Category Archives: Leadership & Management

Here is your personal time machine

How often do you hear the phrase “I don’t have time to do XYZ?”

I hear it all the time.

I often hear someone being praised for working hard, and usually, that’s connected to the number of hours they put in.

What is much more interesting is how productive someone is – how much do they get done.

How productive are you?

To become more productive, focus on the things that are distracting you and minimise them.

Do you need to be in every meeting?
If you are not driving the meeting, trust your team to discuss issues without you and move things forward. The team will appreciate the opportunity to expand their knowledge, the trust that you are showing them and will probably come to the same conclusions even if you are not there.

How often do you need to check your emails?
Email is one of the big distractions in today’s world. It’s so easy when the email alert pings for you stop writing that proposal (or newsletter, or report) and go read the latest email.
How often do you get an email that requires an instant reply? Never! If you checked your email only once a day would the world fall apart? Why not try that – set a time each day and don’t read emails in between.

Could you turn off the phone for a couple of hours?
When you are in that important meeting that you are driving, you will have your phone turned off or at the very least on silent. What happens if someone calls during the meeting? If it’s important, they will leave a message – and it will probably be “Can you call me when you are free?”

Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter can be valuable business tools but they don’t require your attention every minute or every hour of every day – unless they are your business!

Are you adding value?

I was in a management meeting not very long ago where everyone had something to say on almost every subject. The meeting went on, and on, and on….!

I was reminded of the quotation

“If I Had More Time, I Would Have Written a Shorter Letter”

The source of which is most probably Blaise Pascal – but of course the original was in French so it is not a direct translation.

I was also reminded of a talk given by my colleague in the Speakers’ Association, Peter Milligan, where he referred to some guidance he was given early in his career. I could summarise that as don’t speak unless you have something to add.

I’ve had the delights of doing business all over the world, often with companies and individuals where their first language is not English. Sometimes communication from these clients and prospects requires a level of interpretation – it is difficult to determine exactly what they mean – and it can be made far worse when they try to be polite and use elaborate language.

Even in the same office, unnecessary communication is an ever increasing time waster. I remember years ago taking a call from a colleague who was repeating some information he had previously send me in an email! One or the other, please not both!

How many emails do you get that you don’t need to respond to? How many that are copied to you for information only?

I heard some time ago of a manager who instructed his team not to send him emails unless they wanted him to take action. I am not sure I would go that far.

If you can make each business communication direct and to the point (still polite, of course) and each interjection in a meeting something that adds real value and moves the meeting forward, you will be much more productive and efficient.

Perception vs Reality

Many years ago I worked for a very high growth technology business and we were always in need of funding because we were growing so fast.

One of my English colleagues, Jonathan, took over from me as Finance Director for the Americas region whilst I went out to Hong Kong to set up Asia Pacific.

He decided to fulfil his dream by getting a Porsche, but the only car available was pink. He bought it anyway and was the subject of much hilarity in the office as a result.

The time came when we needed extra working capital so Jonathan and Mike, our treasury director, went to the bank in Silicon Valley to try and arrange this.

The bank manager looked out of the window, saw the car, and told them he would not be lending money to any business where the Finance Director drove a pink Porsche!

I am sure that was a tongue in cheek comment, but there’s a valid point here. Perception counts and what your customers, suppliers and your team perceive is all that matters.

So when you look at your business try to see it as a stranger would see it. What message does the tired reception area send, what message do the weeds in the carpark give?

If you review your website, and the last update was 9 months ago, what message are you sending?

If your team see you having a bad day and grumbling about something, what message do they get – and what message do they pass on to the customer?

Imagine for a moment that you wanted to perpetrate a fraud. How far would you go to project the best possible image so that your target would part with their money? You would not leave anything to chance.

In business, we overlook the perception because we think the reality will counter it – we think that reality counts, but that’s not true. Perception counts.

Put the right team together

Jim Collins, in his classic business book Good to Great, identifies getting the right people on the bus in the right seats as a fundamental step to business success.

That is a principle you can apply when you are looking at your internal teams and working parties, not just the top team than runs the whole business.

Teams and working parties can be a very powerful way of resolving problems, dealing with projects and enhancing business processes but only if the right people are in the team.

If the team doesn’t have the right composition it won’t be as successful.

A useful analogy may be that of rowing. Mark de Rond studied the rowers at Cambridge preparing for the university boat race and in particular the selection process.

It’s not just a case of choosing the 8 fastest oarsmen, but one of selecting the best combination of rowers even if some of those left out are faster as individuals.

In business, it may well be prudent to select potentially less able or less knowledgeable candidates for their ability to work together rather than creating a team all of whom are high achievers but who will not get on with each other.

For teams to be really effective there are several other factors to consider but right at the top of the list is communication. Everyone on the team has to be fully aware of the objectives of the team, but also to understand and accept their role within the team. The team will review progress and everyone affected will know what is happening and what the milestones are – so this is all about communication.

Teams can be a fantastic environment for individuals to develop new skills and experience but that requires the right ethos from the team and its leader. A no-blame learning environment, where mistakes are just an opportunity to get it right next time, is a great place to develop.

Do you treat your colleagues as your customers?

Everything you do in your work will probably have a knock-on effect on someone else in the business. If you do your job perfectly, it will help others do their job and in the end, the customer benefits from great service.

If you are well removed from the customer, operating in one of the vital back-office roles, it is really easy to think that what you do doesn’t really matter to the customer. There may be no direct effect, but if what you do runs really smoothly your colleagues in the next department don’t have to spend time and effort dealing with your output – they can just get on with the job.

This is something you can picture really well if you think of a production line. If the previous operation has put all the holes in the right place and they are the right size, completing your operation is really easy. If the hole is in the wrong place or is the wrong size, that requires you to take extra time to fix before you can carry on with your “real” job.

The same principles apply in an environment that isn’t a production line.

In one company, the customer services team handled order administration and were responsible for quoting the customer order number on our invoices. They would archive the customer orders without a copy of the invoice, and with no reference to the invoice number.

The credit control team, trying to get payment for these invoices, found that some of them had incorrect purchase order numbers. The customer would not (could not) pay us.

Finding the right order number and re-issuing the invoice with the correct details was a laborious time-consuming job.

We changed the system so that the cross-referencing was captured. The customer service team didn’t treat credit control as a customer, yet credit control were reliant upon the output from customer services.

When you look at your department, who are your customers and are you meeting their needs?

Red or Blue?


John held up the ball in his hand and asked his Chris “What colour is this ball?” to which the angry young man replied, “it’s red, of course – what that got to do with it?” John replied “Actually, from where I am sitting, it is blue”

John rotated the ball, and Chris could now see that it was red on one side, but blue on the other.

A simple story but one that illustrates the saying “There are two sides to every story”

Most of the time there are many different versions of the truth. People see things from their own perspective and often will embellish a story or an event. Sometimes that’s just to make the story more entertaining, and sometimes because their version makes them look better.

Often that is harmless but it can lead to real problems, especially if there is competition or conflict in the team. That’s when the different perspectives can become misleading and may cause you to make poor decisions.

Good decisions are based on sufficient accurate information – or blind luck. Poor quality information, including that seen from one perspective, should be eliminated or counterbalanced.

If you have doubts about something you have been told, gather more evidence!

Transparency and honesty from the leadership team will help eliminate the tendency to only tell the story from one side. If you know you are going to get found out, you won’t cross the line!

This approach works outside the company as well as within. If a supplier has let you down, and you are given an excuse that doesn’t quite ring true, check it out. Often, the supplier’s sales manager or account manager is giving you the positive story but you can get closer to the truth by asking higher up in the organisation.

The same applies to your customers – be careful what messages your team a delivering. If they are trying to keep the customer happy by embellishing the truth, they (and you) will probably get caught out. Honesty and transparency will go a long way.


You hear the words but do they mean it?


Have you ever had a conversation where it just didn’t feel right? You know there’s something wrong, but it is not in the words – or even in the tone of the conversation – but there is still something not quite right.

There’s a good chance that you are picking up on non-verbal cues – body language – without even realising that’s what you are doing. You may think “I don’t know anything about body language” but actually we all do – we just don’t pay attention to it. Think of a mime artist – can they convey a story or an emotion? You are reading body language.

When you are interviewing someone you will have a good feel for the outcome of the interview within a few seconds. First impressions include the way the interviewee moves and talks as well as their external appearance, and we are really good at picking up those signals.

You can use this inbuilt ability in the office. Take a look at the team, see if you can picture an individual’s emotional state. If you see someone who is having a bad day – whether that’s because there are problems at work, or something is going on at home – have a conversation with them.

How would you feel if, when you are having a bad day but you haven’t told anyone, the boss came over and offered support? You’d be more motivated and there’s a good chance you will relax & start doing an even better job.

Now I am not saying you should walk up to someone and say “You look as if you are having a bad day.” Perhaps they are, but perhaps it is entirely personal and private and they have no wish to share.

You might try something as simple as “How is it going?” but that can lead to just the facile “fine, thanks” response. More effective is an offer of assistance “How can I/we help today?”


Are you up for the next challenge?


When you take on a new role or a new responsibility, or you are giving a presentation or making a speech, you should be a little apprehensive.

If it is really new and you have not done it before, why wouldn’t you be apprehensive?

There’s a difference between being apprehensive and paralysed by fear!

If you are paralysed be fear (as many are by the thought of public speaking) that can be overcome. Practice, practice and practice again – ideally in front of an audience, but even practising to the dog will help! There are also plenty of people to help with presentation and/or public speaking skills.

If you are apprehensive that’s a good thing. We all need to be a little on edge, a little more aware of giving of our best. Can you imagine an athlete on the starting line being totally relaxed?

You can control your apprehension through preparation and be envisaging the outcome. What’s the worst that could happen, and why would it? Often just picturing that is enough to cut through the tension and help you do a better job.

All these same thoughts and feeling apply to the team member to whom you just gave a new role or responsibility or who is taking on a pitch to a new prospect.

It’s your job, as the business leader, to help them do their job and part of that may be to help them reduce the fear level. You can guide or coach them, you can help them practice and they will then do a better job.

A session preparing for a pitch for new business is a classic example. The team making the pitch will benefit from as much research as they can do, and benefit again from a rehearsal where other team members throw up possible objections or challenges. Imagine how confident the sales person feels if the real objection is one they have already rehearsed?


It’s not about the numbers


If you are successful in reducing your day to day responsibilities so that you have an empty diary occasionally, you may be wondering what next – what to do with all this free time!

The temptation is to dive back into the detail but that’s to be avoided.

The job and duty of the business leader is to provide direction and to enable other members of the team.

Providing direction is partly about having a good idea where you want the business to be in six months or more – the vision – but in my experience, most leaders have that.

The missing piece is communication.

Circumstances change and the business environment changes. When that happens it’s time to communicate your vision again – and this is where many people fail. You have discussed the position with your closest advisers and adjusted your strategy, but have you told the team?

Taking Brexit as a recent example have you reconsidered your strategy and have you told the team – even if the strategy is no change.

The other part of being a leader is the enabling of the team.

Enabling others to take on responsibilities and tasks is extremely satisfying, especially when they are not sure they are capable!

This too is about communication. You have to be very clear on the required outcome, offer support and be approachable for the team.

In short, you cannot over-communicate but you most certainly can under communicate.

Keep an eye on the numbers but always remember that they are the result of the efforts of the team. Improve the effectiveness of the team and the numbers will show the


Where are you investing?


Some time ago I visited the London Eye. It gives you a unique view of the capital.

I’d expected the attraction to be really busy – and it was! We had a voucher, but no one seemed to know to which desk we were supposed to go to redeem it. Eventually, I found the right desk and we took the ride and the obligatory photos.

Customer service was very poor – not enough staff, not enough signage and not enough training for the staff that were there.

On that same trip, we had lunch at a restaurant run by a Michelin-starred chef. Service was first class and the food was excellent, but for me, the whole experience was tainted when the bill arrived with service included and space for an extra gratuity!

I asked the waiter to take off the service charge so that I could choose how much to tip, but his immediate reaction was to tell me that I should have complained earlier!

I struggled to get him to understand that I was happy with the service but wanted to determine for myself how much I thought it was worth.

Both experiences were excellent, but both were let down by the customer service and I would not recommend either.

Both businesses have invested heavily – Wikipedia tells me the London Eye cost £70m and I don’t think there is such a thing as a low-cost rental in Chelsea – but both have lost sight of the need to delight every customer.

If you run customer satisfaction surveys, perhaps the most important customers are those who used to buy from you but no longer do so. Find out what changed – just as you would with a team member leaving, you would do an exit interview. You may be surprised to find it was something really small that caused the change.

A satisfied customer is only one poor experience away from being dissatisfied. Are you investing enough in customer service, or just focused on the internal workings of your business?