Sunday, October 21, 2012

Investors in history

Many of the gongs, industry awards and competitions that businesses, especially SME's, can enter are a waste of time, energy and money.

MD Claire and I were talking about why this should be. I attended a recent event where the presenters were encouraging business delegates to make a commitment to the Investors in People (IIP) Standard.

IIP had a role when it was launched 20 years ago. In those days there were regional and national celebrations for organisations that met the Standard. You could display the IIP logo on your headed notepaper, and yes, we did it too. But now the Standard is cumbersome, some say unintelligible but certainly irrelevant, despite the underlying content, to the needs of 95% of SME's today.

Methods of internal and external communication have now emerged, and continue to emerge, that are just about the only way that small businesses can develop and sustain competitive advantage.

Claire hit the nail on the head. She said "Unless a business has a very specific need for external accreditation, it should concentrate on feedback from the people that really matter: colleagues, staff, stakeholders and customers."

And you don't need a blue badge on the wall to do that.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Money doesn’t talk..........

We have worked with many people who have made a lot of money in business, and some who have inherited family prosperity to invest in or develop a business. But it is this perception and the reality of wealth that can give rise to all sorts of dysfunctional relationships.

I couldn’t understand why two members of the senior management team were not included in the 360 degree appraisals that we were planning. The Managing Director replied that two of them “don’t like you”. Now this business has several blue chip clients in the oil industry and regards itself as the market leader in its sphere of expertise. I had questioned this.

So Dave replied that one of his directors Jill, was a personal friend who had been with the company for twenty years. He said that she thought my approach was “too abrasive”.

“And what about the other?” the finance director, I enquired. “Ah, well” Dave said. “I would hate to lose Suzanne because she looks after my personal finances as well as those of the business.”

So I said “What do you mean lose, we are only looking at what each member of your board can do to improve their performance in order to improve the performance of your business?”

A genuine danger to any business is where hidden agendas, duplicity and politics are rife at the top. In these cases, Bob Dylan is right when he sings “Money doesn’t talk ........ it swears.”


Monday, September 17, 2012

No hiding place

It is quite common for Managing Directors to invite you into their business to improve both sales and profit.... until they find out what they personally need to do to enhance business performance.

Paula asked me in to her organisation for just that reason. As a national vegetarian food distributor it was increasingly hard to deliver certain outcomes with both key income streams and certain gross margins in decline. As usual we started our work with the Senior Management Team and it required a level of openness and honesty to actually agree what the Bull’s Eye for this client was to be for the next three years.

During early discussions it was already clear that some directors had different ideas from each other about the best way forward. So I invited them to tell me who had personal responsibility for each of the eight segments on the Kidson Diagnostic Wheel. Again there was disagreement and lack of clarity.

Without any director appraisals no one knew what they needed to do either individually or collectively to change the business model. The upshot was that I chose to appraise each of the directors in turn, at the same time in order to determine exactly who did what. On the due date for the work the MD not only refused to agree that she had any development points but then promptly invited me to leave the building.

The problem for Paula is that the work we have already done in the space of two half days has exposed the fault lines in her own leadership and management style. She can now deny it, she can cover it up or she can try to forget it, but the fact is that the jugular issues we uncovered will not go away, and they could well get worse.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Grow and grow

As the children get bigger, and the twenty somethings turn into thirty somethings, we wouldn’t be human if occasional thoughts didn’t turn to our own mortality. But it doesn’t have to be like that with the business.

So many family businesses can take off and fly through successive generations. One engineering company dad said to me recently, “Well I am so lucky to have my son David and daughter in law Jane to carry the business on.“ I replied, “Yes John, and they are so lucky to have such magnificent parents that started this business 35 years ago.”

Another seventy plus parent who founded a nursery that now employs one hundred people said, “I’m just the delivery driver here, you need to talk to Jessica, if you can catch her!” And the mother of a long standing retail business said, and she is eighty this year, “I just come in and open the post.”

But all these people actually do so much more with their presence, their experience and their wisdom. And as far as the business is concerned senior players are continuing to add more and more value, providing that they themselves want to carry on learning and developing, providing that they know how and when to hand over the reins.

I am facilitating the appraisals of some seventy year old directors today. So never mind all the siblings, let’s hear it for the elder statespeople that are still in there, doing the business.


Friday, June 15, 2012


When the directors of a business cannot seem to agree on the Bull’s Eye for their business, the single most common reason is a lack of trust between them.

The finance director was red with rage as she denounced her colleague, director of marketing, in front of me, for half baked ideas. “You bring projects to the table that might sound interesting, but you have nothing on paper, nothing on projected sales and PBT, nothing on cash flow implications.”

Silent, open, hostility.

Then Amanda spat her reply “And if it was left to you and your ability to have any new ideas at all, we wouldn’t even have a business. You are just a bean counter!”

When you share your tacit knowledge with a colleague, however this happens, it will always result in business reward.

Even if this means a parting of the ways.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

One night stand

Some leaders are excellent at relating to some people in some situations but not good with others. How can this be? Surely we are either good at engaging with people or not?

MD Mandy was in trouble with her own people. Despite running a successful and growing business, the staff survey feedback talked about remoteness, inability to focus and being distracted from core business. Yet if this was true how come the same person had grown the business so well from a standing start?

I had experienced several instances of the same thing in various organisations recently so what is it all about? Part of the answer is that it is one thing to sell your product and service to a whole succession of customers or clients. It's a kind of formula we can all learn: we can turn on the charm, give it charisma overload and win the order, time and time again.
But try the same approach with colleagues and staff, the same people that you have known and seen day after day, week after week, maybe for years, and it simply doesn't work.

In addition, there are some colleagues and staff that you instinctively and intuitively like and respect. There will be others where it feels like hard work every day, every time you have a transaction with them.
So if you are struggling to relate to some of the business people in your life, ask yourself whether you are doing all the work that is required for a committed relationship between two people.

Or are you simply going through the motions of a one night stand?

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The Line

The older I get and the more clients I work with, the less I think I understand about any of them. There is a kind of invisible line between every client / supplier relationship, especially on the service side of things.

A solicitor client was rehearsing a talk he is giving soon about commercial property. The purpose of the presentation is to help members of the audience prepare and deal with some of the mechanics of the transaction so that they can avoid unnecessary fees. “But surely,” I said, “there are people who do not want to deal with title deeds, due diligence and banks? They just want the result.” “You are missing the point.” he replied.
Yesterday another client surprised me with the strength of the criticism she levelled at their company accountant. She said “This bloke wants to flog me all sorts of add on packages that will help me manage my business better. I don’t want all that. I told him to go and manage his own business better.”

And this invisible line moves all the time. I got a call from someone I haven’t worked with for ten years this week and she told me exactly what she wanted. I said that there are better people out there for this than me. She just replied, “Tim, you are the man; we have not considered anyone else.”
One could argue that the product side of business is largely transactional, but there is no doubt that the service side of things, between the right people, can be transformational.

With each and every client you just have to try and know where the line is.........