Friday, 18 July 2014

6 tips to prevent important tasks falling through the cracks

Whether you’re a sole trader or manage a team of dozens, you need to ensure that the work that needs doing gets done – correctly and on time. So how do you prevent the important (and even the not-so-important) tasks falling through the cracks?

Shweta Jhajharia founder of The London Coaching Group has six tips, including a great free tool that can help every business get more control:

1) Stop Doing Everything Yourself
Share the load with people who are stronger in areas where you are weaker. The work will get done, the stress will be less, and your business will reach new heights. The following tips will help you do this.

2) Give Away Your Low-Skill, Low-Fun Tasks First
All your tasks sit on a spectrum, from low skill to high skill and low fun to high fun. The tasks to delegate are the ones that sit in the low-fun and low-skill quadrant. Why? Because these tasks are:

  • Easier to train for
  • Cheapest to hire for
  • Create the most distractions

3) Match the Correct Person to the Role
Before you start hiring, you must define the role along with the responsibilities and the desired output. You should then match that against a few key considerations:

  • Do they have the right skills for the job?
  • Does their personality type match the tasks that they'll be doing?
  • Are they enthusiastic about the job?

4) Develop a system
Introducing a system is absolutely critical if you want to ensure no job falls through the cracks. It will also you help you manage your team.

  • Define the outcome. Ensure your team members know exactly what is expected of them.
  • Timeline everything. Start with when the final result needs to be done and then backtrack.
  • Ask them to recap. Hear it in their words and make sure they have understood and are on the same page as you.
  • Include a touch point in your diary. Mid-way through the project check in and make sure everything is on track. If you wait until the end – it may be too late to catch an issue and deal with it.
  • Install a task management system. For example, Asana or Podio, or for smaller companies, a basic spreadsheet can be used to manage tasks.

5) Document everything you do
Create concise but comprehensive documentation and it will feed back into your business by making the training of new hires a breeze, ensuring your business runs without interruption. Remember to keep it concise and simple:

  • Limit yourself to one-page documents.
  • Make use of checklists and bullet points.
  • Create how-to videos using a camera or software like Jing that lets you do a video screenshot of what you're doing on screen.

6) Use this handy free tool
At the London Coaching Group, we have an efficient team that works very closely. And we exchange barely any emails. What you need:

  • Your team.
  • A Google account (which is free) and an activated Google Drive (also free). http://www.google.com/drive .
  • A Google Spreadsheet within Google Drive (click Create > Spreadsheet). This works much like an Excel Spreadsheet. It must also be shared with your team (click on Share in the top right).
You then create column headings for the following areas:
  • Task description
  • Due date
  • Date started – filled in by your team to indicate when work on a task has begun.
  • Date complete – filled in by your team to let you know a task is ready for review.
  • Team Q's/Comments – filled in by the team if they have any comments about the task
  • Leader Responses – filled in by you, giving comments back to the team.
So how do we use this?
  • Whenever a task comes to mind, I, as the team leader, will add it to the spreadsheet straight away.
  • My team then gets started on it and fills in the fields accordingly.
  • Once a task has a "Date complete" I will double-check the task
  • Once I've double-checked and it's done, then, and only then, do I delete it from this list. Only I can delete.
My team and I keep this document open during our entire work day. It acts as the communal 'to-do' list. Everyone is aware of the status of all other projects, which makes meetings a breeze and ensures absolutely nothing falls through the cracks.

By using the tips and tools above you can run your business and your projects smoothly and efficiently. You will be 100% in control of each project – this reduces stress and that feeling of a ‘heavy load’. So you’ll have more time to work on the business and its future.

Shweta Jhajharia, Principal Coach and founder of The London Coaching Group, is available for articles and interview.

For media enquiries please contact Chantal or Sophie at Panpathic Communications – Chantal@panpathic.com / 020 8544 0091 or Sophie@panpathic.com / 07815 860 082

Shweta Jhajharia, Principal Coach and founder of The London Coaching Group, is a multi- award-winning business coach, recognised both by external bodies and the industry awards panels as the top coach in the UK. Despite competitive economy, her clients across sectors consistently achieve measurable double digit growth (over 41%) and are the most awarded client base in UK. See: http://www.londoncoachinggroup.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Londoncoachingg
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ActionCOACHShwetaJhajharia
Google+: https://plus.google.com/+Londoncoachinggroup
LinkedIn: uk.linkedin.com/in/shwetajhajharia/

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Challenge the way you think - Guest post by Dominic Irvine

The company wanted to run a development programme – but money was tight. They needed to keep the accommodation costs as low as possible. Whilst we understood this, we didn't want to create a ‘cheap-skate’ feel to the event. How then to proceed? We needed good accommodation but at budget hotel prices. We solved the problem by renting a country house and getting the delegates to cook for themselves. The country house was delightful. By self-catering we had created a team exercise that was infinitely more enjoyable than many commonly used tasks. Best of all was the fact it cost less than staying at a budget hotel. Reconciling seemingly irreconcilable differences is what innovation is all about. It’s finding that ‘third way’. Hidden in the frustration of two mutually exclusive positions such as cheap and luxury accommodation is almost always the opportunity for innovation. For example, eating breakfast cereal without milk gave us the cereal bar. Paying for a meal without having any cash led to the credit card.

There are a number of steps that can help in being more creative. It’s not a black art, nor is it rocket science. Once you’ve mastered some of the techniques it becomes incredibly liberating and the world seems to have far more possibilities.
Ford was right….or wrong

Have you ever heard anybody say?

  • “I’m not very creative.” or
  • “I’m not good with technology.” or
  • “I’m rubbish at public speaking.”

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can't – you're right” said Henry Ford. Of the millions of innovation tools out there on the web, all are a waste of time unless you have the right attitude. Time and time again people constrain themselves in the language they use. Let’s change the whole thing by adding the word “yet” to the end of each sentence. For example, “I’m not very creative – yet”. The difference is one of approach. Without ‘yet’ it’s a ‘fait accompli’. With ‘yet’ being creative becomes a possibility. To continue without deciding to become creative, or that you already are, would be like reading the instructions for a gadget you don't own, mildly interesting but basically useless.

In exactly the same way, the solution to any problem or challenge that seems irreconcilable starts off with the decision that there is or can be a solution. Unless you decide this, you may try to come up with ideas, but the reality is you have already decided ‘it can't be done’. In the same way, if you have already decided what the ‘right’ answer is before exploring alternatives then all you are doing is wasting time. Better just to do what you think.

However, if you genuinely want to explore new options it will involve you challenging what you think you know. For example, if you already have a solution in mind, ask yourself “how could I solve this if I couldn't do what I have already proposed?”

Top tip: It sounds simple, and it is. Start by deciding the problem or issue can be solved. Start by deciding there are probably more than one or two solutions. Decide you are going to find a solution.

The insidious creep of assumptions
When it comes to creativity and innovation, it is the assumptions we make that constrain our thinking. In a breakthrough piece of thinking, a senior executive I had the pleasure of working with challenged why his firm used the term medium market to describe a particular market segment. In so doing he forced people to ask questions as to what this market segment was all about, whom it included and the rationale of why these businesses had been grouped together. The outcome was the realisation that rather than a low value section of the market, it did in fact offer the best opportunities for growth.

The difficulty is when we think assumptions are ‘facts’. Debating a perspective is easy, arguing against an opinion is difficult and contending fact is a non-starter. The trouble is too often an opinion becomes a fact and a perspective becomes an entrenched opinion. The fact that there is still a flat earth society is testament to the power of constrained thinking.

Top tip
Just because you have a very clear solution doesn't mean it’s the only one. If you can't see any other way of doing something, it means you need to go back and challenge all the elements, including those that seem to be at the very heart of the solution.

Spot the language
The way we speak impacts on our ability to be creative. Listen to the words you use when you speak. Words such as ‘obviously’, ‘clearly’, ‘always’ tend to be used when it is by no means certain that it is ‘obvious’, ‘clear’ or ‘always the case’. The use of such words is to give an opinion the status of a fact. If something is a fact arguing against it is considerably harder than when it is merely someone’s opinion. Such words are intimidating and constrain creative thinking. When faced with someone adding such words into a sentence, it’s useful to ask for the evidence in support of their claims. Exploring the evidence leads to clarity over what is an assumption and what is fact.

Top tip
Listen to the way you speak and the words you use. Are they helping or preventing new solutions?

Creativity is a skill
Like most skills, the more you practice the better you get. It tends to start with generating ideas.
Fools rush in
The difficulty at this stage is that the first or second idea that comes along becomes the solution adopted. The rest of the time is then spent working out how to make the solution work. Rarely is the first solution the best. Often the most useful ideas combine elements of other ideas together. Therefore, it’s good to have lots of ideas to start with. This means spending enough time generating a range of ideas. I suggest that when ideas start to dry up you try another tool to generate some more. The process of generating ideas should go on as long as possible, and probably longer than you think!

Any tool that helps you challenge the way you think can be useful. For example, sometimes it’s useful to focus on just one tiny aspect of the problem, such as the ink used on the package rather than attempting to come up with a whole product.

Another useful tool is to work out the unwritten rules that have arisen through custom and practice associated with an activity and challenge one or more of these. For example, when you go to a restaurant there is a set order in which things happen, such as ordering your starter with your main course. Why does it need to be this way? What if customers either ordered the whole meal or instead had no choice over what they ate? ‘Bloom in the park’ is a restaurant in Malmö in Southern Sweden that has no menu. On the face of it this seems very limiting, but the experience is actually very liberating. Given they have survived for many years it seems others agree. The point is, what we think of as rules are rarely such.

Top tip
Practice! Use a variety of tools to generate new possibilities. When you find yourself running out of ideas, try another technique. More ideas mean more possibilities.

Put your thinking cap on
Of the many tools that exist Edward de Bono’s six thinking hats is a good place to start. The value of his approach is in encouraging you to think through an issue from a number of dimensions. It forces a structure that prevents you rushing to conclusions and solutions too quickly.

There’s a mass of literature on this topic available including de Bono’s original text on the subject. I don’t intend to replicate what many others have covered, instead I want to focus on what each of the elements brings that makes it so useful. In essence, the idea is think through an issue from a number of perspectives, one at a time ensuring you have exhausted the options or thoughts related to that perspective before moving on.

Get to the facts – the white hat

What’s the evidence? This is a really great question that legitimises asking ‘how do you know?’ Sometimes we can feel intimidated by those with whom we are working such that challenging the basis of their knowledge seems almost rude. This can mean for the sake of politeness a decision is made that has no basis in fact. It’s one of the reasons facilitators are used – we are allowed to ask ‘stupid’, ‘naïve’ questions in our quest for understanding.

Understanding the facts has a number of levels. For example, an employee survey might tell you people are dissatisfied with a decision. The next level of analysis may show the sample size for a particular score was 6 people. Analysis of the scores may show a range from +1 to +5. These are facts. They are neither good, nor bad, just facts.

I'm sorry this won't work – the black hat

The black hat, which examines the negative aspects, may conclude that the sample size was too small to be meaningful and the data range too big to provide any meaningful insight. This is what the black hat is all about, taking a critical perspective on a decision or issue and identifying those factors likely to contribute to failure or that call into question the value of the decision. The best thing about taking a critical approach in your analysis is that if you can think of problems with what you’re proposing then so can others. So if you can come up with solutions to those issues or problems and answer the concerns of others, the chances are you have a robust, credible idea. To know about a problem with your idea and not to have done something about how you would address it if challenged seems foolish.

It maybe that having considered all the negatives, your idea is simply not worth it. What a critical approach does is to ensure we don't see all our ideas with rose tinted glasses. It also legitimizes challenge. I've been in meetings where negative comments are seen as demonstrating 'you're not part of the team', or 'you don't support the team' or 'you're always negative'. There is a place for critical analysis and we should embrace such thinking when appropriate.

C’Mon, we can do this – the yellow hat

In contrast, the yellow hat takes the positive view. This is a good thing to do with people who seem determined to be negative. It forces them to find the good in an idea. Being positive about an issue or solution can mean going beyond thinking simply about the solution. It's helpful also to think about benefits to all those involved as invariably the success of an idea depends on getting a number of people on board in an organisation. Knowing the benefits of doing something helps you keep going. Think about running a marathon, knowing you are raising money for a good cause will help you keep going through the tougher parts of the race providing the motivation to work through the pain. Similarly, knowing how your idea will benefit customers and keep your colleagues in employment can be helpful in the face of adversity.

A simple exercise I often ask people to do when they think they have a great idea is to list 30 benefits. On the face of it this seems a ridiculous number, but forcing people to come up with 30 really helps people work out what all the benefits could be. In so doing it either drives in higher levels of motivation or helps people realise it needs more work.

You can begin to see where this is going. If you spend enough time thinking about the benefits and the negatives, you will end up making a better decision than simply working out how to make a particular idea or solution work.

6th sense – the red hat

There's more we can do. I was doing some research once into the basis of decisions made by senior members of a company about whether to buy or build hotels in a given location. The results surprised me. Many respondents concluded that if, having done all the analysis and everything suggested it was a good decision it still 'felt like the wrong thing to do', they would not proceed. It took me a while to figure out why they would still be guided by their gut reaction. It seemed that their gut feel was the accumulated years of wisdom that gave them a sense of what worked and what didn't. They couldn't put their finger on any specific factor, but it just felt wrong. Over the years, I've found myself deciding not to do something, such as send an email I've written, because something tells me it's not quite right. Invariably, it feels like I made the right decision. And this is what the red hat is all about. It's that gut feel you have, the sense of intuition, an instinct about how others may react. It's valuable input. On its own, it probably needs exploring and analysing, but taken into consideration with the other hats it's useful input.

What if... – the green hat

he green hat is my favourite - it's all about possibility. It's about creating ideas and solutions without tearing them down instantly with negative criticism or comments such as "we've tried that before" as if the future was somehow a replication of the past. Taking a creative approach means suspending criticism. It means imagining it was possible to do certain things. For example, we were working on a project to develop new drinks products. During the creative phase we developed an idea for a drink that helped build a sense of community. This led to the concept of sponsoring a community based activity linking people together through social media accessible through information on the product that in turn met the social objectives of the business as well as driving up volume of consumption.

The outcome sought was increased volume of sales. The starting point had been developing a new product. The solution was sponsoring the development of a community based activity. The end result met the brief. Volumes went up. The point is the solution was only possible because of a creative process that welcomed new ideas however 'off the wall' they seemed in the first instance. Subsequent discussions took the best bits from one idea and combined it with another to create an even better idea.

Guide the thinking, don't lead the thoughts – the blue hat

Finally we have the blue hat. This is a focus on ensuring the right hat is used, in the right way, for the optimum duration before deploying another tool. This role in a meeting is hugely rewarding. It requires you to really listen to what's been said, to take notes, to synthesize the thinking and summarise it back to help keep people focused. It means stepping in to challenge when appropriate. It's about guiding the thinking without leading the thoughts. The intensity required to shape a discussion effectively means it is incredibly difficult to be part of the overall discussion. This is probably a good thing as the moment you become part of the debate it is very difficult to shape the debate without being seen as skewing it one way or the other.

Top tip
Take the time to explore each facet of an idea properly. That way, your final option is likely to be robust, well thought through and beneficial with clearly understood risks.

Spend enough time
The point about all these approaches is ensuring enough time is spent considering each or dimension and avoiding rushing to a decision that may be very difficult to change in the future and may lead to too many unwanted and unintended consequences.

It's about action!

Whatever approach you take, the key difference between creativity and innovation is that creativity creates the ideas, whereas innovation sees them through to execution. Unless your efforts to be creative lead to action it will have been a waste of time. Creativity fits within a context, it's there to do something - to solve a problem. The key question at the end of all discussion has to be "so what?"

Get it right, practice lots, and the process of creativity is an incredibly rewarding, engaging and fulfilling experience. When done with others, the outcome is invariably substantially better than anything an individual can achieve. It's also a really good way of helping a team feel like a team.

Dominic Irvine © March 2014 All rights asserted

McKenna Townsend
PR Week’s Ones to Watch
e. ian@mckennatownsend.com
w. www.mckennatownsend.com

Monday, 19 May 2014

Private vs Public Cloud

In this article, MD of Beaming, Sonia Blizzard, talks through some of the pros of the Private Cloud as well as dispelling the myths around securing data online.

It goes without saying that there has been an increasing shift towards remote working in the past few years. Whether this is recession driven, or businesses are just becoming more flexible as technology moves on, there is no doubt that remote working has grown – and with it the demand for an ever more secure cloud-based software solution.

Cloud software allows businesses agility, whilst lowering costs, but businesses need to know that their access is secure. The question is: Public or Private Cloud?

What’s the difference?

A Public Cloud is based on a standard cloud computing model where services, applications and storage are made available to users over the internet as a service in its own right. There are many types of Public Cloud, the most common being Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), Software as a Service (SaaS) and Desktop as a Service (DaaS) platforms. These tend to be suitable for companies that have fewer regulatory hurdles to overcome, or are looking to outsource part of their organisational IT requirements, allowing a simple “plug in and play” approach.

Private Clouds consist of cloud infrastructure that is designed solely for the use of a single organisation. This can be managed either internally or hosted by a third party externally and they offer more scope for advanced security. They offer stand-alone solutions in their own right and they must comply with strict regulations. Businesses who choose a Private Cloud install their own server and storage hardware, whilst keeping the flexibility of shifting workloads among servers.

There is also the Hybrid Cloud option, popular with the e-commerce industry because it offers the best of both worlds at the order processing and transactional front-end stages. It keeps the actual work of processing the orders in the Public Cloud resource, whilst transactions are kept in the Private Cloud.

Better safe than sorry

Several Public Cloud providers insist that there are several myths around the security of this type of cloud, as opposed to a Private Cloud. They insist that they sufficiently maintain the required levels of security and that in fact the extra software and technology involved in upping the level to a Private Cloud isn’t justified when it appears much the same to the end user.

However, when you consider the business continuity aspect, as well as the impact it can have on your organisation’s reputation if you are hacked, the Private Cloud appears to be the ever-increasingly popular option.

Someone else’s computer

Consider this: Do you know where your information is held right now? Most of us use a cloud platform, or we have had experience of one, and therefore we assume that we are using an accredited Public Cloud software, from a well-known name or company and therefore it should be fine, right? Wrong!

When you suddenly think of the cloud as someone else’s computer, where do you think your information stored in your public cloud is being held?

In my experience, people are far too complacent about data generally, and this applies to online data, data storage and other private information and passwords that we use on a daily basis.

This is even more true if you are inside an organisation, for example if you are a member of staff or an employee at a firm – and if you’re bringing in your own devices.

Just because you are working within a trusted firm, it doesn’t always mean the data you are using within a Public Cloud is being stored correctly. Nor does it mean it is constantly updated with the latest software – after all they are not as stringently monitored and regulated as Private Clouds. This can result in a rather complacent “it just works” mentality, and it is also tempting to make the security of our documents and data someone else’s problem – but this is something we all should be taking responsibility for.

The Security of Security

We all know the internet “just works”, but under the surface there is a whole different world of networks and connections. The truth is, all the time you are at the mercy of a public cloud, you will never be in control of your own individual security online.

Private Clouds offer an individual, allocated space online, which can only be accessed by authorised personnel. Not only does this lower the risk of external hacking from unwanted outsiders, but it also allows any staff working offsite to access the network safely from a remote location. Services, such as Beaming’s ProtectNet, provide a totally separate space physically set apart from the Internet, which also allows devices on site to speak to each other without opening up the network to risk. It also lessens the risk of internal fraud, as there is a disincentive when activity can easily be traced.

So, when it comes to a Public versus a Private Cloud, it may seem as though networking a Private Cloud is more effort for not much more output, but this is simply not true. When it comes to protecting data, you can never be too careful and in the drive to make the issue of security something that everybody needs to be thinking about, then the Private Cloud wins for me every time!

This article is a guest blog by Sonia Blizzard, internet security expert and MD of Beaming (www.beaming.biz).

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The rise of me-tail - By Ian Simpson, Managing Director of Catalogues4Business

Customisation in marketing is not a new or particularly ground breaking concept, however, it is becoming increasingly important with the rise of social media. Most businesses have adopted the use of personalisation as an engagement technique with consumers, personalised mail, log in details and thank you emails being some. The next stage is to incorporate personalisation into a customer retention strategy; this is where me-tail comes into practice. Me-tail is personalisation, it is the ability to track purchase behaviour, measure consumer reactions, store that data and tailor each individual’s sales cycle.

Customers value brand above all else, and the bigger the brand the more the likelihood of detachment from their customers; this has to be realigned. Consumers want to be indulged during their shopping experience and for the information to be spoon-fed to them. This may sound simple, but the information cannot be universal to all, it has to be specific. Customers wont appreciate generic material; they will feel devalued and abandon the sales cycle. Me-tail is beginning to revolutionise the way we shop, whether it’s online or through direct mail such as catalogues.

According to an article by Adobe, 52% of digital marketers agree that “the ability to personalise content is fundamental”. So, why are companies so slow to introduce this into their marketing campaigns? Here at C4B we advocated catalogue personalisation twenty years ago and have consistently noticed an increase in product demand and brand recognition for companies who adopt it.

As many respected marketing sites have declared me-tail as a top marketing trend for 2014, each and every brand will be attempting to adopt it in their marketing strategy. But to guarantee effectiveness, brands must ensure that their personalisation is precise, relevant and well judged; customers will feel uncomfortable at the thought of being tracked or monitored on the internet and equally they don’t want irrelevant suggestions.

Probably the most pivotal use of me-tail was in 1995 when Tesco introduced their Clubcard. With the introduction of the Clubcard Tesco were able to keep track of every purchase that the user was making. Two subtle strategies that Tesco introduced was up-selling and cross-selling, examples being; (Up-Selling) If a consumer frequently purchased budget brand butter, Tesco would send vouchers for higher priced branded butter such as an approach to introduce a superior product. (Cross-Selling) If a customer used their Clubcard to buy petrol, Tesco would place car insurance adverts and offers into their voucher book in an attempt to cross-sell their product.

Practices such as targeting, segmentation and analytics have always been fundamental components of marketing strategy. Me-tail has also been a part of how a catalogue functions, especially in a B2B environment there has to be a high level of relevance and engagement or the catalogue will be thrown away. But it is worth noting that one large retailer saw a 25% uplift in sales simply by personalising the catalogue cover – that’s huge!

Digital marketing has allowed an increased number of brands to connect with consumers via social media sites. This approach accompanied with website tracking software gives brands greater insight into consumers’ personal lives, including their browsing activity, ultimately increasing the opportunity to communicate with valid and relevant messages.

Ian Simpson is Managing Director of Catalogues4Business who specialise in producing highly effective, marketing-driven catalogues.
C4B’s catalogue design offers brands the maximum effect to sell their products.
For more information either phone 0845 2300 258 or visit their website

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Driving transformation - Guest Blog by Rohit Talwar

I was recently invited to deliver a keynote address and act as a firestarter and thought leader at an event on driving genuine transformation when you're a market leader. A number of global brands such as Apple, Emirates, Puma and Salesfoce.com had gathered in Dubai to spend two days exploring how leaders can drive change to fundamentally different strategies, brand positionings, business models, cultures and ways of working. Here are my key take aways from this and other similar recent discussions with a number of clients.

  • 1. Things must get Messy - If everything feels comfortable, there is no disruption and you never face internal or external conflicts then you probably aren't delivering true transformation.
  • 2. Start with Tomorrow - Big businesses struggle to change a winning formula and will keep trying to pull you back to it. To challenge current assumptions, a clear, deep and compelling view of future factors (forces, trends, developments, ideas and weak signals) driving the future is essential.
  • 3. Unwavering Vision - However you craft it, the top team need to own a clear vision of the future we want to create and emphasise constantly how it differs from the current model.
  • 4. Leaders don't Follow - If you are genuine leaders that you can't get to a truly differentiated and defendable brand positioning by following the rules that others play by - change the game itself and then let it play you.
  • 5. Depart Before your Ready - Don't wait until everything is perfectly resolved and ready. Take early and massive action to move things forward, act fast with changes or commitments that really indicate how things could be different.
  • 6. Fail Fast and Cheap - The future cannot be created in a single pass. Experiments will be required with a range of possible solutions - these should be conducted quickly with a focus on maximising the learning and early testing of new ideas on those who they might impact e.g., customers, staff or other stakeholders.
  • 7. See Me, Know Me, Help Me - Staff need to believe that the organisation cares about them at a personal level and that the transformation will actually make their life better.
  • 8. The Power of One - Grand transformations are often derailed by internal challenges - particularly those related to IT systems. If the internal conversation is dominated about why 'we can't do that' because of IT related issues, then radical surgery is required. The solution is adopting one platform for each core activity from sales and distribution to HR and finance and then flatly refusing people to develop their own sub-systems.
  • 9. Data or Die - Genuine expertise is required in the management and exploitation of big data and predictive analytics to drive short term decision-making in key areas such as marketing and sales. Those that can't unlock the value are sowing the seeds of their own destruction.
  • 10. Create Magic - Customers, staff and partners need manifestations of magic in their experience of you to stand out from the pack. Who are they telling stories about over lunch, in the bar and in the social media?
  • 11. Express your Desires - Be clear with your entire ecosystem about where you see yourselves in the future, how you plan to get there and the stakeholder relationships you want to nurture. Engage them in the conversation about how to realise those desires in a manner that truly benefits them as stakeholders.
  • 12. Act Fast on the Naysayers - Some in key roles may simply not understand or buy into the vision. Making them part of the core team can help turn them into evangelists. If they simply cannot change them help them leave with respect for what they've done in the past and acknowledging that it's best for both of you if they go.
  • 13. The Revolution can be Televised - The true signs of change will come in numerous small examples of people internalising the vision and translating it into real action. Have them capture and share these stories in whatever way they want - blog posts and video are popular tools.
  • 14. Find an Orchestra Conductor - A central programme director is critical to co-ordinate the many parallel work streams in a genuine transformation programme. A critical challenge will come when transformation activity butts up against current customer facing activity. The key is always resolving these conflicts in a consistent manner that honours the vision.

post by Rohit Talwar,CEO, Fast Future
rohit@fastfuture.com
www.fastfuture.com
Twitter https://twitter.com/fastfuture
Blog http://widerhorizons.wordpress.com/
LinkedIn http://www.linkedin.com/in/talwar

Monday, 3 March 2014

Stand up for better meetings by Dominic Irvine, founding partner of Epiphanies LLP

Not so smart

It’s not as if we didn't notice: The ‘smart’ phone vibrated on the table as each message arrived. The sequence was always the same – a furtive glance at the message followed by some exaggerated nodding to pretend he was listening to the speaker before he then tapped out an email on the laptop in front of him. Finally, just as we thought the topic was done, he interjected with some point vaguely related to the topic that left everyone slightly bemused. And this was the team leader. This went on all day. Oh how tedious!

So many meetings are inefficient, ineffective and largely pointless due to either a complete disregard or a misunderstanding of what constitutes value or a misplaced sense of capability in being able to do two things at once.

It seems there are three problems at play in the scenario described. The first is:

  • a) Many people in business do not understand the price of what they are doing in terms of the sales that will need to be made to pay for their time

  • b) There is a mistaken understanding of how effective it is possible to be when multi-tasking

  • c) Technology is both an enabler and a severe constraint on effectiveness. We need to work out how to use it to enable high performance and avoid the distractions it offers

Meeting the cost

Let’s do some maths. Let’s suppose the ten attendees at the meeting described above were senior managers in a large supermarket chain. A one-day team meeting with 10 people in attendance is 80 hours of wasted time. If we assume they earn £75k including benefits and employee contributions and allow for holidays then the cost of the meeting in terms of their time is roughly £3200. This excludes room costs, travel etc. Now let’s suppose the average basket of shopping is £30 (which it is for some of the leading supermarket brands) and the profit on this is 4% after everything has been accounted for (again, typical for the big supermarket chains). Then almost 2700 customers have to go shopping to make enough profit to pay for the meeting. Multiply this up by the number of pointless meetings held a year and it’s a vast number of shopping trips that need to be made to pay for very little value. This is aside from the opportunity cost. Inattentive behaviour in face-to-face meetings is very expensive. Face to face meetings do have substantial value.

Yes, video-conferencing, telephone conferences and the like have an important role to play in communication, but face-to-face meetings remain the most powerful mechanism for communication in business. A face-to-face discussion reveals so much more by way of verbal and non-verbal communication. It is far more effective in developing trust between team members. The advantages come from both the formal time spent in meetings and the ad hoc conversations that take place outside of the meeting. We should never lose sight of the fact that we are social creatures and need social interaction and contact with others. Don't forget, people can behave just as badly in virtual meetings as they do in face to face meetings – it’s just cheaper!

Top tip:

Next time you are faced with poor behaviour in a meeting, get the attendees to do the maths and calculate the cost of the meeting in terms of the profit from sales. Show them the price of their arrogance.

The nonsense of multi-tasking

I’ve had enough of people pretending to listen whilst interacting with their phones, so these days I don't bother trying to have the conversation, I simply stop talking. If you ever want a demonstration of how people can't concentrate on two things at once try it. Invariably they fail to notice for a minute or so before realising that the conversation has stopped. The way I see it is there is no point in talking if they are not listening, and if what I have to say is worth hearing then I need their attention.

In an excellent white paper on ‘The Future of Meetings’, authors McEuen and Duffy use the term ‘switch tasking’ to describe the way in which the brain does not parallel process both doing something on the phone and talking to someone else but instead switches between one task and the other. Given there is a constraint to how much information we can process at any one time, the outcome is neither task is done well.

It’s one of the very sensible reasons why mobile phone use is banned in cars. The evidence is overwhelming – when using mobile phones, our ability to process what’s going on around us is significantly impaired. This is the same as when we are unsure where we are going when driving in a strange town – we intuitively slow down, because we can't read the street names, navigate the roads and drive safely at the speed we can drive a familiar route.

Top tip:

Don't be afraid to stop talking when people are busy on their devices during a meeting. Have the confidence to know that despite what they may claim, they cannot process both the what you are saying and what’s on their screen effectively.

Technology as an enabler

I like to use an iPad to take notes. The notes are stored in the cloud and accessible for me easily after the meeting from whichever computer I am working from. This I find really useful. However, for some, this can be an excuse to covertly check emails whilst taking notes – I know – I’ve seen them do it (and done it myself). The technology also allows us to access quickly and easily our schedules, stored information and the like – all of which can be incredibly useful. So simply asking people to turn off their devices seems to be a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Where I have seen it managed very well is by strong leadership from the team manager. Their example of leaving their phone in the bag and very obviously just taking notes onto their iPad set a strong example for others. They lived what they expected others to do. Such common sense is not common practice.

When the team manager is easily distracted by their devices then I’m afraid it’s down to your own self discipline. In time, greater use of devices like smart watches that meet the craving for being connected by displaying incoming alerts but without the distraction of a keyboard to ‘dash a reply of there and then’ will help. But perhaps there are some more radical things we can do.

Let’s make a virtue out of the problem

Stand up! Stand up for your meetings. It’s hard to use laptops, when standing. iPads or their equivalent are not much easier. Smart phones are the easiest of all but their use when standing is much more conspicuous than when seated behind a table. There is research evidence to suggest a significant drop in performance when attempting to use touch screen devices when standing when compared to being seated. However, they are still available to attendees should the need arise.

The benefits of standing go way beyond maintaining focus on the discussion at hand. According to some research done in the late 90’s stand-up meetings produce decisions just as good as sit-down meetings but in far less time. In 2012, Dunstan, Howard, Healy and Owen published an article called “Too much sitting – A health hazard”. It seems the amount of time we spend on our backsides is having a serious impact on our health.

We need to be moving around more. In the Compendium of Physical Activities in which the effort required to complete everyday activities are compared against doing nothing, sitting in a meeting expends not much more energy than lying horizontal. Standing up increases the activity score, not by much, but every little helps.

Of course not everyone can stand and we should be sensitive to the needs of these individuals. For most of us, it’s not a problem. So give your backside a rest and your legs a chance and stand up for your next meeting. Watch how much more energy there is in the room and how much shorter the meeting is.

Top tip:

Stand up for better meetings. Stand up to get better value from your meetings. Stand up for better health. It’s a win-win all round.

This post is by:

Dominic Irvine founding partner of Epiphanies LLP © February 2014. All rights asserted.

Contact via:

PR Week’s Ones to Watch
Ian Payne, Associate Director, McKenna Townsend
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Thursday, 27 February 2014

Ten tips to master the art of persuasion

When is the last time you had to persuade someone in a business situation? Perhaps you want to increase you sales, or maybe convince your team to adopt new processes, or maybe you’re hoping to persuade existing shareholders to re-invest. Whatever the situation, you will need to master the art of persuasion.

According to Christina Hession of Toastmasters International you should start by asking yourself why should an audience listen to your presentation and, most importantly, what do you want them to do as a result of listening to you? Structure your presentation on points of relevance and concern for your audience to ensure maximum success.

Here are Christina’s ten tips to help you persuade audiences to support your views:

  • (1) Purpose: Be very clear about the purpose of your presentation. Do you want to inform, motivate, entertain or inspire? What do you want the audience to think or do as a result of your talk? If you don’t know – then don’t blame the audience for looking confused.

  • (2) Sincerity: Be authentic. Do you engage your audience with passion and conviction about a subject which interests them? Can you believably sell its benefits?

  • (3) Authority: Be sure to inform your audience of your speciality and qualifications in a brief introduction before your presentation.

  • (4) Logic: An essential component of effective persuasion. This can be, for example, a) linear reasoning - set out a number of individual aspects of the particular problem, before linking them to their causes and solutions, or b) fact-based thinking - include relevant statistics and cite credible sources for your assertions.

  • (5) Speak to the heart: Make a point, then tell a story. Audiences love personal stories and anecdotes, because they engage our emotions.

  • (6) ‘You Focussed’: Make your presentation ‘you focussed’ in other words focussed on your audience. Using the word ‘you’ instead of ‘I’ or ‘me’, makes your presentation more personal and conversational.

  • (7) Humour: Humour is a very effective device in engaging and connecting with an audience. It will serve to lighten the tone, but a word of caution here; humour should not be bawdy, politically incorrect or poke fun at audience members.

  • (8) Empathy: Get your presentation off to a flying start by researching your audience. Who are they? What are their needs and expectations? Take some time to mingle with your audience members. If possible, ensure the seating is arranged to facilitate maximum participation.

  • (9) Delivery: Smile. A smile is like your personal handshake with the audience. Speak firmly at a measured rate and vary the pitch, and establish direct eye contact – all of this will help to engage and persuade the audience.

  • (10) Confidence: Your presentation begins from the minute you leave your seat to walk to the podium. Walking with your head up and back straight will convey to the audience that you are a speaker who is confident with your subject matter. A confident speaker is a persuasive speaker.

Christina Hession is a member Toastmasters International and is District 71 Toastmaster of the Year, 2013.
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