Monday, 7 September 2009

I've Sold My Motorbike

I've sold my motorbike. Something I thought I'd never do. I bought my first bike 10 years ago and fell in love with biking, the speed, the camaraderie, the adrenalin rush, and being able to get miles away from it all in less than an hour. I've been to Spain, to Andorra, to watch Motorcycle Grand Prix (twice), to the Ron Haslam Race School (3 times), and all over the North of England and Southern Scotland.

And that's the problem, I've done everything I want to do on a motorcycle. I've learned to ride a motorcycle quickly, smoothly, and safely. I could learn how to ride it quicker, but then I'd be taking too much of a risk for my liking. I could go further away to rural France or the Alps, but I don't like to take a holiday without my family. So all my boxes have been ticked and it's not stimulating in the way that it used to be.

Although I still enjoy riding a motorbike, especially my KTM, curiously I found that enjoying it just wasn't enough. You know when you buy a new album and there's a song on the album that you just love, so you play it again and again, and one day you find that although you like the song it no longer gets your heart racing or your emotions buzzing. Well motorcycling has become like that for me. Good but not great. Enjoyable but not stimulating.

In the process of coming to this conclusion I've learned something about myself. I need new challenges, I need to be constantly learning and improving, and once I've reached a satisfactory level of competence with something, it's time to move onto something new.. All of which left me with a problem. I need a hobby, something that gives me some “me” time: time when I can relax and do something simply for the fun of doing it. So I've taken up golf. “Fun?” I hear you say. And yes it is a rather different kettle of fish to motorcycling. But it does give me many of the things I look for in a hobby: it gets me into the great outdoors, it does involve some exercise (although I won't get fit playing golf), and most importantly it's really challenging. So far it appears to provide more limitless opportunities to learn and improve than motorcycling, because learning how to become a great golfer does not involve crossing a line into life threatening risk-taking.

Now given that my articles and blogs are supposed to be about business, what are the lessons I've learned relative to business. Well since becoming more aware of my inherent need for learning and stimulation beyond enjoyment, I've turned my attention to ways in which I can transform my business and the results are really exciting. I've come up with a new to structure the commercial relationships I have with my clients, I'm repositioning the work that I do so that it produces more tangible results, and I'm developing some sound and workable ideas for two new businesses.

So my conclusions are, if you want to enjoy your work more, become more engaged in your work, and produce better than ever performance, make a change. Change your strategy, change your organisational structure, change your management-style, acquire some new skills and put them into practice, take on some new responsibilities, or simply do that thing you've been putting off for too long. Because if you want something you've never had, you won't get it by doing the same things you’ve always done.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

What Hope is There for Politics

The MP's expenses scandal and the credit crunch have thrust the behaviour and performance of politicians into the limelight perhaps more than in living memory. Everyday television debates and radio phone-ins discuss whether our politicians can be trusted to do the right thing and look after our interests.

Regrettably I have come the conclusion that politicians cannot be trusted to do the right thing and the party political system has had its day. Why? Not because because all politicians are morally bankrupt, but rather because of a fundamental conflict of interests that lies at the heart of the party political system. Allow me to explain.

Most politicians would say that they entered politics because they wanted to change things for the better and for the most part I believe them. However, somewhere along the way this motivation morphed in to something far less altruistic and honourable: the pursuit of power. So how did this happen?

For a politician to achieve their ambition of “changing things for the better” they first need to get into a seat of power (e,g, councillor or member of parliament) because if they're not in power they can't change anything. Similarly if one a politician achieves a position of power they need to do everything they can to keep that position of power, because once they're voted out of their seat they are powerless again. So in order to “change things for the better” first you need power.

All of which means that the altruistic goal of “changing things for the better” must become subservient to the pursuit of power. Now these two goals are so different that they can't really coexist – as our hopeless party political system ably demonstrates. You can do one or the other, but not both, because the pursuit of power discourages integrity and changing things for the better demands integrity.

And here is where it gets nasty. Recent years have seen the emergence of spin and an ever increasing trend of nonconstructive criticism of anything the opposition do or say, no matter whether they are right or wrong. Similarly the political parties now make increasingly populist policy announcements that their have neither the finances nor the gumption to put into practice. All of which is driven by a desire to make the opposition look bad and to make “our party” look good with no regard for whether what is said is true or not.

So what we're left with is a party political system which is first and foremost about getting into and then holding onto power, which means that “changing things for the better” comes at best a very very distant second. So how do you think senior politicians split their time between “changing things for the better” and “the pursuit of power”? 10/90? 20/80? I'd be surprised if the ratio was any better than that.

Our politicians can't afford to the the right thing because they're afraid that if they do they loose that narcotic they struggled for years to attain – power!

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Building Green Roads

If like me, you often drive down the A1 from North East England toward Leeds and beyond you will probably have noticed that the Highways Agency has recently started work on widening the road between Leeming Bar and Dishforth. Trees and hedges have been cut down, new fences have been installed, and the stranded and old class 47 diesel locomotive has finally gone to the great scrapyard in the sky.

And of course the old farm houses, barns and transport cafes grew up along the side of the A1 many years ago are being demolished. Well, except that they're not being demolished. Dismantled would be a more accurate description. Not quite brick by brick but certainly by material type. Roof slates/tile seem to be the first to come off, followed by internal times and joists, other materials and then the brick and block work. All of this, I assume is in aid of recycling, or at least more environmentally friendly disposal. But it does seem to take weeks to dismantle a farm house that would otherwise have vanished in a single day at the mercy of a decent bulldozer and a few tipper-trucks.

Does this mean that as well as our cars, now our roads are getting greener? Must be a good thing I suppose.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Entprepreneurs and Managers: oil and water?

I came across a common problem today: a business owner struggling to get the best from a senior director.

The business owner in question, like many other business owners, has grown his business up from scratch. He's a true entrepreneur and through his commitment, effort, and innovation has created a rather good and now medium-sized business. But like many entrepreneurs he lacks a talent for organisation, and so has recruited a professional manager to create the systems, process and structure now needed.

However, he's finding it rather difficult to work with his newly installed professional manager because, as you might imagine, their approaches to work are rather different. The entrepreneur is spontaneous and likes to see action and results. The professional manager is more of a thinker and a planner. Whilst he spends much of his working at his PC, the entrepreneur is up on his feet talking to people. Moreover, the entrepreneur is stressed because he must cede some control to the professional manager and trust him to deliver. He knows this but he doesn't like it.

From the entrepreneur's point of view this is how it feels: “I'm putting the future of my business, that I've poured everything into for years, into the hands of someone who doesn't think like me, act like me, and who isn't proven. This is risky and it's stressing me out. What if I loose it all?”

So what's the solution? Understanding. Understanding of each other in terms of needs, preferences, peculiarities, and goals.

Creating understanding starts with the entrepreneur clearly explaining to their manager why they have recruited them and exactly what contribution they want them to make. The entrepreneur should then explain the non-negotiables – the things the manager absolutely must do if they're going to keep their boss happy. This is about the entrepreneur being open and frank about their concerns and explaining what will give them sufficient confidence to leave the manager alone to get on with the job they've been employed to do.

Next the manager needs to explain their methods and aims so that the entrepreneur appreciates what they are doing and why. The manager will do things that the entrepreneur neither understands nor has experienced before (e.g. produce complex spreadsheet), and must therefore take the time to explain what they are, why they do them, and what the benefit will be.

This, in a nutshell is about the harmonious blending of two cultures. It's like a Englishman marrying a Frenchwoman and neither committing to learning the other's language or understand their culture: divorce is the most likely outcome unless they learn to adapt.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Yesterday I got my hair cut and within a period of five minutes experienced one example of great customer service and two examples of poor customer service.

The great one: A regular customer came in and announced that she had "the hangover from hell" and was greeted with a cup of strong coffee. This loyal and regular customer was treated like she was a beloved family member. I expect that she'll be a loyal customer for many years to come.

The first bad one: A customer arrived and was asked whether this was her first visit. She replied that it was and nothing more was said. When the stylist sat her down she repeated the question (because the receptionist had not passed on this information) and responded with a tone that implied that this was an inconvenience - I guess as she'd now have to spend more time figuring out what the customer wanted: something that wouldn't be required with an existing customer.

The second bad one: My appointment was 9.00am - the first one of the day - and yet my hair cut didn't start until 9.10am because the stylist was too busy chatting with her colleagues.

The morals of the story:
  1. Treat your existing customers like beloved family members
  2. Treat your new customers like beloved family members
  3. Induct your new customers - find out what they like, what they don't like, and why they've left their existing supplier (you don't want to repeat the same mistakes)
  4. Don't keep you customers waiting - we're more important than your colleagues