Time to go into Reverse

Mentor: noun – an experienced and trusted adviser. Someone who gives an inexperienced or younger person help and advice over a period of time.

And, of course, we’re all familiar with the most famous mentor of them all…

But now the phrase on everyone’s lips is ‘reverse mentoring’ – because it’s not just young people that need training in the office.

What is reverse mentoring? To turn the dictionary definition around it is when an inexperienced or younger person gives an older, more experienced colleague help and advice. Why? One word: Snapchat. Another word: Instagram.


As social media – and other developments such as gamification and virtual reality – come to play an increasingly important part in both the workplace and the customer journey, so Mr Older-Experienced can be left feeling, well… helpless.

But why do you need training in the office? Why not just ask your teenage children? If you’re asking that question I can only assume you don’t have teenage children. You cannot ask your teenage children. Sadly, I’m becoming all too familiar with their response. The long, drawn-out sigh. The raised eyes, the pained expression. ‘Oh God, I’ve got to explain it to the old person again…’

Back in the office there are some very successful advocates for reverse mentoring. Former Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts credits it with helping her turn the company around and grow the brand value from $3bn to $11bn. John Lydon, MD of McKinsey Australia said that his tech-capability had increased tenfold – and he was able to understand the minds of a younger generation, and the emerging trends that came with them.

Why does reverse mentoring work? Because human nature all too often dictates that we spend too much time talking to people like us. People who are roughly the same age, from the same background and have the same views. Speaking to someone who’s younger than you, from a different background and significantly lower down the organisation chart can help you see the business from a new angle. In large companies it’s also a good way to identify future leaders: not just how much does someone know, but how good are they at communicating, and making the complex easy to understand.

The other great plus of reverse mentoring is that it creates a culture where everyone in the company is constantly learning – something you emphatically need to do today.

Depending on which projection you read, by the middle of the next decade millennials (people who entered the workforce around the turn of the century) will comprise up to 75% of employees. And yet most MDs and CEOs will still be significantly older.

So we’ll be hearing a lot more about reverse mentoring. I think it’s a great idea: looking back over my days in the corporate world, I can remember plenty of times when it would have helped me, my boss and – in the long term – the company. But I worry that too many organisations will introduce a reverse mentoring programme and simply pay it lip service – ‘this is the latest big thing apparently. I suppose we’d better give it a go’ – while carrying on doing what they’ve always done. And as I have said many times, if you always do what you have always done, these days you will no longer get what you have always got.

In many ways reverse mentoring has been part and parcel of TAB since I joined – even if we didn’t use the exact term. When I was running TAB York I always wanted my Boards to have a mix of ages and backgrounds – and it’s something I now encourage the franchisees in the UK to do. When someone brings a problem, challenge or opportunity to a monthly meeting it is absolutely invaluable for them to see it from different angles and different perspectives. ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’ as the old saying goes: a problem seen from seven different viewpoints is very often a problem solved.

With that, I’m going to leave you for a fortnight. Next week I’m on holiday and the week after I’m joining TAB colleagues from around the world in Denver. But first, a holiday with Dav and the boys: hopefully without the sighs and the pained expressions…


In Praise of Praise

I’ve written previously about Millennials, Baby Boomers and all the other generational labels that we pretend we know. So far, though, I’ve neglected the ‘Snowflake Generation.’

‘Snowflake,’ for those of you that don’t know, is a less-than-complimentary term applied to the young adults of the 2010s: it probably comes from the 1999 film Fight Club and its famous line: ‘We are not special. We are not beautiful and unique snowflakes.’


It’s now come to be applied to a generation that supposedly were told they were special; children that were given an over-inflated sense of their own worth and – as a consequence – are now far too easily offended.

But now these easily-offended snowflakes are entering the workplace. So what are we as employers and business owners going to do when these ‘snowflakes’ increasingly make up the workforce? Are we going to have to constantly shower them with praise, irrespective of how well they’re performing?

Maybe the question is academic though – because far too many bosses and managers seem to have a problem with giving their teams any praise.

Why is that? Any number of research studies show that praise and positive recognition in the workplace can be hugely motivating – and not just for the person on the receiving end of it. Employee of the Month is too easily dismissed as a cliché: that’s wrong, it works.

We don’t really need a research study, do we? Our own commons sense tells us that praise works. Your wife only has to say, “Oh, darling, that was wonderful…” And you’ll be far more likely to make her another slice of toast.

One of the worst things a manager can do is reward hard work and achievement with silence. Yet only one in four American workers are confident that if they do good work they’ll be praised for it. Far too often the culture seems to be, “No news is good news” or – as they say in Germany – “Nicht gescholten ist lob genug.” (No scolding is praise enough.)

But we all know that’s nonsense. So why do people struggle to give praise? Maybe it starts with a false belief that really good managers are the tough ones who don’t hold back when it comes to telling people what’s wrong. Maybe some managers believe that giving praise will encourage staff to take it easy and rest on their laurels. Some might be consciously or unconsciously copying their own previous bosses: some managers might even see giving praise as a sign of weakness.

Whatever the reason the number of managers who don’t give any positive feedback is frighteningly high – 37% according to a recent survey in the Harvard Business Review. And you can probably add a few percentage points more: there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that what a manager sees as ‘straightforward, honest feedback’ is all too often perceived as criticism.

I think that’s a tragedy. There’s no better way to motivate people than by giving praise and it always works. There cannot be a more effective phrase in a manager’s vocabulary than, “You did a great job. Thank you.”

Not for the first time, I’m struck by the parallel between managing a team and being a parent. I’ve always tried to be honest with my boys: if they’ve done brilliantly, I’ll shower them with praise. If they could have done better, I’ll try to tactfully point it out – and suggest a way they could improve. I’ve never been a believer in praising everything they do – otherwise praise becomes meaningless – and the same is true in the workplace. But if someone has done a great job, tell them.

It will be the best investment of time and no money you ever make.

And now I must turn my attention to my own beautiful, unique snowflakes. If you can call someone who thinks his bedroom floor should be covered in underpants and needs a three course meal two hours before a three course meal a ‘snowflake…’

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 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.


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…

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

Work/Life Balance: It’s Not Just You…

Let me introduce Helena Morrissey, non-executive chair of Newton Investment Managers and campaigner for greater gender diversity in the boardroom. Oh, and mother of nine children…

Someone sent me the link. ‘What does this say about work/life balance, Ed?’ she wittily added.

I won’t tell you what I thought. Nine children and a city career? Despite the fact that husband Richard is a full-time, stay-at-home Dad, Helena Morrissey still describes herself as “chief laundry lady, story-reader, times-table-tester, cake-maker, present-buyer, holiday and party organiser.”

That’s an impressive list by anyone’s standards – although I’m obviously disappointed to see she’s not coaching rugby as well…


Work/life balance – the underlying and perennial theme of this blog – was much in the news over the festive period and, with due deference to Ms Morrissey, the stories largely focused on men. In particular the BBC featured this article – with nearly half of working fathers saying they’d like a less stressful job if it meant more time caring for their children. Even more significantly, a third of working fathers would be prepared to take a pay cut in return for more time with their children.

We’re entrepreneurs: we choose to do what we do. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t stressful and – as I wrote last week – the problems and uncertainties the entrepreneur faces every day would overwhelm the vast majority of managers.

Why do we do what we do? I’d say that for most of us there are two principal reasons:

  • Providing the very best we can for our families
  • And providing for our own drive and ego: we have to do what we know we’re capable of doing: we don’t ever want to look back and think ‘if only’

But balancing those two aims is one of the hardest jobs you’ll ever do. ‘Providing the very best’ doesn’t just mean material things, it also means time. Quality time doesn’t have to mean the zoo, the swimming pool or a football match: one of the most important lessons I ever learned was that to a small child quality time with Dad is just time with Dad.

“I missed my children growing up” is one of the saddest sentences in the English language and it’s one that too many men are still saying. It’s emphatically not something I ever want to hear around a TAB table.

But as employers, ‘work/life balance’ runs deeper for us. Because we have a duty not only to ourselves, but to members of our team as well. Running your own business brings tremendous pressures – but it also brings control over your own diary. When you’re employed and your boss says, “You need to be in Aberdeen next Thursday,” then you’ll be in Aberdeen, whether it’s sports day or the nativity play. If you run the company, you do at least have the option of thinking, ‘When do I want to be in Aberdeen?’

Not everyone wants to start their own business: but everyone wants to spend time with the children. Entrepreneurs need to be aware of that – and realise that their businesses will benefit as result.

There are now any number of studies showing the benefits of flexible working, for both the employer and the employee: put simply, people who work flexibly are happier and more productive. As technology advances – ‘Alexa, run through the cash flow figures will you?’ – flexible and remote working is going to be on a par with working in the office. Embrace it. Recent results from a Vodafone survey – with 8,000 global employers – saw 83% of respondents say that flexible working had boosted productivity, with SMEs the main beneficiaries.

As businesses fight to recruit and retain key staff, flexible working is going to become as important as someone’s pay packet – and it offers everyone running a business a tremendous opportunity. You can help your team with their work/life balance, improve the quality of their life – and boost your bottom line at the same time.

Business Lessons from the Foxes

So, Leicester City have won the Premier League. And by a wide margin. Meanwhile my team are going down. Goodbye Arsenal and Chelsea: we can look forward to Burton, Brentford and Blackburn next season. Suddenly the 10:53 York to Newcastle seems rather less attractive…

But congratulations to the Foxes. It’s a fantastic result for the club – and for people who need to produce a business blog every week.

You can expect to see a plethora of Leicester-inspired articles. But let’s try and dig a little deeper. Yes, of course it’s a triumph for teamwork: yes, of course Leicester demonstrate that the whole can be far greater than the sum of the parts and yes, clearly, pizza works. But let me look at four factors that I think have really contributed to Leicester’s success – and which I hope (he said, looking wistful) we’ll see at Newcastle next season…

Newcastle United v Leicester City - Premier League

NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 21: Leicester City’s manager Claudio Ranieri his team’s third goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle and Leicester City at St James Park on November 21, 2015 in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty images)

Take time off. This may seem a strange one to start with – but it’s a perennial theme running through this blog: you need to re-charge your batteries. On Valentine’s Day Leicester lost 2-1 at Arsenal. They’d already been knocked out of the Cup and weren’t due to play again for 13 days. Despite the defeat Ranieri didn’t order the players in for extra training. He did exactly the opposite – and gave them seven days off. As Jamie Vardy said:

The gaffer [gave us] a week off to completely forget about everything and re-charge our batteries. That moment showed what he’d thought of us as a team and how much work we’d put in. I went to Dubai and I remember sitting there on a sun lounger and Sunderland were there: running up and down the beach doing fitness.

Take time off yourself: make sure your team take time off – and trust them not to abuse it.

Get the right people around you. What do footballer managers traditionally do? Fire the backroom staff and bring their own people in. But Ranieri kept the backroom staff – and made just one addition. Claudio Ranieri’s not a footballing genius: Leicester are the 16th club he’s managed and he was previously sacked by Greece after steering them to defeat against the Faroe Islands. But he had enough experience to recognise that there was the basis of a great team in place – and not to make changes for the sake of making changes.

…And then he played people in their natural positions – a stark contrast to all too many managers. The parallel holds good in business: hire the right people and concentrate on what they’re good at. Put round pegs in round holes and play to their strengths: that’s when they’ll be happy, and that’s when they’ll succeed.

It’s not a disadvantage to be the underdog. Leicester were famously 5,000/1 to win the Premier League at the start of the season. Outside their diehard fans, no-one gave them a chance. But as the possibility of winning became a probability, they gathered a groundswell of support. By the end of the season they were everyone’s second team. We all love the underdog – and I think that’s an increasing trend in business.

My experience is that consumers and businesses are gradually moving away from the ‘big boys.’ They want to deal with the smaller suppliers, the local producers. They want to know the stories behind the business, and they want to speak to the boss. They’re ready to work with the company who – in the words of the old Avis ad – says ‘we try harder.’

So don’t ever be afraid to go after business you previously considered out of reach. The big boys don’t have a monopoly on ideas, innovation, quality and delivery – and more and more people are embracing that.

Make time for your family

Another core theme for the blog: no amount of success is worth it if it comes at the expense of the people you love. After 30 years in management – starting with Vigor Lamezia in the lower reaches of the Italian leagues – you might think that nothing could have moved Ranieri from the TV as Spurs played Chelsea, aiming to keep the title race alive. No – his priority was 1,300 miles away in Rome where his mother, Renata, was celebrating her 96th birthday.

There you have it: the four key lessons you can learn from Leicester’s success – both on and off the field. And yes, there’s an obvious post for next week: 7 Mistakes Newcastle Made that your Business can Avoid. But there’s only so much pain a man can take…

Football, Philosophy and Fulfilling your Potential

No-one who’s ever read a motivational quote can be unaware of Vince Lombardi, legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers. But now we have someone new jogging onto the field: Bill Walsh, former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

The similarities between sport and business are legion – whether it’s building a winning team or dealing with your own emotions as owner, coach and head cheerleader.

Those similarities seem to be much more readily translated into books in the US (as a Newcastle fan, I await Steve McClaren’s book with interest…) and in The Score Takes Care of Itself, Walsh sets out his philosophy of leadership.


If you’d like to read a shortened summary of his views, there’s a precis here on www.thought-management.com

There were two points in particular that struck me:

  • Deal appropriately with victory and defeat, adulation and humiliation. You can’t get crazy with victory: a loss cannot make you dysfunctional. That is, of course, an echo of Rudyard Kipling’s famous lines in If – and it applies to business every bit as much as it applies to sport. As Walsh says, “victory is not always within your control.” Business or sport, sometimes you’ll fail. But how you win or lose is within your control.
  • Secondly “promote internal communication that is both open and substantive.” In more simple terms, be open and talk to people: business, sport, or dealing with your children, that is a cardinal rule. It’s especially important when things aren’t going well: tough times are exactly the wrong time to pull the drawbridge up and retreat into yourself.

So much for Bill Walsh. But what the article really made me ask was, ‘What’s my philosophy?’

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this as I’ve driven round North Yorkshire over the last few days. I finally boiled it down to three key points:

  1. I want to set out a clear vision, and ensure that people buy into it. A key part of that is the ‘Why?’ In Simon Sinek’s words, “what’s the purpose, cause or belief that inspires you to do what you do?” (If you haven’t seen Sinek’s Ted talk on this, it’s excellent. Here’s the link.)

In turn, my vision – my ‘purpose, cause or belief’ – breaks down into three:

  • I want every business owner I work with to build a business that delivers what they want from life – for themselves, and for the people they care about
  • I want the business owners to reach their full potential – in business and in life. Marlon Brando once said: “I could’ve been a contender. I could’ve been somebody.” Whatever the business equivalent is, I don’t ever intend to hear it from one of my clients
  • Lastly, I want to be a force for good in the local business community and, more simply, in the local community itself

If I can deliver on those three then I know I’m going to be valued by clients and colleagues as someone who delivers real results and – just as importantly – as someone who’s enjoyable to work with.

Back to my wider philosophy…

  1. Surround yourself with great people. If I look around the TAB boardroom tables, the members who’ve been really successful over the past 12 months are the ones who’ve hired 9/10 talent, not 7/10 talent. That’s the one key reason I’d identify for their success. As one of my members said to me: “She’s changed my life, Ed. I worried about whether I could afford her salary. Now I see it as the best investment I ever made. She’s not only improved my business, she’s given me so much more free time. She’s improved my life.”
  2. Lastly – have fun. Yes, we all deliver serious benefits to our clients – but that doesn’t mean we can’t smile. Interestingly, I never believed the ‘have fun’ advice back in my corporate days – maybe I was having doubts about ‘corporate’ long before I admitted it to myself. But I absolutely do believe it now. As Robert Townsend so famously said: “If you’re not in business for profit or fun why are you here?”

That’s it for this week. Next week I’ll be publishing the blog by Wednesday: I know ‘read Ed’s blog’ has no hope of competing with ‘buy Easter eggs’ and ‘visit garden centre…’





“He’s Lost the Dressing Room.” Or the Sales Team…

Three-nil and their heads have gone down. You know, Mark, you start to wonder if the stories are true – if he’s lost the dressing room…

Too true. And if that’s happened there’s no way he’ll survive.

And sure enough two days later he’s gone and the bookies are betting on the replacement. Another football manager handed his P45 for ‘losing the dressing room.’ Or – if you’re not a long-suffering football fan – losing the respect of his players to such an extent that they’re ignoring his instructions and quite possibly deliberately playing badly in an attempt to get the manager sacked.

The parallels with business are obvious. Anyone who’s worked in a large organisation has seen instances of managers ‘losing’ their teams. They fail to get the best out of them, they fail to develop their full potential – and when it all goes wrong they very quickly shift the blame on to the team.

I saw it any number of times in my business career: sometimes it was hard to pin down the cause. Was the manager making mistakes – or was the culture in the company such that all managers were fair game?

But whatever the cause of the disease, the first symptom was always the same.


Which takes me neatly back to last week

I talked about three things the owner of an SME simply couldn’t accept – dishonesty, negativity and mediocrity. Disrespect is the fourth one – and not only can you not accept it, you need to take action at the first hint of it.

The workplace is far less formal than it used to be. And ‘banter’ – or ‘bantz’ as I believe we’re now supposed to call it – seems to be the only way a lot of people can communicate. The problem is that one person’s banter is someone else’s sexism, racism – or outright disrespect.

So what do you do if the problem rears its ugly head in your business? At first glance it’s easy to say the problem won’t apply to most members of TAB York: after all, they’re not huge companies with multiple teams and corresponding managers. But I think disrespect is even more worrying in smaller companies – especially as the business starts to grow.

Most of my members and potential members probably follow a similar business model: owner(s) – one or two trusted lieutenants – and then the team(s). So the problem of disrespect is easy to spot – but in a small company it can be remarkably hard to tackle.

Twenty or thirty years ago it would have been simple. Find the ringleaders and fire them. Not so today – not unless you want to spend your days with the HR lawyers and the employment tribunal. But if one of your trusted lieutenants is under fire from his team, you cannot allow it to continue. You have to find a solution – and you may have some tough questions to answer.

Do you trust your lieutenant? Is he a key part of your long term strategy? After all, if The Alternative Board is about anything, it’s about building a successful business and making sure you never miss the Nativity Play. The layer of management underneath the owners is absolutely crucial to that.

But if you’ve a seed of doubt, then the disrespect of the team is probably a sign of things to come. Don’t let the situation fester. As Macbeth reminds us, “If it were done … then ‘twere well it were done quickly.”

There’s one last question to consider: how does the owner of a business command respect? It’s easy to say that the answer is to work harder/longer than anyone else: to be able to do everyone’s job. But in the long run that will damage your health, your family and almost certainly your business. As I said last week, you command respect by leading: by setting the direction, outlining the vision and ultimately, empowering your team to achieve their potential and get there themselves.

With that I’ll leave you to what I hope is a remarkably productive Friday – followed by a remarkably relaxing weekend…

The Tracks of my Time

How does the old Smokey Robinson and the Miracles song go?

So take a good look at my face

You’ll see my smile looks out of place

If you look closer, it’s easy to trace

The tracks of my tears

Well, I have been looking closer. Not at my face – no thanks, not since I passed forty. But at my time – and the tracks were painful to see.

I always considered myself time-efficient. I did fill Rudyard Kipling’s ‘unforgiving minute’ with ‘sixty seconds’ worth of distance run.’ In the words of my first sales manager, I did “do a full day’s work every day” – and if I played golf one afternoon, I more than made up for it in the evening or ridiculously early the next morning. So I was pleased with myself.

That is, until I started using Toggl.

Like all great apps, Toggl is ridiculously simple. And it’s obvious. Were I an investor in apps I would ask one simple question: can I tell what it does and how it will benefit me in less than ten seconds? With Toggl the answer is emphatically ‘yes’ – and then it gets frightening.

Naturally I came up with all the categories you’d expect: TAB, clients, admin, planning… And then I added another one – ‘faffing.’ We all know what ‘faffing’ is: you go on LinkedIn to accept a request and then boom! You’ve spent 15 minutes scrolling through people you might or might not know.

Bluntly, gentle reader, I was appalled. No, ‘faffing’ wasn’t the biggest category by any means – but it was far from insignificant. Had I been paid to ‘faf’ then there’d be a lot more in the Reid Xmas Wine Fund that there is right now.

The key point is that by recording the time I spent ‘faffing’ I was acknowledging it. We all waste time on LinkedIn or Facebook or Twitter: we all log off feeling guilty. But like most people, I never did anything about it until I recorded the time and acknowledged it. That’s when it became scary and that’s when I cut it back significantly.

We all think we’re efficient, we all think we’re good at getting things done. But it slips. And from time to time it does no harm to install an app like Toggl and check.

You can’t do 100% of everything you want – or intend – to do: time simply doesn’t allow it. But as we frequently say in TAB, ‘If time only allows you to do 80% of what you want to do, how do you know it’s the right 80%?’

That’s where recording your time is vital. When I press ‘reports’ on Toggl I know that I may not like what I see: but I know that the report will be accurate and objective – and it will pinpoint whether I’ve spent my time in the 80% I can get done (and that makes a difference), or whether I’ve been ‘faffing.’

Obviously Toggl is far from the only time-tracking app out there. But to quote that old sales manager, “it works for me.”

The main reason is simple: as above, it is remarkably easy to use. It doesn’t have bells and whistles were no bells and whistles are required. It has two pricing plans: free and five bucks a month. That’s it. (And isn’t that another business fundamental we need reminding of from time to time? Keep it Simple. OK, add Stupid if you must…)

Enough from me for this week. I need to add another category to Toggl. One that will dictate the success of the next five weeks of my life. One that will demand focus, commitment and absolute attention to detail. Christmas Shopping for the Wife…

Goodbye, Goodbye, I’m Leaving You, Goodbye…

If the title of this week’s post seems vaguely familiar, it’s because I’ve sort-of-stolen the title of a Peter Cook and Dudley Moore song…

…But no, I’m not leaving you. I’m thinking instead of the situation all employers will face at some time. One of your employees is going to say, ‘I need a word with you’ and tell you that they’re leaving.

Quite possibly you won’t have seen it coming. I remember working on 12 months’ plans and sales forecasts at Nestle when one of the key parts of those plans walked into my office and said she’d received a better offer. Not for one minute had I anticipated it.

For a while I took her resignation personally. Should I have seen it coming? Could I have managed her better? The reality was that she’d received a better offer; she was ready to move on and the new job better fitted her family circumstances. All I could do was wish her well.

So what should you do when it happens to you? You may be losing a key employee but you need to find a way of making it a positive for the business: here are six points that may help you do that.

Don’t take it personally. Salesmen: writers: actors. Everyone’s told not to take rejection personally and everyone finds it almost impossible to do. But the reality is that your soon-to-be-ex member of staff received a better offer or felt it was the right time to move on. And if they’re leaving to set up their own company what can you do except offer your congratulations and support? After all, that’s what you once did.

Learn from the experience. If you didn’t want this employee to leave, what could you have done differently/better? Were they sufficiently motivated? Could you have provided better working conditions? Very often these ‘softer’ factors are just as important as money – and with the new laws on flexible working that have just been introduced that’s not going to change.

Think hard before you make a counter-offer. In many ways this is the natural first reaction. But if my experience is anything to go by, don’t. It’s one of the lessons you should have learnt as a teenager – when a relationship is over, it’s over. And whether it’s your first girlfriend or one of your team, there’s no going back. I’ve made counter-offers and persuaded someone to stay twice in my working life. It didn’t work out either time: in both cases the employee still left and all we’d done in the interim was pay a higher salary.

Stay Positive. At some point the other members of staff need to be told – and the point here is to stay positive. Someone leaves – so someone else gets the chance to shine. And the way to de-motivate the entire team is to convey the ‘X has left. We’re all doomed’ message. You’re the leader and it’s your job to lead. Whether X has left or not, you’re still leading your troops to the Promised Land.

Look inside your own company. This has been a recurring theme of this blog. Your team – and the individual members of your team – are almost always capable of more than you think. So before you go outside the company for a replacement look inside the company. Very often someone you thought was irreplaceable leaves – and you find that not only were they very replaceable, they were also holding other people back.

Think hard about gardening leave. I know one very successful entrepreneur who has one inflexible rule. If someone is leaving – for whatever reason – they’re out of the door the same day. “Once they’ve decided to go, they’ve gone” is how he puts it, meaning that once they’ve handed in their notice their minds will be elsewhere and they’ll possibly do more harm than good. I’m not sure that I entirely agree with him: then again, his house does have a remarkably long drive…

No-one wants to see their key members of staff leave but it’s going to happen to all of us at some point. Hopefully the six suggestions/reflections above will help when one of your staff does come and ask for that quiet word…