senior management buy in! Big companies have these.
We also heard from some smaller businesses who had really embraced video-conferencing. They cited “triple-shifts,” sometimes also knows as “chasing the sun,” where they baton passed projects from time zone to time zone to give them competitive advantage. Linden labs cited the “war for talent” and that businesses need to embrace new things to attract the brightest stars of the future, I have to agree, this is something businesses can’t ignore. Linden already have over 1400 business globally using virtual worlds to give you some perspective.
It’s great to see Manchester pushing the boundaries of communication technology. I enjoyed chairing it as I’d never experienced such a multi-layered discussion before, it challenged me and gave me a new experience to learn from. I can now really see how virtual worlds could be used in business, I had an open mind before the event, however was struggling to see the exact application. Collaboration is the name of the game, linking up disparate people to maximum effect. Before you all cut up your airmiles cards, my final thought is this, human interactions are still key. Some relationships are developed in a bar or restaurant at night, when the work of the day is done, particularly in far eastern cultures where it can take more time to cultivate relationships. The Western world is more open to social networks, meeting people on-line and doing things quickly.
So, like anything it’s a balance. Humans still need to meet, it’s just the frequency may change and we may use different platforms to collaborate. As a result of this little project, I discovered Basecamp where all the prep was done virtually, I’m already using it for other things, it solves a problem. With a dispersed global workforce, I can see why IBM and BP use virtual worlds, it may take a little longer for other businesses to catch up. To give you some flavour of what IBM achieved with Linden Lab, have a read of this case study. Distance may not be dead yet, however it is certainly starting to sound poorly.
Adam Nelson, Executive Director of Business Operations, Linden Lab, San Francisco.
Joe Little - Senior Technology Consultant, BP International