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Egotist to Altruist

December 3rd, 2009 3 comments

Well we’re just a few weeks away from Christmas and our thoughts turn to giving and sharing – love and joy with the people we value most, our families, friends, colleagues and associates. But I’m not going to give you all that old slush – you know it already!! Besides if you need a reminder, just turn to the words of one of Cliff Richard’s countless Christmas hits, or anyone else’s for that matter.

No, instead I want you to think about the spirit of Christmas, giving and sharing, for the whole of the year – not just at the end of December, at the end of what has been a particularly challenging year. Think about this altruism as a part of your strategy and even business plan for 2010.

I’m getting a lot of email marketing coming through now from all sorts of business coaches asking me if I’ve prepared for growth in 2010, if I have a robust business plan to help me to “survive and thrive” and even my own strap-line for next year – “thrive again in 2010!”

I received one business newsletter today, which prompted me to dig up the draft of this blog and actually post it. So, let me start by telling you a little story…..

(But first – Please don’t read on if colourful language offends, because as I embark on writing this, I can’t guarantee that my passion won’t cause the odd choice word to creep in.)

It was a cold and dreary night – February 2000. My mum gave up her battle with cancer and fell peacefully into a morphine aided sleep, with her loving children and grandchildren (my kids) close by – she was 52 years old. All at once my world fell apart – but as a Dad, husband and a boss at work I had to “crack on” and get on with life. As we reach the 10th anniversary I can look back now and realise that my grief has stayed with me throughout that time – not outwardly of course, but every birthday, Christmas – and most bizarrely with every new car or house I bought! (what are you talking about – I hear you cry).

My Mum struggled all her life to provide us kids with a good life – we never had flash cars, foreign holidays or even a home that she owned, but we never wanted for anything – least of all love, she always put us first (Dad was there too, but that’s a different story). She was a true altruist.

The minute I started work – in the motor trade – I was surrounded by the very things we never had as kids, flash cars, a bit of money etc etc. Now, I’ve been very lucky, made some great career choices, some good business decisions and been blessed with the rewards – great, because as a youth of the 1980’s – one of “Thatcher’s youth” my mentality has been around money, cars, houses, possessions – in other words all the outward egotistical signs of success. What a load of bollocks!

So, bizzarely, in my sub-conscious somewhere has been a desire to show my parents just how well I was doing in the hope it would make them proud – in my efforts, I probably tried far too hard and in their eyes came across as an egotistical little twat! And, they were probably right. I realize now that they’d have been just as proud if I swept streets or stacked shelves for a living.

Now, it’s fair to say, this year has been crap! The economy, the weather, the media etc etc And to cap it all we have the release of films like 2012 to really cheer us up!! But, in April of this year I was handed a fantastic opportunity to begin working on hospital radio – great I thought – being an egotistical little twat who likes the sound of his own voice – right up my street!!

What I didn’t know, was that this work is not about just being funny, chatting on air and playing records OH NO!! Before that we walk round the wards talking to patients and getting requests. Now the hospital wards are not full of actors in neat gowns like on House, Holby City or Carry On Doctor – no they are full of people who are very ill – there are signs of blood, mess, tears, pipes coming from places you don’t want to think about, pain and suffering. And, most heart wrenchingly for me – sheer loneliness by some. Just this week we had one little old guy who wanted to talk and give us his life story – he was in his 80’s and has no family and faces Christmas alone or in hospital.

So, in thinking about that I decided to take a long hard look at what’s important – the car NO, the house NO, the branded clothes NO, the property portfolio NO. Love of a family YES!! Health YES, Happiness YES (you may need to work on that a bit – I have!). And be grateful for what you have – a roof over your head, enough money to buy food and great people around you.

This thinking has also helped me to define my purpose, and it is simply this;

“to add value to everyone I meet – and make a difference in the world!”

Having that clearly defined has transformed the way I work, interact with others and approach business – and it’s working!!

I also sold my big executive car and gone for a small, eco friendly sporty looking number – and it feels great!! And actually, my mum would have loved it!

Prior to the start of this renewed thought process, I spoke to our family Doctor who told me he has a great remedy for people who think they are depressed or feeling down – it’s called “get a grip!” – fantastic advice, and clearly not for the truly clinically depressed – but a great shove from a pro for all those who like me earlier this year were feeling a little too sorry for themselves!!

So, I’m now back on top form and in fighting spirit – but with a big difference, I don’t give a toss anymore about outward, egotistical signs of success, I am now concentrating my efforts on adding value and helping others, and it feels fantastic and is very rewarding!

I met with a great lady a few weeks ago who works for a hospice – when we agreed to meet, I for some reason, didn’t realize it would be in the hospice itself, so that was a surprise (and bought back some memories). During our conversation we talked about challenges and the occasional bad day – and she told me that one of their volunteer (yes largely staffed by volunteers!!) receptionists asks her on her way out each evening “did you have a good day?”, if my lady replies with anything negative, the receptionist holds up the current patient list and simply asks “do you want to swap?”

 But back to that newsletter I received today! This guy, an international consultant, sends out a quarterly newsletter to promote his business. Nothing wrong in that, good idea in fact! However, it’s full of stories of what he’s done, where he’s been, top flight people he’s met, talks he’s given at this big corporate or that big University – I just wonder, who really gives a shit! I’d rather see something in there that adds a little value, business tips, help and advice etc.

After receiving his last newsletter, I bounced it off a friend of mine who said that this guy doesn’t care what the content is, as long as it lands in people’s inboxes – ummm! I could buy into that before – when I was an egotistical twat!

 So, I actually feel sorry for this guy, because I wonder who he’s trying to impress – deep down in his subconscious???

 I just remember the words I said at my mum’s funeral;

 “we remember a life of love, giving and caring for others – in 100 years from now, it won’t matter what car you drove, where you lived or how much money you had – but it will matter that you were important in the life of a child!”

 So, being an Altruist is not just for Christmas – it’s a way of life!

 Have a fantastic Christmas!

Get a Grip! Use social media.

October 25th, 2009 No comments

I’ve not blogged for a while, as I’ve been redefining my strategy, off-loading some of the distracting (sometimes negative) influences I’ve had around my business and got my direction back on the track that’s been my driving force. So, this blog, may seem a little “not practicing what one preaches” so view it as a kind of “note to self!”

Oh, I’ve also taken the last blog seriously and spent a good time with my sons during a period of transition in our lives – I now feel energized, refreshed and ready to go – ready for all the great stuff that’s now coming my way. Anyway, back to this social media thingy;

Having had an amazingly good two and a half years delivering business all over the place (UK, Europe and the Middle East) I was introduced to the need to explore all marketing channels earlier this year when things started to go a little, er, as you might say “Pete Tong”. Having not been a great networker or explored too many contacts outside my main area of focus (the motor trade – ouch!!) I found myself having a fair bit of time to reflect on that strategy.

A great friend of mine introduced me to Twitter, blogging, Facebook and Linkedin. And his help managed to get me top 5 rankings in Google – if you google my name that is!! But, most importantly, as I began mid-year to “put myself about” a lot more I found both my web presence and my face to face contacts were doing a great job of raising my profile. Funny that.

Clearly I wished I’d started that 2 years ago – but I fell foul of being really busy, earning loads and thinking how great life was – then came Le Crunch de Credite (as the French call it!) and my stack of cards duly began falling down! So, quick Robin – to the blogmobile! I began blogging, then tweeting about my blog posts and the phone never stopped………………..being a phone that sat silently on my desk!

But being a tenacious bloke (most of the time), I carried on relentlessly – I went to no end of morning network meetings (I’m now sick of cooked breakfasts and have more cards for printers, graphic designers, life coaches, recruiters and IFAs than I care to mention). I joined the Customer Service Training Association – brilliant! One quarterly meeting and I’ve already had three strong leads and tied up with four associates as a result (contact me for more info on CSTA).

Equally though, and here’s my point (eventually) I’ve worked hard at building a Linkedin profile and gathering many connections – because everytime you update it, comment on a group etc, make a new connection, your contacts get an update – therefore, keeping your name high in their line of sight! Also, Linkedin pofiles do figure highly on google searches. (I’m on Linkedin as Stephen J.Whitton (all invites accepted) btw!!). It’s also helped me to retain a very high level of self motivation – because (and I really don’t mean to sound egotistical) I’m constantly updating the web on all the positive stuff I’m doing – again, like a “note to self”

But, what’s got me hooked recently and confirmed the benefits of the time spent on it – was a conversation on Facebook (in the chat section) with my cousin about 6 weeks ago – we got onto the subject of work and what we’re both doing now. I mentioned great training (like you do) and she responded with “you should speak to our HR – our training’s s**t!” Of course, an email to the person in HR promptly followed, a response was immediate, a meeting happened within a week and last week I sealed the deal on the first piece of work with them for December – it’s a District Council with a good budget, a progressive HR team (all new) and a big requirement for 2010!! Timing couldn’t have been better.

So, to finish a long story, I’m now hooked on Social Media (well Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook) as absolute must haves for the modern trainer, freelancer, self-employed or business person. But would suggest defining your strategy in terms of how you’ll use this media to “warm up” contacts for you to meet up with – as that’s where the business will ultimately be done! I still can’t believe though, the sheer number of corporate based people who can’t or won’t grasp the nettle and I’m staggered how the Motor Industry still seems to take a “don’t try to tell my how I can connect with lots of people – can’t you see I’m trying to sell some cars here!!” Umm – some work to be done here methinks!

Please feel free to get in touch, send a private message or join me on Linkedin to discuss further. A big thanks to those who helped me with this strategy and realising what it is I’m about.

Keep shining.

If you always do what you’ve always done…

March 4th, 2009 No comments

Training budgets restricted, companies not using many external consultants, corporate employees worried about their own job security. So, what’s the point in keep peddling the same old training delivery.

Time to think differently, radically and innovatively!

No more corporate navy blue, black or grey – time to get creative, bring out the orange socks and take people back to their creative, free thinking natural selves.

It won’t be easy but what’s the alternative.

Change isn’t necessary – survival’s not mandatory!

I’m off to my Drama Group now – let’s see how we can use that in developing people?!?!

Managing through the bottle neck (the management bottleneck)

March 2nd, 2009 1 comment

 

During these days of dark economic gloom, many people are feeling down and despondent. That’s why situations like these, call for great leadership and inspirational guidance at all times.

 

This can be difficult to muster and turn on at the best of times, but when business is tough and managers may be feeling a little insecure, uncertain and are worried about low sales and low profits, the pressure can be on enough as it is, without then having to provide pastoral care as well as great strategic leadership.

 

The car industry has called on its managers to perform at ever increasing levels expecting year on year growth in every aspect now for many years. But I think we all know by now that this year (2009) and maybe part of the next are going to provide some stormy waters in uncharted territory for many.

 

In our work as coaches and business care specialists, management or “the ‘M’ word” crops up time and time again as being the area of main focus – why is this?

 

We believe that in looking at this, it’s necessary to ask some fairly uncomfortable questions;

 

—       Does the business have a clear purpose, vision, mission and direction?

—       Has this been shared and communicated with the first line managers?

—       How well equipped are they at communicating this?

—       How good are they at making this live and breathe within the organisation?

—       Do managers get the balance right between task and result orientation?

—       Managers demonstrate an ability to manage the financial KPIs, but what about the behavioural KPIs.

—       Do managers really engage with their staff and encourage great teamwork, high standards and outstanding attitudes?

 

We conducted an exercise recently with a privately owned car dealer group where some basic fundamentals were being missed in the showroom activity – inconsistent levels of sales, poor add-on sales, lack of customer follow-up, little prospecting, no measurement of closing ratios, standards a bit slack.

 

The owner didn’t understand this as in his mind everyone clearly knew what the business was about and where it was going. However, when asking the staff, the answers were alarmingly inconsistent from “I’ve no idea” to “well, it’s just to sell cars isn’t it?” During those staff discussions though, we did discover one big consistency – all the staff desperately wanted to feel as though they are a part of an organisation where everyone rows together.  In the absence of this feeling, people reverted to a more selfish, “I’ll do what I need to do to keep myself going” approach.

 

So, a clear belief (and in fairness documented evidence) that the vision is clear from the top matched with clear desire and commitment coming from the bottom, leaves the question ‘why isn’t it happening?’ Why does this business have a high staff turnover, why is morale not great? The answer, we found was the middle management – the upward and downward communication was ‘stuck’ in a bottle neck (see diagram 1).

 

Now, before we start getting hate mail for this big generalisation, we do know that there are some fantastic managers in the automotive industry – but, it has to be said there are some who struggle too – and this is one such manager we’re referring to here. 

So, why do they struggle? Our first question is ‘how is s/he the best person for the job? Who decided that, when and why?’ our next question and probably the most important is ‘what development has s/he had?’. I’m not talking about going off to the Lake District 5 years ago to build a raft in the cold, I’m talking about real, pragmatic, on-the-job coaching and development on the fundamental day to day issues. And finally, what do we expect of our managers? More and more now, we are seeing that, Sales Managers in particular are finding the job involves more and more admin and less people ‘stuff’ – is this right? Does this create a bit of a management bottle-neck in your business?

 

So, what can you do about it?

 

Give them a structure – outline the vision, purpose and mission of the business – not just to sell cars but “to be the best providers of xyz cars in the town, consistently delivering amazing customer experiences in sales, service, parts etc through teamwork, commitment and dedication” or something like that!

 

Put in some disciplines – yes I said disciplines. Not archaic, Dickensian style strictness, but encouragement of good habits, standards, performance, knowledge and skill development – these make up the outline of the behavioural KPIs – and businesses reading this who are achieving budget, targets and have great morale will recognise those traits within their teams.

 

Work to the process – one of the issues in our case study is that the Aftersales part of the business is so process driven that it leaves the sales department behind – in aspects of performance, staff turnover, morale and so on. There needs to be a consistency of process across the business and one that’s measured too! (But for sales, not just in terms of profit and units, but in terms of standards, skills and knowledge etc)

 

Talk to anyone who works in a business they’d describe as “great” and you’ll hear that the things above are in place – but moreover, this is brought to life by managers who are engaged, engaging, energetic, empathic (a great leadership quality – look at Winston Churchill!).

 

In the main, people need direction, guidance and inspiration and above all to feel part of something important – managers have a critical role to play in achieving this.  

 

 

February 25th, 2009 No comments

Even business leaders need to take time out – work on the business, not in it!

I was invited to run a workshop today with a bunch of business leaders. I didn’t want to just talk to them, and besides it was a workshop not a keynote! So, thinking about the issues that the current downturn can bring up about leadership, I set about creating a workshop based around my “Death of a Car Salesman” theme – in other words, how to manage the changing face of your customers’ requirements. After all, change is not necessary – survival isn’t mandatory!!

Thought I’d share with you a selection of the “take aways” or actions that the leaders committed too or got from the workshop –

  • Have more empathy, don’t be so stuffy (re Facebook and email etiquette)
  • Consider needs of future employees (I call them the ipod generation)
  • Focus on people not task
  • Revisit the habits of new people
  • “Are my communications clear – do I need to remind people?”
  • Balance proactive with reactive
  • Balance people management and account management
  • “I may have assumed they understood, when perhaps they didn’t – I need to check now!”
  • Use the HR matrix
  • Give clearer instructions
  • Work on attitudes – invest time in them.
  • Have Development plans
  • Be more tollerant
  • Describe the “picture” a bit more – (this will make sense to those who’ve been on my workshop).

Wow – what a bunch of true leaders! Total respect.

Vision, Purpose, Change

February 6th, 2009 No comments

Holding page for Vision, Purpose, Change

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