Alastair Greener – Being Ahead with Your Communication

So, what has this spaghetti western cliché got to do with Communication?

In my keynote; “Pay More Than Lip Service To Communication”, I use this slide to show the importance of being ahead of the game when it comes to communication.

Every quarter I write a Communications blog for Accountancy Learning (a distance learning AAT Training Provider), and this month the topic was all about Making Tax Digital (MTD).

MTD starts this month and involves new requirements for digital record keeping for some VAT registered businesses. However, all businesses and individuals will have to move to a fully digital tax system by 2020.

Although I’m not an accountant, I am a communications expert and recognise that this is a massive change for everyone. As I explained in the blog, if this change isn’t communicated well, it could cause a huge amount of stress, and affect the smooth running of a business. This is where being ahead with your communication can make a real and positive difference.

We’ve all seen news stories about organisations who fail to communicate with their staff and customers. In 2017 British Airways failed to transport around 75,000 of its passengers on flights they had booked and I was one of them! BA suffered a major technology disaster but compounded the problem by failing to communicate. They lost the confidence of their customers and shareholders, which was reflected in BA’s owner, IAG, seeing a huge loss in the value of its shares. However the reputational damage was much higher than the compensation costs.

This might be an extreme example but every business can learn from this. The problem is that managers and business owners are often so busy dealing with change or a problem, that they forget to let their staff and customers know what’s happening. The negative perception of this lack of communication can cause even more problems. So I suggest every manager and business owner should think about how they communicate and ask themselves these three questions: –

Is Your Communication Proactive or Reactive?
Don’t leave your customers and staff wondering what’s happening. Think of the benefits and improved business relationships that can be achieved by simply letting people know what’s happening ahead of time. Being proactive and not reactive, will lead to fewer questions being asked, and will ultimately save you time and money

Are You Speaking The Right Language?
A message can get lost in translation if the communication isn’t clear, so don’t assume that everyone understands what you’re talking about. Without realizing it, people could misinterpret what you’re saying based on your style, tone or expression, and it could leave them feeling stressed or confused.

What’s The Right Method of Communication?
People respond differently to various methods of communication, so consider whether a newsletter, memo, email, phone call or meeting is the best way to convey your message. Knowing your staff and customers will help you get this right.

So whether you are an accountant or any other industry, it’s important to keep your staff and customers informed, If you head ‘em off at the pass, you and your business will definitely reap the benefits.

Find out more about Alastair here.

Carole Spiers – Is Resilience the Best Form of Defence for your Organisation?

Carole Spiers

What is resilience?

Resilience is an innate quality found within us all. It is largely based upon our own beliefs, character and experiences but also by our perspective and mental state. How we approach and respond to failures or setbacks. This means despite starting out at a lower vantage point, we all have the ability to improve and build positive mental habits, increasing our resilience.

Events happen all the time in our lives. You cannot entirely avoid pain, difficulty or tragedy. At some point, these things will present themselves. It is a part of the human condition that goes with everyday living, but you need to know how to meet it and move on.

Why is resilience important?

Knowing that you have an inner strength to bounce-back in difficult times can be a comfort and a personal empowerment. Instead of constantly worrying about fear and uncertainty, you can acquire reassurance in the knowledge that you have the fortitude to survive. This will greatly help you in your toughest hours and prove useful time and time again.

Personal resilience is also about becoming a stronger person as a consequence of meeting and overcoming any obstacles to your happiness and progress in life. It is an essential, inner resource and an invaluable asset when safeguarding your own wellbeing and the wellbeing of your teams.

Today’s business world encourages an ‘always-on’ lifestyle. It’s a fast-paced environment that promotes 24/7 connectivity. You might be expected to respond to emails at the weekends or perhaps it’s recommended that you stay late during busier periods. Your organisation might be following a more for less approach, resulting in your desperate efforts to reach impossible targets. Trying to meet these expectations is what can lead to stress in the first place as you struggle to cope with the constant pressure or you run yourself into the ground, finding yourself on the road to burnout.

Not only this, but it’s an ever changing world. Companies are always looking to improve, expand or increase something. You might find yourself having to get to grips with new technology, new systems and might even worry that eventually they’ll start looking for new staff, leaving you feeling vulnerable and at risk. You might start to feel unsure about the changes you’re facing at work, and worried about your place and role with the company. This level of uncertainty can lead to increased stress which you might feel you lack the ability to control as you don’t have the answers you need.

Management is key

For senior management, resilience is the key to being adaptable. It can help you to view change as an opportunity and to learn from those things that didn’t work, rather than remaining fixed in one direction or feeling defeated in the wake of failure. It isn’t just about recovering quickly, but the consequential learning is just as valuable. Knowing and preparing for the possibility of setbacks to occur is a huge part of acquiring and utilising resilience.

You can Increase your Resilience by:

Building relationships: Maintain close contact with those around you who you trust. Being able to rely on the right people, with the assurance that they’ll be there for you, can prove vital in getting you through hardship.

Taking the learning out of crises: When things go wrong, take the positive learning that comes out of the situation and do not to fall into ‘victim’ mode. It may not always be recognisable immediately, however pinpointing what you can to make you grow will make you stronger, wiser, and tougher.

Accepting that change is part of living: Nothing stands still – that’s life. This is why running from or resisting change is not an option. At some point in your life, you will have to face it. Acknowledging it and accepting it is the first step.

Focusing on your goals: Never lose sight of where you want to be, both now and in the future. Other things or people may take priority now and again but remember what you want and remember why you want it.

Taking action: You will always feel better by taking control of the situation, however insignificant it may be. Many people become more stressed and unable to deal with a given situation because they feel helpless. Don’t be a result, be the force.

Keeping things in perspective: Don’t let one bad situation affect your overall view of life. It is normal to feel disappointed, but you should not be defeated. Life has plenty to offer, good and bad, so keep this in the back of your mind whilst you ride out the bad.

Practising mindfulness: This mind-body approach will help you to change the way that you think and feel about stressful experiences. Much of our stress is caused by worrying about the future or over-analysing the past. Mindfulness teaches us to be present, meaning you have nothing to think about besides that very moment.

Looking after yourself: Eat and sleep well. Exercise regularly and take time out for those things that you really enjoy. Mix with positive people who will make you feel good about yourself. Neglecting self-care will only make you feel even worse.

Key Learning Points

• Being resilient means that you know you have the capacity to bounce-back!

• Resilience is hugely important in the workplace as it requires and promotes the ability to adapt, to remain inspiring and motivating through difficult times, to collaborate and encourage those in your team, and to embrace and respond positively to changes.

• Resilience enables you to take the reins of your own mental and physical health and wellbeing and determines how you react to events outside of your control.

• Resilience is the best form of defence for you and your organisation.

Find out more about Carole here.

René Carayol – Talent: How to Have it and How to Keep it

René Carayol

It’s Harder Now Than It’s Ever Been
There are a huge and growing number of extremely talented young people in our world, but the traditional deployment of the hierarchy of business does not always see or allow the most talented people to be at the top of the organisation.

Given the electrifying pace of business today, it’s no longer feasible for the CEO or even the ‘C-suite’ to be on top of everything that is going on in the business. Consequently, they are not always the best initiators of new activity or solvers of today’s problems.

Therefore, progressive leaders will always look to harness the talented people that they can learn from all over the business. They also look to hire employees that can bring something new to the table, and who vitally, believe in the company’s values.

And, to ensure that these gifted people are kept happy, they must be recognized and treated well no matter where these special people lie in the hierarchy.

There is nothing more tragic than when very talented people just aren’t a good fit for your organization, but more often, the real problem lies in a leaders’ inability to harness or align their employees’ talent to the mission.

Either of these situations can cause employees’ talent to decay or, worse, give them a reason to move on to a more engaging position at another company.

Your job, as a leader, is to recognize when your talented people at all levels aren’t being used to their fullest potential and correct the situation.

Never Stop Learning
I had the very special opportunity to interview Laszlo Bock in London, when he was the Senior VP of People Operations at Google, at the launch of his book “Work Rules!” Laszlo shared brilliant insights from the inside of Google, and how Google treat their people.

With the importance of keeping talented people, Laszlo Bock emphasised the need to “do the right thing” and ensure that you are fair across the board with your employees.

“Empowering employees” was proven to increase productivity and performance within the workplace and keep those talented people happy. “Even in a time of flat wages, you can still make work better, make people happier. Indeed, it’s when the economy is at its worst that treating people well matters the most”.

When looking for new talent, Jonathan Rosenberg, former SVP of Products at Google says: “When you’re in a dynamic industry where the conditions are changing so fast, then things like experience and the way you’ve done a role before isn’t nearly as important as your ability to think.

So, generalists not specialists, is a mantra that we had internally that we try hard to stick pretty closely to. Specialists tend to bring an inherent bias to a problem, and they often feel threatened by new solutions.”

When Talent on its Own isn’t Enough
Leadership author, Chris Cancialosi states below some common talent issues leaders’ face that could hinder your business’s success in building high performance teams:

• The “lone wolf”: The lone wolf archetype makes for a great western, but in today’s hyper-connected business world, that mindset just doesn’t work. You could have the smartest guy in the industry working for you, but if he can’t interact with the rest of your team, he’s ultimately a drain on morale and productivity. A successful business requires a team of people who make use of each person’s talents through effective and productive communication and collaboration.

• Misaligned talent: Businesses can fall victim to misaligned talent for many reasons, but what happens far too often, time and time again, is talent being evaluated based on short-term operational needs versus long-term business goals. Perhaps you needed someone to fulfil certain responsibilities at a pinch when your business was growing, but now that person is stuck in a role where her talent is being wasted. Leaders must be able to see past pressing operational needs to the future performance of the company, which includes putting your best and brightest in leadership and strategic roles.

• Disengaged talent: If a talented employee is bored or unmotivated, they’re not going to perform to their highest potential. Getting employees out of their comfort zones, but not in panic mode, will help employees feel like they’re contributing to a greater cause and experiencing individual development. Those employees will know they are truly putting their strengths to good use and will go above and beyond for your business. However, fail to provide a challenge that fully utilizes an employee’s talent, and that talent will start to mould.

How to Align a Team’s Talents
Business moves very fast today. Often, business leaders get caught up with other priorities and let the performance and direction of their teams fall by the wayside. Here are three simple remedies to get your talented people back on track:

1. Engagement: The most effective way to align a team’s talents is through honest ‘in person’ dialogue. Don’t assume that the environment is both positive and enabling. Take the time to evaluate internal processes and dynamics, and there’s no better way than hearing from your team about what is – and isn’t – working.

This will help create alignment and do more for your team’s energy and morale than any task management system or monetary bonus ever could.

2. Look at your business objectives: When you enable your valuable talented people to be part of the decision making in how they are best deployed in the context of business strategy, they will start to naturally align themselves.

Leveraging the strengths and preferences of employees according to where they fit within your long-term business objectives will naturally bring out the best in your people and organization as a whole. This will help ensure that all employees know their roles and how their actions contribute to the bigger picture.

3. Put the right people in the right seats: Jim Collins said it best in his seminal book, ‘Good to Great’, when he advised that the right people need to be put in the right seats on the bus to drive performance.

If your goal is building a high-performance team, find the right roles and responsibilities for the right employees. Find out what your employees enjoy doing and what motivates them to determine where they are best suited.

How to get Noticed!
OK, so you believe you are talented, but how do you stand out from the crowd and get noticed? In my interview with Laszlo Bock, Laszlo stated that when he decided to move into HR, he knew he would do well because he stood out from the crowd.

How? He had a different skill set, he could bring statistical and analytical knowledge to the role, so that he could put together evidence-based experiments in the workplace and show the ways to improve productivity among employees, happiness in the workplace, amongst many other things.

Laszlo strongly suggested honing your skills so that you could bring something new and different to the table that would benefit your organisation, and get you to the top faster.

The Customer is Kin
In Brad Stone’s The Everything Store, former Amazon executive Jeff Holden was quoted as saying that “PowerPoint is a very imprecise communication mechanism. It is fantastically easy to hide between bullet points. You are never forced to express your thoughts completely.”

Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, defined the antidote. Every time a new feature or product was proposed, he demanded that the narrative should take the shape of a mock press release. The goal was to get employees to put some real life and energy into writing an exciting and accurate pitch for resources.

This meant starting with something the customer might see first, the public announcement, and then work backwards from there.

Instead of using PowerPoint presentations to kick start new initiatives, Amazon uses a narrative format called the ‘Mock Press Release.’

According to this disciplined approach, for every new feature, product, or service that employees intend to pitch within their divisions, they must produce a press release-style document aimed at exciting a hypothetical Amazon customer on their first hearing about the initiative.

At Amazon they feel that if something isn’t exciting or even interesting enough for a customer and can’t be succinctly expressed in a mock press release format, Amazon probably shouldn’t invest in the idea.

Should the pitch for resources prove to be successful, the second stage becomes all important for having the right talented people come on board. By enabling the employees to volunteer themselves and explain why they believe they are suitable for this project and the role they have in mind.

The psychological contract for work moves to an emotional investment in each other’s success.

From Best Practice to Next Practice
• Build a culture of coaching – ensure everyone with people responsibility is trained on how to coach people

• Provide training, mentoring, and guidance for your direct reports and ensure they do the same for their people

• Be crystal clear on your expectations – these are best reminded by personalized stories that inspire

• Develop a culture of frequent and straightforward performance management – everybody deserves feedback

• Plan for the future – don’t become fixated and locked into only short-term requirements

We will leave you with a thought from a good friend of ours, John Maxwell, who insists that the choices people make are extremely important, not merely the skills that they inherent. He says that successful people know that:

• Belief lifts your talent.
• Initiative activates your talent.
• Focus directs your talent.
• Preparation positions your talent.
• Practice sharpens your talent.
• Perseverance sustains your talent.
• Character protects your talent

You can have talent alone and fall short of your potential. Or you can have talent plus energy and ambition, and really stand out.

Whilst experience is still important, the ability to ‘learn, unlearn and relearn’ is probably even more vital. This will enable a far more open mind when selecting talented people that may not have much experience or exposure in this area.

Remember we can train any skills shortfall but will always struggle with an attitude shortfall.

“Do not punish people for being honest and truthful. The day we start punishing people for demonstrating honesty and truthfulness, will also be the day we start surrounding ourselves with liars and dishonest people. Reward the behaviour you want your people to demonstrate.” – Sanjeev Himachali

Find out more about René here.

Phil Olley – A New Term..?

The beginning of September is one of my favourite times of the year… and for me has always held a particular significance. Isn’t it something deep in our psyche about this time of year that makes us ready for a “new start”, a new term, perhaps a new harvest? There’s a keen sense of being back to a “normal” regime. This appears to ring true for many people I’ve spoken to recently.

Of course, throughout our lives this time of year represents such a new start – whether it’s the start of school at the age of 4 or 5, and subsequent restarts every academic year, or the start of college/ university, or even the start of new jobs and careers which often coincide with this time of year too.

The challenge, of course, is that the summer months can feel a disjointed period in business terms. And returning in September, once the holiday period is at an end, many people simply jump back in to ‘business as usual’ and before you know it, the sense of a restart, a new beginning, is lost.

It is important therefore, before jumping back headlong into the chaos, to capture the mood of the new term and use it to set a foundation for the rest of the year, and beyond.

A new term: getting back on form
So, how to make the most of this mood? There are 3 keys to getting back on form and creating the platform for an effective autumn term.

  1. Goals – revisit the long-term goals, the vision, and then make firm commitments to goals to achieve by the end of the calendar year. This is a logical, clearly identifiable, specific timescale embedded in our psyche… easy to set as a point for measuring and monitoring progress. It’s sufficient time to achieve something significant, and yet short enough to inject the urgency required to actually get cracking!
  2. Focus – Back after the summer break (and therefore refreshed), we are ready to return to business. Many businesses view this as harvest time; a time when they are particularly productive, and the market is buoyant. So it’s time to be focused to maximise the opportunity. Set some fresh groundrules around working practices and patterns, around performance expectations and standards. even if you’re a one-man-band, there’s merit in getting clarity around your work patterns and systems.
    This is a good time to create that focus because it’s a clear run to Christmas, largely uncluttered by Monday holidays or any significant disruption to the pattern of life and business. Summer holidays are behind us, and Christmas is still far enough away that no one is yet thinking of it (I hope!). It feels like a solid period where we can be focused, build a new strong regime, be organised and go for those goals which remain for the rest of the year.
  3. Plan your regime –Since we are equating it to the start of a “new term”, why not draw up an outline timetable to ensure that these new, fresh goals and points of focus can be fitted into the week. Get organised to succeed. Don’t just let the feeling of new term wither on the vine and find you are back to the old drudgery within a couple of weeks.
    And this is not just about business performance. On the personal front, it’s a chance to work off summer excesses! With it being still relatively calm, weather-wise, and with the evenings still light, I see people out and about on fitness kicks and so on. It’s a time for doing those night-classes, starting up hobbies, and generally filling life with all the great stuff.
    All of this is underpinned by a freshening up of the Success Mindset, with renewed high spirit.

“Sorting out your pencil case”
…was the way one of my long-term clients described getting back to business in September. And, as we have seen, there’s more to it than simply getting organised.
The whole process of re-setting can take a full day (or even longer) and that’s what puts many people off, and they end up simply defaulting back to habit.
It’s also a very powerful stimulus for the business mindset to have such a transition day, to allow you to feel on top of the game again, have a clear view of what the coming weeks are going to be about, and where your priorities are set. In so doing, you might at first feel as if you are a day behind, but your effectiveness will increase and you’ll soon “overtake” those who simply jumped back into the chaos.

Find out more about Phil here.