365 Wasted Days


Hesitantly, the young graduate trainee approached the seen-it-all sales manager to proffer his excuse…

“I just don’t think it was the right time for them. Maybe next month…”

The sales manager sighed. The lad showed promise, but he needed to learn a basic truth. “You know what, Ed?” he said. “There’s never a right time.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well quite clearly no-one’s ever going to buy anything in January. Just recovering from Christmas and hiding from their credit card bills. February it’s too damn cold. March and April it’s Easter and they’re all doing DIY or out in the garden. May they’re thinking about summer holidays. June there’s always the World Cup or the Olympics. July and August they’ve gone on holiday; September they’re recovering from the holiday. October it gets dark. Everyone’s always depressed in November and December’s written off because of Christmas.”

“So…”

“So there’s never a right time. Go back and see them, Ed. Explain that there is a right time and the right time is now.”

I’ve never forgotten that conversation and over the last 20 years I’ve quoted it word for word to several potential customers. I was reminded of it last week when the news broke that Theresa May would be demanding our attendance at the polling stations on June 8th.

Yes, the election – and Brexit – is going to happen. Clearly Theresa May wants her own mandate and equally clearly she doesn’t want to be bound by David Cameron’s election pledges.

Sir Martin Sorrell was being interviewed on TV and failing to hide his irritation. The election, he said, was “another excuse” for people in business to stop making decisions. The run-up to the election would see an inevitable slowdown in the economy: “another 50 wasted days” as Sorrell termed it.

Well, by the time you read this there’ll only be 41 more days to waste – but he may have underestimated the problem. My old sales manager would have understand it perfectly…

‘You’re right, Ed. First and foremost no-one can possibly take a decision before Macron is confirmed as the youngest leader of France since Napoleon. Then there’s our election. But by then we’re into the summer holidays. And as soon we’re back from summer there’s the German election to worry about: if Angela Merkel is defeated it’ll be chaos. Then there’s Philip Hammond’s first Autumn Budget (assuming he’s still Chancellor). I mean seriously, given the hints there have been about tax rises it’s safer to wait and see. Then it’s Christmas and staggering back to work in January. And by February/March we’ll have had six months of serious Brexit negotiations with the new German government. It makes sense to wait and see how those are playing out. And then it’s Easter again on April 1st 2018. You’ve nailed it: no-one can possibly make any decisions for at least a year…’

50 wasted days? More like 365.

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As we all know, there are always reasons not to take decisions. They might be macro – political, economic – or micro, such as staff problems and cash flow, but they’ll always be there.

But making decisions is our job. It’s what we signed up for when we sat in the motorway services, pushed our breakfast round the plate and decided there had to be a better way. Business is about making decisions – and as that as that well-known pioneer of the waste management industry, Anthony Soprano Snr., put it, “A wrong decision is better than indecision.”

He’s right: you can correct a wrong decision. Indecision eats away at you and your business until it does far more damage than a wrong decision.

But making decisions isn’t easy. It’s not meant to be easy. Tony Soprano again: “Every decision you make affects every facet of every other thing. It’s too much to deal with almost. And in the end you’re completely alone with it all.”

Unless, of course, you’re a member of the Alternative Board, and have seven other people to offer their input and their experience and – nine times out of ten – help you make the right decision.

But having last week recommended that the boss of United Airlines joins TAB, perhaps I’ll just stop short of suggesting a new member for TAB New Jersey…

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The Skills we Can’t Measure


Before I plunge into this week’s post, let me just take a moment to say ‘thank you’ for all the e-mails, text messages and calls over the last fortnight. Taking over TAB UK is a huge honour, privilege and challenge – but I couldn’t be setting out on the journey with any greater goodwill. So thank you all.

Back to the blog: and who remembers Moneyball?

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The old ways of recruitment in baseball were jettisoned. In came Billy Beane, his stats guru and a transformation in the fortunes of the Oakland Athletics.

The central premise of ‘Moneyball’ was simple: that the collective wisdom of baseball insiders – managers, coaches and scouts – was almost always subjective and was frequently flawed. But the key statistics for baseball – stolen bases, runs, batting averages – could be measured, were accurate and – used properly – could go a very long way to building a winning team.

Well, it worked for the Oakland A’s. As Billy Beane memorably says at the beginning of the film, ‘There’s rich teams, there’s poor teams, there’s fifty feet of $%&! and then there’s us.’ The ‘Moneyball’ approach changed all that, with the film chronicling their hugely successful 2002 season.

Small wonder that business has followed the ‘Moneyball’ approach for generations. “What we can measure we can manage” as my first sales manager incessantly chanted, drumming into me that I needed to make “Specific, measurable” goals.

And he was right. Business has to measure results: goals must be specific and measurable and, as anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis will know, I believe there’s only one long term result if you don’t keep a close watch on your Key Performance Indicators.

But does that tell the full story?

Of course we have to keep track of the numbers: of course salesmen must be able to sell, coders must be able to code and engineers must be able to do the basic maths that means the bridge doesn’t fall down.

But none of those things happen in isolation: all of us in business are part of a team. We have to work with other people and – if our job is to lead the team – we have to get the best out of the people we work with.

And for that we need a set of skills that can’t be measured. I’ve written before about the World Economic Forum and their document on the key workplace skills that we’ll all need by the year 2020. Their top ten list includes creativity, people management, co-ordinating with others, emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility.

Last time I checked, none of those could really be measured objectively.

So are we swinging back to the pre-Moneyball approach? To a time when ‘gut-feeling’ held sway.

No, we’re not. But I do believe we are in an era where what we’ve traditionally called ‘soft skills’ are at least as valuable as ‘hard,’ functional skills.

This has implications for those of us running businesses – and it especially has implications for the training programmes we introduce. In the years ahead, we’ll still need to train our salesmen and our coders, but we’ll need to give them skills that go well beyond selling and coding.

There are implications for hiring and firing as well: they can no longer be based purely on numbers. And yes, I appreciate that the second one is going to cause problems. As a TAB member said to me last month, “I can fire someone for under-performance, I can fire them for stealing from me. But try and fire them because they bring the whole team down with their negative attitude and I’m heading straight for an employment tribunal.”

We’ve all been there: been in a meeting where someone’s glass is determinedly half-empty and they’re equally determined that it will remain like that. There’s a collective sigh of relief when they go on holiday. You can’t let one person bring the team down: it’s up to us as leaders to use our soft skills to make sure that doesn’t happen.

It’s also up to us to make sure that everyone in the team has the chance to develop their own soft skills. Whether it’s negotiation, creativity, co-operation or flexibility – those are the skills our businesses are going to need over the coming years: those are the skills that will help us turn our visions into reality.

The Five Lessons I’ve Learned


I was talking to a potential new member of TAB York last week: explaining what I did, how the concept of peer coaching worked, the benefits it had brought to my members… And looking back on the seven years I’ve been running TAB York.

“So,” she said. “What are the five key pieces of advice you’d give to an entrepreneur?

Five? I thought. More like 55. Or 555. But let me try and answer the question more successfully than I answered it then. What are the five most important lessons I’ve learned in the past seven years – and by definition, the five most important pieces of advice I’d give?

Lessons Learned written on chalkboard

1.The job of a leader is to lead

You’ve pushed your breakfast round your plate in a desolate motorway service station: you’ve decided that enough is enough. It’s time to start your own business. You owe it to yourself: you owe it to your family. Sooner or later your new business will be employing people – and your job is simple. It’s to lead them: to say, ‘this is the where we’re going, follow me.’ There are plenty of other things you need to do – realise you don’t need to be an expert in everything and don’t be afraid to hire people who are brighter than you – but it is your drive, determination and vision that will carry the company forward.

2.A mistake is only a mistake

I made Spaghetti Bolognese at the weekend. I broke a bowl, tipped pasta sauce on the floor and left the gas on under a pan. They were mistakes – and that’s all they were. No-one (not even my wife) is suggesting that I give up cooking and never enter the kitchen again. So your latest idea didn’t work out: the guy you hired who was going to transform your business transformed it in the wrong direction. Move on: you live to fight another day – your vision is still the same. No-one scores 100% with their decisions – and as the saying goes, ‘the man who never makes a mistake never makes anything.’

3.Keep on Learning

I think we can say that the world has changed since I joined The Alternative Board in 2009. In that year Facebook had 360m users and 20m iPhones were sold. Today the figures are approaching 2 billion and over 200 million. In 2009 Apple had just introduced a fledgling service called the ‘app store.’ The pace of change over the last seven years has been astonishing, and it’s not going to slow down. You need to set aside time to learn – and as I wrote a few weeks ago, if you don’t develop and grow, then your company can’t develop and grow.

4.Nothing can replace your KPIs

Having just written about change, let me turn to something which can never change: your Key Performance Indicators – the numbers and metrics which tell you the current state of your business and go a very long way to predicting its future.

If I’ve seen one cause of business failure over the past seven years it’s not knowing your KPIs. Checking your KPIs every month is simply essential to the continued success of your business. And ‘How much have we got in the bank?’ is not an adequate check. Sadly, it is almost always followed by ‘Can we afford to pay the wages this month?’

5.Your product is more important than anything

Despite the internet, despite social media, despite e-mail marketing and despite every change that’s happened over the last seven years, your product (or service) remains the key to everything. And if it’s not excellent, you’re in trouble. To paraphrase the old saying, stories about bad service are half way round the world before good service has got its boots on. Not only is the world changing, it is spawning a lot of hungry competitors: if you’re not innovating and improving, then someone else will be, and they’ll be telling your customers.

6.We all need friends

Clearly I haven’t learnt to count, but where else can I finish? Over the last seven years it has been my privilege to listen to some outstanding business advice from the members of TAB York. It’s been advice which has transformed businesses, transformed lives and – on at least one occasion – saved a marriage. We all need friends and – in business – you will never find better friends than your colleagues round a TAB boardroom table. As the man said, we all need a little help

The Road to 2017


Last week Keaton Jennings made his debut for England, playing against India in Mumbai.

He was dropped off the 21st ball of the day. At the time he’d made 0. Had the catch been taken, he couldn’t have made a worse start to his test career. But it wasn’t – and by the end of the day Jennings was the hero, scoring 112 – only the 19th England player to make a hundred on debut.

Listening to a recap of the first day’s play one of the summarisers made a really important point: even if Jennings had made 0, even if he’d failed in his first few innings, he still looked right. ‘We get too focused on outcomes in very small samples,’ he said.

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That’s something to keep in mind as you head into 2017. You’ve now made – or you’re close to finalising – your plans for the year ahead. You’re convinced they’re the right plans. You’ve run them past your colleagues and in January you’ll do the same with your fellow Board members. Come Tuesday January 3rd they’re the plans that will guide you through the year.

So don’t lose heart if you get a duck in January. If the plans don’t work immediately, don’t rip them up. Refine, tweak, adjust, get outside the line of off stump: but remember that the first month of the year – like the first steps in building a business or the first few innings in a test career – is a ‘very small sample.’

Anyway, the end of 2016 is approaching. You may now be tempted to breathe a sigh of relief. You may carelessly think, ‘Phew, thank the Lord that’s over. Leicester City, Brexit, Trump… Surely we can’t have another year that’s so unpredictable?’

‘Yes we can,’ is the answer to that question: I suspect there may be quite a few twists, turns and bumps along the road in 2017. Domestically Brexit will be triggered: how it will end, no-one (least of all the Government) knows. And I wouldn’t be entirely surprised to see Theresa May call a General Election next year, Fixed Term Parliament Act or not…

But it’s my colleagues in TAB Europe who’ll see their countries become the focus of attention next year. March brings a General Election in Holland with the far-right Freedom Party currently on course to become the largest single party. The French Presidential election is in April/May – the signs are that it will be fought out between Marine le Pen of the Front National and the likely winner, the right’s self-confessed admirer of Margaret Thatcher, Francois Fillon.

And then in September there are elections in Germany: Angela Merkel will seek a fourth term, but she will surely come under plenty of pressure from the right-wing Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD).

May you live in interesting times’ as the supposedly-Chinese curse has it. I suspect we’ll look back on 2017 and decide that ‘interesting’ was an understatement. So next year will not be a year to take your eye off the ball. No, don’t panic if your plans are not on track by January 31st. Even if the world changes so much next year that you need to completely re-write your original plans, remember the words of Dwight D Eisenhower, “In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

What you will need to do next year is keep a close watch on your metrics: the two or three key statistics, ratios or measurements that absolutely determine the health of your business – the ‘pulse’ that I’ve talked about in previous posts.

Through December I’ve had the remarkably enjoyable job of listening to TAB members reflect on the past year: I’m delighted to say that far more has gone right than has gone wrong. Has there been a common thread running through the success stories – apart from measuring those key metrics?

Yes, I think there has. ‘Resilience’ and ‘consistency’ are the two words that come to mind: TAB members have consistently done the right thing and stayed true to their beliefs and their vision. And as a result, they’re reaping the rewards.

So 2017 will be challenging: I suspect the old PEST analysis will be wheeled out several times. But like all years, it will also be full of opportunities: and however challenging, the plans you’ve made, the metrics you measure and the support of your TAB colleagues will ensure that you couldn’t be in better shape to greet the coming year…

Marks out of Ten


Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen, nineteen and sixpence, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds, ought and six, result misery.

We’re all familiar with Mr Micawber’s quote – and while inflation may have changed the numbers, the essential truth of Charles Dickens’ words can never be challenged. Translate them into business and they’re the reason you monitor your cash flow, the reason you check your KPIs and the reason you keep a lid on the expenses.

Yes, you can get away with spending that extra shilling in the short term, but annual expenditure of twenty pounds, ought and sixpence catches up with you in the end. ‘The mills of the Gods grind exceeding slow,’ Sextus Empiricus pointed out in the 3rd Century, ‘But they grind exceeding fine.’

Make no mistake, the result of that extra shilling of expenditure is misery. There is nothing that drags you down – mentally and physically – like staring at the cash flow every night, realising it just doesn’t add up.

So make sure you don’t spend that extra shilling, and you can forget about Wilkins Micawber, and be happy for the rest of your business career.

Or maybe not…

…Because I think there are other areas of business life where the ‘Micawber deficit’ can have a significant impact on your happiness. It’s not just the cash flow.

Let me turn for a moment from Micawber to Maslow – and his hierarchy of needs. Right at the top of the pyramid is self-actualization: as Maslow put it, “what a man can be, he must be.”

Nowhere is this more true than in business. And it takes me right back to last week’s post and the decision to ‘move to the next level.’ If you feel you can do it, you have to do it. If you don’t, you’ll end up frustrated and disappointed – and ultimately, a danger to your business.

We’ve had a recent innovation at TAB York. Before the meeting starts I ask every member for a ‘mark out of ten.’ It’s not quite ‘life, the universe and everything,’ but it is an indication of how they’re feeling – about life and business.

Supposing I were to take that one stage further – and ask the board members to rate their own performance over the last month: to give themselves a mark out of ten?

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The actual mark wouldn’t matter: one man’s eight is another woman’s six. But in the context of this blog, one thing emphatically would matter. We all have minimum standards for ourselves. Whether that’s a six or an eight is immaterial. We all have a number that reflects the minimum level of performance that’s acceptable – that in Maslow’s terminology, confirms our self-actualisation.

To miss that number on a consistent basis – to regularly deliver less than your best – is a recipe for long-term unhappiness. As Mr Micawber might have said:

Monthly target eight, monthly average eight point one, result happiness. Monthly target eight, monthly average seven point nine, result misery.

There are few worse feelings than performing below the level you’re capable of: do that consistently, and it starts to eat into you. And suddenly ‘could have, should have, would have’ are rearing their ugly heads…

KPIs and the cash flow are crucial to the health of your business: but monitoring the KPI that’s your own performance is every bit as important.

Mention of KPIs takes me back to last week’s post: to cricket, a sport which is most emphatically measured in KPIs. Bluntly, I’m not sure whether to order a slice of humble pie or send an invoice…

You may recall that I was mildly critical of Joseph Edward Root. I wonder if he really wants to be one of the game’s greats or merely very, very good. Let’s see if he makes the decision [to move to the next level] over the next five days…

Joe Root – obviously having read the blog on the Friday morning – responded with 254 in the first innings and the highest aggregate runs ever scored by a batsman at Old Trafford.

So don’t ever tell me the blog doesn’t work! And if you’d like me to be mildly critical of your football team as the season approaches, simply send a large cheque to ‘Reid Sports Predictions.’ I’ll do the rest…

I’m now off on holiday for a week. The blog will be back, relaxed and refreshed on August 12th. And I’ll be back determined to deliver at least 8.1 to all my members through the rest of the year.

Cufflinks, Bedtime Reading and the Off Switch


It was the annual TAB member conference on Tuesday. I had the honour (or drew the short straw, depending on your perspective) of being a headline speaker. “We knew you’d be willing to volunteer, Ed…”

Part of the presentation I gave concerned habits – a fine example of synchronicity, as the day before I’d read this article in Inc.

Several of the habits highlighted in the article meshed with points I made in my speech – so I thought it was worth sharing four of them that particularly struck a chord with the audience.

Dress for Success

In the article Chris Dessi recommends having your ‘dress shirts and suits’ custom made. I’m not sure I’m at that stage, but in this increasingly casual age I absolutely recommend dressing well. Why? Because it gives you confidence and confidence translates into success.

The TAB conference saw the debut of my new pink shirt from Charles Tyrwhitt. I like their shirts: they always fit me perfectly, and they’re suitable for business without being only suitable for business. So I was wearing my new shirt, and I felt confident. Was it a coincidence that so many people told me I was ‘looking well’ that day? I don’t think so.

…And cufflinks work for me. Somehow my cufflinks are almost like an NLP trigger. I can feel my performance go up a notch as I fasten them. If there’s a similar ‘trigger’ for you, use it.

Turn off the Electronics

Something that I’ve just started to do, but it seems to be working. If I’m playing golf or coaching rugby then by definition the electronics are off. Increasingly, though, I’m trying to have moments in the day when the tech is turned off – like now, for example. It’s human nature to feel wanted and nothing reminds you that you’re wanted (or needed) like that little ping when the phone announces yet another e-mail. But analysing your KPIs, working on a presentation or even writing your blog demand your full attention. The e-mail will wait.

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I do know a few people who’ve gone one stage further. They’ve taken work e-mails off their phones. “It was the only way to stop checking them last thing at night and first thing in the morning,” one client said to me. I wouldn’t disagree…

Read more

That last point takes me neatly on to reading. In the old days we used to climb into bed and read a few pages before we fell asleep. How many of us now reach our phones or iPads where we once reached for a book? Reading seems to be under threat in our time-pressured lives, but for anyone running a business there’s never been more plentiful and helpful material out there.

If you haven’t time to read some of the great business books around, try a 30 day free subscription to Audible. And don’t forget podcasts either – an increasingly useful source of information and/or inspiration while you’re in that contraflow…

Stop worrying about ‘How’

I’ve written many times on the blog about the ‘how and why’ of business – and if you want to refresh yourself on the ‘why’ here’s the link to Simon Sinek’s compelling TED talk.

But it’s ‘how’ that I want to consider this morning – and why you should stop obsessing about it. As the old Nike ad said, ‘Just do it.’ And as Chris Dessi says in his article: Obsessing over ‘how’ will only lead you into full-on panic. Define your ‘why’ for sure, but let go of the ‘how.’

This echoes one of my favourite lines from Rework. ‘Planning is guessing.’ Increasingly business is intuitive and reactive. ‘Ready, aim, fire’ has given way to ‘Ready, fire, refine, fire again, refine again, aim.’ So get into the habit of pressing the ‘go’ button – and learn as you go along.

With that, have a great weekend. I’ll leave you to go through your wardrobe, turn your phone off, read a good book and stop worrying about how the grass is going to get cut…

5 Business Lessons from your Fitbit


I don’t – yet – have a Fitbit. But I’ve about a dozen friends, colleagues and clients currently sporting the blue/orange/black (and now pink) wristbands. Without exception, they’re fans. And in a few cases they’re more than fans: the light of religious conviction burns in their eyes.

It’s phenomenal, Ed. The wife gave me one for Christmas. Thought I could never do 10,000 steps a day. Now, I can’t stop. I got my 500 mile badge the other day. 500 miles! Since Christmas! That’s like walking from York to John o’Groats. And I’ve climbed enough flights of stairs to reach the cruising altitude of a jumbo jet…

As I said, the light of religious conviction: and the enthusiasm that goes with it…

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But are there any business lessons in having a Fitbit? Yes, if it helps you lose weight that’s brilliant. If you’re physically fit then your performance at work is going to improve: you’ll have more energy and more focus. But does the Fitbit have any specific business messages? The more I talk to friends and colleagues, the more I think it does…

Daily Targets Work – and they build into successful weeks and months

You’re supposed to do 10,000 steps a day. At first I didn’t see how I could do it. Then I realised I’d done 6,000 without even trying. A few changes, a walk at lunchtime and I was there. Now I’m doing my 10,000 a day – and suddenly I’m walking 35 miles a week…

This is fundamental isn’t it? Successful years don’t just happen. They’re made up of successful months, weeks and days. And hitting your targets every single day means that success in the long term is inevitable.

Marginal gains work as well

So I parked my car at the far end of the car park. Made a little detour as I walked to work. Twenty minutes walking at lunchtime instead of staring at a screen… Suddenly I’m easily doing 10,000 steps a day.

I’ve written about marginal gains several times on the blog. Having a Fitbit illustrates that concept perfectly. Everyone I know who manages their 10,000 steps a day has done the same thing – they’ve made a series of small changes which taken together have produced remarkable benefits. Exactly the same principle applies in business. Small savings on your costs, a small increase in your sales calls, a small decrease in the time it takes customers to pay you: none of them hugely significant in isolation – but taken together they’ll make a real difference to your bottom line.

Keep track of your KPIs

Last week I took 74,346 steps: I walked 34.14 miles, climbed 271 floors and burned 19,536 calories.

What are those apart from fitness KPIs? Instantly you know what you’ve done in the week, you know how you compared with last week and you know that if you took in more than 19,536 calories there’s only going to be one result when you step on the scales. Again – it’s an exact parallel with business. Every successful business owner I know measures results: they do it consistently and if they’re off course they take action quickly. But you can’t do that if you don’t know the figures.

Your Fitbit doesn’t accept excuses

It’s merciless, Ed. My Fitbit doesn’t care if it’s raining, snowing, freezing cold, whether I’ve had a hard day or whether York’s been invaded by aliens. If you don’t reach your goal you don’t get one of those little stars and that’s that.

See above: every successful business owner I know measures results – and every unsuccessful business owner makes excuses. It’s like your Physics teacher used to say: “There’s no point cheating. You’re only fooling yourself.” If you’ve missed your targets, you’ve missed your targets. Do that consistently and your business is only going in one direction.

Success is addictive

I cannot conceive of not doing my 10,000 steps a day. Between you and me I’d had a tough day last week. I went to bed at around 9,000 steps. Five minutes later I got out of bed, got dressed and walked to the corner shop. My day’s not complete until my left wrist starts vibrating.

…But hit your targets consistently – achieve the business equivalent of your 10,000 steps a day – and again, your business can only go in one direction. You cannot do anything but succeed.

As I say, I don’t yet own a Fitbit. But some of my friends and board members have achieved spectacular results thanks to the fitness band on their wrist. Hopefully they’ll heed these five lessons – and see it as the business coach on their wrist as well…

What the Pope can Teach you About Business


Well, I’ve managed the blog on my own for nearly five years – but this week I had to seek inspiration from a higher authority: very nearly the Highest…

Mind you, I only found it through one of the more prominent supporters of Mammon – the Harvard Business Review.

I came across The 15 Diseases of Leadership, originally written by Pope Francis and translated into business-speak for us by one of HBR’s columnists.

A lot of the Pope’s ‘diseases’ – presumably aimed at what must be a vast bureaucracy in the Vatican – were vague to say the least. I’m still trying to work out no. 8 on his list – ‘the disease of existential schizophrenia.’ If any members of TAB York are suffering from it, maybe you could let me know at the next Board meeting?

But interestingly there are three points in the Pontiff’s list which really struck a chord with me: the dangers of excessive planning; the positive attitude of a leader and something that’s always irked me in my business career – extravagance.

I’ve spoken several times in blog posts of Rework – the irreverent business book written by the founders of 37 Signals, or Basecamp as the company’s now called.

One of the first – and most striking chapters – in Rework is ‘Planning is Guessing.’ As a business coach you might expect me to disagree violently with that statement. But the authors are right:

Unless you’re a fortune-teller, long term business planning is a fantasy. There are too many factors that are out of your hands: market conditions, competitors, customers, the economy…

Let me explain: I’m absolutely in favour of planning. I’m absolutely in favour of spending a serious amount of time in October or November making plans and setting targets for the coming year. But too many people do that and then think making the plans has put the business on auto-pilot – that success is guaranteed.

It hasn’t and it isn’t. Plans need to be kept under review. KPIs need to be constantly monitored. And you need to be prepared to change your plans if circumstances dictate. What’s more, the Pope agrees with me:

Things need to be prepared well, but without ever falling into the temptation of trying to eliminate spontaneity and serendipity, which is always more flexible than any human planning.

Put more simply, we live in a rapidly changing world. Your plans need to be flexible enough to change with it.

The second point is one Pope Francis describes as, ‘the disease of a downcast face.’ Couldn’t have put it better myself – and I think it’s one of the hardest things about being a leader. Whatever’s happened; whatever problems you have – either at home or in the office – you have to be positive. If you’re not optimistic and positive, then there’s no chance of your team being optimistic and positive. As the Chinese say, ‘A man without a smiling face should not open a shop.’ He probably shouldn’t try and motivate his staff either…

Lastly, the Pope and I turn to ‘the disease of extravagance and self-exhibition.’ My colleague in the Vatican sees this in leaders who seek “material gain [and] the front pages.” I see it in champagne…

Maybe there are some Puritans somewhere in the Reid family tree. I don’t like to see conspicuous consumption – especially when it’s the business that’s paying. You don’t need to spend that much money on Cristal champagne at York races.

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Sometimes you see signs that the business is being run for the wrong reasons: as an old school bank manager once said to me, “If I see a new Merc and the business is less than five years old, I’m looking to cancel the overdraft facility.”

With that – and a word of thanks to my assistant for this week – I’ll leave you to enjoy the weekend. Next week I’ll be looking at an increasingly important question: do people still buy from people? Or as more and more business goes online, is it becoming impossible to offer a truly personal service?

Five Key Things Your Business Needs this Easter


It barely seems two minutes since the first post of the year and yet here we are. Spring. At last. And the clocks go forward on Sunday – one of my favourite days of the year.

It also means that we’re a quarter of the way through the year. Hopefully you’re on track to achieve your goals, aims and ambitions: if not, there may be some serious questions at the next Board meeting…

Spring – and the Easter break – is always a good time for me. First and foremost I’m just back from our two day TAB conference which never fails to re-energise and re-focus me. And it’s impossible not to feel optimistic as you drive around North Yorkshire and see the blossom starting to appear.

It’s also a great time of year for taking stock – and there are five things I try to do every Spring/Easter to make sure I’m right on course for a successful year.

  • First and foremost, spend a brutally honest hour with your KPIs. If you’re not on target at the end of March there’s enough of the year left to do something about it – but even if you are well ahead you still need to do the same exercise. What’s gone well, what’s gone badly? Are any of the numbers looking unrealistic? And are any of your targets suddenly looking too easy? I’ve seen too many business owners get into trouble by having a blistering start to the year and then taking their foot off the gas. Like so many things in life, business is about momentum. It’s very difficult to suddenly pick it up in September if you’ve cruised through the summer.
  • Spring clean – literally. And get everyone in the office involved. A quick glance around my office tells me that I need to devote an hour to tearing up pieces of paper. And I need to admit that the ‘definitely need to read’ file on my computer definitely isn’t going to be read. Coming into your office on the day after Easter and seeing both your real and virtual desktop looking lean and mean and ready for action has always worked for me.
  • Check your online presence. I don’t mean spend thousands on a new website. I do mean check through your website and all your other social media. Is your website responsive? Does it work as well on a tablet and a mobile as it does on a PC? Are the dates correct? If it says ‘last updated 2013’ potential clients might assume that you’re not a fully paid up member of the 21st century. They might be even less impressed if there are spelling and grammar mistakes on your site – which as this article shows, cost British business a significant amount in lost revenue. After all, if the hotel I’m thinking of staying in can’t be bothered to check its website, why should I assume they’ll bother to check that my room is clean?
  • As the late Stephen Covey said, ‘sharpen the saw.’ Commit to improving one of your key skills in the next quarter. Maybe you can simply become more productive. I certainly noticed the difference when I started using Toggl to track my time – and I saw a great article in the Observer at the weekend: the top 50 apps for creative minds. These days we all need a creative mind and if you can’t find something in that list that will help you do something better or faster I’d be amazed.
  • Finally, sharpen yourself. Get out there and get some fresh air. We’ve all spent too long inside over the last three months and none of the four points above are anywhere near as important as being good to yourself. Take some time off, get some exercise and you’ll come back to the office fresher, sharper and re-focused.

Have a great weekend. Next week I’ll be publishing the blog on Thursday – and taking a look at the lessons you can learn from a $10,000 bag…

Basic Business Advice: Don’t Buy a Turtle


Footballers, eh? What a load of simpletons. Put their left boot on first. Left shin pad. One of them is always pulling his shirt over his head as they come out of the tunnel. Was it Paolo di Canio who insisted on wearing his underpants inside out? And Raymond Domenech, the former manager of France, who reputedly refused to select players if their stars weren’t aligned correctly…

Superstitious nonsense. Forget it. Roll your sleeves up, give Hazard a kicking early doors and get stuck in.

Not that cricketers are any better. Left pad, left glove, lucky numbers on their shirts, kiss the badge, lift one foot off the ground when the score is 111… And then there’s Neil McKenzie of Hampshire. He once scored a century after a teammate taped his bat to the ceiling. Guess what he does now before every innings? Oh, and he won’t go out to bat until he’s put down all the toilet seats in the dressing room.

Well thank goodness we’re businessmen. Thank goodness we’re logical, in control, focused on our KPIs, ROI and P&L. What you can measure you can manage. And you certainly can’t manage if some damn fool has stuck a cricket bat to the ceiling.

No sir. Superstition has no place in business.

Or does it?

After all, today is Friday 13th. That must have given all you paraskevidekatriaphobics pause for thought. Careful you didn’t spill the salt. No black cats in front of the car. And don’t forget to salute that magpie.

Can’t do any harm.

Besides, who are the most superstitious people on earth? The Chinese.

And whose economy has marched resolutely ahead for the last twenty years and will soon be the biggest in the world? Precisely.

So lesson number one – remember your feng shui: even Disney used it when they opened Disneyland Hong Kong in 2005. After consulting a feng shui expert, the angle of the front gate was altered by 12 degree – and a bend went into the walkway from the station to the front gate, so the positive chi didn’t shoot straight past the entrance and into the China Sea.

So that’s settled – your desk should be facing as much of the room as possible, with your back against a wall. Number two – plants in the office, to make sure there is positive energy to improve both personal and business growth. And above all, water: I’m away on holiday next week – I’m expecting a shortage of goldfish in North Yorkshire when I get back.

Not that it stops there. In China the number 4 is unlucky; the number 8 is considered very lucky – and no-one who’s serious about their business keeps a turtle as a pet. Obviously it slows you down, and it slows your business down.

Why are we superstitious? Especially in business, where logic, analysis and good management should hold sway. Psychologists will tell us that any form of superstition – or habitual behaviour – gives us a feeling of control and/or confidence. Which of us hasn’t got up in the morning and thought, ‘Important meeting today. Time for my lucky tie.’ And there’s nothing wrong with that: anything that makes you feel more confident has to be good: after all, if you think you can, you very probably will.

And maybe you can turn superstition to your advantage: maybe Friday 13th gives us the chance to think about our marketing in a different way. A few years ago Icelandair ran a promotion allowing customers to add an excursion for $7 – providing the whole trip was booked by 7/7/07. Back in China, packs of 8 tennis balls sell for more than the same tennis balls in packs of ten. And there’s always reverse psychology: five of the eleven Friday the 13th movies – a seriously successful franchise – have been released on that supposedly-unlucky date.

Anyway, enough for this week. Time to go and see a potential client. Just as soon as I’ve put the toilet seat down, pulled my iPad off the ceiling and made sure neither of the boys has bought a pet turtle…

I’m away on holiday next week. Enjoy half term week if you’re taking the time off, and the blog will be back – tanned, full of après-ski and probably with a calf strain – on Friday 27th.