Management lessons from the fall of the Berlin Wall…

“The Wall will be standing in 50 and even in 100 years”

Erich Honecker – East German head of state, January 19th 1989

Almost thirty years ago, the Berlin Wall came down. The Berlin Wall was a guarded concrete barrier that cut off West Berlin from the surrounding Communist State of East Germany. Over 140 kilometres long, it was built in 1961 to prevent East Germans from escaping to West Berlin. From the early 1950s to 1961, nearly 20% of the East German population left the country for West Germany.

On 9th November 1989, with crowds mounting in East Berlin the East German authorities announced the end of travel restrictions and opened up several checkpoints for visits to West Berlin.  Thousands swept through the checkpoints. Soon Berliners from the East and West began dancing on top of the wall and breaking off pieces of the wall. The fall of the Berlin Wall triggered a revolutionary wave that ultimately redrew the map of Europe, bringing down the Iron Curtain and setting millions of people free. Within two years, the Soviet Union and its empire also fell.

For 28 years the wall kept people in, and kept people out, separating and dividing families and friends, dividing Germany and the European continent. Over 5,000 people had escaped over this time and sadly an estimated 200 plus people died trying to escape from East Berlin to West Berlin. No one tried to escape from the West to the East.

My father believed that he would never see the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in his lifetime. I can clearly remember him saying this to us at the family Christmas in 1989. The current thinking at the time was that Communism’s rise was inevitable. Very few ‘experts’ predicted or expected that eventually Communism would collapse, let alone so quickly, and that Russia would lose its status as a world super-power.

What are the three management lessons from the fall of the Berlin Wall?

  1. The power of a vision. On 12th June 2017 US President Ronald Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate and demanded “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” His words were largely ignored by the international media. Many so-called foreign policy experts dismissed Reagan’s demand as naïve and sensationalist.

There are few things more powerful for a business than having a clear and concise vision. Amazon’s vision is “To be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online, and endeavours to offer its customers the lowest possible prices”. Amazon’s current market penetration and size is testament to their vision.

  1. Things can get better rather than worse. The worst-case scenario may not happen, particularly when people put their minds to achieving positive change. Very often we are subjected to negative media stories. We regularly hear people spreading such sentiments inside organisations.

Never under estimate what positive outcomes can be achieved with great leadership and teamwork. Everyday we are subjected to non-positive messages that make us believe our future is not in our hands. Like the East Berliners in 1989, by believing that we can escape from a prison-like environment, whether physical or mental, we can set ourselves free and make positive change.  The dismantling of the Berlin Wall is a reminder of how the seemingly impossible can became the inevitable and if there is the will to make it happen.

  1. Predicting the future is dangerous. Sadly, we tend to lean on so-called ‘experts’ who advise us and write books predicting the future. However, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the associated collapse of Communism caught almost everyone by surprise. We should be sceptical of people who claim they can predict the future.

In the late 1800s The Times predicted that “In 50 years, every street in London will be buried under nine feet of manure”. This became known as the “Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894”.  The invention of the motor transport and Henry Ford’s assembly line production of motorcars at affordable prices changed this ‘expert’ prediction. By 1912, less than 20 years after this prediction there were more cars than horses in London. Furthermore, they were cheaper to own and use than a horse.

What are the 3 concluding messages from the fall of the Berlin Wall?

  • Change is evitable.
  • Things do not remain the same.
  • Whatever you are doing today will not be good enough for the future.

Certainly, the failure of Communism to adapt and change assisted in its downfall. This is the same for organisations. Many of the great corporations of times past no longer exist.

So, what is your business doing to recognise the evitability of change?

What should you be changing so your business not only survives but thrives?

Is an annual budget really all that important?

“The budget is not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of our values and aspirations”

Jack Lew – US Secretary of the Treasury

Many small businesses (SMEs) do not have annual budgets. In fact, I have come across some multi-million dollar businesses that do not have budgets, including several of my past clients.

What is a business budget?

A business budget is ‘a financial plan and prediction of future revenue and expenditure’. A budget is a goal for the business over the next 12 months.

Why are budgets important?

They serve a goal, or a plan…with 3 main purposes:

  • To forecast income and expenditure, and by extension profitability; (i.e. where are the costs incurred and where does the revenue come from to make a profit)
  • A tool for decision making that establishes a financial framework for the decision-making process, and assists in determining courses of action that can be either planned or unplanned over the year.
  • To monitor and measure business performance, where the actual business performance is measured against the forecast business performance.

In simple terms, all good businesses MUST have an annual budget, otherwise management and staff will not know what is expected of them, or the business.

How should budgets be compiled?

There are two main ways of compiling a budget; top down or bottom up:

  1. Top down is the less rigorous way of setting budgets and is more suitable for very small businesses. Often last years’ results are reviewed, and a percentage is added to revenue and costs for the following year.
  2. Bottom up entails reviewing costs, customers, revenue, sales and other Profit and Loss (P&L) items at a micro-level and determining what can be and what is likely to be achieved next year.

In my experience based on having my own business and on feedback from my clients, bottom up budgeting is the best method. It is important to invest the time in creating a comprehensive and realistic budget as it will be easier to manage and ultimately more effective than top down budgeting.

What are the suggested steps?

  1. Involve the right people, including financial, sales and operational staff. Their involvement will help gain their commitment to meeting the budget.
  2. Ask them for their estimates on sales, production costs or specific projects based on first principles by referring to each line item and customer in the P&L.
  3. Rigorously question each assumption, get agreement and then a commitment from those team members who are responsible for each part of the business. Ask questions such as:
    • Which customers will increase their purchases next year?
    • Where and how can we increase sales?
    • Will we be able to increase prices?
    • How can we reduce our fixed costs?
    • What staff will get pay increases next year?
  4. Use last year’s figures as a guide only, and do not simply make broad estimates from these figures.
  5. Complete the budget and share it with key staff.

In conclusion, the compiling of the annual budget is an opportunity to review and understand the business more thoroughly. A budget provides structure for the next 12 months, imposes discipline and holds people accountable for the business’ performance. What resources are required? How many staff are required? What customers are the most profitable? Where can we reduce overheads and still increase sales?

Overall budgets must be realistic and achievable and should also be aspirational and not too easy to achieve. A budget should have ‘stretch targets’, to ensure the business grows. In all my years in business, I have never set a budget where revenue or sales were less than the previous year.

Is success a matter of luck?

“Luck is where preparation meets opportunity”

Jack Gibson – legendary Rugby League Coach

Unfortunately, too often these days we hear, that success is due to luck. Whether in the ‘old’ media or social media we hear the same story line – success is a matter of luck.

Is it really the case that success is a matter of luck?

Perhaps all we need to do is visit Zimbabwe and get an appointment with Dr Mulongo , a witch doctor or In’yanga. We could ask that a spell be lifted to initiate number 9 in list of the problems listed above that she claims she can solve, by ‘removing bad lucky’!

As a dare, on a visit to Bulawayo several years ago, I did visit Dr Mulongo and asked her whether she could assist the Wallabies, the Australian Rugby side to win more matches by casting a spell on their opposition. Sadly, since this visit their performance has deteriorated, especially against the All Blacks.

Contrast this approach with the late Jack Gibson, a legendary coach in Australia in Rugby League from the late 1960s to the mid- 1980s. He was known for his economy of words, and his notable and laconic quotes that showed great wisdom and are still referred to today.

Gibson was totally unafraid of relegating ‘big name’ players who did not perform. As the first coach to use computers to evaluate player performance, he introduced new innovations into the sport of Rugby League from other sports, including American football and basketball. He was a great proponent of careful planning and high levels of fitness and effectively changed the game to become more professional. This led to 5 consecutive premierships with 2 clubs.

During my period of over 20 years in business, there were many times where people considered that luck made it successful. However, I do not believe in luck creating success. Like Jack Gibson, I believe that luck is where preparation meets opportunity. You make your own luck through sound leadership, preparation and hard work.

In the early years we were reliant on one of Australia’s largest retailers for over 80% of our business. We worked hard to build a close working relationship with them, focusing on them as a customer and exceeding their expectations. When they changed their distribution model, introduced electronic commerce and forcing suppliers to prepare their merchandise ‘store ready’, that is picked and packed with an electronic invoice for each store, we were ideally positioned to take advantage of this opportunity.

We worked with the retailer converting their suppliers into our customers. Once converted we worked hard at being ‘customer responsive’ and provided high level ‘hands on’ customer service. The business did not look back and many of these customers remained with the business until it was sold over 15 years later.

What are 3 lessons from this story?

  1. You make your own luck. This is done by being prepared, understanding your customers needs and the requirements and changes in the market place. If you are prepared you are in a prime position to take advantages of any opportunities that may arise.

This is how in the above example we were able to take advantage of the change in retailer-supplier relations.

  1. There is no substitute for hard work. As I tell my children, the only place where reward comes before work is in the dictionary Success comes from preparation, working hard, learning from your mistakes and never giving up.

In this example, when 80% of our business was leaving due to the change in the supplier relationship, our hard work with the retailer gave us the opportunity to work with them and convert their suppliers to become our customers.

  1. Focus on the customer. Customers are the lifeblood of any business. Without them you have no business. Focus on their needs, engage with them, meet them regularly, continually seek out their requirements and constantly remind them that you are looking after their interests.

By focusing on the major retailer who was our customer, we developed a constructive working relationship where they were able to recommend our services to their suppliers.

As a business owner or manager, is your style to believe in Dr Mulongo’s witch craft to ‘remove bad lucky’?

Or is your style more like the legendary Rugby League coach Jack Gibson, where careful planning and hard work leads to success?

Management lessons from the Battle of the Somme

“Lions led by donkeys”

Eric Ludendorff – German World War I General

This quote is attributed to World War I General Eric Ludendorff. Although he didn’t actually say this, he was describing the British tactics in the Battle of the Somme in France. The battle lasted for over 4 months in 1916, and resulted in just under 624,000 casualties

146,431 British Commonwealth and French Allies deaths

164,907 German deaths

It became a potent symbol of the futility of war, where the ‘flower of British manhood’ was lost and a byword for incompetent leadership.

The plan in World War I was to the break the German trenches through a week long arterial bombardment. The aim was to destroy the German trench system including the barbed wire protecting the German trenches, its occupants and neutralise the German artillery. The Allied infantry would then advance in waves through ‘no man’s land’ with little or no resistance and take the German positions.

However, the plan failed in its main objectives.

Why?

The German troops were too well dug in and low-level cloud prevented aerial artillery spotting. It had also been confidently assumed that the shells would destroy the German barbed wire in front of their trenches. Unfortunately, it was only partially successful and left ‘no man’s land’ a tangle of barbed wire and craters that made it difficult for the advancing infantry to negotiate. After the bombardment the Germans emerged from there bunkers and met the advancing infantry with well-placed machine guns.

Were there other reasons?

Yes, more importantly many of the artillery rounds were duds. An estimated 30% failed to explode or were the wrong type of projectile. This lead to the barbed wire remaining largely intact. Furthermore, much of the bombardment had been of shrapnel, not high explosive, and it failed to make sufficient impact on blowing away the wire or damaging the deep enemy dugouts.

What caused the high level of dud artillery shells?

World War I was an industrial war. Massive amounts of materiel were required – shells, ammunition, ships, railways and aircraft as well as kitting out millions of combatants. In 1916, after 2 years of war Britain was running short of artillery shells. In order to meet the demand many companies who had no experience in manufacturing munitions began production. While manufacturing shells may not be difficult, it was a different story with fuses. Fuses were technically difficult to manufacture, and quality suffered. Quality controls in the expanded munitions industry were poor. It is also difficult to expand production capability rapidly without quality issues. This was exacerbated by worn gun barrels (1.5m shells were fired in the first week) which contributed to shells not landing fuse first and exploding. The majority of the faulty fuses were tracked to a single manufacturer. Remedial action was quickly taken, and progressively, after the Battle of Somme, the problem was resolved.

What were some of the other reasons?

Although technology was a major factor, it was further exacerbated by incompetent leadership and strict adherence to a flawed and untested strategy. General Haig, the British commander had never visited the front and saw the effects of the bombardment and later the massive loss of life.  A patrol into ‘no man’s land’ the night before the Allied infantry were to advance reported that the barbed wire had not been destroyed. This report was ignored.  Also, low-level cloud prevented aircraft from spotting this problem. Other patrols into ‘no man’s land’ reported hearing the Germans singing in their trenches, indicating the barrage had failed in its objectives, and were also ignored. Other factors were the inexperience and immature state of training of the officers and artillery gunners.

Should Haig and his staff have done something different, once they knew the bombardment had been only partially effective?

Could they have avoided the tens of thousands of casualties of the opening attack?

It is easy in retrospect to believe that they could have.

However, the Commonwealth forces faced an impossible situation. Their major ally the French, were pushing hard for the British to launch an attack to reduce the German forces pitted against them in the Battle of Verdun and prevent the destruction of the French Army. There had also been no opportunity for surprise and with the artillery barrage the Germans knew full well the attack was coming.

What could they have done?

Cancel or delay the attack?

Yes, this was possible.

Fire an even longer bombardment?

This was not practical due to shortage of shells, and dud or incorrect shells. The die was cast.

It is easy to be wise in hindsight.

So, what are the management lessons from the Battle of the Somme?

  1. Do NOT overly rely on technology – – technology is an enabler and not the answer
  2. Quality control and competent supervision is essential in organisations, as demonstrated by poor management in the factories
  3. Incompetent leadership severely impacts on organisations. Over 150,000 Allied deaths could have been prevented if the facts had not been ignored. This was further complicated by not having a Plan B, using an unproven strategy, not having enough equipment and not doing their homework

There are valuable lessons for managers in learning from military blunders.

Can you think of examples in your work life or in your organisation where the over reliance on technology, poor supervision and quality control severely impacted an organisation?

How profits leak in family businesses

 

 

‘‘Forget “blood is thicker than water.” That kind of mentality will send you straight into a financial hole you may never climb out of. Believing that your relatives feel they have as much at stake in the business as you, is a fallacy”

George Cloutier, Author, Profits Aren’t Everything

What are the dangers for profitability with family businesses?

Company profits can be likened to a bucket of water. As a manager or owner, you are responsible for keeping as much water (i.e. profits) in the bucket as possible and plugging the holes where profits are leaking out of the business. Plugging the ‘profit leakage’ is more difficult to eradicate if the business has poor systems of management and governance.

As a former business co-owner, with 3 other partners that employed over 100 people, I was clear about the potential issues with employing family members. Having worked for several family businesses beforehand, you need very clear rules if you decide to employ family members. I had witnessed the corrosive effect on profits of ‘profit leakage’ when family members held significant positions in a business. From the managing director’s brother who was totally incompetent, to a wife who held a significant position and had low people skills which all lead to lower profits.

Here are 5 circumstances where profits leak from family businesses:

  1. Family members have different rules to other employees. I have seen situations where rules are bent or even ignored for family members. Having more than one standard can adversely impact profitability. However, this is rarely acknowledged, particularly the impact these have on employee morale as it effects motivation and productivity. For example, family member who are employed in the business may decide they have different time keeping rules to other employees.
  2. Family members having a sense of entitlement. We constantly hear stories of relatives employed in family businesses having neither the skills, training nor temperament for their roles. It is essential to have clear roles and responsibilities, and everybody including family members must be held accountable for performance, otherwise profits leak through poor sub-optimal performance. Having worked in a business where the owner employed his son, I witnessed the corrosive effect that the son’s poor work ethic and his sense of entitlement had on the business through poor morale and lack of respect for both the owner and the son.
  3. Maintaining the Status Quo. As family members age they often become resistant to change, stifling innovation and new ideas. Furthermore, they can become complacent and often have other agendas. The one certainty about business is change and anything that impedes change will lead to opportunities being missed and profits adversely effected. Business founders and leaders who stay too long in the business, often stifle change where egos rather than sound judgement, can be the basis of their decisions.
  4. High employee turnover, particularly high performing staff. There is no better indication of poor business health than top performing staff leaving. In family businesses, when high performing non-family members are passed over for promotion they leave when they see positions reserved for relatives. There are hidden costs in employee turnover. Profits leak as time and money is spent on recruiting, training, and settling in employees into their new positions whilst non-performing relatives remain in their positions continuing to negatively affect morale. I left a senior managerial position many years ago when I was twice passed over for a promotion, when the position was given to the brother of the managing director who was incompetent and lazy and generated little respect from staff.
  5. Family tensions. Tensions arise in most families and even if they do not have anything to do with the work environment they have a habit of affecting the work situation. This can negatively affect morale and the efficient and effective operation of the business and ‘leak profits’. For example, I have witnessed situations where spouses who worked together were having domestic troubles. This severely impacted the running of the business.

What is the solution?

First of all, recognise that it could be a problem. Put your egos aside and recognise the problems and deal with the issues in a rational and organised way.

Secondly, ensure that there are good systems of management and governance. Clear rules on performance, accountability and behavior are essential.

Finally, make sure that you implement and enforce these rules and management systems are followed. Outside advice using a mentor or advisor, their guidance and assistance can be useful tools to improve company performance.

Family businesses have significant advantages over large bureaucratic organisations, so don’t allow the weaknesses to over-ride the strengths as family businesses can be more nimble, effective and profitable.

So, will you prevent ‘profit leakage’ in your family business?

How do you eat an elephant?

“There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.”

Desmond Tutu – Noble Prize laureate, anti-apartheid campaigner

In using this old African proverb, what did Desmond Tutu mean?

How often are we confronted with tasks or challenges that seem insurmountable?

The first action in confronting a major project is to set the goal…………that is, eating the elephant.

However, in order to reach the goal of eating an elephant you need to plan and set incremental time bounded goals. In this case, it’s eating the elephant one bite at a time. Setting goals is an important discipline for business owners and managers. Furthermore, setting goals also helps in creating a meaningful, satisfying, and successful life.

What has eating an elephant got to do with business?

Small goals have several advantages in giving you:

  1. something that is tangible and achievable on which you can focus
  2. the satisfaction of achieving the small goals
  3. the way to achieving your major goal

A junior IT employee I once employed was daunted by the number of tasks he had to complete. He said he felt helpless and was not enjoying his role as he ‘was not getting anywhere’. We devised a simple plan that visibly showed progress. Using a simple exercise book, he listed the jobs to be done, both large and small. When he completed a task, it was crossed off the list and dated. He immediately had a visible and simple method of tracking his progress. This resulted in a significant improvement in his job satisfaction and productivity.

Job satisfaction, like life satisfaction, is higher if you see life or your job as a series of small milestones or goals along the way. Remember life, and this includes your working life is not a destination but a journey.

Whilst the practice of goal setting is important, there are certain ways to set goals that will increase the chance of success, including using the acronym, SMART for setting goals:

Specific – be very clear on what you wish to achieve. It also helps to visualise your goals. Using the elephant analogy, an African elephant weighs around, 5,000 kilograms.

Measurable – set a goal where you can measure your progress toward achieving it. Record the kilograms of the elephant you eat each week. As Peter Drucker, the famous management thinker said, “what gets measured gets done.”

Attainable – your goals need to be reasonable and realistic. You then have a better chance of success. With the elephant example, eating 100 kilograms per week would be unrealistic whereas 10 kilograms is achievable. This moves you towards your final goal, which is eating the elephant. However, at 10 kilograms per week it would take you nearly 10 years to eat the elephant by yourself. This brings us to the next consideration.

Relevant – set a goal that has meaning, whether personal or for your career or business. There is little point in having goals that have no meaning as you are wasting both time and resources. Also, you are unlikely to be motivated when the going gets tough. Due to the time involved in eating the elephant by yourself, it is not relevant or practical, even if you like elephant meat!

Time-Bound by setting a timeline or deadline you are forced to commit. This includes the small goals along the way that lead up the major goal. In meeting both the relevance and time criteria, to eat the elephant before it becomes rotten, you could enlist 100 of your fellow villagers and it would be completed in only 5 weeks!

Note: 10 kgs per person per day multiplied by 100 villagers and 5 weeks equals 5,000 kgs

Often when I sit in front of a client, they are daunted by the task to improve their business’ performance.

How do we solve the apparently daunting task?

By using the ‘eating the elephant, one bite at a time’ approach. We break down the business plan into initially, 3 year goals, then 1 year goals and more importantly 90 day ‘bite size’ goals with actions that add up to complete the business plan.

Goals are dreams with realistic and achievable deadlines.

Motivational coach Zig Ziglar stated that “a goal properly set is halfway reached.” If we remember, setting a goal is just like eating an elephant, bite by bite, and bit by bit, we can reach firstly, our smaller goals before the final goal.

What is going to be your approach when you are confronted with a daunting task?

Can you recognise an organisational psychopath?

“There’s an absolute lack of conscience, lack of remorse, and lack of guilt. They’re manipulative, superficially charming, and pathological liars. They like conning people and there’s a grandiose sense of self-importance.”

Dr John Clarke – expert on work psychopaths

For the past 6 months, the news media has been full of stories of inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour by men in powerful positions, whether its sexual abuse allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein or Australian TV presenter and producer Don Burke’s alleged sleazy and bullying behaviour, toxic workers are certainly topical.

Toxic employees can have a detrimental effect on an organisation. I wrote about this issue in a previous blog (Disruptive Employees) Furthermore, the failure to take action can be costly in terms of morale and profits. It also takes away the positive energy required for managing an organisation.

One form of toxic employee is the ‘organisational psychopath’ (Forbes Article)

The term psychopath conjures up images of evil murderers from a Hollywood movie such as Hannibal Lector in the Silence of the Lambs. However, they generally don’t murder people instead they destroy work colleagues and their subordinates as well as seriously damaging the organisations they work for.

Have you ever worked with or for an organisational psychopath?

How do you recognise an organisational psychopath?

They are not normally the overbearing, rude and unreasonable boss. They far too clever for that and often remain undetected for years in organisations.

I can remember working for one many years ago. He was superficially charming, had excellent oral communication skills, was outwardly extremely confident and ‘managed up’ exceptionally well.

Within 3 months unbeknown to me, he was wanting to dismiss me. There were no conversations about performance and he certainly gave me no assistance in my role. I later found out that he had previously forced the departure of several other employees. What alerted me was him undermining and subtly criticising the staff under my control. He was known as the ‘the smiling assassin’ and was displaying the psychopathic characteristics of lack of conscience.

My wife came to work to pick me up one afternoon with our 6 month old baby. He was dismissive and rude. This should have rung alarm bells, as one of the characteristics of a psychopath is a lack of empathy.

He was described as a hero by the business owner, as under his division, the business had grown significantly in terms of profit and revenue using new technology. I found out later that another executive was instrumental in advising and assisting him in implementing the new technology and opened the doors with existing customers. This shows three other characteristics of psychopaths, claiming credit for others work, being manipulative by managing up and using excellent oral communication skills.

Like all good organisational psychopaths, he left the organisation before he was found out. Upon leaving, the final confirmation fell into place. I was to complete a project he had commenced and found out that much of what he had claimed had been completed had not. Yes, the final characteristic was being a pathological liar.

The experience of working for this organisational psychopath left me somewhat scarred, losing my confidence and feeling demoralised. However, I learnt how to recognise organisational pathological behaviour and made a pact with myself never to work with or for one again and help others to manage who had been affected by their behaviour.

The following link provides a good summary of how to deal with them ( Dealing with an Organisational Psychopath )

Read it and refer to it when needed…………………

New Year’s Resolutions for 2018 for you and our business…..

“We adopted a strategy that required our being smart and not too smart at that, only a very few times. Indeed, we now settle for one good idea a year”

Warren Buffett – business magnate, investor, and philanthropist.

It’s the new year and the festive season is over.

The start of the calendar year is a time for reflection, recharging your batteries and planing for the year ahead.

Was 2017 a challenging year for you?

Did you achieve your professional or business goals?

If not, why not?

Many of us make long lists of New Year’s resolutions that are unfortunately never fulfilled. Maybe we had too many resolutions, or they were too difficult or we were just plain lazy. One study found that less than 10% of New Year’s resolutions are never completed or considered successful.

However, as business owners or managers we are obliged do better and are expected to do better!

For example, as a manager or business owner, you will probably have a couple of new year’s resolutions about being more productive, expanding or improving your business.

Are they the right goals?

Will they make a REAL difference and become habits and a mindset so that you succeed now, and not just for the next 365 days?

As Warren Buffet suggests in the quote above, making a few significant right decisions will make a real difference. With New Year’s resolutions, set the right resolutions, limit the number and keep them simple – the KISS principle: keep it simple stupid. Using this principle, they are more likely to be effective and result in changing your habits.

Here are three resolutions you could consider for 2018 with three aims of being positive and habit forming, changing your mindset and having a positive impact on you, your business and your team.

Resolution 1: Ask More Questions

How often do you meet people and find they rarely ask questions?

Asking questions is not a sign of weakness. Questions are a tool to drastically improve your knowledge, resources, and even your network. Put your ego aside and ask questions. You will be surprised at what you will learn. I recently attended a training course and met some new professional consultants. By asking questions I found some surprising links with people we knew and experiences they had that could be useful in the future.

Asking questions is one of the most valuable skills a manager can have, whether it’s asking for advice, asking for feedback, or simply asking for help. It also demonstrates empathy and builds understanding. Great leaders do not have all the answers, however they usually ask the right questions.

Resolution 2: Work On My Business, Not Just In It

Most businesses start with a technician wanting to work for themselves because they have technical skills. (refer to blog on The E-Myth ) However, as the business grows there is a tendency to work on the activities you know and enjoy doing, that is working in the business not on the business.

To build a successful team or business, you need to learn how to create an entity that can exist without you. Leading rather than doing. Simply working harder, or working longer hours is unlikely to improve your business as significantly as required or desired. Whilst you may know your business better than anyone else, or are the most efficient person in the business, the time you spend doing jobs that other people could be doing is time not spent running and improving your business.

I learnt this the hard way in my former logistics business. I was spending too much time calculating the productivity of the different sections of the business by employee and customer – working in the business. It dawned on me that someone else could prepare the productivity reports for me. With the completed reports, I could then concentrate on the areas that needed action plus of course highlight and praise good performance – working on the business.

So, force yourself to look at your organisation objectively and determine what needs to occur so you can achieve your goals.

Resolution 3: Do more Networking

Networking is one of the most valuable tools you can have in your manager’s tool box. Knowing the right person provides opportunities to grow your business, from new markets or products to finding yourself a mentor.  Those managers or business owners who surround themselves with a diverse, dynamic, long standing and large network increase their likelihood of success.

I was able to successfully find a prospective buyer for our logistics business through a networking contact (Networking) that went back over 25 years. However, networking needs to be approached with the mindset of maintaining a relationship and helping others. You are likely to have contacts, skills and experience that can assist others and in turn, they are more likely to help you. Remember, people do not like being used.

You are far more likely to develop relationships when you are not selling or asking for something. Networks are support systems. You are more likely to gain assistance through your network when you require assistance.

So, force yourself to make phone calls, catch up for coffee or join an organisation, whether professional or a service club. You will be surprised how rewarding it will be.

It’s not long to the New Year…………

Have you started thinking about your New Year’s resolutions?

Will these New Year’s resolutions meet the KISS principle?

Will they be habit forming, change your mindset and have a positive impact on your team or business?

………….and finally good planning and action for the coming year.

What can a Sherlock Holmes story teach us about management?

‘My name is Sherlock Holmes.  It is my business to know what other people don’t know.’

Sherlock Holmes – fictional English detective

As business owners and managers, we are often concentrating on ‘the business noise’ and daily work activities rather than what is not happening in the business. The Sherlock Holmes mystery The Adventure of Silver Blaze, involving the apparent murder of a champion race horse’s trainer and the disappearance of the race horse illustrates this point.

On the night of the alleged crime, the residents in the house near the stables heard no sound.

The dialogue from the book makes interesting reading:

Inspector Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?

Sherlock Holmes: ‘To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.

Inspector Gregory: ‘The dog did nothing in the night-time’.

Sherlock Holmes: ‘That was the curious incident.

What was Holmes’ conclusion?

As dogs often bark at strangers and the dog did not bark perhaps the offender lived in the house near the stables. This important clue where the ‘dog didn’t bark’ helped Sherlock Holmes to solve the mystery.

What can we as managers learn from Holmes’ actions in The Adventure of Silver Blaze?

We normally think that important clues involve events that did happen, however we often forget that events that did not happen can be more important. Using customer service as an example, we concentrate on replying to customer’s phone calls and emails, whereas instead we should also be concentrating on those customers we do not hear from?

The equivalent of the dog that did not bark.

The customer could be very satisfied or extremely unhappy with our products and services? Reconnecting with the customer presents us with a great opportunity to reconnect and reinforce the positive experience they are having with our service or products or save their business from going to competitors because of a poor experience.

Remember, like Sherlock Holmes perhaps we should as managers and business owners also allocate time away from the daily ‘business noise’.

Are you looking at what is not happening in regard to staff and customers, especially those we do not hear from?

This may give us valuable clues on where to improve our products, services, staff relations, or our management style.

Don’t judge a person until you have walked a mile in his shoes……….

“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

 From the book “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee (1926-2016)

This quote is a derivation of an old Cherokee proverb which states:

“Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes”

What does this old Native North American proverb mean to managers?

Have you ever worked for a manager that tells you to do something but does not understand the situation because they have “never been or done that” before and this annoys you?

As managers of people we must be careful not to fall into this trap. Our staff will think we lack empathy, are incompetent or a poor manager. Certainly, in recent times many politicians on both sides of the political divide in Australia have entered politics as political advisers, staffers and trade union officials and have never run a business or worked in the private sector. Other examples are consultants advising on a course of action even though they have no practical experience in the area.

This situation was illustrated recently when I took an elderly friend who uses a walking frame to our local multi-level shopping centre. He was unable to use the stairs and required an elevator. We found out that the elevators were at the opposite ends of the shopping centre. This meant walking further than more able- bodied people. I would never have realised this issue existed if I had not experienced it for myself. I now realise why he was reluctant to visit this particular shopping centre.

As this example shows you should try and understand someone before criticising them, or make them do something that is unreasonable or very difficult unless you understand their experiences and challenges.

Can you remember the last time you did this?

As managers we are all guilty of this at times. The challenge is to limit this behavior as much as possible.