More advice for Joe Root


On July 22nd last year I posed a simple question: did Joe Root want to be just a very, very good cricketer – or did he want to become one of the game’s greats?

I received my answer the same day. Root scored 254 against Pakistan and England won the game by 330 runs.

A year on and – by the time you read this – Joe Root will have completed his first day as England captain. I’m tempted to question whether he’s the right the man for the job, just to make sure we win the game…

But at 26 Joe Root steps into a new role. No longer the cheeky young upstart in the dressing room, no longer ‘one of the lads:’ he’s the captain, the public face of English cricket.

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As so often, there are parallels between sport and business. In taking over the captaincy, Joe Root is simply mirroring what so many of us have done in our careers: been promoted, moved to a new company, even acquired a business. And we’ve had to a walk into a new office and simply say, “Good morning, I’m the boss.”

So in my unheralded – and sadly unpaid – role as The Secret Coach to the new skipper, let me pass on some advice, which applies in business just as much as it applies in sport.

You still have to justify your place in the side. As the owner of TAB York I had the pleasure of working with Suzanne Burnett, then MD of Castle Employment in Scarborough. Suzanne’s now handed over the reins to Kerry Hope, and last week in her ever-excellent blog Suzanne introduced Kerry as the new MD. This Q&A is relevant to all of us:

Q: Let’s just talk about those people [the team at Castle who didn’t know her] for a minute. How did you establish your credibility with them?

A: That’s a good point – and it’s something any manager going into a new company has to do: ‘show us your medals’ as they say in football. Maybe in recruitment that should be ‘show us your fees.’ I made absolutely certain that first and foremost I performed as a fee earner, so everyone could see that what I was saying – and the changes I was recommending – absolutely worked.

It’s the same for any new manager, for anyone taking over a company and it will be the same for Joe Root. If your performance can be measured, then you need to perform.

But you will have bad days. It’ll happen. Rooty will get a jaffa first nut and be back in the hutch for a duck.

What do you mean ‘you don’t understand?’ Sigh… The England captain will receive an unplayable delivery first ball and be back in the pavilion without scoring.

Sport and sales are equally unforgiving. The numbers are there for everyone to see. We all go through bad spells but the answer is simple. Keep believing in yourself, keep doing what you know is right and trust that the results will come – which they will. But you’re the leader now – everyone will be watching to see how you respond to a bad day: and how you respond determines how everyone else will respond.

Find a way to manage your stress. Well, no worries for Joe there. His son was born about six months ago. There are those of us, however, to whom a new baby would come as something of a surprise. That’s why I’m such an advocate of keeping fit, of spending time with friends and family and making sure you have interests outside work. All work and no play not only make Joe a dull boy, it makes him an inefficient, unproductive one as well.

Prepare to be lonely. Sad but true. We’ve said it many times on this blog but being an entrepreneur – or the captain – can be a lonely business. You get the accolades and you get to lift the trophy. But you also have to deal with the lows: as Joe Root will find, you’re not only managing yourself, you’re manging other people – and part of that will be delivering bad news. Saying to someone who’s been with you a long time, ‘I’m sorry, we’re going to make a change.’

There are a hundred and one other pieces of advice I could pass on – be there first in the morning, demand high standards of yourself and your team will automatically raise their standards – but lastly, and most importantly, lead. The job of a leader is to lead: to have conviction. To have the sheer bloody-minded conviction that his team will win, that his business will succeed.  After all, Joe, if you don’t believe, no-one else will…

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Survival of the Happiest


Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano

Those of you with a classical education will recognise the words of Juvenal. ‘You should pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body.’

But was the Roman poet satirising those things unwisely sought from the gods – wealth, power, beauty – or was he dispensing business advice a good 2,000 years before Messrs Carnegie, Covey and Robbins?

So why ‘healthy mind’ and – specifically this week – ‘healthy body?’ It’s because I spent a large part of last week reading about the great and good gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos – the annual gathering of business leaders, politicians and gurus, sprinkled with the odd dash of celebrity. Last year the delegates listened to Leonardo di Caprio attack corporate greed – and then went off to drink Cheval Blanc at £290 a bottle.

Tuesday January 3rd – the first working day of the year – was the day when the vast majority of the British population must have said, “Right, this it” and, along with quite a few people I know, I’m doing my best to have a ‘dry January.’ Yes, it’s a wrench to give up my Friday night bottle of Cheval Blanc, but sacrifices have to be made…

…And dry January – plus increased visits to the squash court – mean I’m feeling fantastic, as the resting heart rate on my Fitbit testifies. I can’t think I’ve ever reached the end of what’s supposedly a depressing month and felt so fit or so focused.

There’s no doubt about it: exercising and eating well – having a healthy body – is a fundamental building block of happiness. It’s also a key part of your business success, as evidenced by this report from Davos: as it says, the kind of drive, discipline and determination needed to push yourself to work out and compete are exactly the same skills needed to get to the top.

I might quibble with the BBC’s wording: I might replace ‘skills’ with ‘mindset,’ but the sentiment is spot-on. The determination you need to maintain an exercise regime is the same determination you need in business: it’s consistent effort that counts, not the results on a single day.

After all, any of us who play golf/play squash/go running know there are days when it just doesn’t ‘click.’ But – like business – there are other days when it magically comes together. The skill is to trust yourself: to know that if you consistently do the right thing the results will come.

So exercise is good – and it follows that the more exercise you do the better it must be. After all, look at the story of Chip Bergh, CEO of Levis who – along with rescuing the 163 year old jeans brand – does a mixture of swimming, running and weights every morning from 5:30 to 7:00. “No-one is as intense as me,” the BBC quote Chip as saying.

As an updated version of Animal Farm might have it, thirty minutes good, ninety minutes better: so should we all increase the time we spend working out?

I’m not so sure.

I look round the tables at TAB York and I see a group of people who are almost certainly fitter than the average entrepreneur. There aren’t many members who don’t do some form of physical exercise.

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But I also see a group of people who are happier than the average entrepreneur. They may have spent January re-thinking their fitness regime, but the people round the TAB York table also know that it’s about balance: not just work/life balance, but keeping every aspect of your life balanced. And if you’re committed to an exercise regime that consumes you from 5:30 to 7:00 and ‘no-one is as intense’ as you, then somewhere down the road something has to give.

There’s a fine line between dedication and addiction – as I suspect one of my new followers on Twitter knows: she’s called LycraWidow…

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…

The Long and Winding Road


Monday night, and I’m watching the Channel 4 news. There’s a story about small music venues closing all over the UK. But I’m only half paying attention, if that.

The reporter mentions the Cockpit in Leeds, a venue that’s hosted any number of famous bands and artists – White Stripes, Kaiser Chiefs, Amy Winehouse among many. We’re closer to home: I pay slightly more attention.

And then along comes James Bay, bemoaning the fact that artists today simply aren’t playing enough hours of live music. “After all,” he says, “The Beatles played 10,000 hours in Hamburg.”

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At which point my ears really prick up.

Did the Beatles really play 10,000 hours in Hamburg? If you’re on stage for 50 hours a week, that would take four years – and according to Wiki, they were only in Hamburg from August 1960 to December 1962.

But it doesn’t matter – because the 10,000 hours myth has received another boost. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell put forward the theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in any field. Matthew Syed gave it extra weight in Bounce.

And now, 10,000 hours is accepted corporate wisdom.

Exactly as the Mehrabian Myth once was. Do you remember that? Sitting in a room while some genius at the front told you that 93% of communication is non-verbal. Thirty seconds of thought by an intelligent eight year old would tell you that it can’t possibly be true, but millions of men in suits have lapped it up, very often paying good money to do so. Anyway, here’s 3:30 of YouTube which busts the Mehrabian Myth once and for all and let’s never hear from it again…

…Because now we have the perceived wisdom of 10,000 hours.

Yes, if you do something for 10,000 hours you’ll obviously become very competent. Will you master it, become world class? Almost certainly not.

Consider golf. I remember reading a story about Greg Norman. I’ll paraphrase the quote, but it went along these lines: I’d practice every day. Six or seven hundred balls a day. I’d practice until my hands were bleeding and I couldn’t hold the club any more.

Now I occasionally go to the driving range – and about 100 balls is my limit. But even if I did hit ‘six or seven hundred balls,’ even if I did put it in 10,000 hours, would I master golf? Could I turn pro or – sadly in not that many years – play on the Seniors’ Tour? No, because I don’t have the X-Factor. The show may be going downhill but the name is exactly right: it’s the X-Factor, not 10,000 hours of practice, which sets a world-class performer apart.

The X-Factor is the dedication, the drive, and the sheer bloody-minded will to win. That’s what makes someone practice for 10,000 hours. It isn’t the practice that sets Greg Norman and me apart, it’s the will to win – and a fair sprinkling of natural talent.

I haven’t played golf for 10,000 hours – not yet, anyway – so let’s turn to three things I most certainly have done for 10,000 hours: been a husband, been a parent and been the owner of TAB York.

Have I mastered any of them? No. I’m competent, sometimes I think I might even be quite good, but have I mastered them? No, absolutely not.

A family and a relationship are constantly evolving and changing. You master one level as a parent, your children immediately move on to the next level.

Business is just the same. New clients bring new challenges. Existing clients – and their businesses – develop and change. Different goals emerge, plans and personal circumstances change, different challenges come to the fore.

And yes, the will to win is important in business, but so is the will to go on learning. As Stephen Covey put it, to constantly Sharpen the Saw. That, of course, is where TAB comes in: where the experience and wisdom of your fellow Board members can make such a big difference. After all, there are far, far more than 10,000 hours round that boardroom table

Would you Employ Kevin Pietersen?


It seems a long time ago, but I once wrote a blog praising Andrew Strauss – and the great job he’d done in taking the England cricket team to the top of the world rankings.

A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then: and a lot of England batsmen have found themselves back in the hutch for not many. England are about as far away from the top of the rankings as it’s possible to get: someone is needed to put things right, appoint a new coach and make Cricinfo worth reading again. Step forward, Andrew Strauss, now the ECB’s newly appointed Director of Cricket.

Strauss didn’t have the luxury of easing himself into his new role. Day one, and the hottest of hot potatoes was in his lap: Kevin Pietersen. Should KP be welcomed back into the England fold? Or was it impossible to integrate him into the team – something made doubly difficult by the personal animosity between the two men?

Opinions are sharply divided. On the one hand we have Piers Morgan and the supporters of KP (the small matter of 2.6m followers on Twitter). On the other we have some older, wiser heads, pointing out that Pietersen will be 35 by the time the Ashes come round and that, actually, his average in the last series he played wasn’t that good.

Former players have been quick to wade in – supporting and opposing Pietersen in equal measure. Dominic Cork – one of the antis – used the delightfully old-fashioned phrase “bad egg.”

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The parallels with business are all too obvious. Anyone who has run a company, been in charge of a sales-force or who’s been responsible for any team will have faced exactly the same dilemma.

‘I’ve an undeniably talented person. When he’s on form he’s more effective than anyone else in the company. But he’s not a team player. He’s unpopular. There’s a collective sigh of relief when he’s not around…’

This is one of the toughest decisions any of us face in business. Do I keep him? Do I let him go? Is he encouraging the rest of the team? Does his success motivate them? Or are they held back? Does he cast too big a shadow?

Prepare for some sleepless nights. I’ve certainly had them throughout my working life: the ‘KP challenge’ has been one of the toughest decisions I’ve had to face.

Thinking back, I’ve faced it – with various teams – maybe half a dozen times. It’s easy to say that you should make the decision on a case-by-case basis as opposed to laying down guidelines – but you don’t read the blog for me to sit on the fence…

Looking back, I realise I almost always put the ‘good of the team’ first – and it invariably paid dividends. When the previously-considered-indispensable star was moved (upwards, sideways or out) those that were left stepped up, discovered talents they previously hadn’t felt able to develop and – ultimately – the overall result was a better performance from the whole team.

So the team talk – either in the dressing room or the conference room – became simple.

OK, he’s gone. Yes he was talented, he was mercurial. But he wasn’t perfect and if you’re breathing a sigh of relief this morning you don’t need to feel ashamed. But it’s up to you now. You’re the ones we’ve put our faith in: you’re the ones that need to deliver. I absolutely believe in you. I couldn’t be happier with you as a team and I wouldn’t swap any of you. So let’s do this…

As the old saying goes, cricket is a team game played by individuals. Maybe – as SMEs move increasingly towards collaboration with talented individuals – business is going the same way. But I’ll never tire of quoting the proverb: if you want go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

Let’s hope the England team does go far this summer: and I hope you’ll understand if I extend the same sentiments to a certain football team over this rather crucial weekend…

The Black Dog


First of all thank you for all the comments on the blog last week. Of all the posts I’ve written ‘Risk’ probably attracted the most – and the most detailed – feedback, by the usual mix of direct comment, e-mails and Facebook. I really appreciate them all and if I haven’t replied yet – I’m getting round to it!

But now to matters darker.

The comparisons between being successful in sport and running your own business are often drawn. Will to win. Drive. Competitive instinct. Refusal to be beaten. Absolute focus on achieving your goals. And no self-respecting motivational speaker would even dream of getting to his feet without a word or ten from Vince Lombardi.

Recently though, we’ve seen the other side of sport. For the first time, very successful sportspeople have been prepared to talk about depression – how for some of them the pressure to succeed has just been too much and it’s spilled over into mental illness.

One of the most high profile examples was the footballer-turned-Talksport-pundit Stan Collymore, and the reaction he initially received was not untypical. ‘My manager said I was too successful to get depression and only women living on the 15th floor in Peckham got depressed.’

Since Collymore there have been other high profile cases, most noticeably in cricket (the sport that unfortunately has the highest suicide rate among ex-players).

The question for this blog is an obvious one: if success in sport and success in business are so often linked, is there also a business parallel with a case like Stan Collymore? Can you be successful in business and suffer from depression? Could someone turn round to you and say, ‘You can’t possibly be depressed, you’re too successful. It’s only people who’ve failed who are depressed.’

But that’s far from the truth. ‘The better the company did the more depressed I became’ isn’t as uncommon as you’d think. Despite it at first seeming like a ridiculous contradiction, the simple fact is that success can make you feel trapped, lonely and – ultimately – depressed.

As we’ve discussed many times, running your own business is a lonely place – and the trouble is that it’s only other business owners who understand how you feel. You can have the best husband/wife/partner in the world but if they’ve never had to sack someone, never worried about how they’re going to pay the wages and never seen the order they’ve been counting on suddenly evaporate, they simply cannot empathise with you.

For me, that’s where the TAB boardroom table comes in: seven or eight people who absolutely understand how you’re feeling and who absolutely understand your problems, frustrations and worries. In some ways it’s a sanctuary: somewhere you don’t need your body armour and protective persona – and somewhere you won’t be judged.

I’ve seen some raw emotion round a TAB table. An entrepreneur who doesn’t know which way to turn? Many times. Tears? Yes, several times. But I’ve also seen the other type of tears: when the advice of the other Board members has worked and when the weight has finally been lifted off someone’s shoulders.

Stan Collymore set up a charity – Friends in Need – to help people with depression. If you think you need help, get help now. But if you think you need the help of other entrepreneurs – the only people who can really share your feelings – then think about The Alternative Board.

One last point on depression: it can hit anyone. The list of famous people who have battled the illness is long and impressive – Winston Churchill referred to the ‘black dog’ that haunted him in even his most successful moments. If it’s haunting you, just remember – you don’t have to face it alone.

Don’t Make the Mistakes Moyesie Made


There is a story – and whether it was originally true or not doesn’t matter as it’s now accepted fact – that on the way back from the 2-0 mauling by Olympiakos David Moyes was spotted by the Manchester United players reading Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great.

Footballers being teenage boys much sarcastic comment was passed and the The Chosen One’s stock fell even further – and as we now know, it wasn’t long before Moyesie was clutching his P45.

The Daily Mail had plenty of fun with the story as well, pointing out that ‘achieve BHAGs – Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals’ – didn’t mean signing Marouane Fellaini and that Moyes took ‘be a hedgehog, not a fox’ rather too far and had seriously prickly relationships with several players.

But hang on. Good to Great is a bestselling book. It’s stood the test of time. It can’t be all bad – and it isn’t. ‘Be a hedgehog, not a fox’ is just another way of saying keep it simple: focus on one thing at a time. And if there’s one characteristic that anyone who’s built a successful business has it’s exactly that. They identify the single most important thing they need to do and they focus on it until it’s done. And then they move on to number two.

No, David Moyes’ mistake wasn’t reading the book: it was letting his players – and a Daily Mail journalist – see him reading the book. In the laddish culture of a football club – especially one looking for a scapegoat – that was never going to be a good idea.

So what other mistakes did Moyes make? And what can we learn from the most spectacular management failure of the last nine months?

• If you’re a leader, you’ve got to be seen to lead and you have to display confidence. ‘Talk the talk’ and ‘walk the walk’ aren’t my favourite business phrases but that’s exactly what David Moyes failed to do. If you’re the leader of your team the first thing they want from you is confidence and belief

• …And the fact that you know where you’re going. David Moyes mumbled excuse after excuse and constantly gave the impression he was making it up as he went along. I’ll admit that he wasn’t helped in this by some ridiculous decisions from the Board but did he ever look and behave like someone with a long-term plan? No.

• Don’t sack the people who know what they’re doing. Almost Moyes’ first act was to replace all the Manchester United backroom staff with his own staff from Everton – a backroom team which had a proud record of winning nothing at all. If you’re going to bring in someone from outside, they have to be credible: your staff have to be able to look at the new person’s track record and say, “OK, I can see why he did that.”

• Finally, don’t have favourites. If you’ve read The Secret Footballer you’ll be aware of the phrase ‘the boss’s son’ – the player who never seems to be dropped, irrespective of how badly he plays. You will have to argue long and hard to convince me that Wayne Rooney’s five year, gazillion pound contract didn’t have a serious effect on the team’s morale. Even if a member of your team is completely and utterly out-of-this-world, business, like football, remains a team sport.

Next week I’ll be looking at promises – no, not promises like ‘Don’t worry, you’ve got a six year contract’ – and the part they have to play in business. In the meantime if you think there are any other lessons we can learn from the Moyes fiasco I’d be delighted to hear them…

The Big A4 Diary


I’m not quite as up to speed with electronics as some of the other guys are, so I still use a big A4 diary.

Who’s the quote from? Andy Flower, team director (that’s ‘coach’ in old money) of the England team trying to retain the Ashes in Australia this winter.

The quote is in an article on the BBC website: you can read it here. Flower – the former Zimbabwean batsman who led England to the top of the test rankings – makes some excellent points, particularly on getting the best out of a team of individuals. It’s one of those times when business can learn a lot from sport.

Cricket’s always struck me as fascinating: it’s a team game and it’s an individual game. In no other sport is it so plainly evident that the team succeeded but you failed. The team can win by an innings and plenty: you can be clean bowled first ball and lose your place.

So the coach’s job is hard. The only way for the team to win is for individuals to perform to their best. But how do you get 11 very different characters to do that?

Well, the answers are in Andy Flower’s ‘coffee-stained A4 diary.’ And here are five of them that I picked out. None of them will be new to you – and you’ll instantly see that they’re every bit as relevant in managing your company’s team as they are in managing the England cricket team.

Communication Part of the preparation involved a camp [before the team left]. We wanted to educate the players on effective communication, leadership and how to give and receive feedback in a healthy and constructive fashion. I don’t think I’ve much to add to that. Anyone who’s ever played a team sport will know that there’s plenty of ‘feedback’ – just as there is in business. But you have to make sure it’s constructive feedback that builds the team, not negative stuff that breaks it down.

Growth Flower places a real emphasis on helping his players grow – both as individuals and as cricketers. They’re all encouraged to work towards continuously improving: We’ve been winning quite a lot. But if we don’t keep improving we’ll slow down and the opposition will catch us up.

Planning The planning has been meticulous. We’ve requested that the wives with younger kids arrive a few days earlier than we do, so they and the children are over jetlag by the time we arrive – so the players’ sleep isn’t affected. As you can see, there’s more to a cricket match than inducing Michael Clarke to nick one of Jimmy Anderson’s outswingers. In exactly the same way that there’s more to getting the best out of your staff than making sure they’ve been trained on the latest software.

Trust I don’t want them constrained by curfews. I want them to make decisions like adults. This may not seem a great idea when Joe Root is getting punched by David Warner at 2:30 in the morning, but I think Andy Flower is absolutely right. Sooner or later you have to trust people: and in my experience the more trust you place in them, the better they respond.

Fun We want them to have fun too. We want them to finish the tour of Australia saying it’s been the best three months of their lives. And doesn’t that apply in business as well? If you don’t enjoy it, then the chances are that in the long run it won’t be profitable.

I think there’s a lot of common sense in those points and if you’ve five minutes I’d recommend reading the full article. But how does Andy Flower himself stay focused, and make sure he’s also constantly improving? I have used an executive coach for two or three years now, he says. He’s a great sounding board and also challenges me about my own personal growth.

And with that remarkably sensible comment I’ll leave you for this week. Have a great weekend…

You Don’t Have to be Stressed…


“I tried to open this website, Ed. It was all about keeping calm. It took so long to open that I got stressed.”

…And that just about sums up today’s business world. Not only do we have meetings to go to, deadlines to meet and targets to achieve, we also have to contend with an ever-increasing tide of interruptions.

Once upon a time it was all so simple. “Just hold the calls, Gloria and tell everyone I’m not to be disturbed. I need to finish this report.”

“Yes, Mr. Brown.”

And Mr. Brown could either finish his report, or close his eyes and work off his excellent lunch…

Not now. E-mails; mobile phone; tweets; LinkedIn updates; Google+; Facebook… These days, all holding the calls does is guarantee that you’ve more time for other distractions.

So a Canadian company has turned to Kickstarter for funding to develop the ‘one button to silence them all.’ But even if you turn the interruptions off on a temporary basis, they’re always lying in ambush. The question for me is more fundamental: how do we relax at the end of the day or week? How do we get rid of the stress that work causes us? Especially when there may be an entirely new set of tensions waiting for us at home.

Here are five ways that the TAB York team use: I’m sure there’ll be plenty more added to the list!

Go outside. It seems to me that stress is produced indoors and reduced outdoors. Jackie is a devoted – but fair-weather – cyclist and I’m always ready to climb on my mountain bike. Julia swims – outdoors in all weathers, obviously. Even sitting in the garden with a glass of red wine works for me. I might even lie back and do some creative thinking…

Teach – or coach. I coach rugby on a Tuesday and a Sunday and I have to say it’s one of my favourite times of the week. I get to shout a lot – in a constructive way, naturally – and it’s a great stress-buster. Quite a few Board members tell me how much they love teaching or coaching: somehow you always feel better when you’ve helped someone else to improve.

Learn. It might be something as simple as reading a novel (and I’ve just started The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart, so watch out for Board meetings sprinkled with references to the Deep South); it might be finally learning a new language. Whatever it is, I find that learning something new makes me feel better about myself – and less stressed.

Get sporty. And I include in this something as simple as walking. The health and stress-reducing benefits of sending a few endorphins flowing round your body are well documented. Not quite so well documented are the benefits of standing on the touchline and cheering. As some of you know, Jackie’s son is a more-than-competent rugby player and I take huge pleasure from watching Dan and Rory. The ref blows his whistle, the game kicks-off and stress is banished…

Finally, have friends. This sounds obvious, but countless studies have shown that we’re happier and healthier with a well-developed social network. There are few things I like better than having friends round to dinner, but even a simple trip to the pub works for me. Again, it’s the change of scenery, and different company.

There is one more, but I hesitate to write it down. A good bottle of beer; a section of the Sunday Times, peace and quiet, solitude… Nope, I’m a husband and a father. Away with such selfish fantasies!

Have a great weekend and I’ll be back next week – unless my wife reads that last paragraph…

Extra Time from Sir Alex


Well, remind me to blog about how badly Newcastle are doing more often. Clearly last week’s mention worked and they’re now level on points with Manchester United – a team teetering on the edge of a crisis according to some pundits.

What’s caused the crisis? The departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, arguably the greatest club manager football has seen.

But this is a business blog, not a football blog. What has Sir Alex got to do with us? Simply this. With plenty of ‘Fergie time’ suddenly on his hands Sir Alex has been outlining his management philosophy – the central beliefs that helped to create a series of title winning teams at Old Trafford. I first covered this in one of my posts in February but I think it’s a subject worth returning to, especially as Sir Alex has now spelled out his philosophy in greater detail. As before, here’s the link to the article I was reading in the Guardian.

In the article Sir Alex makes eight points. Let me pick up on three of them:

• Dare to rebuild your team
• Set high standards – and hold everyone to them
• Never stop adapting

What does he mean by ‘dare to rebuild your team?’ And am I suggesting that you wander into the main office and start handing out P45’s? Far from it. “I believe that the cycle of a successful team lasts maybe four years and then some change is needed. So we tried to visualise the team three or four years ahead and make decisions accordingly.”

I think that’s a great point – see your key members of staff not just as they are now, but as they will be in three to five years’ time. Are they developing in the right way? Will they have the skills to deal with the challenges the growth of your business will bring? Or in your heart of hearts do you know that the only way to move to the next level is to pay the big bucks and sign the equivalent of a star striker?

The standards Ferguson set for himself were exceptional – but he held everyone else to them as well, and demanded even more from the star names. Players like Ronaldo, Beckham, Scholes and Giggs had exceptional talent – but they had to marry that with exceptional hard work, and a refusal to give in. The number of late goals scored by Manchester United under Sir Alex has become part of football’s folk-lore. “I said to them all the time. If you give in once, you’ll give in twice.”

I firmly believe in ‘late goals’ in business: the £100 you make at 5:00 on Friday afternoon buys just as many tins of beans as the £100 you make at 9:30 on Monday morning. One of my very first bosses used to say, “Do a full day’s work every day,” and the saying has stayed with me. So keep going to the end – in my experience even if a day starts off with a disaster it will turn itself round if you simply keep working and don’t give in.

The final point that Sir Alex made has exact parallels with business – and I think it is one that is especially relevant for TAB members. It’s ‘never stop adapting.’ He makes the point that when he became the manager at Old Trafford there were no agents, no foreign owners, no millionaire left backs and pitches were a sea of mud from November to February.

It’s the same in business – the internet and mobile technology has revolutionised the way most of us do business and the pace of change shows no sign of slowing down. These days, if your business isn’t constantly adapting it’s almost certainly facing an uncertain future.

Those are just three points – but as I mentioned above, all the points Sir Alex makes directly translate into a business context, especially if you’re a member of TAB. Even a manager as individual as Sir Alex Ferguson freely admits that the team that surrounded him in the dugout was every bit as important as the team he sent onto the pitch. That’s exactly what TAB is: a team of highly experienced colleagues and friends that can help you organise your goals and your business tactics – and make sure you get the very best results from your own team.