Monday, 20 June 2011

Moving on to Pastures New

I am delighted to let you know that on July 4th I will be joining the Owen Pugh Group of businesses as General Manager of their construction plant and haulage business; Owen Pugh & Co Ltd ( is a fantastic opportunity for me as the Owen Pugh Group is a particularly positive and progressive group of companies working in a changing industry. With Owen Pugh & Co employing over 100 skilled staff, with annual sales of around £7m, and operating around 60 trucks and 40 items of heavy earth-moving plant there will to be plenty of challenges and opportunities to keep me busy!

This does of course mean this I will be winding up my coaching and consulting work and dedicating my energy and attention to Owen Pugh. My experience over the last six years of working with so many fantastic people and businesses will now prove to be absolutely invaluable in my new role. There are many people who have been of enormous help to me during this period and I owe you all a great deal of thanks and gratitude.

I will of course remain an active member of the Entrepreneurs Forum and will pop up from time to time in other places, so I look forward to being able to keep in contact with you by one means or another.

Now, where did I pack-away my Tonka toys….

Friday, 7 January 2011

The Sales and Marketing Imperative

As I sit and write this blog I can’t think of a single business that does not need a constant stream of new orders or customers. I know of none that can rest on their laurels.

Nevertheless, in the six years that I’ve been working as a coach and consultant I have in the past come across some exceptions: businesses (including my own) that were enjoying a totally full order book and quite literally could not take on any more work. However, for each of those businesses (again including my own) that idyllic situation turned out to be rather temporary and they subsequently found their sales pipeline to be rather thinner and weaker than their business needed to maintain a buoyant or even profitable position.

Unfortunately, for those businesses the unhappy realisation that their sales pipeline was insufficient was rapidly followed by a panic inducing realisation that it would take months to refill the sales pipeline back to an acceptable level, and that there was little or nothing they could do in the short-term to turn around the up and coming paucity of sales.

So if even the most prosperous businesses must give constant attention to their sales pipeline to ensure that feast is not soon followed by famine, what does that mean for the vast majority of businesses who in this new and rather unappealing economy are probably suffering a weaker pipeline than they would prefer?

In very simple terms in means that sales and marketing must be the top priority in the vast majority of businesses, because it is an awful lot easier to do everything else you need to do to develop your business when you’re not short of sales.

So if sales and marketing are legitimately not your top priority I love to know why not.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Selling outside of your comfort zone

Software/IT startup?

Delivered by GENI, organised by Codeworks on behalf of the Sunderland Software City initiative this unique one day workshop has been specifically designed to help software and IT start-ups discover new markets, pitch effectively and win new business.

Early sales are crucial to start ups and our workshop will help you to identify the areas of selling that are outside of you comfort zone and turn them into business development opportunities. Read more here

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Who Will End Your Recession

This is an article I wrote a few months ago. It sentiments seem as relevant today as they did then...

"In a recent conversation with a wise and experienced business owner he told me that rather later than many had the recession paid a visit to his business. More than a year had passed since many businesses had first felt the pinch of the credit crunch and yet during this time he had been able to continue with business mostly as usual. But then quite suddenly the volume of leads started to dry up, and prices and margins fell as competition increased.

However, most interesting was his reaction to this crisis. He could have cried into his coffee and blamed the market. He could have slashed headcount and gone into survival mode. But rather than look inward for the solution to his problems, he decided to look outward and drive up his sales. His view was that there was still plenty of business out there. After all, he said, his £3m business was just a very small part of a sector still worth £billions.

On reflection he realised that he and his business had got a little too complacent. They had operated with a “business as usual” mindset despite the myriad of changes going on around them. So my friend has fired up his sales team, reviewed their marketing strategy, and most of all got back on the road to meet and talk to the customers who his business had perhaps started to take somewhat for granted. His view was that it was complacency rather than the general economic environment that had made his recession.

So who is responsible for your recession? You, the general economic environment, or a bit of both? The businesses that credit the general economic environment for their woes have resigned themselves to a pessimistic powerlessness that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Consequently their business is functioning rather too much like it was pre-recession despite being in the middle of a rather deep and sustained downturn.

Although it is true that some sectors have been hit harder by the recession than others, construction for instance, I've come to see that what separates the performance of one business from another is not just the performance of their market, but moreover how effectively they have adapted to the changes in their market. Proof of the pudding being a construction sector business I visited last week that has grown market share, maintained turnover, and continued to return a profit.

The struggling businesses have changed little or nothing about their business and their approach to the market since the on set of the downturn. They are selling the same products, aiming to earn the same margins, using the same marketing techniques that they were before the downturn, and wondering why business is tougher now.

Some businesses have made some changes, but have stopped short of what politicians call a “root and branch” overhaul. Typically they will have laid off some staff, and put a bit more pressure on sales, but failed to take a step back and think about how they would run their business if they were to start all over again. There are surviving, but is “not dying” a worthy goal?

The businesses that are doing better than the rest have rigorously examined their organisation and their markets, and fearlessly driven change throughout. These fearless businesses have asked and answered questions like:

• What changes are taking place with our customers' buying behaviour?
• What product and services does the market want now?
• How will all this affect our cash-flow and profitability?
• Where have we allowed slack to creep into our business?
And most importantly:
• If we were to start all over again, what would be different?

So let me close by asking you 2 questions. Firstly, which of the following best describes your situation?
• We're keeping our heads down and hoping it will pass soon; we hope we'll survive
• We've made some changes but nothing too fundamental; we think we'll survive
• We've gone back to the drawing board and challenged every assumption; we're not surviving, we're prospering.

And which best describes the situation you'd like to be in?"

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Are Your Managers Managing

Many managers fail to give proper attention to their core responsibility - achieving goals for their business by getting the best from the people they work with – because they're too busy working on tasks, duties and problems that really should be delegated to the people they manage.

Managers, up and down the business from Managing Director to Team Leader, usually have at least two jobs. The first, quite obviously is leading and managing their area of responsibility. The other involves performing tasks and duties that are part of the functioning of their department or business. For example: managing projects, selling, preparing quotations, defining specifications, dealing with minor problems, writing minutes, and bookkeeping. Andy Stanley encourages managers to “only do what only you can do” and delegate the rest. But far too often ineffective managers spend so much time doing things that other people can do that they don't spend enough time really making a difference.

Mistakenly they believe that only they should handle the more difficult and complex tasks and consequently burden their to-do list with things should really be delegated. Ineffective managers therefore lead teams that are far less productive than they could be because their manager is too busy with the wrong things to provide the necessary support and guidance.

So why do managers not do enough managing?
Many managers measure their contribution incorrectly and measure their usefulness by tracking the quantity work they get through each day - something that may have been valid before they became a manager. But an effective manager's contribution does not reap dividends overnight. Getting the best from your people and achieving important goals takes persistence, patience, and time. A manager who is drawn toward little things will find that this will be at the expense of the big things that ultimately make a long-term difference. So allow yourself time to make a big difference and measure your contribution against the big things.

I don't know how to be a manager
Only a minority of managers have received much management training as too often their business simply assumes that they will just figure it out for themselves. However, good management is not easy and there are very few people who have enough natural talent to figure out this complex discipline all on their own. If you give a person a choice of two tasks: one they feel comfortable with, and another where they don't really know how to do it, most people will gravitate toward the former; which explains why unskilled managers don't give top priority to their managerial duties.

So what should managers focus on?
The things that will improve the performance of their people, achieve important goals, and generally improve their business. Things like forward planning, quality one-to-one time with staff and colleagues, team meetings, listening to customers, gathering information about the market, setting clear expectations about direction and performance, driving through key improvements, helping people to enjoy their work, and making key policy-shaping decisions.

How can you change your focus?
Managers who don't do enough leading and managing because they're too busy with other stuff, inevitably realise that they're not keeping up with the workload and ask for help. Unfortunately the help they ask for usually isn't support in learning how to be a good manager, but the recruitment of junior managers who can help them with the managerial workload. Consequently a department that only needs one manager now has two or more, none of whom know how to do the job properly and spend most of their time doing something other than leading and managing. In fact an additional layer of management will probably just increase costs and slow down communication both up and down the organisation. So first of all find out how much leading and managing your existing managers do and if it’s not enough, don't recruit because it won't fix the problem.

Managers should always put their leadership and management responsibilities first and only once these have been properly attended should they go to work on the other more hands-on tasks and responsibilities. A manager who then finds that they now don't have enough time to complete these other duties should not compromise on being an effective manager, and instead do what good managers do and delegate the hands-on tasks they don't have time to do.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Are Squeeky Windscreen Wipers Spoiling Your Ferrari?

I saw a re-run of Top Gear recently in which Clarkson was dashing across Europe in a brand new, top of the range Ferrari (a 612 Scaglietti if you’re interested). As you might imagine Clarkson was waxing lyrically about the poise, power, style, and general brilliance of this Ferrari, and yet despite all of these amazing qualities he was not enjoying his time with this Ferrari at all. In fact it was driving him mad in his usual animated way. Why? Because of one small but significant and very irritating problem: squeaky windscreen wipers.

Clarkson's frustrating experience got me thinking about a business that I know and love which in most respects is in a class of its own. They are the Ferrari of their sector and are recognised as the leader by their competitors. Except that quite often when I use them I am left irritated and disappointed by a problem that their otherwise inferior competitors do not inflict upon their customers. Why, I wonder, do your competitors avoid this problem, and yet you who are superior to them in every other respect force me to suffer this irritation? Why don't you fix your “squeaky windscreen wipers”?

But of course this is not the only business to suffer from “squeaky windscreen wipers”: a persistent weakness that undermines the best they have to offer. One company I know provides its customers with product quality that is surpassed only by their ability to respond in the blink of an eye to their customers' requirements. However, the way that incoming calls are handling is shoddy and means that they, like Clarkson's Ferrari, spoil their customers' experience.

I've worked in companies in which a whole department was a “squeaky windscreen wiper”. You've heard of the Sales Prevention Officer, well these companies had an entire Sales Prevention Department wholly out of tune with what the business was trying to achieve. I've also come across specific individuals who stood like King Canute stubbornly in the path of common sense and what everyone else is trying to achieve.

On another level a well-intentioned, hardworking individual may also suffer from “squeaky windscreen wiper” syndrome. Whilst it is true that we only give our best performance when we play to our strengths, it is also true that many people have one significant weakness that is in the way of their strengths achieving their full potential. For instance, I know of one director who is massively talented but is much less effective than he should be because he is singularly task focussed. Just a little more people and team orientation would transform his contribution.

So where are your squeaky windscreen wipers and are they converting the brilliance of your Ferrari into something as irritating as a rattling Morris Marina? Is there a process that is spoiling your customer's experience? Is there a team that is out of tune with the rest of your business and your customers? Or is there a personal weakness that is taking the shine off the brilliant performance you are capable of?

Whatever this weakness may be it will be worth your while getting it fixed. If you had a Ferrari you certainly wouldn't put up with squeaky windscreen wipers would you?

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Leadership is Trust

Is the term “leadership skills” something akin to an oxymoron? The word skills as it is used in the context of leadership development suggests that one can go away on a course and whilst on that course become a better leader by learning and practicing some skills: a concept that is no more than a folly. Leaders are followed not because of their skills, but because of other factors that take far more nurturing and development than mere skills.

The capacity to lead emerges from far deeper inside a person and more than any other factor is based on the extent to which the leader is trusted. Trust in this context is not about whether you trust the person to not run off with your wallet, but something far more substantial: whether you trust the leader sufficiently to follow their direction and do what they say without much question. To follow the direction and instruction of another is to take a risk, for their direction and instruction may be flawed and result in undesirable consequences for the follower. Thus the willing follower - in the context of work - places their future prosperity in the hands of their leader. If their leader’s direction and instruction are right then the follower will prosper, and if the leader’s direction and instruction is wrong, then the follower backed the wrong horse.

So what are the factors underpinning trust? Primarily credibility and reliability.

Credibility is established over time and is the perceived capacity of the leader to succeed with their responsibilities and challenges they face. In simple terms a leader with credibility will be regarded by their followers as good enough for the job at hand. A leader lacking credibility will have uncommitted followers (another oxymoron) that doubt their ability to succeed. Credibility is developed when the leader repeatedly demonstrates their ability to make the right decisions, do the right things, and produce the right results. Credibility is a product of experience, skills, competence, and track record.

Although reliability is in part a product of the leader repeatedly demonstrating their capability, reliability is rather more subjective matter and has more to do with the leader’s character qualities, Qualities such as authenticity, integrity, resilience, kindness, willingness to trust, openness, and more besides.
Through repetitive demonstration of these attributes followers are able to come to know the heart and soul of their leader and know whether they have the quality to be relied upon. Leaders who mask their true self behind a set of manufactured leader-like behaviours that they learned about on a leadership skills course or read about in a leadership book only fool the already foolish. The majority of us see through this fa├žade and experience at least an uneasy feeling that there is more (or less) to this person than they choose to project.

Therefore reliable leaders reveal their strengths and their limitations too; they admit when they’re wrong or when they don’t know the answer; they keep their promises and when they can’t they tell the truth; they keep a cool head when all about them are losing theirs; they are unselfish and willingly give their time and help in support of their followers; they see the strengths in others more quickly and more often than they focus on their limitations; and they allow people to get to know them beyond just their role at work.
In a nutshell, they are deeply trustworthy.