So you’re thinking of starting a new business?

First appeared in ‘Home Business’ (Australia)


So, you’re thinking of starting a new business?

First the doom and gloom;

the statistics – Some figures suggest that 93% of craft businesses fail in their first year, and of the 7% that survive only half of those will make it past 5 years;

the money – There is every likelihood of you not having a regular salary for a few tears;

the time – There will be occasions, especially early on, when you will be exhausted having worked a 100 hour week.

On the positive side however you are your own boss. Really, you are your own boss. There’s no-one telling you what to do, when to work, when to take holidays, when to go home.

Seems a good deal to me.

So what do you need to do that could help you survive? There are a number of steps you need to go through before you start selling and recouping some of your outlay. These steps are the planning stage and are vital. A great many businesses that fail ignore these steps and jump straight into the action – the ‘doing’ stage and regret it. It’s understandable but it is a mistake – be patient. So, do the planning and thinking first, before things go wrong. There is a good deal of financial and legal help out there available to you. There are articles on business plans, cost benefit analyses, market strategies, cash flow matrices, etc. all freely available. These articles are written by far more qualified people than me. My advice would be to read them if that’s your style and try to relate them to your business on the most practical level you can. If there is something you really can’t do – the financial or legal implications of starting a business springs to mind – get the best advice you can afford.

What I’ll be looking at are the personal implications for you. Psychologically you need to be strong and determined. You need to be confident and determined. This will not always be as straightforward as it seems. There will be times when you’re tired, broke, fed up. These are the times when you really need to be sure of a few things;


Number one – You need an idea. It’s not enough to want to do ‘something’. You need an idea and you really need to believe in it yourself. This will be a large part of your life for a long time so if you have any serious doubts about it early on – have a rethink. Do a little research on your idea. Find out about competitors, opportunities. Get some information on a range of aspects. Talk to people. Carry out some basic research. However, it’s important not to get too bogged down in the detail. One of the traits of successful entrepreneurs is their ability not to over-analyse. They are frequently confident enough to go for something before all the results are in. What helps a great deal though is their ability to adapt their ideas, stay flexible and keep constantly alert.


This is the key to setting up your business. You need a strong set of values and beliefs. To help this you should sit down and ask yourself a few very difficult questions;

Vision – What would success look like? Where would you like to be in 3 years time? What are the values you have? What won’t you compromise on?

Why do you want to run your own business?

What are you go at?

What aren’t you good at?

What are you like when things aren’t going well?

Have you people who can help you?


You need to be clear about exactly what business you are in and everything about your business. I was amazed recently to hear a leading figure for McDonald’s stating that McDonald were in the retail business. On further thought I realised that if people stopped buying McDonald’s meals tomorrow they would still survive. Their restaurants are all placed in extremely marketable locations.

Parker Pens had a meeting a number of years ago when they were trying to compete with cheap pens and realised they weren’t in the ‘pen business’ at all. They understood that their main competition wasn’t Bic but bracelets. Think about it. When did you last buy, or receive a Parker pen. I would guess it was some kind of gift, or present. Realising this totally transformed parker Pen’s mindset. Instead of trying to cut costs to compete withy cheap pens they spent more and added nice boxes, ribbons and marketing to help their products compete in the gift business. What business are you in?

If you know what business you’re in you should know who your customers will be shouldn’t you? Use this fun exercise with any trusted colleagues to gain some interesting insights;

Write the name of any customers, or potential customers on post-it notes. These customers can be grouped however you want to; “Mr. Smith”, “students”, “men with spare money who like football”, “ex-criminals who eat chicken” , etc.. List them in whatever way makes this real to you.

The next stage is to draw a simple 2 by 2 matrix with INTEREST (HIGH to LOW) on the Y axis and DISPOSABLE INCOME (LOW to HIGH) on the X axis.

You’ll then have 4 areas:





Now place the postits in the relevant sections. This part of the exercise, in itself often reveals some interesting insights as you discuss where certain groups of customers, or potential customers, sit.

Having completed this focus on the right hand side of the grid. These are the people with the money. The people who are highly interested and have a high disposable income should be customers already – if they’re not then make sure they are tomorrow.

Then focus on the group with high disposable income who are not interested. What would it take to interest these people? Do they know about you? Where do they go? What do you need to do to get them to hear about your product?

On the other side of the grid take notice of these people and keep them informed – especially the group with a low disposable income – who knows they may get money soon, but don’t spend too much time and resource on them. You simply can’t afford to.

This simple, fun process should help you target your marketing. One other point – you need to repeat this process regularly – people move and new customers emerge – it’s very useful.


So, on the one hand it’s hard work, incredibly risky, guaranteed sleepless nights for little money – certainly in the beginning. On the other hand you haven’t got a boss. Still seems a great idea to me.


When Projects don’t happen, or Stakeholder Analysis meets the Pareto Principle

First appeared in ‘CEO Refresher’ (U.S.A.)

So, you’ve spent six months on a project. You’ve developed it perfectly. It’s neat, clearly labelled, signed off. It looks great on paper. So why isn’t anything happening?

Get together half a dozen or so colleagues and run this simple exercise.

Look at your key stakeholders. In terms of this project who are they? Write the name of each one on a post-it. They could be the press, your senior management team, the staff, whoever. Jot all the groups or individuals who have a stake in your project on a separate postit note. There may well be differences of opinion in your team as to who the key stakeholders are. If that’s the case my guess is that everyone’s right and include all of them.

Draw the following grid on a flipchart.



| (Section A) (Section B)




| (Section C) (Section D)



LOW ———- commitment ————–> HIGH

Look at each postit in turn. How would you assess that stakeholder’s influence and commitment? For instance if the HR Department has a high influence in the success of the project, but a low commitment to the project they would be placed in Section A.

Plot these stakeholders – discuss – disagree – why do you see it differently from others? There will be some valuable lessons here for you. Take some notes.

Finally you’ll have some agreement. No doubt you’ll have stakeholders scattered throughout the grid. Now comes the fun part.

Look at the stakeholders in Sections C and D. Take each postit off the chart, crumple it into a ball and throw it away. Unless you have unlimited resources – chuck these postits away – really. And forget about them until the next time you run this exercise. Really! You have not the time or energy to deal with these groups. So remove them from your mind.

Next, look at Section B – high in influence and high in commitment – leave them alone. Keep them sweet yes – but again, you can’t afford to expend your energy on these people. They are basically OK. They’re on your side. Don’t upset them!

You’ve Section A left. These are your targets. Go for them in a big way. Develop strategies to move them into Section B. Look after them. Talk to them – ask them what their concerns are. Address these problems. This is where 80% of your effort must come.

World Travel Market preview

First appeared in ‘Action Network’ (U.K).

There’s been a considerable amount of publicity concerning the tourist industry in recent months – not all of it favourable. There’s been the fear regarding climate change, fuel prices and security for a start. Carbon emissions have also been high on many people’s agenda and the industry has had a particularly difficult time often being seen as the pantomime villains taking much of the blame for the world’s problems.

Yet people still seem to be keen to travel and a recent estimate has the industry expecting a 4.3 per cent a year growth over the next decade.

This year’s World Travel Market looks set to be a lively event attempting to address the diverse elements of the industry. This annual four-day travel industry event for all the buyers and sellers in the tourism industry takes place at London’s ExCel and runs from 12 to 15 November. It brings together worldwide buyers and sellers from every sector of the industry. Last year 46,945 travel industry professionals participated at WTM 2006 representing 202 countries and regions.

The tourism industry seems to be one of the few industries actually getting on and addressing some of the serious concerns and finding practical ways of dealing with them. As an example of how seriously the tourism industry is taking their responsibility is that the World Travel Market (WTM) is making 14 November 2007 World Travel Market World Responsible Tourism Day (WTM WRTD).

This emphasis on responsible tourism was instigated in 2002 at the Cape Town Conference of Responsible Tourism in Destinations. At this conference a declaration for Responsible Tourism was developed the outcomes of which will continue to be developed at this year’s WTM WRTD. Amongst the incentives the Cape Town Conference looked at for responsible tourism was; minimising negative economic, environmental and social impacts; involving local people; providing more enjoyable experiences for tourists, and encouraging respect between tourists and hosts.

The premise of the WTM WRTD is to build on these initiatives and help drive more responsible behaviour by the industry and the public. The hope is to encourage people to take responsibility for making countries and destinations more sustainable. The one day programme will consist of a variety of seminars and debates looking at the issues involving responsible tourism. Some of the topics already planned include water, carbon offsetting and poverty.

This isn’t just a talking shop however. Over the year there has been a wide range of responsible tourist initiatives started. Examples of projects already in place include;

Association of Small scale Enterprise in Tourism (ASSET). This project aids seventy small tourist businesses in Gambia by helping local people in tourism jobs;

Rural Organisation for Social Elevation (ROSE). This initiative, based in India, is a not for profit organisation that uses a volunteer-based tourism programme to enhance the health, education and quality of life for the rural poor;

Tribes. This was an early tour operator programme that was set up to specifically promote holidays which would benefit local people, wildlife and the environment.

There are a number of major International organisations involved in initiatives that support communities throughout the world. Some of the sponsors for these programmes include Singapore Airlines, Marriott International, Avis and the Tata Group.

The WTM WRTD is running on 14th November 2007 as part of the 26th annual 4 day World Travel Market travel exhibition. This event is the largest travel trade experience in the world and last year produced some truly staggering statistics.

For instance, last year visitors to the event spent over £28 billion worth of business. At last year’s event there were a total of 22,481 visitors amongst a total of 46,945 total participants. There was also over 3000 members of the International press present. In addition there were over 5,600 companies exhibiting with a roughly 50 – 50 spread of participants inside and outside the UK.

Like last year’s successful event this year’s event is running under one roof at ExCel London, the international exhibition and conference centre, situated in London Docklands.

This year sees a boom in an unlikely new trend – food tourism. Holiday makers are now choosing where to visit countries because of their tummies, not their tans, the bhajis not the beaches.

Erik Wolf, president of the International Culinary Tourism association says, “The last 5 years has seen an incredible shift in the way holidays are marketed and it’s all because people are demanding authentic experiences.”

Long Travel, a specialist in rural Italy and Sicily travel reports that 85% of its clients now ask specifically for food advice when booking. Whilst Chicago, who would claim to have led the revolution by appointing Judith Hines as director of culinary arts and events eight years ago, feels that millions of tourists now come for the food festivals. These festivals include the 11-day taste of Chicago. This festival in July sees over 3.5 million people consuming 70,000 pounds of ribs and a quarter of a million slices of pizza.

Judith Hines explains “Food certainly helps boost tourism. Whilst cultural events like theatre might be a good hook for tourists, it won’t appeal to all; the attraction of food is universal.”

It seems that the whole world is coming to London in November to exhibit. From the United States in particular there seems to be a small invasion. There are exhibitors from Alabama to Washington, Iowa to Oregon, California to Virginia and most places in between. An unusual trend this year comes from USA in particular and concerns the rise in tourist companies dealing in different means of transportation within the country. There is an increasing number of exhibitors here that will be helping people get across, through and around the United States in a variety of fashions.

For example, there’s Liberty Helicopters. This is a well established company, started in 1985, based in Manhattan that offers sight seeing tours or charter flights across the North East of America. There are a number of tours available around New York

Then, if you fancy going further inland there’s Travel Oregon. This enterprise is co-ordinated by nine local commissioners appointed by the Governor of Oregon. The enterprise brings together all aspects of travel and tourism in Oregon. The range of information available to travel around the state is certainly well coordinated. Apart from the different methods of transport there are features on where to stay, what to see, what to eat, as well as access to weather and road conditions.

There are a number of family-owned bus and coach companies expanding into tourism. Some of them such as Lamers Bus Lines from Wisconsin and All Aboard America! from Arizona are fairly new to the tourism industry. There does seem to be the feeling though that this is a dynamic part of the industry and diversity seems to be the way forward.

A company from a similar , family-owned, family-operated background but now fully immersed in the tourism industry are Northwest Iowa Transportation Inc. The name conjures up images of solid, Midwest, blue collar workers and having been established in the 1970s in Des Moines and Fort Dodge that was it’s purpose – coach and bus transport around north West Iowa. However over the past decade or so it has diversified into tours and tourism. In 1993 the first international tour to Australia and New Zealand took place and from then on it has expanded and diversified.

Last year there were tours to places as diverse as Hawaii, Japan and Antarctica and this year there are tours scheduled to include the Amazon, India and the Galapagos islands.

It seems that WTM is the catalyst for some of these smaller companies to expand. Another of these USA coach operators, Escot Bus Lines from Orlando, Florida, has found the WTM experience of immense benefit, as Brian Scott, Vice President explains;

“This will be the 5th time we have exhibited at WTM. As a result of the efforts in these early years we developed relationships and partnerships with many other transportation and touring companies. So much so that we have now launched the Global Passenger Network with over 20 other member countries. In short WTM has expanded our horizons exponentially in terms of who we can now reach. WTM has made the travel world seem so much smaller and more accessible.“

The Dangers of Large Organisations

First appeared in ‘CIO’ (U.K).

The CEO of an Organisation asks all Department Heads to send any spare money, resource back to the centre to fund one particular vital project.

Two weeks later the Head of IM has a meeting with a Divisional Director in an Operations team;

“That looks like a really sensible project. Maybe we can do something with it next quarter. “

“Why not now?” enquires the Divisional Director

“Well you heard all the spare resource has gone back to the centre. I won’t have any money until the next quarter.”

“Don’t worry about the money. I’ve some tucked away.”

Now I’m sure something similar wouldn’t happen to you. Well, I’m fairly sure if you work in an Organisation of less than 150 people. It seems that this is a magic number for Organisations. Based on research by sociologist Professor Dunbar this is known as Dunbar’s number. As an Organisation grows it seems that communication problems and hidden agendas emerge far more obviously when there are 150 employees (give or take 10).

It seems that once an Organisation grows and splits into various silos the problems multiply dramatically. A real tension develops for managers between the aims of the Organisation as a whole and running their own part of the business.

I worked in a large public company where one business area recruited 100 staff for a particular project that for a variety of reasons was postponed for 6 months. These extra staff was contracted for a year and were just sitting around doing next to nothing.

The Head of the area announced to the rest of the Organisation;

“Sorry – screwed up. I’ve 100 staff spare who would like them?”

The conversations with various managers when something like this;

“How much would these staff cost me?”

“Nothing. We’ve arranged to pay them from my budget so they wouldn’t cost you a penny”

“Who will write their Performance Agreements?”

“I’m sure we can work that out hen the time comes.”

“Where will they sit?”


“Who will they report to?”


“Forget it. Seems more trouble than it’s worth.”

This silo mentality is a huge blockage in Organisations. There seems to be a real problem breaking the walls down. The more established the Organisation it seems the tougher the walls. It gets to the stage where each silo is almost a self contained unit. Whilst there are real benefits here (operating as small business, good communications within the area, sense of pride in the silo ‘team’,) there are huge disadvantages as highlighted. The problems of communication across areas and sharing resources, people seem to outweigh the advantages. It becomes rare to loan people out, or move people. Budgets are guarded. The ‘centre’ becomes the enemy. For instance toward the end of the financial year large Organisations tend to look at budgets for specific areas. I’ve worked with Departments that would have a spending frenzy in March. When asked why they were going crazy buying far more pencils, paper clips, pens than they could ever use it was explained that if they didn’t spend their allocated budget then it would be cut next year.

When asked why they didn’t explain this to the finance section I was given the ‘you don’t know how it works around here’ look.

It seems that the values at the centre don’t apply to the Departments. There’s the ‘they’re not our values’ mentality. This isn’t necessarily just about a silo mentality. There is a problem with values. They sound good. No-one would argue with them but how far would people actually go to uphold them. In recent years there have been a spate of Organisations where the values seem to have been ignored by everyone – Enron, Parmalat, Shell for instance and I guess some of this is to do with a ‘silo mentality’. But for me there’s another factor here. It’s been identified as ‘social loafing’.

Try this experiment when there are a dozen or so of you in a room;

Get one person to clap as loud as they can.

Then get 2 people to repeat this. Then 4, then 8.

What you should see if you produced a graph of people v noise is a straight line. In fact what you see is a gentle curve. As more people join the group the less effort people put in.

In a more dramatic form there was the Kitty Genovese case. This was a case of a brutal murder on March 14th 1964 in New York.

For more than half an hour 38 respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks in KewGardens. Twice their chatter and the sudden glow of their bedroom lights interrupted him and frightened him off. Each time he returned, sought her out, and stabbed her again. Not one person telephoned the police during the assault; one witness called after the woman was dead.

The values in organisation are susceptible to social loafing I would guess. ‘I thought someone else would do it’ seems a common response to missed targets, values. Add this to a silo mentality and there are real problems……

Managing Disability – Some tips

First appeared in ‘M.I.S.’ (U.K.)

There’s a fair amount of anxiety amongst managers when dealing with disabled people. There’s the whole language issue for a start. Is it disability, people with disabilities, handicapped, the disabled, the ably-challenged? What the hell’s the correct term to use today?

For me it’s about awareness and breaking old patterns of behaving and ways of thinking. You need to give it some thought. However remember that you may well get it wrong at times. Usually it doesn’t matter what you say as long as your intention is to be helpful. People will forgive you making mistakes as long as your intention isn’t to be malicious or hurtful. So far I’ve never come across a case where people have taken offence when people have tried to be helpful. I’ve asked blind people to ‘look at the board’, people with speech impediments to ‘speak up’ and of course I’ve felt like an absolute idiot. Yet I’ve never been made to feel bad. Any embarrassment has been generated internally.

It’s more than being p.c. It’s common courtesy and being sensible. If a friend gets married and changes their name you’ll call them their new name. If you forget and refer to their old name it may be embarrassing but that doesn’t make you a bad person.

Looking more closely at some of the implications behind common phrases may help. The term handicapped for instance was fairly recently widely used. However this term has associations with going ‘cap in hand’ and begging and it’s recommended that people use the term ‘disabled’ instead. I have heard the argument about ‘political correctness gone mad’ and ‘you can’t say anything these days’ but I would just go with the common sense, pragmatic approach; If I wanted you to call me ‘Barney’ because I thought ‘Byron’ was offensive why wouldn’t you? Would you try to argue with me that I was wrong? I hope not.

Other terms that can give the wrong impression are suffering from, victims of … or when a disabled person is talked about as being brave or courageous. I’ve been assured that this isn’t always the case. People with disabilities often aren’t any braver, more courageous or more suffering than anyone else.

It’s become a cliché I know but often it’s about seeing the person rather than the disability. So, labelling people with their disabilities; paraplegics, schizophrenics, the physically disabled is lazy and easy. It doesn’t help in developing a relationship with the person. It’s as bad, but less offensive, to label people as Welsh, or a management consultant. It puts people into a box and attributes them with all the prejudices you have about that particular stereotype.

It seems straightforward enough when you think about it. The real lesson for me is what to do when you’re not sure. If you’re not sure what word to use or not use then ask someone and tell them how you feel. Say “Look I don’t want to cause any offence so what word should I use here.” It’s not difficult, but it does take some thought.

Although managing people with disabilities may seem daunting, managing anybody should seem daunting. People with disabilities want to be managed the same way as anyone else. This doesn’t mean treating everyone the same. People aren’t the same. The most basic example would be building a ramp for wheelchair access alongside a set of steep steps. This is a good thing I hope you’ll agree. Yet if you were to treat everyone the same you wouldn’t build the ramp. It’s a spurious argument I’ve frequently heard with managers – “But I treat everyone the same”. Whilst their staff are all saying, “But we’re not.”

Everyone is different. People have different talents and it’s for managers to bring those talents out. The difference for me is illustrated in an example from football mangers. A decade or so ago when Jack Charlton managed the Ireland team he had a great defender Paul McGrath who had a severe drink problem. He managed this quietly and effectively. At the same time Paul Gascoigne’s similar problem was front page news everywhere and dealt with a good deal less effectively by a number of managers.

In the work situation this doesn’t mean you have to ignore someone’s disability – deal with it. The easiest way of doing this is by talking about it. This raises another problem in managers’ minds. How do you get the balance right between being intrusive and appearing uncaring?

My advice would be to trust your feelings. If you feel there is a problem you should address it. There will be no need to pry or ask personal questions. Have an adult conversation about your concerns and listen to the reply. Don’t ignore the problem and hope it will go away. You know that never happens.

If possible attend a training programme. Hopefully this should achieve a few things for you. Firstly it should help reinforce all the things you are already doing well, and secondly it should help raise your awareness of issues. It will also send out a message that you’re taking the situation seriously.

Some of the lessons I learnt from a course I attended ten years ago have stuck with me. One exercise was particularly traumatic for a number of us on the course. The instructors asked us to choose our disability. This was extremely hard. People were getting very upset imagining this. Eventually we’d all chosen – some were blind, deaf, etc… Then they introduced the second part of the exercise.

“Now, what can’t you do?” we were asked.

Initially there was a great deal of debate about all the things we couldn’t do if we were in a wheelchair, visually impaired, etc., but after a while we started to realise that there weren’t a great many barriers for us. Or at least if there were barriers there were ways around them. Most of these obstacles existed in our heads. OK, so being blind I was unlikely to win the hundred metres Olympic title. But as the trainer, very accurately, pointed out, pushing forty and being not particularly fit would tend to suggest that anyway.

The facilitator gave us an eye-opening example of the stereotyping wheelchair users come across. One day he was sitting in his wheelchair outside Marks and Spencer waiting for his wife and drinking a can of coke. A middle aged woman walked past, looked at him, opened her purse, took out a pound coin and dropped it in his can. “There” she smiled and walked off.

The tip is to address the issue and talk about it. If your member of staff is in a wheelchair and has problems opening a heavy door say, “Excuse me I can see that you’re in a wheelchair struggling to open that heavy door, do you need some help?”

It’s not difficult – is it?

Mimicking Charisma?

First appeared in ‘The Age’ (Australia.)

A lot of people use a single word to define that feeling of warmth, charm, personal impact a person just ’has or hasn’t got’ – charisma.

Some believe that it’s something you’re either lucky enough to have or not. But as Arnold Palmer famously said when asked about his lucky shots from the bunkers, “It’s a funny thing, the more I practise the luckier I get.”

Practice makes perfect. Winston Churchill, like many leaders, was not a natural public speaker. In one of his first speeches to Parliament in 1904 he delivered it without notes and had to cut it short as he become totally lost.

After he sat down in embarrassment, he was quoted as saying that this would never happen again. After that he prepared relentlessly for every speech. For every minute of delivery he spent an hour preparing. It was not unusual for him to prepare for 30 hours on one speech.

Although a lot of research indicates how you say it has more immediate impact than what you say – what you say will be remembered for a great deal longer. So make sure you are clear about what your intention is. If it is to be helpful and honest, people will forgive many shortcomings in delivery, body language and tone.

On the whole, people are pretty good at picking up intentions. We generally know when someone is lying, or ’being economical with the truth’.

However it is good practice not to totally rely on your good intentions. You may have the best intention in the world but if the audience is not in tune with you they may not recognise this.

This could be due to all sorts of reasons – some history with you or something currently going on in the workplace that you know nothing about. If this is the case, the effect you have on your audience may not be the same as your intention and you will need to rethink.

Walking the walk

Studies show leaders appear more powerful by acting as they think leaders should act. The ’fake it till you make it’ process. The more you act like a strong, powerful person the easier it is for people to regard you as one and the easier it is for you to become one.

If you have someone in mind as a role model that makes this process even easier. Copy what they do when they enter a room or answer a question. Suddenly after a few weeks of acting authoritatively you realise you are not acting anymore. Within a few more weeks you will start adapting and developing your own style.

In terms of public speaking, there are a number of simple, straightforward tips that can make a huge difference. From the start you need to take control of the environment. This means controlling everything you can control. Both the physical aspects (lighting, numbers, seating arrangements, screen, handouts) and the non-physical aspects (introductions, questioning policy, number of slides, timing, your appearance, knowledge of the audience, your preparation, posture).

Expect the unexpected. Do not be distracted by ’Oh, it’ll be okay – it’s the same as last time”. Get them to show you, check and have back ups for everything. Also recognise that even when you have done everything you can, things will happen that you have not thought about. When that fire alarm goes off accidentally, or the police rush in chasing an armed robber, adapt and do not start thinking about who to blame. Well, not for the time being at least.

The vital part of this is non-physical. Make sure your introduction (if you are having one) is correct and more importantly is what you want. If you are making a speech in front of 500 people do not let yourself be introduced with: “Tonight we have someone making their first speech in front of a large audience so please be gentle on them.”

Tempting though it may seem to get some audience sympathy it just will not work. In a classic experiment two sets of students were given identical lectures and told that the first lecturer was new, and the second an expert. Guess which one received vastly better ratings?

There are some leaders who, I admit, do have that special ’something’. But I guess they have worked hard at developing other aspects of themselves and I really believe anyone can learn to lead.

The outside part is easy (well relatively). The hard part is inside – the intention and the vision. If these are solid then with hard work, the rest will follow.

Meetings – 6 Factors to Consider Before You Call One

First appeared in ‘Advant Edge’ (U.S.A.)

Meetings are usually awful. They are possibly the most disliked part of modern business. It has been estimated that there are anything between 11 and 25 million meetings held per day in America alone. It’s far too many. If you feel you need to call a meeting. Stop. Take a deep breath and work through the following factors.

Factor 1: Purpose and Intended Result

Is there a definite, tangible purpose for the meeting and a clear intended result? If you can’t explain to yourself what you want from the meeting don’t hold it and carry out one of the following activities;

a) If it’s an information sharing meeting send a report, a video of a presentation, a link?

b) If it’s a decision making meeting – just make the decision and let people know later.

If you have a Purpose and Intended Result work through the remaining factors;

Factor 2: People

Who should attend? Don’t invite people to a meeting because they always come to these meetings. If you know people are only attending because of their position in the Organisation investigate it. The number of managers who rush to a junior member of staff before a meeting to be briefed then have to brief them after the meeting must be phenomenal.

Get the right person to attend – irrespective of their position. Also people frequently don’t need to attend all the meeting. Prepare a list of who should stay / go for each item on the agenda. There is nothing worse than sitting through a three hour meeting waiting for your ten minute slot at the end that will inevitably be postponed until the next time because you’ve run out of time.

Factor 3: Timings

Be ruthless. Schedule an item and schedule a time. If an item’s scheduled for 20 minutes and time’s up and you’re nowhere near a conclusion stop it – reschedule it and move on to the next item. This will be incredibly hard to begin with but people will soon learn to get to the point quicker.

Always start on time. If people are late they get to miss it this time. It will encourage people to get used to your way of doing things.

Factor 4: Content

What type of meeting is it? Separate information sharing meetings and decision making meetings. Inevitably the person who has presented the information will have a bias towards getting it accepted even if there are stronger arguments. Separate these meetings – ideally over a day or so to allow people to assimilate all the information, or at least take a break between the presentations and the voting.

Factor 5: Be Creative.

There are some different ways of holding meetings and different approaches that may not be popular with a few people early on but they will get used to it;

Stand up meetings. No chairs, no coffee – a quick Monday morning progress meeting would be a good candidate. People are surprising eloquent and to the point once they’ve been standing for 10 minutes or so.

You can have creative meetings – really. They can be fun and extremely useful. If you have a problem, or a proposal to look at try something a little different. One technique is to use the principles outlined in Edward de Bono’s ‘Six Thinking Hats’; the chair will have the blue hat which manages the process. Other attendees are given a particular colour hat and must act out the process for that particular colour;

black hat is for negativity and why something won’t work,

white hat is concerned with information – facts and figures,

red hat deals with feelings and intuition,

yellow hat symbolises optimism and positive thinking

green hat focuses on creativity.

So, once these roles are assigned the topic is discussed. The black hat thinkers will look for reason this won’t work. The white hat thinkers will argue on the basis of facts and figures, and so on. The discussions are usually lively and productive. People don’t get trapped into defending positions but can explore ideas in a creative way.

Factor 6: Any Other Business

Never, ever have Any Other Business – ever. If people can’t inform you before the meeting – it can’t be that important, or they are doing it for tactical reasons.

There may be the odd occasion where you have to ignore these considerations but generally it is vital to work through a checklist. Meetings do develop a life of their own once they occur regularly and start taking over peoples’ lives.

Presentation Skills or ‘How to Fake It ‘til You Make It’

First appeared in ‘Management First’ (U.K.)

“Fake it ’till you make it.”

Blank looks.

“Pretend you can do something, keep doing it until you wake up one morning and find you really can.” I continue “Pretend you’re really confident about presenting. Visualise someone who does it well. Copy them. Really. Trust me – try it – it works.”

They trust me – they try it – it works – for some of them.

Presentations are the most feared part of most managers’ lives. I’ve read that most managers’ would prefer the stress caused by moving house than give a ten-minute presentation. To some extent I get it. It can be intimidating to stand up in front of a roomful of people and talk. In another way I definitely don’t. A lot of the blame must go to ‘presentation skills courses’. Yes, it’s nice to be able to project your voice to the back of the room. It’s great to have exciting slides. It’s superb if you can manage the correct eye contact with your audience. Unfortunately (fortunately) within a few minutes of the start of the presentation most of the audience has taken this for granted – however effectively you can carry this out. The message is far more important. Get that right – in your own head – and you’re winning.

“What’s the worse that can happen?” I ask.

The replies tend to fall into two categories; physical and mental. On the physical side there’s; projector failing, nothing to write on, nothing to write with, no chairs, too many chairs, room too hot, room too cold, no one turning up, too many turning up, finishing too early, finishing too late, audience being bored. Go through these one by one and ask yourself “So what?” Think of everything that can go wrong and plan an alternative. Great. Something you hadn’t even thought of will still undo you. Something will not go exactly to plan. You know that. How many things in any other part of your life have gone perfectly? Exactly.

The good thing is that people don’t judge us on the mistakes we make but on the speed of recovery from those mistakes. Think of the best customer care you’ve received? Nine out of ten occasions people recall a situation that went wrong. It went wrong but the service they received to put it right led them to remember it and recommend the company to their friends years later. Speed of recovery.

OK now that you know there will be mistakes and you’ve accepted it, truly accepted it life gets easier. You can arrive early, do all your last minute panicking in peace, relax and wait. People will forgive you if you’ve prepared as thoroughly as possible. You can’t help it if it’s the day of a tube strike, the room gets flooded or police have cordoned off the area looking for armed terrorists. It happens.

The second category of things that can go wrong is the mental side – your mental side. You do need to get this right. Preparation is the key. I know it’s a cliché but it’s also true. This preparation starts right from the moment it’s decided you’re the one for the presentation. Firstly, do you agree? If not get out now. It doesn’t get easier the longer you ignore it. It’s like that sink full of washing up you leave in the kitchen for a few hours, a day, a few days. It never gets easier – just a bit worse, a bit harder to face each day.

Once you’ve decided it is definitely going to be you – accept it and go for it properly. Do you really want them to know and understand something they didn’t know before or do you just want to tell them something and get off? If it’s the latter and you just want to impart knowledge, send them an email and save yourself and your audience some grief. If it’s the former then you need to prepare thoroughly. This means that on the day you can throw away your notes, talk and listen. And to listen effectively you’ve got to involve the audience.

It is so much better for everyone if you interact from the start. Find out what the audience knows and doesn’t know. Find out why they’re there. Find out their particular interests. Get them involved – they’ll enjoy it more and so will you. It may well be more nerve racking than hiding behind a script, but it is so much more rewarding. But this can only happen if you’ve got your head straight first. To do this you need to ask questions and get them to ask you questions.

How presenters deal with questions by the audience is a tremendous indication of where they are in terms of confidence. If the first line in a presentation is “I’ll take questions at the end” then the odds are that;

a) they are petrified,

b) they have no idea what they are talking about, or

c) they have hours worth of material and they’ll never reach the end.

You need to take a deep breath, throw away your neat, colour-coded notes and go for it. The audience will certainly enjoy it more and guess what? So will you. I promise.


First appeared in ‘A.I.V.C.I.’ (Australia)

What are the values in your Organisation? What are the values for your part of the Organisation? Where did they come from? Are they written down? What happens when they don’t match the behaviour?

Lots of questions – lots to think about. So let’s start at the beginning. No doubt you have a set of values. Surely you’ve something in the bottom of your desk drawer on a card or a sheet of A4 with a combination of the following words; “respect”, “professional”, “honesty”, “value”, “excellence”, “customer”. Yes? So where did this come from? I’ll give you a few options;

1. It was in your induction pack when you joined and no one’s really sure how it got there.

2. The Board had an away day at a large hotel out near Swindon, returned with this and sent out copies to all.

3. You took your team away to a large hotel near Swindon, returned with this and haven’t looked at it since.

4. None of the above.

Unless the answer is ‘4’ I’m guessing this piece of card doesn’t mean a great deal to you. Which is not to say that there’s no merit in having a set of values. I think it’s vital to all Organisations to know what they’re about and what’s acceptable and not acceptable in their teams.

The problem with assigning a set of values to people is the same problem as trying to force them to accept anything – It’s called psychological reactance. Jack Brehm has carried out a lot of research on this from the mid sixties. Reactance occurs when an individual feels that his or her freedom is being restricted. Some examples will help explain it; a group of people were studied that expressed no preference as to which of two brands of cigarettes they would choose from a vending machine. In the machine there was only one brand of cigarette available – the other brand had been removed. Suddenly the majority of people wanted the other, removed brand and were willing to walk quite a way to get the other brand.

I’m sure Kinsey used the same technique in relation to some sex therapy technique – If you expressly forbid people to do something – they’ll want to do it all the more. Those of you with children know this to be a universal truth. One final example, a friend with an 18 year old son asked him where he was going as he was getting ready to go out. After the usual surly response my friend said to his son as he was going out the door “Oh well – have a good time.” To which the reply was “Don’t tell me what to do”. Slam.

So imposing doesn’t work. Imposing your values definitely doesn’t work. So what do you do? You let people decide their own set of values. This works so much easier with a new team. There is less history (obviously) and less baggage. New teams tend to be more committed, motivated and open. Perhaps the best example of this in action is the 1997 British Lions tour of South Africa where they devised a set of values for the tour before boarding the plane. These values centred on being focused, committed and involved total support and team work. They were carried everywhere and invoked whenever there was a breach of these values. It certainly worked. I know it’s different for you without a common enemy, common strategy and group of disparate individuals to mould into a winning team. Well, maybe not that different.

Trying to get your team to achieve an agreed, worthwhile set of values is not easy. There is a history within teams. There is a history about values, mission statements, etc… It’s almost become a reactant in itself in some companies where they’ve had mission statements, visioning and values rammed down their throats and seen no change at all. So you’ll need to be pretty thick skinned and determined to get it to work. You’ll also need some powerful examples and commitment.

A great example comes from BMW “Excellence through quality and innovation”; BMW employ more than 100 staff in their acoustics and vibration technology departments. They ensure that everything from the sound of the windscreen wipers to the sound of the doors closing is acoustically perfect. This seems to work for BMW.

Another from 3M; “The key: linking growth in individuals to those things that unlock energy and activities that our customers value.” The Organisation allows scientists to spend 15 percent of their time working on whatever interests them and requires divisions to generate 30 percent of their revenues from new products introduced in the past four years, amongst a range of other initiatives demonstrating innovation and trust in their employees.

You’ll also need a sound process to turn this into something tangible. Ask people to come out with their lists of values. No doubt you’ll get “good teamworking”, “professional” and “an honest approach to customers”. Don’t deride these. These are important and need to be kept. However, you need to dig hard to find out what is special about your team. What would your team members say set them apart from others? Or, what would they like to set them apart from others – is it technical excellence, willingness to take risks, total support all the way up the line, attention to detail? If you can identify one key value then it will make all the others real.

Then the hard task is to describe them in a way that doesn’t kill them. If a key value is “Don’t take crap from suppliers” please don’t change it to “Have care and respect for all stakeholders” – keep it.

The next part will be to have them listed in whatever format works. I’ve seen an old, fading flipchart sheet with a scribble of values given pride of place in an office 18 months after its design. I’ve seen screensavers, playing cards, nothing at all. Whatever works. Don’t tell people how they keep it though. I remember a chat with a professor at a leading business school pulling a list of key values from his wallet.

“I need a piece of paper telling me to be nice to people now do I? ” he ranted. “I wonder if I lost this would it be OK for me to go on a killing spree?” he half joked. – reactance kicking in again.

The only way to keep the values real after this day is to live them. You can’t have a value espousing the virtues of risk taking then sacking someone who’s idea failed. It’s about honouring those values of risk-taking. When General Electric spent $50 million on an expensive, environmentally friendly light bulb that no one wanted they, in the words of Jack Welch, “..celebrated their great try. We handed out cash management awards..”

So, there are only 2 things to remember; encourage your team to create their values and support them. Sounds straightforward enough?

Work Life Balance

First appeared in ‘Fitness Life’ (N.Z.)

“We are too busy mopping the floor to turn off the faucet.” – Anon.

I bet you wish you had more time. I guess there’s been at least one occasion in the past week where you wish you had more time to go to the gym, spend time with someone you really wanted to, read a book, write that novel. What I’m hoping to do in this article is to encourage you to think again about the way you spend your time. I’ll try to explain why we often unconsciously make the decisions we do and give you a few ideas on how to take a little more control of your time.

There has been a phrase that has crept into the language in recent years that people listen to, nod sagely and then dismiss – “work-life balance”. People know it’s a good idea – it’s sensible and people will agree that it would be a brilliant idea – yet still find it incredibly difficult to implement any changes.

OK. I know we need to earn money to live. We need money to spend on those nice things we do when we’re not in work. However, I’m not convinced that people think about this carefully enough. I know a lot of individuals who work far too many hours than they’re paid for. I also have some ideas why they find it incredibly difficult to change.

A recent study looked at people who had undergone bypass heart surgery. By changing their lifestyle after the surgery the patients could avoid pain and the risk of further surgery or even death. The study found that only 1 in 10 people changed their lifestyle for more than 2 years. So, it’s apparent that change is incredibly difficult to implement. Changing the behaviour of people is the biggest challenge facing the health industry, business and life in general today. Time management is a key example of this.

As a management consultant I frequently work with teams that have ‘time management issues’. I ask them to solve a problem. Invariably they will all be working away on their own scribbling circles, lines, formulae and getting quite frustrated and not performing particularly well. I ask them what would be the most effective way of solving this problem? Eventually I get the answer that if they all worked together as a team they would get a better answer. I ask them why they didn’t.

This usually produces an interesting response. After blaming me, others and themselves the discussion invariably comes down to conditioning. For twenty, thirty, forty years they’ve been rewarded for individual effort. In fact we’re frequently punished for co-operating, or cheating, as it was known in my school. This behaviour becomes part of us and we find it very difficult to change. When the discussion reaches this point I ask them to continue working as a group. They always have far more energy at this point and usually come up with the answer.

For me this is the essential element in changing your life and achieving a better time – life balance. You need to accept that change is difficult. Often it’s difficult because you’ve had years and years of conditioning. The first step is to acknowledge and identify as many barriers as you can that will stop you. A great many of these barriers are imprinted in your formative years.

For example as a child brought up in Wales in the 60s I was never allowed to miss a day’s school (even if I were really ill and infected everyone else). I always ate all my food or else I couldn’t have sweet. I was told to ‘work hard – play hard’ (with the emphasise on work first), plus another few hundred conditioning behaviours I’m not aware of that I guess are still affecting me.

This conditioning process can be overcome and if you know the reason it will be a lot easier. A simple illustration of this would be ‘tea drinking’. For a long time I would drink tea and leave half an inch of liquid at the bottom of my cup. It was only after someone pointed this out to me that I started thinking about this. When I was young I used to leave a little tea in my cup because there were always the dregs and tealeaves at the bottom and it would taste horrible. When teabags came along I continued that practice without realising.

There are similar thoughts about work being good and having to be completed fully before you’re allowed to enjoy any leisure time. Perhaps it’s part of the protestant work ethic or catholic guilt but I found it difficult to enjoy a day off work in the week. This came to the fore when I worked in a betting office every Saturday and had a weekday off. No doubt there was a barrier somewhere in my head stopping me enjoying my leisure time on a ‘school day’. Having identified this obstruction it became so much easier to enjoy myself.

To help identify your own barriers the first thing you need to do is to work out what really is important in your life. To do this you can borrow a technique from Stephen Covey called ‘big rocks’. You need to imagine your life as a bucket. Now work out the 3 or 4 things that are the fundamental parts of your life. These will be the things you care deeply about – these often, but not always, tend to be related with people – partners, children, yourself, friends. Having identified these ‘big rocks’ imagine the bucket. Imagine putting these rocks in. Then adding small stones. Then add some sand and finally some water until the bucket is full.

Still with me? OK. Now imagine putting all these elements into the bucket in a different order – water first, then sand, stones, then finally your big rocks. What would happen is that the bucket would overflow and there wouldn’t be any room for your big rocks to fit comfortably.

So, the learning is about the order of things. Deal with the most important aspects first – manage your ‘big rocks’. This means make time for the important things in your life. The other aspects of your life – stones, sand, water will fit around them.

Having completed this exercise a number of years ago I sat down and scheduled the coming month in a different way. I scheduled my big rocks first – My daughter was 2 years old at the time and I booked time to be with her, made time and arrangements to take my partner out and found a few days for myself. I then scheduled my work around these. It really helped that I was aware of some of the barriers that would get in the way. I made a conscious effort to accept that I had to change my way of thinking. I realised that it would be difficult initially to walk away from the office with tasks not completed. However I felt it was important enough to go through that initial uncomfortable feeling. At the time I was a management trainer in the Civil Service and frequently used to work 50 hours a week. I scheduled my 38 hours around my big rocks and sat back to wait for the fallout. No-one noticed. The office didn’t fall apart. The only people who noticed were friends who said that I looked happier, more enthusiastic.

It helped that I had a supportive manager and some degree of autonomy in my actions but having worked with many people over the years the vast majority of them have done something. For a few there really has been a life change. Try it. Who knows you may find that time to write that novel you’ve always promised yourself.