Conviction

What are we so scared of?

THE DILEMMA WE PUT OURSELVES IN WHEN WE PERCEIVE THREAT INSTEAD OF POSSIBILITY

It was an important meeting. A meeting that would be the beginning of beautiful and important things. We would hatch fun and creative plans together. We would make an impact on the community. We would grow our businesses. The limits were endless.

We would talk all things of mutual benefit. Quoting big numbers, and breaking them down into practical milestones, and then into bite sized chunks we could then divvy up and assign to each other. Then, we would have further meetings, do work with each other, plan events, continue to build our relationship, and build a new world. A world of laughter. A world of success. A world of joy.

But alas, this is the meeting that never happened. It is the possibly that was shut down within minutes when the fear got in the way.

The fear of people stealing from us. The fear of people using us. The fear of being sold to. The fear of getting the raw deal. The fear of being inferior. The fear of failure. The fear of success.

Maybe it is all of these things, or maybe what has been proposed to us just isn’t interesting. It is not compelling. It is not useful, or of value.

This situation is such a tough one to crack. When working with other businesses (B2B), it astounds me how much push back there is to enthusiasm. When a small business, or a solopreneur approaches another business to do some simple cross-promotion, or to join in a partnership of some description, there seems to be a fear, or a scepticism that is stronger than any other force. But why? What is this fear? Where does it comes from?

The answer to this is probably quite complex. There are perhaps Ted Talks and Harvard Business Review articles proclaiming to tell us the core of this phenomenon. But of interest to me is the sheer volume of people that can’t see a good deal in front of them when they see it. The definition of strong business to me is strong community.

If I can help my next-door neighbour be a stronger business then that is good for me. If I can help my industry be stronger then that is good for me. Isn’t it?

The need to rid our instincts of fear is vital. The only way forward is to be brave. Be bold. Listen to offers. Be willing to be sold to. Be open to doing something new or different. Be ready to put a little extra effort in to try something new out.

This does not mean that the rules are off and a free-for-all is now the norm. No. All business decisions need to be analysed and every opportunity still needs to be deconstructed for fit and purpose. But, instead of rubbishing an idea, or an activity straight up, we need to propose ways we can do something. How about, we ask “how can this work?”

It is amazing where this sort of thinking can take us. It can even take us to a point where we realise that the person sitting opposite us cannot help us at this time, and we cannot help them. By exploring possibility and investigating the up-side, we can even say no, and shake hands with genuine pleasure and friendliness. Yes – it is possible!

We hear of luck in business a lot. We all need a little bit of luck along the way, right? This is countered by the argument that hard work and persistence brings more opportunity and therefore more luck. I feel that this sort of argument is bogged down by semantics. The core of it is that there are multiple opportunities which come to us every day. Opportunities to grow our business. Opportunities to answer our needs and help us smash through our obstacles.

The question is, will you let that fear drive your actions, or will you ask, “how can this work?”

I hope you do. It will most likely open many doors that were not there before. Just like magic. It’s exciting. Join the party.

Flex vs Consistency - How to beat the Management Paradox

Consistency in customer service is more of an aspiration rather than a destination. Even the ultra-positive person must admit that it is physically impossible to serve every customer every day with the exacting consistent standard and experience. However, I hope we can all agree that when it comes to managing staff one of the best attributes a leader can display is consistency. If I think of the worst managers I ever worked for, it would be the ones that were happy and relaxed one day, and then riding me on every detail the next. It would become a constant worry on my mind – which version of my manager is going to rock into work today? From an inconsistent position, it can almost be impossible to have good quality dialogue with your team and progress your business with momentum and rhythm.

So, consistency in leadership is important. But then, we are also told that flexing our management style to individual needs is a positive attribute too. This is where you tailor your communication to individuals based on their experience, their personality, and their ability as well as a given situation. Some people need a good kick up the backside (figuratively of course!) on a regular basis, and some will perform at their best with a soft supportive approach. Then there are times that require urgency, or patience, or assertiveness. I have become a convert to this thinking from personal experience. I initially managed teams with a “one-method” approach because I was just being myself, and treating everyone the same. I quickly learnt that this was a big mistake as some people found me abrupt and harsh, while sometimes I was labelled as a soft touch and even slack or ineffective. To me, I was being consistent, but the reality is that I was not communicating effectively to different people, with different needs, in different situations. Learning how to flex was like switching the light on in a dark room. All of the sudden colours were more vibrant, and food tasted better… well, maybe not, but there was a marked difference in the way my team responded to my direction. Learning how to flex my management approach really was a game changer, and ever since then I have observed the benefits of managers being able to whilst coaching.

The Paradox

Definition: A paradox is a statement that is self-contradictory because it contains two elements that are both true, but cannot both be true at the same time.

Our management paradox is that we are at our best when we are as consistent as possible, but then we must flex to different team member needs and situations.

How can this be achieved? How is this even possible to deliver? Where do we start?

The answer is that it is difficult to achieve, and in trying to overcoming the paradox you will need to learn and adjust almost constantly. But with some foundation techniques in play, we can develop our own way of beating the paradox. You may have already started to implement good techniques and didn’t even realise.

  1. Start by building consistency. Be clear on your expectations from day one (or tomorrow if you haven’t done this already). Be clear on goals, be clear on behaviour expectations, time keeping, housekeeping, presentation, customer service, visual merchandising. The list can be long or short, but whatever is relevant to your business make sure it is communicated with no room for mis-interpretation. Then, live the expectations yourself and be sure to pull people up on the spot forever-more if they fall outside of the expectations set (i.e. immediate feedback). No one is exempt from these expectations, as that would be inconsistent – right!?!
  2. Build and understand your own role. A manager can become everything to everyone. It is a thankless job where you can get pulled into everything where you end up doing everyone else’s job if you are not careful. By setting your job role within your business, with key tasks built into your week and key timings when certain things get done you can once again re-enforce the concept of consistency. Having an element of regime that your staff can become familiar with sets structure. This is a framework that you and your team can work from on a weekly basis. Everyone knows “when” to expect as well as “what” to expect.
  3. One-on-one Meetings. Have a book, a file, or a digital program that holds all of your staff notes. Every time you have a sit-down with a team member it is critical to take notes. Relying on your memory can be a tenuous strategy in such a fast-paced world. Keep records, and be sure to have regular chats with your team (both formal and informal). You will have an initial one-on-one with your team members to set expectations as previously described. Here you can also start to understand an individual’s needs. What they need from you. What type of leadership they need right now. The type of communication they respond well to, and if they need high levels of attention and supervision or if they need space and delegation. Remember, note it all down!
  4. Flex using the three communication types. Once you know how humans communicate and receive messages to and from each other, you can start to sell effectively. It is the same with managing people. There are three main ways humans communicate a message of any type to each other:
    1. Body Language – we use this and notice this more than anything else. Our body language tells someone everything about what we “really mean” and what we “really want to say”. Being aware of our body language, and then using it in the right context when leading teams will help to flex a message to be more assertive, or softer depending on the need of the individual at a given time.
    2. Tone of Voice – second to body language, but still critically important. This is the use of pitch, volume, and pace of our voice as we speak. There are many great examples of leaders that do this well, but the one person that stands out to me in recent history is Barack Obama. He uses the “pause” and variation in pace-of-speech better than anyone I have ever seen. Use your tone of voice to convey urgency, or calm, or confidence, or light-heartedness – wherever is necessary.
    3. The spoken word –It may surprise you that the words we say influence the messages we convey a lot less than the two factors above, but it is true. This is down to the fact that we are all generally born as bad listeners. Listening is a skill, and most of us are quite poor at it. Having said this, the words we use are of course very important. Choosing your words carefully and using the right dialogue for different individuals will help you flex your management style without your team even noticing. Here we are talking about language – some people respond to simple short sentences, while some enjoy intricate elaborate language. Planning your wording before speaking with a team member on a subject can save you a lot of grief down the line, and will help you be effective and efficient with your communication.

I acknowledge that this is the tip of a very large iceberg, and that different businesses will have either constraints or intricacies that are unique and require their own techniques and strategies. I hope that this article assists you to start tackling the paradox, and to one day beat it so that the paradox becomes your asset. A tool in your management toolbox that you can carry around with you everywhere you go.

The Pen and Paper Trick

I just downloaded Brin. It’s a new app and I have no idea what it really does yet. It wants to talk to me, and provide me with a whole host of info. Everyday there is a host of new apps to explore and discover. Another accounting software, platforms that integrate with a whole lot of others, or the category of super popularity – productivity apps! As soon as you get to grips with Snapchat, Instagram pulls out a competitive platform, and the dance is never ending.

Innovation in technology is everywhere around us, and it is moving forward at an expediential rate. It is exciting, a little scary, and sometimes exhausting.

When I speak of innovation with people, the tech version is what people immediately think of for the above reasons. However, innovation to me comes in the form of a good chat, or even just a piece of paper and a pen. Allow me to explain.

My interpretation of innovation is to do things in a new way. A way which we haven’t thought of doing before or have implemented previously. The most confronting aspect of my work is that a majority of people go about their business the way they always have because that is how it has always been done. It can often be very restricting for an entity’s ability to grow or work itself out of a tight spot.

Before I get on my high-horse about this it is important to point out that there are good reasons why a lack of innovation takes place:

Short Term’ism – an everyday battle. Trying to achieve today’s target often means that overall values and long term goals need to be comprised. It is a fact of life and a part of the human condition. This is the easiest of traps to fall into for all of us.

Time – innovation requires an investment in time. To think creatively to build a strategy ready for communication and implementation will use time. Who has spare time? None of us, or at least we don’t if we do not see the value in creative thinking and prioritise this as a necessary task.

Cost – almost 100% of the time implementing new ways of working will take an investment of cash. New materials, equipment, people… etc. This is all that leaders can see when faced with the prospect of change.

Risk – all of the above all have a level of risk. Put them all together and add the fact that your new innovative plans will never come with guarantees. Now you have every excuse to remain where you are and keep doing things the way you always have.

The bad news about using all of these reasons (or excuses) to not start getting innovative is that it is extremely rare (I cannot overstate this) that your competitors, and ones that do not even exist yet will take your business away from you. This may not happen now, or in the next year, but it will happen. It has been proven on many occasions that businesses rely on good timing in regard to the market as the most critical factor for their success. Take seven minutes to watch the insightful Ted Talk by Bill Gross on Start Up Success. Bill uses examples in the sharing economy such as Airbnb & Uber to illustrate his findings. These business models simply did not work five or ten years previously. People tried and failed. The technology was not right, but most importantly the market did not relate to it with the result being that no one brought the concept. The lesson – move with the times, listen to the consumer market with detailed attention, and constantly innovate.

There is a good trick I use to install innovation and creativity into a person and their business. It requires paper. Preferably, A1 or A2 size. A pen, or preferably some coloured markers (however some napkins and a pen at a bar works well too). Then identify a particular problem that needs to be solved. Make it as specific as you possibly can and write it down. You can do this by yourself or with a small group. Either works well depending on the topic.

Step 1 – Brainstorm two or three solutions. At this point stop.

Step 2 – Take one clean sheet of paper and write/draw a picture or mind map of that idea and explore it as much as you can. Think of every which way it would work and how the idea could be activated until it has been developed as much as you can.

Step 3 – repeat for your other initial ideas.

Step 4 – by this point you have probably opened up a few other ideas in areas that you never would have thought of. Take a moment to explore them if you have the energy or time. If not, schedule yourself a time to re-convene and bang out the process again.

Step 5­ – Sleep on it. Allowing your mind space and time so that your sub-conscious can work on the ideas by itself. This is hugely beneficial as the analytical conscious mind finds many reasons/excuses (as stated above) to rule out great ideas. Sleep, exercise, playing games/sport, gardening, or general procrastinating can be useful for this step. Yes, procrastinating can be productive!

Step 6 – Conviction. You need to muster up the guts, the balls, the courage to go for it. This is easier if you grab a piece of paper and pen and write out the process of implementation. I use a quote that works well for me “writing is doing”. Getting thoughts out on paper makes it real and ensures good ideas don’t just bounce around in our brain resulting in never turning into actions.

I have used this method with many clients. In my previous roles with corporate businesses, and with franchisee’s. I use it often myself when I have a specific challenge to deal with, and it is extremely helpful when creating new marketing campaigns and sales strategies. I call it a trick because the process makes seemingly complex and paralysing situations simple and easier to find solutions for.

Maybe I will use it right now to solve my app problem starting with how to use this new app Brin, and figure out how it can be of use for me and my business.