Fortune favours the fantastic

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Do Olympic winter sports come from another universe?  Spectacular abilities of young athletes defy belief (and often gravity), but mask thousands of hours of hard work that precede the 3 minutes of screen time.

Especially noticeable are the fine margins between your standard sensational and a podium place.  High level delivery is no guarantee of a place in history.  And every last moment of performance has to be on point. And you have to be a finisher.

Noticeably it’s the same for sales people.  Much preparatory hard work takes place and vitally, there’s an ability to make it happen when the chips are down. The difference between the good and the great is tiny.

Another feature of Olympic races is how often favourites get wiped out allowing the trailing pack to slide through and claim and unlikely victory.  This simple moral is for any one with ambition.  Show up.

Today’s meme or just the même

It’s strange stuff sleep, and like many things we take it for granted.  Maybe one step back from the bleeding obvious and we’d see things with renewed (but half closed) eyes rationalising it away.  But, to me, even if the ultra-clever, universally unchallenged, dolphins do it – well, it just seems mad.  It’s incredible, for all our energetic, logical, enthusiasm we will all just shut down for a third of each day. Clunk!

Yet praise be! Without it, the hotel groups wouldn’t be investing in preserved goods, dressed up as continental breakfasts, that are impersonating good morning freshness for £8.95.

If we can do the Peter Pan thing by flying, and make ourselves ten years younger, then we must be able to defy evolution, make with the TV, and stop ourselves going on standby.  We could do this through Motivation, Science and Nutrition.  MSN anyone?

But we can’t.  And, although I don’t know this for sure, I don’t think it is a plot by the Forte family or the Dorchester Group’s shareholders.  Quite simply, there are some things that are so deeply ingrained that, Popeye-esque, “We am what we am”.

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We have to accommodate the fundamentals of our human nature making them work for us, rather than deny they ever exist. Sleep is obvious but there are others.

Here’s one.  2,500 years ago (a mere 100 generations) the political leaders persuaded the Ancient Athenians to vote for war.  When news of the subsequent disaster came back the population “Were indignant with the orators……. as if they [the people] had not themselves decreed it”.  Ring any morning alarms for you? Press snooze it might go away.

In my experience deep down in their DNA basement, people want to be valued – at home or at work is the same.  “Thank you” (not obvious for some) is a good start.  They want to believe their quest has meaning, and it is beneficial to themselves and others.  Linked to like-minded people, they want to be associated with, and to celebrate, success.  And they’ll be prepared to follow those who can paint the future vision, highlight the milestones, hand out cakes, and minimise the risks so they can sleep soundly in their beds.

The wibbly wobbly truth

Who to believe?  Multiple points of information and disinformation in the public domain mean the only certainty is, whatever opinion is voiced, there will be a dissenting voice.

“Oh no there won’t” – See! Cased proven!

This is sadly reminiscent of business reporting.  Too often, individuals want to present the best possible case, or don’t even have enough facts to present a case at all.  Either way they probably shouldn’t describe the circumstances as complete without more details.  But, unfortunately they do.

This is misguided and, to the inexperienced or time constrained manager, it is misleading.  Far better to be open (AKA brutally honest) about shortcomings of the known situation.  Be honest about the details that are missing.

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Sales people, those eternal picture painters, could qualify for the prize of biggest culprits.  And, to be honest, if there’s a prize involved they’ll always be in the queue.  That’s why we love them like we do.

A sales manager who, some time ago, worked for me would boil this vagueness down for the simple minded.  Him or me I’m not sure. He’d use the same two numbers to describe every daily and weekly success.  They were (and I paraphrase for the faint hearted) “shitloads” and “sod all”.  Maybe fine for the direction of travel – are we there yet dad?  May be okay to gauge the sales zeitgeist or get the gist of the rainfall in Death Valley.  But not to run a business, or bet your life on.  The only positivity of an approach like this is that it is so broad-brush stroke it can’t possibly be wrong, and if it is wrong you can redecorate tomorrow.

Big up honesty!  Myself I have settled on the informed opinion that there is no such things as “The truth”.  For sure there are facts, but they get picked and chosen according to preference.  This, in turn, creates a montage of the story-teller’s own imagination.  It’s one designed to persuade based on their own starting point. Now this is fine if they’re totally aligned with what the business is trying to achieve.  Evidence that is self-serving, or from the sort of person that starts drinking at breakfast, probably needs to be watered down.

So, understanding why managers need information at all can help their team deliver the right sort of data.  Delivered in the right order, at the right intervals.  Inevitably it’s the manager’s duty to ensure facts and figures received are an actual help.  Tell the team quite specifically what you want to know, and crucially, what is a waste of everyone’s time (and goodwill).  Communicate why and show in simple terms the context of how this will be used in the next stage of the journey. This requires work.  And lo!  Others will see the data the same way you see it.  Could they even present it as information that will be useful?  You’d better believe it.

Grow a pair

As JLD’s excellent podcast ‘Entrepreneurs on Fire’ is fond of reminding us “You are the average of the five people you spend most time with”.  As father of two teenagers that would make 40% of me surly and overly dramatic.  Not a bad guess JLD!

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Managers give their team members objectives and responsibility because they want them to do something.  Something, anything.  But please don’t sit and do nothing.  ‘Lemon squeezy’ if the wider business objectives are properly understood.  In these halcyon cases intuition used by the team will invariably be right. Like, they know what to do!

Responsibility to act in the best interests of the company is a gift.  For some team members, racked with doubt, this might be a gift so precious they are reticent to do anything at all.   Because sometimes the culture of the business frowns upon off piste activity.  So people play it safe.  They batten down the hatches.  They use 6 inch nails and a huge claw hammer to do it with.

Even in a benign supportive culture some personal characteristics can run scared of taking the initiative and making things happen.  They just don’t feel comfortable.

What’s to be done?  Well one answer could be to expand their contacts to include connections who specifically can build their confidence, inspire and reassure them.  This also goes for over confident people who need tempering their actions and in danger of two-footedly piling up to their necks at the wrong time.  To whom do your team members turn for reassurance?

Do they have a mentor and do you have a confidante?  They should have both and, of course, some will.  Everyone can benefit from these contacts in their network.  A mentor can give you new ways of seeing things and the resolve to approach things differently.  Whereas a close friend can let you unload and reboot and stop you setting your phasers to stun – or worse.

But acquiring them is not like making an eBay purchase from the collectibles section.  Over time great things come from building the right relationships with people who are happy to help, and are perceptive enough to see the wider picture. These associations need to come from relationships that are reciprocal.  They need to be developed and require nurturing to thrive.

So, go on grow a pair.

Are you on your uppers? Re-soul

If you’re used to singing Sam and Dave’s classic ‘Soul Man’ in the shower then, depending how dirty you are, you might get to the second verse (sung by Dave incidentally).

“Got what I got, the hard way
And I’ll make better, each and every day”

The ‘it’ that’s missing there is what we need to make better each and every day to attract customers and keep them coming back. But buyers can find products and services samey.  There’s a lack of real diversity, so points of differentiation collide as it becomes easier to mimic the competition.

In markets where news travels fast, and barriers to entry are low, the brand is becoming more important in decision making.  Brand! This is what your products or services represent.  It’s the personality of your business and why a buyer should have pre-purchase faith in your goods and services (or some sort of professional recovery if this falls short).

Away from the top global brands and into the reality for most people, the question is “How does our brand to speak to people to attract and keep business?”

The answer is through the team members you have delivering on the brand’s promise. “We stand for this. This is who we are.  We believe in it and this is what you’ll get”.

Phone any business up, or ring the intercom and the first person you speak to will be oozing the brand values.  Up for the challenge, engaging with passion, happy to help. Reading this are you feeling happy about your own first responding?

Here’s the thing. Your brand is represented by the commitment your people feel for what they are doing.  It doesn’t happen by accident. This is about explaining, engaging (that means talking to people btw).  It is about making it meaningful and doing a lot of it.  It’s something your people need to feel deep down in their souls.

The aims or plans of businesses can too often be concocted in isolation without involving people throughout the organisation.  “Hey folks this is the plan.  (It’s very clever by the way).  It’s what we’re going to do – oh and did I mention?  You’re doing it.”

Now you have a disconnect between what your brand should represent and how it is being delivered.  Less ‘Soul Man’ more ‘Hold on I’m Coming’.

OK, sometimes you might find your business stalling.  If this is the case perhaps you need to revive the souls of those who are living your brand values.  Give them renewed faith.  My tip? Start in the shower by singing:

“So honey don’t you fret, ‘cause you ain’t seen nothing yet”

The budget is just guesswork right? – I wouldn’t bet on it

For many, the thundering of heavy hooves can be heard at this time of year, as the budget cycle rounds the corner in to the last stretch (target).

There’s a question left lying in the air after the last clod has fallen to earth and the steam is rising from winners and loser alike.  Is budgeting just informed guesswork?

Is it simply a gamble offering numbers to the business? Numbers that stretch out for more than a year on which the business must rely?  Surely the budgeting process is more than just a wild punt.  Or is it?

The seasoned punter making a betting on a horse with Honest Ern is making sound informed decisions.  You know he is.  He makes a living from this sort of thing.  He has his own checklist:

Previous form                                 √

Results of last 5 races                     √

Jockey’s track record                      √

Horse’s success at this distance   √

Trainer has experience                  √

Weather and current outlook      √

The same in business.  It is standard to look at the ‘form’ of a business unit when forecasting budget. Then everyone assumes the unit can do better than before. This concludes that budgeting is just broad assumptions. You fill in spreadsheets, light some candles and do a ‘lucky dance’. Budget done.

Standard managers use their experience and their checklist just the same as taking a punt. Like problem gamblers, they can be blinded to realities they face, making guesses on what can be achieved.

But wooah there my four-legged friend!   There is a subtle difference between punter and budget holder.  Great managers can, and do, influence their runners and riders.  They motivate the team of people who will be delivering throughout the ‘race’ all the way to the finish line.  Poor punter can only shout from the side lines until he is hoarse (a technique of failing managers btw).

The manager’s job only starts with the budget.  For sure he assesses the form of the business unit as well as the individuals.  Then he sets about investing in the team by giving clear objectives, support, guidance and inspiration.  Managers own not only responsibility for budgeting, but also delivery.  Punters assess, then guess and do that ‘lucky dance’.

The manager by contrast walks every step of the way and maybe, if their style is strong, the team will go the extra mile.  A team that will succeed on behalf of the business because they believe in it.  They want to deliver.

So, despite concerns to the contrary, I’d say the budget process is stable.  Involved and stimulated teams will remain focused and productive and will say the course.  They’ll deliver the numbers. This means that planned results for good managers are not likely to slip – unlike betting.

There’s no such place as ‘Away’

If you were really keen and investigated Defra’s statistics you’d see that the UK still produces more waste per head of population than many of its European neighbours, (ave. 592kg). It also recycles less than the European average (18% vs EU ave. of 36.4%).

A cavalier attitude towards waste in the UK?  Some of the attitude will be driven by our economic strength but you don’t find the same issues in Green focused Germany where they seem to be (clean) streets ahead of us.

I sense that the biggest drivers are simply inertia and knowing what to do. A great pile of disengagement from people who aren’t regularly confronted with the realities of what we don’t reuse.  When exposed to the problem or solutions most folks are really positive.  You’ll conclude that ‘out of sight is out of mind’.  Awareness is everything.

The environmental project that is the National Forest is a fantastic example of raising the consciousness.  Taking the least forested part of the UK after the closure of the East Midlands coal mines, the National Forest has overseen a rejuvenation that is so much more than putting trees in the ground.

Now as well as woodland being managed for economic and environmental good, people want to live there. House prices are rising.  Businesses are thriving and visitor numbers to the region are growing.  This wouldn’t have happened without the combined effort of individuals raising the profile of what could be, and convincing others to get involved.  I know because I’ve been involved.

For the people living and working in the National Forest the transformation is clear.  Branches and leaves waving about right in front of their eyes.  But what about other folks living and working in urban areas?  How do they regard their environment and their waste?

The thing is when you throw things away there is no such place as ’Away’.  It has to go somewhere.  Which is why it’s so important to give companies and individuals choices for their waste disposal.  Become evangelical, raise awareness, drive good behaviours.

This is what the recently launched waste to energy plant of phs LifeCycle has done.  The plant treats traditionally difficult absorbent hygiene waste, diverts it away from landfill and turns it into fuel.  This service is available for pretty much all phs customers right now – what a choice!   It’s a very effective and long-sighted program which is showing the way for the industry.  It defines what good could look like and does ‘away’ with the euphemisms.

Shifting mindsets is possible to do because making the right choices is just so much easier when others are shining a beacon.